Recently, the CJI-led collegium recommended names for appointment to various High Courts are pending with the government.

  • The Supreme Court has fixed six months for the government to clear all such recommendations.

Pendency In the Judicial System

Source - prsindia

Reasons for pendency  in Indian courts-

Substantive issues

  • Shortage of judges -  A Law Commission report in 2009 had quoted that it would require 464 years to clear the arrears with the present strength of judges.
    • Subordinate Courts- Around 5,580 or 25% of the posts are lying empty in the subordinate courts. 

Pendency In the Judicial System

Source - prsindia

  • High Courts-

Pendency In the Judicial System

Source - prsindia

  • Frequent adjournments-
    • The laid down procedure of allowing a maximum of three adjournments per case is not followed in over 50 per cent of the matters being heard by courts, leading to rising pendency of cases.
  • Special leave petition cases in the Supreme Court-
    • Currently, it comprises 40% of the court’s pendency.
    • It eventually leads to reduced time for cases related to constitutional issues.

Special leave petition-

  • Special leave petition (SLP) means that an individual takes special permission to be heard in appeal against any high court/tribunal verdict. Thus it is not an appeal but a petition filed for an appeal.
  • Under Article 136, the Constitution of India gives power to the Supreme Court to grant special permission or leave to an aggrieved party to appeal against an order passed in any of the lower courts or tribunals in India.

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Administrative issues-

  • Judges Vacation-
    • Supreme Court’s works on average for 188 days a year, while apex court rules specify a minimum of 225 days of work.
  • Lack of court management systems-
    • Courts have created dedicated posts for court managers to help improve court operations, optimise case movement and judicial time. However only a few courts have filled up such posts so far.

Infrastructural issues-

  • Low budgetary allocation leading to poor infrastructure-
    • India spends only about 0.09% of its GDP to maintain the judicial infrastructure.
    • Infrastructure status of lower courts of the country is miserably grim due to which they fail to deliver quality judgements.
    • A 2016 report published by the Supreme Court showed that existing infrastructure could accommodate only 15,540 judicial officers against the all-India sanctioned strength of 20,558.

Pendency In the Judicial System

Litigation related issues-

  • Burden of government cases-
    • Statistics provided by Legal Information Management & Briefing System (LIMBS) shows that the Centre and the States were responsible for over 46% of the pending cases in Indian courts.
  • Increasing Literacy-
    • With people becoming more aware of their rights and the obligations of the State towards them, they approach the courts more frequently in case of any violation.

Police reform

  • Inefficient investigation-
    • Police are quite often handicapped in undertaking effective investigation for want of modern and scientific tools to collect evidence.
    • Yet much of the information in the public domain is generated by data sharing and, according to delegates, this can be harder for the police to take advantage of than commercial organisations.
    • Despite some inspiring examples, there is frustration at old technology used in policing and the slow pace of change.

Appointments process related issues- 

  • At each level of the appointment process of judges to the higher judiciary, prior to the names reaching the Prime Minister and President for final approval, there are time periods specified.
    • But, Once the collegium clears the names, the Law Ministry has to put up the recommendation to the Prime Minister in three weeks who will in turn advise the President. Thereafter no time limit is prescribed and the process, seemingly, comes to a standstill.

Collegium system to the appointment of judges-

  • The Collegium System is a system under which appointments/elevation of judges/lawyers to Supreme Court and transfers of judges of High Courts and Apex Court are decided by a forum of the Chief Justice of India and the four senior-most judges of the Supreme Court.

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Impacts of Judicial pendency-

Social impacts-

  • Denial of ‘timely justice’ amounts to denial of ‘justice’ itself– 
    • Timely disposal of cases is essential to maintain rule of law and provide access to justice.
    • Speedy trial is a part of right to life and liberty guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.
  • Erodes social infrastructure- 
    • A weak judiciary has a negative effect on social development, which leads to:
      • lower per capita income; 
      • higher poverty rates;
      • poorer public infrastructure; and, 
      • higher crime rates.
  • Overcrowding of prisons, already infrastructure deficient, in some cases beyond 150% of the capacity, results in “violation of human rights”.

Pendency In the Judicial System

Source - prsindia

Data related to pendency of cases across India-

  • In the Supreme Court, more than 30% of pending cases are more than five years old while in the Allahabad High Court, 15% of the appeals have been pending since the 1980s.
  • As per the National Judicial Data Grid (NJDG), in 2018,
    • 2.93 crore cases are pending in the subordinate courts,
    • 49 lakhs in High Courts and,
    • 57,987 cases in Supreme Court.
  • 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).


Economic impacts-

  • It was estimated that judicial delays cost India around 1.5% of its Gross Domestic Product annually.
  • The Ease of Doing Business Report of the World Bank for 2018 and 2019 shows that the time taken to decide a case has remained static at 1,445 days.


