India’s Per Capita Expenditure on Free Legal Aid Is Just 75 Paise Per Annum: Report

The India Justice Report 2019 has pointed out several lacunae in India's justice delivery system.

New Delhi: India’s per capita expenditure on free legal aid – which 80% of the population is eligible for – was just 75 paise per annum in the year 2017-2018. This was revealed in a new study on the justice delivery system in India. Moreover, there isn’t a single state which has used the full budget allocated by the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA).

The report also says that over the last five years, on average, only 6.4% of the police force have been provided with in-service training. In other words, “over 90% (of the police force) deal with the public without any up-to-date training,” notes the study titled India Justice Report (IJR) 2019, released on Thursday.

Speaking at the launch, former judge of the Supreme Court, Madan B. Lokur said, “This is a pioneering study, the findings of which establish beyond doubt very serious lacunae in our justice delivery system.”

“I fervently hope the judiciary and the government will take note of the significant findings, and the states too will act to urgently plug the gaps in management of the police, prisons, forensics, justice delivery, legal aid and filling up the vacancies,” he added.

According to the report, there are 28 million cases pending in Indian subordinate courts and 24% have been pending for more than five years. In Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Odisha, Gujarat, Meghalaya and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, at least one in every four cases has been pending for more than five years. Moreover, 2.3 million cases are pending for more than 10 years.

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Detailing the performance of states and union territories, the report notes, “Maharashtra tops ranking of states on justice delivery. But even best performing states have been unable to score even 60% in their performance on capacity across Police, Judiciary, Prisons and Legal aid.”

Among the 18 big states, Maharashtra ranks first, followed by Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand are ranked 18, 17 and 16 in the list. Among the seven smaller states, Goa tops the list followed by Sikkim and Himachal Pradesh, while Tripura is at the bottom.

Credit: IJR 2019

The report also documents the number of seats vacant across the different pillars of the Indian justice delivery system. According to the report, “vacancy is an issue across the pillars of the Police, Prisons and the Judiciary, with only about half the States having made an effort to reduce these over a five-year period. For instance, the country, as a whole, has about 18,200 judges with about 23% sanctioned posts vacant.”

In terms of diversity, women account for just 7% of the 2.4 million police persons in the country, but 6% are at the officer level. Similarly, they account for 28% in the lower judiciary, but this falls to 12% at the high court level. Moreover, representation of SCs, STs, OBCs and women in the police is poor, with huge vacancies in the reserved positions.

Regarding budgets, the report notes that “most States are not able to fully utilise the funds given to them by the Centre, while the increase in spending on the Police, Prisons and Judiciary does not keep pace with overall increase in State expenditure. Some pillars also remain affected by low budgets.”

As per the findings of the report, Punjab was the only large state whose police, prison and judiciary expenditures were able to increase at a pace higher than the increase in overall state expenditure during 2012-2016.

Prisons are over-occupied at 114%, where 68% are undertrials (UTs) awaiting investigation, inquiry or trial. In 33 states and UTs, the share of undertrial inmates was above 50% (2016). Over five years, only 13 states and UTs were able to annually reduce this population.

Commenting on the findings, former Chief Justice of India M.N. Venkatachaliah, in the foreword of the report, notes, “the issues considered in the report cover a range of issues that are of contemporary relevance and urgency.”

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According to Justice Venkatachaliah, due to the inefficiency of the system, “if a sizeable section of people lose faith in their governance structures and in the justice dispensation in society, a socially negative critical mass occurs, which can result in sweeping cynicism that unleashes a power of destruction.”

“The report, in highlighting how various actors in the justice system function, conveys a message of caution,” he adds, emphasising that “critical issues inhibiting access to, and delivery of, justice must have the good sense to pay attention before it is too late.”

The IJR 2019 is prepared by Tata Trusts in collaboration with Centre for Social Justice, Common Cause, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, DAKSH, TISS-Prayas and the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy.