India has less than 15 judges per million people, while other democracies, such as Canada and the US have, respectively, 75 and 104.
The lay-man might think that the delay in dispensing justice is inevitable since great care is taken not to punish the not guilty, and punish the guilty with due punishment and no more. The comment often made about our justice system is that it is equitable and fair, even if delayed.
Yet, even the most forgiving would not have expected that a case, involving a land dispute, could take as long as five decades.
When the case was referred to the highest court of the land, it attracted soul-searching comments from the judges. They said: People in India are simply disgusted with this state of affairs and are fast losing faith in the judiciary because of the inordinate delay in disposal of cases. They further noted that: Before parting with this case we would like to express our anguish at the delay in disposal of cases in our law courts. The present case is a typical illustration. A suit filed in 1957 has rolled on for half a century.
Delays are the result of too many cases (and appeals) chasing too few judges.
As noted in a recent newspaper editorial, we have less than 15 judges per million people, while other democracies, such as Canada and the US have, respectively, 75 and 104. This precarious situation continues despite a 2002 directive from the Supreme Court to raise the ratio to 50 in a phased manner.
There is more to delay than just manpower shortage, however. As the legal luminary, Mr Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer, noted in a thought-provoking article, a number of systemic changes should be in place if we are to achieve a significant reduction in the pending cases and delays.
It is not clear what the punishment is in India compared to that in other countries for similar crimes.
But it is clear that ordinary men and women, and especially the youth in our country, often do not even hesitate for a minute before blithely committing simple crimes such as putting graffiti on the walls of residential and non-residential buildings, throwing garbage wherever convenient, letting loud-speakers blare at higher decibels than permitted, bunking school or college for no compelling reason, and so on.
The seeds of indiscipline are sown at a young age, unknowingly, even unconsciously. The wrong environment could nudge along a pre-existing criminal inclination, just as the right atmosphere and upbringing can discourage it from growing and spreading.
Several years ago, in a neighbouring country, an American youth, under the influence of alcohol, threw paint on a series of parked cars and received several canings as punishment.
The little nation did not heed the appeals made by some of the top political and religious leaders from the US.
The country in question was itself not particularly applauded for its record of democracy and freedom. But every young person there learnt what the punishment would be for a similar crime.
Bhanoji Rao (The author is a Visiting Faculty, Sri Sathya Sai University, Prasanthi Nilayam)