Suggestions related to reform in the judicial system-

  • For enhancing productivity in the judiciary, the Economic Survey 2018-19 suggests:
    • Increased number of working days;
    • Establishment of Indian Courts and Tribunal Services to focus on the administrative aspects of the legal system;
    • Deployment of technology to improve efficiency of the courts, e.g. eCourts Mission Mode Project and the National Judicial Data Grid being rolled-out in phases by the Ministry of Law and Justice.
  • Better Case and Court Management:
    • About 30 percent of the life of a case is spent in something as simple as service of notice.
    • For expeditious service of notice and summons, the eCommittee of the Supreme Court launched a mobile application called National Service and Tracking of Electronic Processes (NSTEP).
    • Computerisation and Automation (e.g. Virtual Court in Delhi) to make justice delivery more responsive to the needs of litigants.
    •  The 13th Finance Commission suggested Professional Court Managers.
      • Court managers or equivalent professionals are the need of the hour and justice delivery can improve only if the courts accept and adopt professional help in their administration.
  • Setting up of-
    • Tribunals, Fast Track Courts and Special Courts to dispense important cases at the earliest.
  • Mechanisms such as-
    •  ADR (Alternate Dispute Resolution), Lok Adalats, Gram Nyayalayas should be effectively utilised.

Pendency In the Judicial System

Source - prsindia

Ways to lower the Pendency of cases in the Indian courts-

  • Improving infrastructure for quality justice- The Parliamentary Standing Committee which presented its report on Infrastructure Development and Strengthening of Subordinate Courts, suggested:
    • States should provide suitable land for construction of court buildings etc. It should undertake vertical construction in light of shortage of land.
    • Timeline set out for computerisation of all the courts, as a necessary step towards setting up of e- courts.
  • Addressing the Issue of Vacancies- Ensure the appointments of the judges be done in an efficient way by arriving at an optimal judge strength to handle the cases pending in the system. The 120th Law Commission of India report for the first time, suggested a judge strength fixation formula.
    • Supreme Court and High Courts should appoint efficient and experienced judges as Ad-hoc judges in accordance with the Constitution.
    • All India Judicial Service, which would benefit the subordinate judiciary by increasing the quality of judges and help reduce the pendency.
  • Having a definite time frame to dispose the cases by setting annual targets and action plans for the subordinate judiciary and the High Courts. The judicial officers could be issued a strict code of conduct, to ensure that the duties are adequately performed by the officials.
  • Strict regulation of adjournments and imposition of exemplary costs for seeking it on flimsy grounds, especially at the trial stage and not permitting dilution of time frames specified in the Civil Procedure Code.
  • Better Court Management System & Reliable Data Collection- For this categorization of cases on the basis of urgency and priority along with bunching of cases should be done.
  • Use of Information technology (IT) solutions- The use of technology for tracking and monitoring cases and in providing relevant information to make justice litigant friendly. A greater impetus should be given to
    • Process reengineering- Involves redesigning of core business processes to achieve dramatic improvements in productivity and quality by incorporating the use of technology in court rules. It will include:
  • Electronic filing of cases- e-Courts are a welcome step in this direction, as they give case status and case history of all the pending cases across High courts and Subordinate courts bringing ease of access to information.
  • Revamping of National Judicial Data Grid by introducing a new type of search known as elastic search, which is closer to the artificial intelligence.


  • Alternate dispute resolution (ADR)- As stated in the Conference on National Initiative to Reduce Pendency and Delay in Judicial System- Legal Services Authorities should undertake pre-litigation mediation so that the inflow of cases into courts can be regulated.
  • The Lok Adalat should be organized regularly for settling civil and family matters.
  • Gram Nyayalayas, as an effective way to manage small claim disputes from rural areas which will help in decreasing the workload of the judicial institution.
  • Village Legal Care & Support Centre can also be established by the High Courts to work at grass root level to make the State litigation friendly.
  • As per the Memorandum of Procedure, appointments should be initiated at least 6 months in advance and thereafter 6 weeks’ time is specified for the Governor or Chief Minister of the state concerned to send the recommendations to Union Law Minister.

Pendency In the Judicial System

Therefore, there should be wide introspection through extensive discussions, debates and consultations to identify the root causes of delays in our justice delivery system and providing meaningful solutions to improve the justice delivery system in India. The recent passage of The Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Amendment Bill, 2019 that increased the number of Judges in the Supreme Court from 31 to 34, including the Chief Justice of India, is a welcome step.

 Speedy Justice is not only a fundamental right but also a prerequisite of maintaining the rule of law and delivering good governance. In its absence, Judicial system ends up serving the interests of the corrupt and the law-breakers.Judicial reforms, if taken seriously, expeditious and effective justice can see the light of day and improve India’s standing in the reports of the World Bank and other institutions and organisations that study judicial processes.

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