The government must give quasi-judicial powers to panchayats so that trivial cases do not clog the judicial system
The Indian judicial system is feeling the strain of having a staggering 2.7 crore cases which are in the lower courts alone. Everyday more cases are being added. Add to those numbers, the cases in the high courts and the supreme court.
The oldest case in a high court was filed in 1956, which is quite young compared to one of the oldest cases in the country that dates back to 1878. Doshipura court case in Varanasi is over Shias and Sunnis pitted against each other over a piece of land. Even that is not old enough. A case of property once owned by a king in Bengal is over 175-years old.
Some of the solutions are quite obvious. One is to have more judges. The second is to avoid frequent adjournments. The third is for the government not to file too many cases. So on and so forth.
One practical solution is to give quasi-judicial powers to the panchayats. Similar quasi-judicial powers can be given to the municipal councils in urban areas. And this could well set the tempo for clearing the cases. In one stroke, the country will have over 640,000 villages delivering justice in civil cases.
The idea for the record is not new. Way back in 1888, there was the Tamil Nadu Village Courts Act. There was also the Bombay Village Panchayat Act before independence. These can serve as a template for what we need for the nyaya panchayats.
There would be three-fold benefit of having village panchayat. One, the trivial cases won’t be forced into the formal judicial system. Second, the litigants won’t have to travel afar for the cases. They also won’t have to bear the expenses of hiring a lawyer and paying various fees. Third, the locals know and understand the case so it can be decided right then and there on its merit. However, if someone is not satisfied, then one can still approach the judiciary.
The downside is that in our caste-driven psyche, there could be favouritism. But, then one must not dismiss an idea simply on the basis that a few wrongs may take place.
Law experts, the law commission, and the law ministry have repeatedly come up with suggestions to ensure that the situation improves.
Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on March 22, in a letter to all chief ministers, noted that there are 4,937 vacancies of judges in subordinate courts. "As you are aware there are as many as 2.7 crore cases are pending in subordinate courts and 38.7 lakh cases in high courts," the minister said
The minister has also sought the launching of ‘special arrears clearance drives’ to reduce pending cases and minimise fresh litigation.
The government and its departments are litigants in nearly half (46%) of the 3.14 crore litigations pending in different courts in the country, leading to a huge cost to the government, Prasad wrote
. The law ministry has reasoned that pendency of cases can be brought down by reducing cases originating from within the government or making it a party to a case.
The law ministry, in an internal note
prepared for the Advisory Council of National Mission for Justice Delivery and Legal Reforms, has stated that there were several factors contributing to delay in disposal of cases including lack of court management systems, frequent adjournments, strikes by lawyers, accumulation of first appeals, indiscriminate use of writ jurisdiction and lack of adequate arrangement to monitor, track and bunch cases for hearing.
The law commission in a report said that in almost every high court, there is huge pendency of cases and the present strength of the judges can hardly be said to be sufficient to cope with the alarming situation. The institution of cases is much more than the disposal and it adds to arrears of cases. The litigating citizens have a fundamental right of life i.e. a tension-free life through speedy justice-delivery system. Now it has become essential that the present strength of the judges should be increased manifold according to the pendency, present and probable.
It is also necessary that the work of the high courts is decentralized, that is, more Benches are established in all States. If there is manifold increase in the strength of the judges and the staff, all cannot be housed in one campus. Therefore, the establishment of new Benches is necessary.
The law panel also said that considering the huge pendency of cases at all levels of judicial hierarchy, it has become necessary to increase the number of working days.
It noted that it is not uncommon for any criminal case to drag on for years. During this time, the accused travels from the zone of "anguish" to the zone of "sympathy". The witnesses are either won over by muscle or money power or they become sympathetic to the accused. As a result, they turn hostile and prosecution fails.
The Law Commission of India is of the firm opinion that considering the alarming situation and the pendency of cases and the constitutional rights of a litigant for a speedy and fair trial, the government of India should direct the state authorities to set up Fast Track Courts in the country, which alone will solve the perennial problem of pendency of cases.