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Indians Under Trial Exceed Dutch Population

Prachi Salve,
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A cameraman setting up his equipment in front of the Supreme Court in Delhi in February 2014.


For the 13 years the Salman Khan hit-and-run case was in trial, it was one of 18.5 million criminal cases pending in India’s district and lower courts, and the 50-year-old Bollywood star was one of 22.2 million people under trial.


Driven by a shortage of prosecutors, judges and courts and—among other reasons—slow procedures, there are more people under trial in India than there are people in the Netherlands or Kazakhstan. Some of the other reasons are the excessive number of lawsuits being filed and an inordinate concentration of work in the hands of some members of the Bar.


In 2013, the cases of as many as 85% of people put on trial were pending, according to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data:



Source: National Crime Records Bureau; Figures as on April 1, 2014.


The number of under trials in prison (2,78,503) in 2013 is 67.6% of the total prison population. The previous year, the percentage was 66.2%. 37.3% of undertrials were in prison for periods up to 3 months in 2013. The highest percentage of undertrials detained for up to 3 months was reported in Andhra Pradesh (89.2%).


In 2014, the Supreme Court ordered the release of all undertrial prisoners who have been detained in prison for at least half the maximum sentence prescribed for the offences they are charged with. This brought much needed relief to poor people who were languishing in jails as they were not able to pay sureties and bail bonds to get out.


Let us look at the rates of pending cases in a variety of courts across India:


An Eternal Catch-Up Game
Courts Cases brought forward Freshly instituted Cases disposed of Cases pending at quarter-end Cases pending as % of all cases in trial during quarter
Supreme Court (criminal) 12211 5466 5267 12410 70.2
Supreme Court (criminal+civil) 64330 22549 20819 65970 75.9
High Courts (criminal) 1023738 176652 166765 1033626 86.1
High Courts (criminal+civil) 4456412 508727 486115 4479023 90.2
District and Subordinate Courts (criminal) 18560764 3704354 3266414 18998704 85.3
District and subordinate courts (criminal+civil) 26839032 4866618 4344835 27360814 86.3

Source:  Supreme Court News; Figures as on April 1, 2014


Criminal cases form 19% of the Supreme Court’s pending cases and 25% of the settled cases.


In high courts, 23% of pending cases (a million of them) are criminal cases, while 6.9% of those settled are criminal cases. In district and subordinate courts, 67% of pending cases are criminal.


New cases flood in, and together with the backlog, they outnumber settled cases and increase the caseload. For instance, in the first quarter of 2014, the Supreme Court had 5,466 new criminal cases and 12,211 cases carried over from the previous year, but only 5,267 of those cases were settled.


 What India needs: Judges—and more judges


India has 15 judges for every million people, one of the world’s lowest ratios.


Lower-court vacancies are a leading cause of pending trials, IndiaSpend previously reported, as the table below indicates:


Understaffed and Under-strength
Court Sanctioned Strength Working Strength Vacancies Vacancies as % of sanc. strength
Supreme Court of India 31 25 6 19.4
High Courts of India 906 641 265 29.2
District and Subordinate Courts 19726 15438 4288 21.7

Source:  Supreme Court News; Figures as on April 1, 2014


The lower courts were 22% (or 4,288) short of judges, as of April 2014, the high courts 29% (256) and the Supreme court, 19% (six).


Source:  Supreme Court News; View raw data here.


Source: Supreme Court News; View raw data here


Delays tend to be higher in lower courts and correspond with the number of judicial vacancies. High courts with the most pending cases are also those with the most vacancies, the data show.


Update: The story has been updated with additional information on undertrials in prison and the reasons for the lengthy legal process in India.


Salve is a policy analyst with IndiaSpend.
Additional research by Aadya Sharma and Pratiksha Wadekar.



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  1. Amol Chavan Reply

    May 7, 2015 at 9:55 am

    It shows that it is easy to keep your case under trial for long run for common man. It makes super easy for Salman too. I think gov. need a helping hand from various organisation to over come this problems. I guess certain percentage of pending cases are clear-cut decision just been postponed due to money, power etc. I think that should be targeted first then there are some cases for which we need clear data to be collected by gov. agencies like police and various gov. departments so that decision can be done quickly. Doing both of this on a surveillance basis will mean a lot. And if there is clear cut evidence then the cases will be also skimmed thru by higher courts thereby bring justice to the needy with some reasonable speed and will also make people aware that just to file in higher court does not mean we can delay it further.

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