SCO Daily: 69,461 Cases Pending in the Supreme Court

By the end of September, the number of pending cases at the SC fell below 70,000 for the first time this year.

As September ended, the Supreme Court released its monthly report on the number of pending cases remaining at the SC. As on October 1st, this number stood at 69,461 cases. Let’s break down what this means.

Pendency has always been a concern for our Court. It is an indication of how quickly it is able to clear the cases that are filed, and what kind of burden it is carrying. In other words, it’s the primary measure of the Court’s logistical efficiency.

Many factors affect pendency—the number of judges at the SC, the way the Court functions in its day-to-day, the number of cases that it hears, and the amount of time it gives to each case, to name a few. One of the most unprecedented factors however, has been the COVID-19 Pandemic. 

2020, the first year of the pandemic, brought the Supreme Court’s functioning to a near standstill. To make up for the slow delivery of justice, former Chief Justice Sharad Bobde instituted e-courts, e-filing, and a number of other mechanisms within a few months of the pandemic being declared. Despite these attempts to adapt, the Court suffered. In March 2020, when the first lockdown was announced, the Court had over 61,000 cases pending. After a year, in March 2021 that number had reached 67,000. In April 2021, a slowly recovering Court was forced to shut down again, as the second wave of COVID-19 hit. By December last year, over 70,000 cases were pending at the SC which was the highest the Court had seen in 30 years. 

Pendency has remained in the 70,000s this year, with the exception of June when it crossed 72,000. The cause for this is clear, the Court had been on summer vacation for six weeks. A post vacation Court appeared prepared to take on the pendency burden. The numbers have fallen since. 71,000 cases in July, 70,000 in August, and now for the first time this year, it fell below the 70,000 mark.

This improvement may seem minor. I mean, with a burden of 70,000 cases, is a drop by a few thousand cases really that impressive? 

At this point it’s critical to note that the Supreme Court isn’t just dealing with a static docket. That is, it’s not clearing cases from a fixed number, it is also dealing with the fact that hundreds of cases are being filed every month. So when the number of pending cases falls, the Court is actually clearing more cases than what is being filed each month. 

In our previous video, we saw the many reforms that the current Chief Justice of India U.U. Lalit brought about in September. Many are aimed at reducing the burden of the Court. For instance, the Court’s daily functioning has changed to ensure that judges are able to hear and clear more cases. Cases with big questions of law are being heard, so there is clarity in other cases that deal with those same questions and those can be swiftly disposed. For these reforms to make a more dramatic impact, however, the Court may need more time. With just another three working weeks left in CJI Lalit’s tenure, he may not be able to see his initiatives bear fruit in terms of numbers, at least not before he retires. 

At SCO, we will be tracking these developments closely, visit our website, especially our Court Data section to know more!