Introspection and Challenges

For any institution, introspection is necessary to overcome the drawbacks and to enhance efficiency. It is seen that while substantial progress has been made in many fields, yet there are certain areas where the performance of the judiciary in Odisha appears to have fallen short of expectations.

There are many factors at play here and these are discussed hereafter:

Docket Explosion

Undoubtedly, the greatest challenge to the judiciary is docket explosion i.e. increase in the pendency of cases. While the increase in the institution of cases reflects people’s faith in the judiciary, it also poses challenges.

At the beginning of 2021, the High Court had a pendency of 1,73,510 cases. In the course of the year, 1,28,943 cases were instituted and 1,05,334 cases were disposed of. At the end of the year, the pendency rose to 1,97,119.

Following the rejection by the High Court on the judicial side of the challenge to the abolition of the Odisha Administrative Tribunal (OAT), around 40,000 cases pending before the OAT were transferred to the High Court, thus adding to its pendency. That apart, all service-related cases that were being filed before the OAT are now being filed in the High Court. Long pendency of cases has also been a feature of the District Courts.

At the beginning of the year, 15,92, 250 cases were pending in District Judiciary. While 4,21,703 cases were instituted in the course of the year, 2,28,609 were disposed of by the District Courts. The total pendency of cases at the end of the year rose to 17,89,677. Of these, 3,62,945 are civil cases and 14,26,732 are criminal cases.
At the beginning of the year, 12,236 cases were 25-year-old and in the course of the year, 2,907 cases became 25-years old. 5,568 such cases were disposed of during the year of these, 2,323 are civil and 7,217 are criminal cases. At the end of the year,9,540 cases were pending.

At the beginning of the year, 305 cases were 40-years-old. In the course of the year, 99 cases became 40-year-old. 240 such cases were disposed of during the year at the end of the year 164 cases which were 40-years-old were pending in the District Courts. Of these, 157 are civil cases and 7 are criminal cases.

Our analysis has revealed that the major cause for such pendency, at least in the District Courts, is the operation of orders of stay by the higher courts. The decision of the Supreme Court of India in Asian Resurfacing of Road Agency v. Central Bureau of Investigation AIR 2018 SC 839 aided in such cases being proceeded with. The High Court of Orissa promptly issued directives to the District Courts to abide by the ratio of the above decision in letter and spirit. The Chief Justice reiterated this in the two letters written by him to the judicial officers on 13th April and 10th October 2021. The result was very encouraging as can be seen from the following figures:

No. of over 40-year-old cases locked up due to stay: 189
No. of such cases in which the ratio of Asian Resurfacing was applied: 154
No. of such cases disposed of thereafter: 131
No of over 25-year-old cases locked up due to stay: 1,426
No. of such cases in which the ratio of Asian Resurfacing was applied: 1,237
No. of such cases disposed of thereafter: 703

In criminal cases, the major reason, apart from operation of stay, is the non-execution of non-bailable warrants. Guidelines were issued to send such cases to the dormant file after complying with the statutory requirements.

2,105 cases which were between 25 and 40 years old and 8 cases over 40-years-old were, during 2021, sent to the dormant file.
All District Court judges have been impressed by the Chief Justice to adopt case-management methods for old cases and to follow them up on a regular basis.

The uneven distribution of cases among the Judges in the District Courts is also a cause for concern. For example, there is a disproportionate number of cases in the docket of one particular Court in most districts i.e., the Court of Sub-Divisional Judicial Magistrate (SDJM). Instances of six heavy pendency districts namely, Khorda, Cuttack, Balasore, Bhadrak, Ganjam and Sambalpur can be taken. Total pendency in Khorda district is 1,91,122 out of which 82,960 cases are pending in the Court of SDJM, Bhubaneswar alone. Similarly, out of total pendency of 1,70,191 in Cuttack district 56,968 cases are pending in the Court of SDJM, Cuttack. In Balasore district total pendency is 1,28,408, out of which 21,444 cases are pending in the Court of SDJM, Balasore. In Sambalpur, Bhadrak and Ganjam districts, the total pendency is 82,968, 94,802 and 86,408 cases respectively, out of which the pendency in the Courts of SDJMs in their respective district headquarters are 48,474, 30,391 and 11,064.

An analysis of the aforesaid data reveals that apart from the main reasons cited above, several other factors are also responsible for non-disposal of cases.

Criminal Cases

Long abscondance of accused persons in criminal trials: It is seen that because of migration to different places, including places outside the State in search of employment opportunities, warrants issued for production of accused person by the courts remain non-executed for a long time. As a result, the criminal trial is unable to be concluded.

Non-availability of witnesses: Usually official witnesses like the medical officer and the investigating officer are either found to have been transferred to a different place or retired from service in which event his/her whereabouts are difficult to be ascertained.

Non-disposal of Fine Misc. Cases: Petty cases that can be disposed of upon payment of fine are found to remain pending for years together mainly because of lack of attention by the Presiding Officer and/or non-apprehension of the accused.

Bail or Misc. Cases: These are cases relating to persons who stood surety for release of persons on bail. The reasons for their non-appearance is also set out in (i) above.

Civil Cases

Non-service of summons on parties: In a suit where there are several defendants, it becomes difficult at times to effect personal service of summons issued by the court due to several reasons as a result of which trial of the suit gets delayed.

