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Judicial Crisis: 37,705 pending cases at the five High Courts in Northeast

Kingson Chingakham

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The Indian Judiciary system has been working under an extreme pressure due to lack of manpower and the strife between the centre and the Judiciary in connection to the appointment of Judges to the Supreme Court.There have been also cases where there have been problems during the appointments of Judges at the High Courts.The northeast region has five High Courts,the oldest being the Gauhati High Court followed by the Sikkim High Court.The Manipur,Tripura and Meghalaya High Courts were recently established in 2013.Considering the country wide crisis in the Judiciary,it is important to examine how the five courts in the region are performing.

Gauhati High Court

Recently published annual report of Gauhati High Court for the year 2017 has revealed some alarming statistics.Gauhati High Court works under huge pressure with four states i.e Arunachal Pradesh,Assam,Mizoram and Nagaland, under it’s jurisdiction (divided as Itanagar,Aizawl and Kohima Benches along with the principal seat of Gauhati High Court).A total of 30,455 cases were brought forward from the previous quarters.There were an additional 16,551 freshly registered cases in 2017.Last year,16,097 cases were disposed and a total of 30,909 were pending at the end of quarters.Out of theses pending cases,there were 2609 civil cases that were pending for more than 5 year,followed by 8156 pending civil cases for more than 2 years but less than 5 years.

The budget allocation of the principal seat of Gauhati High Court declined to Rs 59.63 crore in 2017-18 from Rs 63.12 crore in 2016-17.Budget of the Itanagar Branch for the year 2017-18 wasn’t made available.But there was a sum of Rs 4.36 crore allocated in 2016-17.Kohima Bench saw a marginal rise at the budget allocation to Rs 6.03 crore in 2017-18 from Rs 5.63 crore in 2016-17.Similarly,at the Aizawl Bench there was an increase in the budget allocation to Rs 6.33 crore in 2017-18 to Rs 5.98 crore in 2016-17.

As on December 31,2017, the sanctioned Judges strength of the Gauhati High Court was 24 (not yet revised after separation of Manipur, Tripura and Meghalaya High Courts). There are 18 Judges (7 judges and 11 additional Judges) working presently.There is only one woman who has been elevated to Bench of Additional Judge.There is a requirement of more women Judges in the Gauhati High Court to reduce the gender gap.As on June 30,2016, the sanctioned strength of staff at the Gauhati High Court was 836.However,there was a deficit of 110 staff.The staff strength at the Itanagar branch was 44 out of 81 sanctioned strength.At the Kohima Bench,the sanctioned staff strength was 91,out of which 76 was the working strength.There is a deficit of just 3 staff at the Aizawl Bench to the sanctioned strength of 109.

There are 61 subordinate courts spread in four states under the Gauhati High Court.Under the cases instituted at the subordinate courts, Mizoram received 12,980 freshly instituted cases in 2017,second to Assam.Whereas Arunachal Pradesh has the second largest pending cases after Assam.In the subordinate courts in Assam,there were 2,95,369 freshly instituted criminal cases, with another 1,90,434 criminal cases carried forwards from the previous year.Therefore,the subordinate courts have a total of 2,08,118 pending criminal cases by December 31,2017.

The statistics on the website of the Gauhati High Court states that the total sanctioned strength of judicial officers at the subordinate courts is 428 for Assam, 34 for Nagaland, 63 for Mizoram and 28 for Arunachal Pradesh.Thereby,comprising a total of 553 sanctioned strength of judicial officers at the subordinate Court.Arunachal Pradesh has the largest vacancy with about 40 percent of the seats to be filled up.In total,there are 116 vacancies at the subordinate courts.However,‘Indian Judiciary 2016-17’,an annual report published by the Supreme Court of India mentioned that Gauhati High Court conducted 18 recruitment processes in 2016-17 involving 62,286 candidates,out of which 974 were selected for various post of judicial services in the state of Assam,Arunachal Pradesh,Nagaland and Mizoram as well as ministerial staff of the High Court and the Districts court.

Manipur High Court

The Manipur High Court was inaugurated in 2013.Prior to it,it was under the jurisdiction of Gauhati High Court.According to data available till June 30,2017,the principal seat in Imphal holds jurisdiction over 16 districts.The Budget of the High Court increased to Rs 18.3 crore in 2017-18 from Rs 14.61 crore in 2016-17.

Till June 30, 2017, there were pendency of 3379 cases in the High Court.There were more freshly instituted civil cases then criminal cases in the High Court.While the disposal of Criminal cases have been speedy, 96 per cent of the pending cases are civil at the High Court.At the subordinate courts,there were approximately equal number of civil and criminal cases.There were a total of 6811 pending cases at the subordinate courts till June 30,2017.

