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Report No. 125

Fourth Decade (1981-87)

2.16. The graph of arrears went on rising steadily and continuously during this period. This can be illustrated by the tabulated information (See Table VII in Appendix I and Graphs X and XI in Appendix II). It must be made clear that while the figures in the last column of the years 1981-86 do not include the number of miscellaneous cases pending, the figure in the last column for the year 1987 includes figures of special leave petitions, final hearing matters and miscellaneous cases.

To be precise, the Annual Report for the year 1987-88 of the Ministry of Law and Justice, Government of India, furnishes official information about the pendency in the Supreme Court as on 31-12-1987 as follows:1

1. Source: Annual Report of the Ministry of Law and Justice for the year 1987-88, Government of India, p. 31.

S. No.

Name of Court

Position as on

No. of Cases Pending


Supreme Court
(i) Regular hearing matters



(ii) Admission matters



(iii) Miscellaneous matters


85, 117




High Courts



To further buttress the inescapable conclusion that year after year, the graph of arrears in the Supreme Court is relentlessly rising, it may be stated that at the end of the year 1983, 1,36,313 matters were pending in the Supreme Court; by the end of the year 1987, the figure rose to 1,75,748,1 meaning thereby that in a span of five years, the arrears rose by roughly 40,000 cases.

1. Source: Annual Report of the Ministry of Law and Justice for the year 1987-88, Government of India, p. 31.

2.17. Apart from the continuous rise in the quantum of arrears year to year, the more disturbing fact is that the cases, after having been brought to the Supreme Court, are not disposed of for over a decade. This will be clear from the information tabulated hereunder:1

Pendency Position-Supreme Court of India

As on

Regular hearing matters pending over 3 years

Regular hearing matters pending over 5 years

Regular hearing matters pending over 10 years





It is frightening to note that when a case is pending over 10 years in the Supreme Court and recalling the fact that even High Court takes sufficiently long time to dispose of the case, the case, since its commencement in the court of original jurisdiction, must be pending over two decades. If anyone in search of justice has to wait for full two decades, that itself is sufficient to confess the failure of the system.

1. Source: Information supplied by Minister of State for Law and Justice in Rajya Sabha in reply to Unstarred Question No. 1646 on 10th March, 1988.

2.18. During the periods 1981-87, two cases occupied the Court for unduly long time. The challenge to the National Security Act, 1980,1 occupied the Court's time from the 1st week of December 1980 to almost the commencement of the summer vacation in May 1981. Similarly, in what has come to be known as Judges' case,2 a Bench of seven Judges heard the case from August 4, 1981, till practically the end of the year. A good number of Judges being occupied in hearing only one case or a couple of allied matters has the inbuilt tendency to push up the arrears.

1. A.K. Roy v. Union of India, AIR 1982 SC 710.

2. S.P. Gupta v. President of India, AIR 1982 SC 149.

2.19. Another significant development during this period is the rise in social action litigation and the advent of epistolary jurisdiction. Numerous letter petitions were received by the Supreme Court as well as large number of social action litigation were commenced. Disposal of these urgent cases kept back the hearing of the regularly admitted matters waiting final disposal, pushing up, to some extent, the arrears.

2.20. An extensive survey of the handling of causes and controversies by the Supreme Court of India during the period of its existence raises serious doubt about its future. The situation is day by day becoming more and more complex defying easy solutions. The problem of arrears in the Supreme Court has disturbed not only the Supreme Court but the Government of India, the legal profession and the academe. The Law Commission has also repeatedly focussed its attention on this none-too-likeable situation. The improvement is nowhere in the sight.

2.21. The situation becomes so depressing that very recently it provoked a Bench of the Supreme Court to almost shut the doors of the Supreme Court to those litigants invoking its jurisdiction under Article 32 of the Constitution which confers guarantee to move the Court for enforcement of fundamental rights. Petitioners approached the Supreme Court of India for the issue of a writ in the nature of certiorari for quashing an order issued by the Deputy Assessor and Collector of the Assessment and Collection Department of Municipal Corporation of Delhi.

The Court proceeded to dispose of the petition without expressing any opinion on the merits of the case, reserving liberty to the petitioners to file a petition, if so advised, before the High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution. In approaching the matter in this manner, a poignant observation of the Court deserves mention:

"This Court has no time even to dispose of cases which have to be decided by it alone and by no other authority. Large number of cases are pending from 10 to 15 years. Even if no new case is filed in this Court hereafter, with the present strength of Judges, it may take more than 15 years to dispose of all the pending cases."1

(Emphasis supplied).

Earlier another Bench of the Supreme Court while rejecting the petition leaving it to the petitioners to approach the High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution had observed that: "as it is, more than ten years old Civil appeals and Criminal appeals are sobbing for attention. It will occasion great misery and immense hardship to tens of thousands of litigants if the seriousness of this aspects is not sufficiently realised. And this is no imaginary phobia."2

The parties who approached the Supreme Court were advised to go to the High Court because the dockets of the Supreme Court are so dogged that till the turn of the century, the present backlog of cases cannot be cleared. Has the solution any merit? The situation in the High Courts is far more depressing than in the Supreme Court. The situation can be gleaned from the information tabulated below:3

High Courts


Pendency at the beginning of the year

Instituted during the year

Disposed of during the year

Pending at the end of the year








Not available

Not available






Not available

The situation in the High Courts appears to be comparatively worse than in the Supreme Court. If the Constitution-makers conferred original jurisdiction on the Supreme Court to grant relief where one complains of breach of fundamental rights, can it he denied on the short ground that the Supreme Court is unable to manage its own dockets and direct the parties to approach the High Courts where the situation is disturbingly depressing? Can litigants be pushed from pillar to post?

The solution to the problem does not tie in shutting the doors of the Court. There was a sharp reaction front the Supreme Court Bar Association to the approach of the Supreme Court in declining to entertain the petition on the ground, amongst others, that it has no time to deal with the cases. The solution has to be found somewhere else.

1. P.N. Kumar v. Municipal Corporation of Delhi, (1987) 4 SCC 609 (610).

2. Kanubhai Brahmbhatt v. State of Gujarat, AIR 1987 SC 1159.

3. Source: Annual Report of the Ministry of Law and Justice for the year 1987-88, Government of India, p. 31.

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