Non-availability of Salaried Amin (Amin Commissioner): All works relating to demarcation, identification and allotment of land pursuant to the decrees passed by Courts are done by the Salaried Amin and such a post has been created in each of the original 13 districts.

However, despite the creation of 17 new districts, no post of Salaried Amin has yet been created for the said districts for which, the existing Salaried Amin has to discharge the duties of the adjoining districts as well. As a result, a large number of cases including cases of preliminary decrees have remained pending for non-availability of the Salaried Amin.

Execution cases: Execution cases are found to be pending for long periods because of non-taking of steps by the decree-holder, non-ascertainment of properties of judgment-debtor and lack of attention by the presiding officers etc.

Non-substitution of deceased parties to suits: Death of party/parties requires substitution by the legal heirs, which is usually not done in time resulting in abatement of the suit. Subsequently, the parties appear and seek setting aside of such abatement. As a result, the case is again relegated to a previous stage.

Non-disposal of interlocutory applications: Parties file several miscellaneous/interlocutory applications like injunctions, amendments, interrogatories etc. at different stages of the suit and unless the same are disposed of, the main suit perforce remains pending. Lack of personal attention by the presiding officers for early disposal of such applications is also one of the major reasons of delay.

The Special Courts experience

Special Courts have been established with the intent of ensuring focused attention to certain cases that are considered to impact the society. Special Courts have been established for POCSO cases, cases relating to crimes against women, Fast Track Special Courts (FTSC), Vigilance cases, SC and ST cases and Family disputes etc.

Special CourtNo. of Courts

The rate of disposal by the Special Courts has not met expectations for a variety of reasons discussed earlier. In addition, the number of charge-sheeted witnesses in Vigilance (Disproportionate Assets) cases is usually very high which causes delay in conclusion of the trial. Non-execution of distress warrants for execution of monetary payment orders passed by the Family Courts for a long period adds to the delay.

Loss of Working Days

After bearing the brunt of the Covid-19 pandemic on an unprecedented scale in 2020, we welcomed 2021 with a stronger resolve to remain undaunted to its effects – trying our level best to keep the Courts functioning even during the lockdowns and the shutdowns as much as was possible. Carrying a profound grief in our hearts for the loss of loved ones we set out to carry on business as usual to the best of our abilities.

Apart from the situation arising out of the pandemic, the Court work has also been affected because of other reasons such as abstention from work or strikes by lawyers and suspension of Court hours due to death of their colleagues and other issues and demands. It has been the practice of the District Bar Associations to cease work in the event of the death of a lawyer. While in the High Court, the court work is usually suspended for half a day, in some District Courts the entire day’s work is suspended because of resolutions passed by the local Bar Association.

High Court/District JudiciaryWorking days as per the calendarWorking days lost due to Covid-19Working days lost due to other reasons Number of days when Court(s) functioned
High Court210725178
District Judiciary (Average)24067.2015.69157.11

For the District Judiciary, the year was even more challenging as many court campuses faced containment and shutdown due to the pandemic. Month-long lockdown also had an impact on functioning of the courts. On an average, 67.20 days were lost in the District Courts due to COVID. Abstention from court work by the local Bar Associations on various other issues including death of Advocates, raising demands etc. also caused an average loss of 15.69 working days.

Judge-Population Ratio

As against a pendency of 1,97,119 cases in the High Court, there are presently 21 judges and as against a total pendency of 17,89,677 cases in the District Courts, there are presently 785 judges (of different cadres).

Appointment of Judges to the High Court involves a lengthy procedure. the High Court Collegium recommended 5 persons (3 advocates and 2 judicial officers) in March 2021, out of whom, the names of 4 persons (2 advocates and 2 judicial officers) were cleared by the Supreme Court Collegium in September 2021 and they were elevated in October and November 2021 taking the working strength to 18. Subsequently, 4 advocates were recommended by the High Court Collegium and 3 of them were appointed as judges on 14th February, 2022. In the meanwhile, the sanctioned strength was enhanced by the Central Government from 27 to 33 judges. The present working strength is 21 judges.

In case of appointment of judicial officers into the entry grade of Civil Judge, the vacancies are determined by the High Court every year, notified by the State Government and advertised by the Odisha Public Service Commission. The recruitment process involves a Preliminary and Mains (Written) Examination followed by a viva-voce. In the year 2021, 53 vacancies have been notified and the recruitment process is underway.

The Judge-Population ratio, i.e. number of judges per one million population is poor in Odisha as it is in the entire country. In fact, such ratio is 20.52 as compared to the national average of 21.03. The population of Odisha is presently estimated at 4.76 crores.

Sanctioned strength of Judges of Orissa High Court and District Courts962
One Judge per 49,790 persons 
Sanctioned strength of the High Court as on 31st December, 202127
Sanctioned strength of the High Court as on 15th February, 202233
No. of Judges as on 1st January 202113
No. of Judges as on 31st December 202118
No. of Judges as on 15th  February 202221
Sanctioned strength of District Court Judges976
No. of District Court Judges as on 1st January 2021756
No. of District Court Judges as on 31st December 2021785

Notwithstanding the challenges, the Odisha judiciary remains committed to fulfilling its Constitutional obligations.