In some good news for the judiciary crippling under the weight of mounting arrears, there has been a sharp decline in ‘cheque bounce’ cases pending before the subordinate courts of Delhi. Only three years ago, there were over six lakh such cases clogging the wheels of subordinate judiciary. The figure has now been cut down to slightly over one lakh cases pending for disposal by the magisterial courts.
Justice A P Shah who recently retired as the Chief Justice of Delhi high court had rightly reflected on the situation while hearing a case, “Courts are flooded with cases under Section 138 of Negotiable Instruments (NI) Act. Judges are not able to dispose off other cases within their jurisdiction. Dealing with cheque bounce cases is very time consuming.”
His worries were not unfounded. Figures accessed by The Sunday Standard reveal, as on September 2009, there was a backlog of 12.84 lakh cases in six district courts of Delhi. Out of this, the mammoth share, almost 50 per cent comprised of cases filed by several banks and other financial institutions under Negotiable Instruments (NI) Act for dishonouring of cheque for insufficient funds or other reasons. “About 6.1 lakh (615219 precisely) cases were pending in various magistrates’ courts which pertained to complaints of bouncing of cheques on September 30, 2009,” the report then submitted to the Delhi high court had revealed.
The situation however has changed for the better, after simple and effective measures were taken by the judiciary. The number of cheque bounce cases showed a downward trend 2009 onwards. By the end of 2010, district courts were left with over 2.65 lakh cases instituted under Section 138 NI Act. “There were 265129 cases pending as on December 2010 under Section 138,” the report further added.
According to a senior District and Sessions Judge, “...since everyone felt the need to reduce backlog of cases filed under Section 138 NI Act, a coordinated approach was adopted.We now only have some lakh cases remaining before the courts of Metropolitan Magistrates.” According to the last figures released by all the six district courts—Tis Hazari, Patiala House, Rohini, Karkardooma, Saket and Dwarka—137611 cheque bounce cases were pending as on July 2012 (out of total 5.8 lakh cases).
The problem of mounting arrears in district courts in Delhi was flagged off by two successive Chief Justices of India, Justices K G Balakrishnan and S H Kapadia, since retired. While Justice Balakrishnan lamented bounced cheque cases were clogging the judicial system, especially at the lower levels leading to extended delays in other criminal trials, his successor Justice Kapadia even wrote a letter to the Delhi High Court asking it to take up “pending cases on priority”.
The Delhi High Court issued detailed instructions to all the six district courts in April this year. It went on to prescribe an ambitious plan to reduce the backlog by December 2012. As many as 27 Magistrates Courts were exclusively dedicated to deal only with cases of Section 138 NI Act unlike the previous years, when along with his usual allocation of cases, a Magistrate was also expected to handle cheque bounce cases. “Hence, magistrates would fail to give time to Section 138 cases. This would result in a backlog.” said Ajay Digpaul, an advocate at the Patiala House Court.
In an attempt to lessen the workload on account of cheque bounce cases, the High Court had asked senior judges to “ensure” that Metropolitan Magistrates dealing with such cases are provided with “adequate staff and support from police stations in executing summons and warrants.” The HC monitors the progress. A quarterly report has to be submitted by district courts.It gives the exact number of cases filed and disposed at the end of each quarter.