The adage, justice delayed is justice denied is a justified axiom known since ages. Unfortunately the delay in delivering justice in India has been increasing year by year and the governments, both at the Centre and in the states, bear main responsibility for contributing to the crisis.
Governments are by far the biggest litigants with almost 70 per cent of the cases having ‘state’ as one of the parties in the case. While the ‘state’ automatically becomes a party in cases of crime and law and order, the tendency to file unnecessary appeals adds to the already heavy burden of the courts. It drags down other cases.
The indulgence among government advocates, including those under Solicitor General at the Centre and Advocate Generals in high courts, besides the public prosecutors in subordinate judiciary, is to pass on any responsibility by filing a review appeal. It is called "defensive litigation” where government advocates avoid taking on onus for closing the case, just passing it on and on.
Another reason for the inordinate delay in dispensing justice is the long-drawn confrontation between the government and the judiciary over the method of appointment of judges. Government, particularly at the Centre, wants more say in appointment of judges while the judiciary wants autonomy and no political interference. The stalemate has led to a high number of vacancies at all levels of judiciary.
There are presently over 45 per cent vacancies across high courts in the country, as per official figures. Over a decade ago the Law Commission had recommended an increase in the number of judges from 10 judges per 10 lakh people to 50 judges per 10 lakh people. Little has been done about it.
No wonder, the total number of cases pending in the various courts in the country have crossed the staggering figure of 3 crore. These include one crore cases pending in various high courts in the country. The system is quite clearly broken or dysfunctional to use another word.
Several lives have been ruined with the accused confined within the walls of jails simply because the trial takes years and years to conclude. Many have walked free at the end of trials. Yet after being acquitted ‘honourably’ by the courts no one is held accountable for the ‘hell’ encountered by them during long years behind bars and the loss of their prime years, never to return. On the other hand several accused roam free and even enjoy fruits of office before the law catches up with them.
To take some high profile recent examples, former Bihar chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav was found guilty in yet another case of fodder scam which took place over two decades ago. In the meantime, Yadav remained chief minister of Bihar and then made way for his wife to take up the post. He later manoeuvred to make his son as deputy chief minister.
There are several cases pertaining to fodder scam against him. He had been already found guilty in some while a few others are yet to be decided. The public wants to know why could the courts not combine all related cases and decide punishment for all these together. Why stagger them over such long periods.
The infamous 2G spectrum case also took over a decade to decide. All the accused, including former Telecom minister A Raja and Kanimozhi, daughter of DMK supremo Karunanidhi, were acquitted. All of the accused had spent considerable time in jail during the prime of their lives. Yet the CBI Special court decision is not the final decision. It is bound to be challenged in the higher courts and by the time the Supreme Court takes the final decision, another decade will have passed. Even the conviction in J Jayalalithaa case came after her death.
Shockingly some of the cases had been pending for over three decades. Some of these relate to the 1984 anti-Sikh attacks. Very few convictions have taken place while several cases are pending trial at various stages. It is well known that some of the cases are being contested by the third generation. Many die seeking deliverance of justice. This is total travesty of justice. This is no way to run a justice system.
To be fair to judiciary, it is taking initiatives to dispose off cases that have been pending adjudication for decades. It has taken up the oldest pending cases and has given deadlines to judges to clear these up. It has also set up "Lok Adalats” and Conciliation Courts to settle issues out of court. However clearing up pending cases is a monumental task.
Indians by nature appear to be more inclined to enter into litigation but government could take steps to cut down on filing reviews and appeals. It must penalise its law officers for unnecessary dragging cases and failing to find closure. Steps must be taken to avoid wastage of crores of man-days in the courts. Laws need to be simplified and a time bound method be evolved to dispense justice.
*(The author, a freelance journalist, is a former Resident Editor of Indian Express, Chandigarh, and reported on the political developments in Jammu and Kashmir, North-Eastern India, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab in his long, illustrious career. This article was also published by lokmarg.com and is being published by Punjab Today under special arrangement with the author. - Ed)
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