That India has over 3 crore cases pending in various courts—over 60,000 in the Supreme Court, 40 lakh in various high courts and 2.7 crore in various subordinate courts—is well-known. What is less appreciated, though, is that as many as 46% of these—going by the government’s latest figures—are those involving the government, various PSUs and other bodies funded by the government. What the sums involved in these litigation are not known, but in the case of the tax department, at the end of FY16, disputed cases involved a sum of over `6.8 lakh crore. Resolve the government litigation, and it is obvious that there will be a dramatic reduction in the clutter in various courts and an equally large bump up in India’s Ease-of-Doing-Business rankings as the time taken to clear court cases would fall significantly. It would also free up considerable amount of resources, both within the government and the private sector, in terms of manpower as well as money.
Talking of resolving cases and doing so, of course, are two different things and, despite having a National Litigation Policy that sought to reduce average pendency in Indian courts from 15 years to three, nothing really happened. That policy, too, sought to transform government into an ‘efficient and responsible litigant’ with a nodal officer in each department whose job would be to curb frivolous litigation with the help of various regional empowered committees. So, if the current government hopes to make a dent in this, it will have to be through an aggressive policy on mediation or arbitration and a policy rule that says the rulings will be challenged only under extremely trying circumstances. It is equally important to apply rules that take into account the likelihood of victory and the time this will consume—any case that takes more than 5-10 years to be won is hardly likely to be worth it unless the amount involved is truly large.
Similarly, the number of appeals that will be considered must take into account the government’s track record in winning appeals. In other words, set up groups in various ministries whose job is to examine all pending litigation and rank these on the basis of value and ‘winnability’, and then take a call on whether they should be carried on with; bunch cases on, as the Supreme Court does, the basis of points-of-law, and then deal with them accordingly. Similar parameters have to be put in for current cases since there is little point in fixing the stock if the flow is not dealt with.