Chief Justice Dipak Misra sounded the alarm on rising pendency at a time when the situation is almost getting out of hand with the backlog touching 3.3 crore cases. While 2.84 crore cases are pending in the subordinate courts, the backlog clogging the High Courts and Supreme Court (SC) is 43 lakh and 57,987 cases, respectively. According to National Judicial Data Grid (NJDG), the five states which account for the highest pendency are Uttar Pradesh (61.58 lakh), Maharashtra (33.22 lakh), West Bengal (17.59 lakh), Bihar (16.58 lakh) and Gujarat (16.45 lakh).
The CJI is particularly concerned as large number of undertrials languishes in jails across the country as they don't get bail and many even spend more than their sentence once they are convicted. Of all the pending cases, 60% are more than two years old, while 40% are more than five year old. In the Supreme Court, more than 30% of pending cases are more than five years old. In the Allahabad High Court, 15% of the appeals have been pending since 1980s, while in the MP High Court, 70,000 have mounted since 1994.
The CJI's letter to all High Court chief justices on June 25th is a sequel to the observations of Arrears Committee of the SC in respect of mounting pendency of civil and criminal appeals in HC. The letter suggests a framework be put in place whereby each High Court "every month takes stock of cases filed and disposed" there as well as in subordinate courts. The CJI taking note of the deliberations of the arrears committee has requested the HC to prepare an action plan with cut-off dates for disposal of 10 and five year-old cases and such plans have to be continuously monitored by the committee at the level of HC and subordinate courts in the light of experience and new ideas.
While the disposal of old cases and those in prioritised categories must be accelerated, the CJI has said, "At the same time efforts must be made to ensure that at least the overall disposal matches with the overall institution (filing) of cases." Taking note of the magnitude of the problem, the CJI in his letters says that the new mechanism must be put in place in addition to the arrears committees set up earlier to formulate steps to reduce pendency at high and district courts."Continuing formative assessment is the key to strengthen and reinforce the justice delivery system. It is essential to align a process-oriented approach with a result-oriented approach in an effort to build core processes into strength and achieve the desired goal," the letter read. The arrears committee has in the past been tasked with "monitoring and preparing an action plan with cut-off dates for disposal of 10 and 5-year-old cases".