Recently, it was reported that four States and one Union Territory, namely, Haryana, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala and the Union Territory of Chandigarh, had managed to reduce pendency of 10-year old cases in lower courts to less than one per cent of total pendency. Live Law spoke to Daksh co-founder, Harish Narasappa for his insights into this so-called achievement, and its lessons.
The following are his answers to our questions:
LIVE LAW: Haryana, Chandigarh, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Kerala have just 11000 cases pending for over 10 years against a corresponding national pendency count of 22.72 lakh cases. What explains this achievement?
HARISH NARASAPPA: We have not studied if these states adopted any special measures that can be sustained over the long term. It is possible to target cases of a particular type, that is, those over 10 years as in this instance, and reduce that.
LIVE LAW: Is fixing of annual targets and action plans for judicial officers to dispose of old cases - as the Punjab and Haryana HC is credited doing - the answer?
HARISH NARASAPPA: Yes and no. We certainly need to fix targets. However, if fixing such targets means the pendency period for other cases is increasing, then we are not really finding a solution for the problem. We are only achieving temporary success.
LIVE LAW: Is the achievement at the cost of hasty disposals and the consequence for the quality of justice?
HARISH NARASAPPA: No, in my view. We are talking about cases that are more than 10 years old. It cannot be termed as a hasty disposal by any standards. Quality is a different issue altogether. We have a problem with quality in the judiciary today across the board, but the issues are different. But that needs to be addressed separately.
LIVE LAW: Other States like Assam, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Delhi also recorded very low pendency of 10 year old cases. Are the reasons for their success different from the the four mentioned earlier?
HARISH NARASAPPA: The fact that we are treating a reduction in 10-year old cases as a success shows the poor state of affairs. In my view, this is no reason to celebrate. I will celebrate when processes improve and cases get disposed of within two years. Yes, today some States are doing better than others. There are a lot of reasons for that - better recruitment, targeted reduction, leadership by the High Court, etc. While we should recognize that, we should not think we have found a solution, because reducing pendency of 10-year old cases is not a solution.
LIVE LAW: What, according to you, are the factors responsible for the states like Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, Bihar and Bengal which have not shown similar results?
HARISH NARASAPPA: In my view, the biggest differentiator currently is the leadership being shown by some high court judges and the commitment of subordinate judiciary. We have not found any major differentiating factors in different States.
LIVE LAW: Highest number of vacant posts, poor infrastructure, and the judicial recruitment examinations which do not match the standards of better performing States have been cited as some factors. Would you agree?
HARISH NARASAPPA: Yes, these are the only differentiators at the moment.
LIVE LAW: Are lower courts efficient in restricting adjournments, curbing summer vacations, etc as claimed?
HARISH NARASAPPA: There is no evidence of adjournments being restricted even from the last six months’ data. Vacation is a red herring as far as subordinate judiciary is concerned because they don’t get as many days off as the higher judiciary does and almost everyone works six days a week unlike the higher judiciary. Magistrates, for example, only a get a few days as summer vacation in most states, given the nature of their work. Therefore, to say subordinate judiciary takes vacation for a longish period of time is not entirely correct.
LIVE LAW: To what extent audio visual recording of court proceedings and real time data monitoring of case status have helped to achieve the results?
HARISH NARASAPPA: Real time data monitoring is not happening across the country. From our experience, only Punjab and Haryana has institutionalized monitoring to some extent. If the supervising High Court Judge is enthusiastic, he or she monitors progress in the subordinate courts, but that is also mostly on a monthly basis at best. We have not investigated as to whether audio visual recording of proceedings is happening anywhere. I don’t think it is happening, but I could be wrong. What is happening is hearing through video conference, but that is different.
LIVE LAW: The comparison with the high courts is startling. Twenty-eight per cent of cases pending in Punjab and Haryana HC are over 10 years old.
HARISH NARASAPPA: Pendency in high courts is also worrying and it is difficult to fathom, because most high courts do not face the problems that subordinate courts have like delay in recording evidence etc. It is basically lawyers and judges in the high courts. The one differentiating factor is that high courts supervise the subordinate courts. Subordinate judges are generally fearful of facing action from the high courts if they do not perform. There is no accountability of high court Judges.
LIVE LAW: Many High Courts have recently opposed the proposal for direct recruitment of district Judges. What is your position on this?
HARISH NARASAPPA: High courts have been given this power under the Constitution. So, there will be opposition if this power is sought to be curtailed in an indirect fashion. There is no reason for high courts to give up their Constitutionally vested power. I would think instead that a fixed calendar for examination be agreed and all high courts can follow this every year. Similarly, preparation of examination, evaluation etc. should be made uniform. There is a problem, however, in recruiting out of State Judges. In most lower courts, much of the proceedings are conducted in the local language. A centralized recruitment scheme will affect this.