Constitution Bench Pendency at the SC (2019-2021)
This post analyses changes in the pendency of matters before Constitution Benches of the Supreme Court from January 2019 to December 2021.
The COVID-19 pandemic affected pendency at the Supreme Court adversely, with the total number of pending cases increasing by over 10,000 between January 2020 and December 2021. The effect of the pandemic on pendency before Constitution Benches, however, has not been as severe. This post analyses changes in the pendency of matters before Constitution Benches of the Supreme Court from January 2019 to December 2021.
The Supreme Court of India hears cases involving substantial questions of constitutional interpretation in Benches comprising five or more judges. In most instances, multiple cases before CBs raise similar questions of law. The Court hears these cases together under one main matter. When one main matter is disposed of, CB pendency decreases by more than one case.
Figure 1 shows that the pendency of CB matters saw sharp increases and decreases between January and October 2019. In the last quarter of the year, the Court delivered judgments in important Constitution Bench cases including the RTI and Judicial Independence case, the Ayodhya dispute and the Sabrimala review, This brought the CB pendency down from 56 in October to 51 in December 2019. Overall, the Court was able to reduce CB pendency by 7.2% in 2019.
The Court spent 2020 grappling with COVID-19. The Court heard only urgent matters in March, and shifted to online hearings in July. Despite these challenges, Figure 1 indicates that the number of pending CB matters decreased continuously from 52 in February to 44 in September 2020. In this period, the Court delivered important judgments including on reservations in postgraduate medical courses and the Land Acquisition Act. CB pendency started increasing in the final quarter of the year, from 44 matters in September to 50 matters in December. The total pendency of CB matters increased marginally by 2% in 2020.
The effects of the pandemic continued to linger in 2021. CB pendency decreased from 50 matters to 47 after the Court dismissed the Aadhaar Review in January. Pendency increased gradually from February to June, and then decreased again after the Maratha Review was dismissed in July. One new matter was referred to the CB in November, and the Court ended the year with 50 pending CB matters. Overall , there was no change in the number of pending CB matters between January and December 2021.
Therefore, while the Court has not been able to reduce yearly CB pendency after the pandemic commenced, it has not allowed a substantial increase either.