Cases pending: Is the government the most active litigant?

Much has been said about why we have such a bafflingly large number of cases pending or unresolved in the court system. Cases pending in courts have caused anguish for litigants, lawyers, and judges alike. In its 230th report in 2018, the Law Commission of India stated that the government is the most litigious party in the system.

Number of Judges serving the population as a ratio

  • For every million people in India, there are 21 judges: As the government recently informed the Rajya Sabha, India has a terribly low number of judges serving a very large population. To be more specific, India has about 21 judges for every million people.
  • In comparison, China has about 159 judges for every million people.

What is the government concerned about?

  • Pendency has an impact on governance and undermines law and order: It is a source of concern for the government because a difficult dispute resolution system has a negative impact on governance and weakens law and order in any country.
  • The government is the most active litigant: For a long time, our government has been consumed by the burdens of the justice system, and it is acutely aware of its own role in contributing to the number of cases that enter the courts and remain unresolved.

The government’s efforts to reduce litigation

  • The government is well aware: The government is well aware of its role in contributing to litigation simply by being the most litigious party in court.
  • Plan of action in response to a large number of government lawsuits: On June 13, 2017, the Government of India’s Department of Justice issued an Action Plan to Reduce Government Litigation. The action plan was developed in response to the fact that the government is involved in 46% of all pending cases in the court system.
  • Legal Information Management Briefing System (LIMBS): They began the aptly named LIMBS project in 2015, with the goal of connecting 55 ministries and their departments for litigation management. Aptly named, because it seeks to connect our state’s various limbs of governance. According to LIMBS, there are 6,20,000 cases involving the government pending before the court system as of January 3.
  • 2010 National Litigation Policy (NLP): The status report to the NLP, 2010, was prepared because it recognizes that the government and its various agencies are the primary litigants in the country’s courts and tribunals. As a result, it sought to transform the government into an efficient and accountable litigant.

Is the government the one who initiates all of its litigation?

  • To be fair to the government, it does not initiate all of its litigation.
  • For example, the government is the driving force behind inter-departmental litigation (litigation between government wings) and routine service appeals.
  • Citizens, on the other hand, invoke writ jurisdiction of the courts and file criminal appeals. These are also cases involving the government that are being heard at various high courts and the Supreme Court.
  • So, while the government has some control over some of the litigation in which it is involved, it is not the catalyst in certain types of cases in which it is involved.

Way forward

  • Insights provided by the Vidhi Centre: The Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy in its report on Government Litigation published in 2018, provides great insights into where the government can and cannot control the litigation it is a party to.
  • Where the government has control over litigation: For example, the government’s 2010 National Litigation Policy (NLP) acknowledges that service matters should not normally be appealed and that only cases involving constitutional interpretation should be pursued all the way to the Supreme Court. The government should carry out the reform proposed by its own policymakers.
  • Reasons for reducing litigation: There are numerous compelling reasons to reduce government-involved litigation. One of the primary reasons is to reduce the burden on the courts. As Vidhi (2018) points out, the costs of pursuing litigation deplete public funds. In addition, a court battle between an individual and the state is a battle of unequals.

@the end

To address the overburdened court system, the largest litigant must use the system more efficiently and cautiously. This would be a fantastic first step toward addressing the issue of pendency. Appointing more judges would also be a significant step toward facilitating more dispute resolution.

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