Indicating the effect of the Covid-19 lockdown on the judicial system, the filing of crucial cases in the Allahabad High Court, the country’s largest, fell by 65% between February and March.
While approximately 20,000 cases were filed every month in the high court in 2019, as per an official of the court, the National Judicial Data Grid (NJDG) shows that in July, only 5,157 cases have been filed so far.
The NJDG is a government-maintained database under the e-courts project, a monitoring tool to identify, manage and reduce the pendency of cases.
In March, when the lockdown set in, over 8,000 cases were filed at the high court. In contrast, in the previous months of January and February, when the court sat regularly, it saw over 22,000 filings.
Of these, 1,038 were writ petitions as per the NJDG data. In March, the writ plea numbers dipped to 190 cases, while in April and May, just 36 cases were filed. Although filings improved marginally in June, crossing 200 cases, these dipped again in July, to 103.
Both writ petitions, filed for violations of fundamental rights, and criminal appeals, that are challenges against lower court orders, have been qualified as “urgent”, and hence to be heard during the restricted functioning of courts following the pandemic.
In January and February, the Allahabad High Court saw 63 and 60 criminal appeals, respectively. In March, the numbers fell to half, just 31. Between April and May, just 21 criminal appeals were filed, while in June, no criminal appeals are recorded at the high court by the NJDG.
The Allahabad High Court was initially closed down on March 18, with only remand and bail petitions allowed. After the lockdown was extended, the high court began hearing other “urgent” cases over video-conferencing, with the prior approval of the Chief Justice. However, the lack of sufficient infrastructure continues to hamper its functioning.
In June, the Allahabad High Court offered cubicles on court premises for lawyers and litigants who did not have access to infrastructure. However, the bar termed the functioning “chaotic”. This week, the Allahabad High Court Bar Association wrote to Chief Justice Govind Mathur, urging him to suspend court functioning till “proper arrangements were made for e-filing, manual filing and video-conferencing”.
Meanwhile, this week on Monday and Tuesday, the high court shut down entirely, with neither physical nor e-filing allowed, after a surge in cases in the state.
The Allahabad High Court already accounts for the highest pending case rate among all high courts in the country, at 30% (total number stands at 7.39 lakh). Over 35% of these pending cases are writ petitions.
Against its sanctioned strength of 160 judges, the court currently has 102.