Judicial Pendency

[op-ed snap] The hard realities of India’s fast-track courts


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Relevance and limitations of fast track courts

The government has proposed to set up 1,023 fast-track courts to clear the cases under the POCSO Act. Supreme Court directed that districts with more than 100 cases pending under the POCSO Act need to set up special courts that can deal specifically with these cases.

Facts about fast track courts

  1. Fast-track courts (FTCs) have been around for a long time, with the first ones being established in the year 2000
  2. According to the Ministry of Law and Justice, at the end of March, there were 581 FTCs operational in the country, with approximately 5.9 lakh pending cases
  3. 56% of the States and Union Territories, including Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, had no FTCs
  4. 870 crore was released by the Centre between 2000-2001 and 2010-2011 towards these FTCs
  5. Increasing the number of courts as a recourse to deal with the mounting backlog has been a common practice.

Challenges of fast track courts

  1. Though large sums of money and attention are being devoted to creating additional posts, little is being done to identify and address the prevalent systemic issues.
  2. Without fully optimising the current mechanisms and resolving the problems, sanctioning more judges may not provide the intended results.
  3. In a survey of FTCs conducted by National Law University Delhi, it was observed that there is a huge variation in the kinds of cases handled by these courts across States. 
  4. Certain States primarily allocating rape and sexual offense cases to them and other States allocating various other matters.
  5. Several FTCs lacked technological resources to conduct audio and video recordings of the victims and many of them did not have regular staff.
  6. A per data collated from Supreme Court’s ‘Court News’ between 2010 and 2017, in Karnataka, the number of working judges increased between 2012 and 2017 but pendency did not reduce. 

Way ahead

  1. Inadequate staff and IT infrastructure, delay in getting reports from the understaffed forensic science laboratories, frivolous adjournments and over-listing of cases in the cause list are some of the variables.
  2. Identifying systemic issues and addressing the concerns is important for timely disposal of cases
  3. Designating special judges from the current pool of judges would increase substantially the workload of the remaining judges.
  4. For the FTCs to become successful, States will need to take stock of the issues at the ground level. 
  5. States should engage with the principal and senior district judges to get a sense of issues the courts are facing in various districts. 
  6. Attention must be paid to both the metropolitan and far-flung non-metropolitan areas.
  7. Critical issues such as inadequate court staff, improper physical and IT infrastructure and understaffed forensic labs, which affect the day-to-day functioning of the FTCs, must be comprehensively addressed.
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