Understaffed Judiciary

The Chief Justice of India T S Thakur has recently commented that the country requires more than 70,000 judges now to clear the mounting backlog of cases. He has expressed concern over the low judge-population ratio in the country, and said that access to justice was a fundamental right and governments cannot afford to deny it to the people.

Present status of judicial backlog

• As of January, 2016, the SC has a pendency of around 60,000 cases, HCs have 45 lakh cases and trial courts around 2.75 crore cases making it a total of around 3.25 crore cases. 

• It might touch 4 crore cases by the end of this year because of large number of vacancies.

Reason for judicial backlog

• Shortage of judges

1. Against a perceived requirement of about 50,000 judges, the country has a judicial strength of a mere 18,000, while more than three crore cases are pending in various courts. In the Supreme Court, the current pendency is 60,260 for a Bench consisting of 31 judges. As many as 434 posts of High Court judges are vacant, while a burden of 38.68 lakh cases is stretching available infrastructure and resources. 

• The current judges-to-population ratio in India is estimated at 17 judges for every million citizens –far lower than most developed and even developing countries in the world. This leads to delay in cases leading to pendency.

• Large judicial vacancies also add to the crisis and multiple administrative tussles such as the long drawn deliberations on the National Judicial Appointments Commission for instance are often cited as reasons for backlogs. 

• Another reason for the present scenario can be attributed to the country’s appellate structure. Disproportionately high numbers of cases are referred to the higher courts due to insufficient punitive measures in place to dissuade vexatious appeals and wastage of the time of the courts.

• Judiciary, too, has not given sufficient attention to the small systemic interventions that could disproportionately increase the efficiency of justice delivery. 

1.For instance, the ease with which adjournments can be secured is a well-known cause of delay in civil cases. A direction from the chief justice limiting reasonable grounds for adjournment would reduce pendency considerably. 

2.Besides, cases in busy sectors of civil law fall into repetitive patterns. Tenancy matters tend to be structurally similar, for instance, and focusing on unique factors in each case would speed up trials. 

Consequence of judicial backlog

1. The backlog results in the dilution of the right to access timely justice and an erosion of the rule of law. This eventually affects peoples' faith in the judicial system.

2. Delay will result in additional piling up of the cases which will further enlarge the cost of maintenance.

3. The pending cases affect poor strata of society more. The cost of litigation can push them into debt-trap and poverty.

4. In absence of immediate and quick remedy, litigants in order to avoid mental and monetary harassment approach the informal courts instead of the courts established by law. This has allowed mushrooming of khap panchayats. 

5. A delay will result in lower number of cases. Many poor people often restrain themselves from filing judicial cases due to delays , cumbersome process and high cost involve in the judicial settlement

6. Further, delay in delivery of justice does not adequately dissuade regular perpetrators of crime. This even wipes-off the fear of law and punishment from their mind. 

7. Lack of Standardisation in data classification and poor management systems can misplace the records which can prove to be a gross miscarriage of justice. 


1. To solve the problem, government need to improve the infrastructure of judicial system and increase the human resources at the disposal of judiciary. Information technology can be used to regularise the data of all the pending cases. 

2. Categorisation, regularisation and increasing the physical and human resources of court can prove to be beneficial for the overhauling of judicial system and to reduce the pendency of cases. For this Information technology can be leveraged.

3. Institution of evening and morning courts to deal with petty matter like traffic violations/challans, which account for a bulk of the cases which are pending in the lower courts;

4. Increasing the judge strength by increasing recruitment as well as the retirement age of judges;

5. Setting up of special courts like property courts, commercial courts and e-courts for speedy disposal of cases;

6. Addressing the problem of delay by reforming court procedures, promoting ADR method, fast tracking court processes, and the use of information and technology;

7. Focussing on human resource development by filling in vacancies, strengthening judicial academies and training of court functionaries;

8. Improving physical infrastructure of courts to improve efficiency.

9. The Centre and the judiciary should collaborate on finding practical solutions like appointing more judges based on periodic needs assessments, increasing their retirement age, and deploying judicial resources efficiently.