About 1.7 crore cases were disposed of in 2008 by 14,000 judges in the country, Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan said on Wednesday.

“About 1.8 crore fresh cases had been filed in courts in 2008, … reflecting a steady increase in the rate of institution of fresh proceedings over the years. Against this, approximately 14,000 judges disposed of 1.7 crore cases in 2008, demonstrating a disposal rate of 1,200 cases per year by each judge. This was achieved notwithstanding the severe shortage of judges and their very heavy workload, abysmal infrastructure and a very challenging environment,” he said in his National Law Day address to the nation. It was this day in 1949 that the Constituent Assembly of India adopted the Constitution

“In all, Indian courts processed some 4.8 crore cases in 2008, which is one of the largest volume faced by any national judicial system. Expert studies have suggested that our judicial strength is only very minimal, and large expansion is required to dispose of this caseload. It is, therefore, quite natural that most cases take several years to be completed. Such is the shortage of judicial officers that, on average, an Indian judge has a total of 25 minutes to devote to each case.”

Justice Balakrishnan expressed concern at the fact that a substantial number of poor people were unable to get court protection owing to the severe shortage of judges. This ‘docket exclusion,’ he said “does not bode well for the country as the affected people may turn to alternative [including violent] means for securing their rights.” There was an urgent need to promote ‘docket inclusion.’ Any meaningful agenda for judicial reforms must account for the twin problem of high pendency as well as the limited access to justice for some sections.

In many cases, undue delay in disposal of cases “is a consequence of hurdles placed in the procedural steps involved in litigation.” Attempts to delay the proceedings should be dealt with firmly, but the desire to improve procedural efficiency should not compromise the quality of justice. “A large portion of the increase in litigation rates can be attributed to stronger remedies that have been introduced through Central and State legislation over the years. In particular, our trial courts are confronted with a disproportionate number of cases involving dishonouring of cheques, motor accident compensation claims, domestic violence and corruption-related cases.”

He said: “A system of planning and management is being developed and recommended to High Courts for their consideration. A National Judicial Infrastructure Plan, a National Judicial Education Strategy and a National Mediation Plan are in different stages of implementation. The results of these massive initiatives have been encouraging. Reversing earlier trends, filing of new cases as well as disposal has gone up at the national level. However, aggregate pendency has increased because the increase in filing has been faster than the rate of disposals in general.”

Justice Balakrishnan said: “A National Litigation Policy is being designed, wherein administrative remedies will be strengthened to reduce the burden on courts.” A comprehensive legislation dealing with standards and accountability in the higher judiciary was also on the anvil.

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