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   Home >> Library index >> Legal System >> File it, forget it: Bombay HC has 3.39 lakh pending cases
File it, forget it: Bombay HC has 3.39 lakh pending cases

By Nitin Yeshwantrao & Swati Deshpande/TNN

Mumbai: A performance report of the judiciary in Maharashtra reveals that less than 25% cases are cleared every year in the high court and the sessions and the metropolitan courts have a formidable accumulation of over 70% cases pending at various stages.
    Judicial delays have cast a shadow on matrimonial matters and childcustody cases as well, with the disposal rate of the cases in the family court at Mumbai being less than 40% annually.
    A detailed document prepared by the state law and judiciary department on the performance of the courts in Maharashtra has brought to fore nagging doubts about the justice delivery system. The frequent adjournments, long gaps between adjournments, twice-ayear vacation for the courts has led to high-pendency and raised questions about accountability of judicial officers.
    The report gives details about the pending cases and disposals done by the various courts during 2003 and 2004 and statistics on the salary and related expenses of the judicial officials.
    The Bombay High Court, which has a strength of 60 judges, tops the list of highest pendency with a staggering 3.39 lakh cases to be disposed of till December 2004. In 2003, the pending cases in the high court were as high as 3.13 lakh.
    “In 2004, the high court disposed of 1.09 lakh cases of the total 4.48 lakh cases before it. The disposal rate recorded was a poor 24.35%. However, the high court has improved upon its performance in comparison to 2003 when the disposal rate was 23.85 % with 98,326 cases cleared of the total 4.12 lakh admitted,’’ a top Mantralaya official said.
    What is cause for worry is the sharp increase in cases on the appellate side in the last two years, indicating to the growing tendency among people to challenge the verdict of the lower courts as also increasing questions about the quality of judgment by the lower courts.
    “Appeals against judgments of the lower courts are on the rise as 3.03 lakh cases were admitted in the appellate side as against 1.08 lakh cases on the original side in 2003. The number of appeals cases rose to 3.31 lakh cases in 2004 as against the 1.16 lakh admitted in the original side,’’ the Mantralaya official said. The
functioning of the city civil and sessions court gives some relief to justice seekers with the disposal rate relatively better than that of the high court.
    “In 2004, the city civil and sessions court disposed of 17,355 cases of the 52,391 before it, recording a disposal rate of 33.12%. In 2003, the disposal rate was 32.67 %.
    However, what has come as a shock for the legal department in Mantralaya is the increasing stockpile of cases languishing in the metropolitan magistrate courts in Mumbai which deal with all criminal cases.
    “The cases pending in the metropolitan courts was a massive 4.74 lakh in December 2004 and 4.41 lakh in December 2003. Of the 6.42 lakh cases the metropolitan magistrates dealt with in 2003, it cleared 31% or 2.01 lakh. In 2004, these courts disposed of 1.97 lakh cases of the total 6.71 lakh before it with the disposal rate of 29.43 %,’’ the official said.
    “In most cases it is inaction of the police and the administration that compels a person to take up the issue in the court. However, the delay by the courts is frustrating and expensive which compels a person to seek justice outside the courts probably using unlawful methods,’’ he added.
    Mantralaya officials also argue that if bureaucrats and politicians are answerable for their action and file pendency, why is it that the courts are expemted from such accountability?
    Sitting senior Supreme Court judges, Justices Santosh Hegde and S N Variava, minced no words when they recently said that the legal system was notorious for its delays in India.
    “Good as our system may be it is painfully slow and expensive. In almost all courts there are delays and the cost of litigation is prohibitive. This situation not only erodes public trust and confidence in the justice delivery system but also affects economic development of the country. Today courts are grappling with unmanageable number of cases. The crisis calls for an urgent solution,’’said Variava recently while speaking in Mumbai.
    Ironically, the greatest burden on the courts stems from the government—the biggest litigants before the courts. Over 60 % cases have government or its bodies as parties leaving the main task of private disputes to the fringes. “We should give a fresh look at the litigation system and employ the one on the lines of modern management,’’ Solicitor general Goolam Vahanvati had said when he was the Maharashtra advocate general.