The sharp rise in pendency of cases during the Covid pandemic sends an urgent warning to governments and constitutional courts that the justice system needs to focus urgent attention at the grassroots. Pendency has swelled by 80 lakh cases from 3.2 crore in March 2020 to 4 crore presently at the lower courts.
While the higher courts have benefited from digital connectivity and courts going paperless, the benefits of digitalisation haven’t quite percolated down. There is tremendous hesitancy to shift to virtual modes at lower levels. Social distancing norms, non-appearance of litigants in courts, lack of incentive for lawyers to expedite cases and no particular systemic thrust for a return to normalcy have all contributed to delaying proceedings.
Now with the pandemic appearing to wane, the first priority of the government and judiciary must be to tackle the backlog. Even before the pandemic there were over 5000 vacancies nationwide at the lower court level. These need to be filled fast. Governments must loosen their purse strings. The failure of courts to address pendency has worrying consequences. Without harmonious resolution of civil disputes and prompt punishment for criminal offences, the rule of law will weaken its grip over society.
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