Given the population of a country as vast as India, the people-services ratio will rarely be at par with those of smaller countries with fewer people. In the case of critical services such as law enforcement and judiciary, the skewed ratios have a direct bearing on administration of justice, which can weaken people’s faith in institutions and even democracy itself. The fact that there are only 18 judges per 10 lakh people as against the Law Commission recommended benchmark of 50 judges should be disconcerting to all stakeholders.
The shortage of judges in the lower judiciary and high courts is part of a larger problem of inadequate judicial system and infrastructure. The lower courts, which hear cases for the first time and therefore, considered the backbone of the judicial system, have to have adequate capacity to deal with mounting cases. In the subordinate courts, there is a shortage of 4,432 judicial officers as against a sanctioned strength of 20,502 in 2015. It is going to be a daunting task to fill the capacity gap at the state level. Firstly, there are not enough courtrooms to accommodate new judges, even if they were appointed immediately. Creating infrastructure will take time given the inordinate delay due to red tape bureaucracy and poor project management and execution capabilities of public works department. Secondly, there is the problem of finding the right kind of judicial talent to fill the existing vacancies.
The judicial system clearly lacks the capacity to deliver timely justice, especially at a time when the social, political and economic changes are giving rise to more court battles. The government must come up with a holistic judicial manpower plan. This requires improving the quality of law education and nurturing talent among legal fraternity, which has to be in tandem with putting in place the requisite infrastructure. Meanwhile, to check backlog, it must explore simpler dispute resolution systems.