At current,there are only two working judges at the Manipur High Court (including an Acting Chief Justice).As per the Department of Justice,Union Ministry of Law & Justice,the total sanctioned Judges strength of the High Court is 5 (including an additional Judge).There is a vacancy of three Judges in the state.It becomes nearly impossible to hear cases with just two Judges.As on June 30,2017,there were a total sanctioned staff strength of 209 at the High Court,out of which 28 were vacant.The total sanctioned strength of judicial officers at the subordinate courts was 48, with 14 vacancies till June 30,2017.

Meghalaya High Court

Meghalaya,like Manipur got separated from the Gauhati High Court in 2013.In addition to the Judgeship at Shillong covering East Khasi Hills District,six more Judgeship have been created.There has been a minimal increase in the Budget of the High Court from Rs 11.2 crore in 2016-17 to Rs 12 crore in 2017-18.

As on March 1, 2018, the total sanctioned strength of Judges in the High Court is 4,but there are only two permanent Judges.There is an urgent need to appoint one permanent Judge and an Additional Judge.The latest Indian Judiciary 2016-17 report also mentioned that the sanctioned staff strength of Meghalaya High Court was 169,out of which 33 were vacant.

As on June 30,2017 there were a total pendency of 724 cases,contributed more by the civil cases.There were 620 freshly instituted civil cases and 83 criminal cases.There were a disposal of 616 total cases out of 672 carried forward cases and 703 freshly instituted cases.There has been about 44 per cent rate of disposal last year.

The number of total cases pending at the subordinate courts rose to 15,300 (June 30,2017) from 14,256 cases (July,2016).There were a total of 10,302 freshly instituted cases last year.Within this period,there has been a disposal of 9,528 cases.Therefore, the disposal rate has been really slow at the subordinate courts. The sanctioned strength of Judicial officers at the subordinate courts was 91 (June,2017).But there is still a vacancy of around 50 officers.

Sikkim High Court

With the merger of Sikkim in the Indian territory in 1975,the Sikkim High Court was given independence in the exercise of the their judicial functions.There are four district courts under the High Court.The Budget of the High Court rose to Rs 14.85 crore in 2017-18 from Rs 11.85 crore in 2016-17.

According to data available till December 31,2017, the total cases brought forward from the previous year amounted to 170.There were a total of 230 freshly instituted cases last year.In the year 2017,a total of 190 cases were disposed leaving about 210 pending cases. The disposal rate last year was around 47 per cent.

The subordinate courts are burdened with more cases.There were a total of 1319 cases pending as on July,2016 which were carried forward.Till,June 2017,there were 2399 freshly instituted cases.Till June 30, 2017, a total of 2302 cases have been disposed.There are pendency of 1416 cases in the subordinate courts.Though there have been directions given to the subordinate courts to dispose of cases more than 5 years older by end of December,2017,there are still much work to be done.

Sikkim High Court has a sanctioned strength of three Judges.Surprisingly,it equals to the working strength.As on June 30,2017 there were a sanctioned staff strength of 174 at the Sikkim High Court.But there was a deficit of 34 staff.The total number of sanctioned judicial officers at the subordinate court was 23 (as on June 30,2017).Considering the level of increase in the subordinate courts,there is an urgent need to improve the strength and fill up the deficit of 8 officers.

Tripura High Court

The Tripura High Court got bifurcated from the Gauhati High Court in 2013.It has now five district courts under it’s jurisdiction.When almost all the High Courts saw a rise at the budgetary allocation,the Tripura High Court’s budget declined to Rs 14.71 crore in 2017-18 from Rs 15.66 crore in 2016-17.

As on July,2016 there were 2988 pending cases which were carried forward.A total amount of 2732 cases were freshly instituted last year.There was a disposal of 3228 cases.The disposal rate is around 56 per cent,which is quite spectacular as compared to the other high courts.But still there’s a pendency of 2503 cases as on June 30,2017.

There have been extreme numbers at the subordinate courts.As on July,2016 there were around 1,39,470 pendency cases,which were carried forward.Last year saw a hike to 1,53,658 freshly instituted cases (mostly criminal).As on June 30,2017, the total number of cases disposed was 1,50,898 and the number of pendency cases was 1,42,232.

The total strength of the Judges prescribed at the High Court by is 4.But as of March 1,2018,only two Judges are working.As on June 30,2017, the total sanctioned strength of the staff at the High Court was 339, out of which 51 were vacant.The total sanctioned strength of judicial officers at the subordinate courts was 107 as on June 30,2017.But there was a vacancy of 33 officers.

Conclusion

There seem to be no real solution at the moment.The Judiciary and the executives are locked into a serious cold war due the differences in opinion.This has delayed the judicial proceedings and has created ruckus even at the High Courts and the Subordinate courts.The total pending cases in the country is no match to the total cases in the northeast region.But Justice delayed is justice denied.The lack of manpower and Judges have put all the burden to just few Judges and staff.To expedite the process,the turf between the executive and the judiciary needs to put an end.Except for Assam,we see no women Judges at the other four high courts.Therefore,more women Judges should be appointed to reduce the gender disparity in the judicial proceedings.

Personal Blog. For details please mail me at observersindia@gmail.com

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