Far from ideal justice delivery, 3.43 lakh cases pending in J&K Courts, up by 54% post reorganisation
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Far from ideal justice delivery, 3.43 lakh cases pending in J&K Courts, up by 54% post reorganisation

Far from ideal justice delivery, 3.43 lakh cases pending in J&K Courts, up by 54% post reorganisation

JAMMU: In the summer of 1996, Ram Dayal and Bishan Dass of Domana were arrested by police on the charges of murder. Twenty-eight long years later, the two were acquitted by the Jammu and Kashmir High Court, last week. Theirs was one of the 608 cases pending in the courts of J&K for more than 20 years. With their acquittal, the judiciary in the union territory has one less case in the pendency list.

The list, you may want to know, currently has 3.43 lakh pending cases in the High Court and subordinate judiciary across the UT.

The judiciary in Jammu and Kashmir has suffered for long, from high pendency, both before the High Court and the subordinate courts. While the pace of litigations has increased over the years, the deficiency of judges in the higher judiciary— which worked with half of its sanctioned strength for most part of the previous decades– was also a contributing factor.

With the reorganisation of state into a union territory in 2019, the powers of adjudication of service matters of the government employees transferred from the high court to the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) in 2020, lessening its burden by a significant proportion. Coupled with a significant increase in the strength of judges in the high court in the recent past, it was expected that the pendency before the judiciary would come down by a sizable number.

However, in contrast, the pendency has risen by as much as 54% in the last four-and-a-half years, from 2,22,476 pending cases in July 2018 to 3,43,169 pending cases in December 2022.

The Pre-UT Days

When the PDP-BJP coalition, the last elected government, broke up in 2018, the courts in Jammu and Kashmir had 2,22,476 litigations pending before them–85013 cases in High Court and 1,37,463 cases in lower courts. At that time, Jammu and Kashmir High Court had only 8 Judges against the sanctioned strength of 17. A similar deficiency was present in subordinate courts.

The situation in the previous years was not any better, in terms of pendency, or the vacant strength of the judges and other judicial officers in Jammu and Kashmir.

While Jammu and Kashmir geared up to witness massive changes, the biggest being losing its statehood and Ladakh, as it was reorganised into a union territory, a series of initiatives were also taken to up the disposal rate of the cases and reduce the pendency.

At the level of judiciary, these included fast pacing the hearings using various technical means such as software and video conferencing for swift disposal of cases, awareness drives to generate awareness among people about their rights, and focus on making arbitration as an alternative, even as the government also constituted a high-level panel soon after UT formation to evolve a mechanism to expedite disposal of petitions pending before the High Court.

Read Also:

Accused of murder over an affair, 2 Domana men acquitted after 28 years trial

Consequent to the reorganisation of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories in 2019, all service matters of the Government Employees became a domain of Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) and this transfer of adjudication authority became effective on April 29, 2020 when a notification issued by Department of Personnel and Training extended the jurisdiction of Chandigarh bench of CAT over the union territories of J&K, and Ladakh. While the government later set up dedicated CAT benches at Jammu and Srinagar, Budgam Community Health Officer Fahmeeda Akhter’s rescinded transfer orders became the last matter heard by the High Court and Assistant surgeon Dr Bilal Ahmad Pahalwan working at District Hospital Anantnag’s suspension case became the first one to be heard by the CAT in May 2020. This transition was expected to lessen the burden on the High Court by a significant proportion.

At the same time, Jammu and Kashmir High Court was seeing its sanctioned strength being filed up unprecedentedly. While there was no new judge appointed to the J&K High Court from August 2018 till April 2020, the court witnessed 5 new judges joining the bench in the 11 months from May 2020 till March 2021, further elevating the hopes that the litigations would be disposed expedited. In the first week of December 2022, the High Court had 15 sitting judges against the sanctioned strength of 17, possibly the highest in a very long time.

All these changes and development raised the expectations that the pendency before the judiciary would come down by a sizable number.

However, the reality has remained largely different.

The Post-UT Scenario

As on date, the judiciary in Jammu and Kashmir is sitting on an-ever growing pile of litigation- 3,43,169 to be precise. This is an increase of a massive 54.24% from 2018. Of these, 2,98,699 cases are pending before the subordinate courts across the union territory, while Jammu and Kashmir High Court has a pendency of 44,470 cases.

That Jammu and Kashmir is marred by the slow pace of justice seeking and deliverance system could be gauzed from the fact that around 19 percent of the all cases- 64,289 have been awaiting adjudication for more than 5 years, five being the lower slab.

As many as 50,294 cases are pending adjudication for over 5 years but less than 10 years, while 13,387 cases are pending for 10-20 years, while the cases figuring in 20-30 year slab are 571, while there are 37 cases undergoing trial for more than 30 years.

Almost half of the total cases are pending for less than one year, 58,448 cases are pending for more than 1 year but less than 3 years, while the number of cases older than 3 years but less than 5 years are 50,481.

While the other slabs are comparable to the national average, Jammu and Kashmir is registering one of the highest rates of fresh cases in the entire country. Of the 4,91,11,262 cases currently pending in all courts of the country, only 39% are those pending from less than one year, whereas the number of such cases in Jammu and Kashmir constitutes 49.57% of all pending cases.

With 14 judges currently in the high court, each one of them is burdened with 3176 cases.  In the month of November, as many as 1283 fresh cases, 40% of the averaged out, individual pendency, were instituted in the J&K high court. On average, this takes the burden on one High Court judge to 3268 cases.

The state of affairs in the lower judiciary is not any better.

In the year 2022, as many as 1,90,363 fresh cases have been instituted in the subordinate judiciary, while it disposed of 1,40,699 cases so far this year, leading to a pendency of almost 50,000 cases.

In the previous year, the lower judiciary adjudicated 1,37,015 cases against the 1,62,040 fresh cases instituted, a difference of a shade over 25,000, which was 38,901 in the year 2020, when the lower judiciary adjudicated 68,348 cases against the 1,07,249 instituted.

The lower judiciary was at its most efficient in the year 2019, when it disposed of 89,404 cases against 1,02,453 instituted, reducing the specific pendency to 13,049 cases, lowest in the last 8 years. Three years later, however, this figure has gone up to 50,000.

With the Jammu and Kashmir High Court slated to get a new chief justice in the coming days, the hopes are pinned again on the judicial system to take steps to deal with the rise of the humongous figures of litigations, and move towards achieving an ideal justice delivery state.

Recommended as next J&K HC Chief Justice, who is Justice N Kotiswar Singh

 

 

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Far from ideal justice delivery, 3.43 lakh cases pending in J&K Courts, up by 54% post reorganisation