Delhi is the national capital and second most populous metropolitan city of India. It is a centrally administered union territory. However, in 1991, it was given its own legislative assembly with limited powers and declared the National Capital Territory of Delhi.
Delhi was a part of Punjab Province under the British colonial regime. In 1912, it was taken out of the province and made a separate legal entity under immediate authority and management of the Governor General of India in Council. Simultaneously the Delhi Laws Act, 1912 was enacted for enforcing the existing laws in Delhi.
In 1915 the government added the area falling on the other side of the Yamuna River to the territory (now known as the Trans-Yamuna), thus defining its present-day boundaries, which encompass an area of around 1483 square kilometers.
Delhi has a population of 13,782,976 as per the 2001 census. The population grew by over 46 per cent in the decade up to the census. If the growth rate has continued, it can be estimated that the present population of Delhi is around 17 million.
The High Court of Delhi
Delhi has had its own high court since 1966; prior to that the District Courts of Delhi remained under the administrative control of the Punjab High Court. Up to 1971, the High Court of Delhi exercised jurisdiction not only over the Union Territory of Delhi, but also over the state of Himachal Pradesh.
Initially, the High Court of Delhi had four judges. In January 2008, its sanctioned strength was 28 permanent judges and eight additional judges. Six out of 24 benches were hearing criminal matters, broadly classified into writ petitions, appeals, revisions, and bail applications, which are allocated to separate benches to be heard in accordance with this classification.
Subordinate criminal trial courts
The entire judicial district of Delhi comprises of one sessions division and one judicial district, headed by one district and sessions judge. There are a number of additional sessions judges exercising jurisdiction and powers equivalent to a sessions judge, trying serious cases such as murder or rape, and also hearing criminal appeals and revisions against the orders passed by metropolitan magistrates. Delhi also has one chief metropolitan magistrate and five additional chief metropolitan magistrates.
The number of the courts of the sessions and courts of metropolitan magistrates vary from time to time depending upon the quantity of work and the number of officers available.
Delhi has two judicial services, created in 1970, namely the Delhi Higher Judicial Service and the Delhi Judicial Service. The strength of these two services has been increased from time to time. Currently, the sanctioned strength of the Delhi Higher Judicial Service is 169 while the Delhi Judicial Service has 218 posts.
The District and Sessions Judge of Delhi is the head of the district judiciary in Delhi. The judge holds court at the Tis Hazari Courts Complex. All the subordinate administrative offices of the judge are located in the same complex. In addition, there are three more court complexes in the district, namely Patiala House, Karkardooma, and Rohini.
Criminal justice is administered through the courts situated at various complexes according to police districts. Delhi has been divided into three ranges, 10 districts and 136 police stations for the purpose of policing. The districts are central, east, New Delhi, north, northeast, northwest, south, southwest, west and Outer Delhi, the last created in September 2007, having been previously part of the northwest district.
Tis Hazari Courts Complex
The Tis Hazari Courts Complex is the biggest of its kind in Asia. The construction of the building was completed in 1958 and Justice A N Bhandari, Chief Justice of the Punjab High Court, inaugurated it in the same year. Initially, it had three floors and a fourth floor was added later.
The District and Sessions Judge of Delhi heads the complex, which houses 132 courts, out of which 45 are criminal courts, and of which 16 are presided over by additional sessions judges, one by the chief metropolitan magistrate, two by additional chief metropolitan magistrates, and 26 by metropolitan magistrates. These courts cover five of the ten police districts, namely north, northwest, Outer Delhi, west and central.
On 30 September 2007, 3444 criminal cases were pending in the courts of additional sessions judges at Tis Hazari while 136,992 were pending in the courts of the metropolitan magistrates.
Patiala House Courts Complex
The Patiala House Court Complex is situated in the palace of the erstwhile Maharaja of Patiala near India Gate. The criminal courts at Patiala House deal with cases pertaining to New Delhi, south and southwest police districts. The complex houses courts of 11 additional sessions judges, one additional chief metropolitan magistrate and 25 metropolitan magistrates dealing with criminal justice. It also houses motor accident claims tribunals.
On 30 September 2007, 5382 criminal cases were pending in the courts of additional sessions judges at Patiala House while 227,345 were pending in the courts of the metropolitan magistrates.
Karkardooma Courts Complex
The Karkardooma Courts Complex houses criminal courts presided over by nine additional sessions judges, one additional chief metropolitan magistrate, and 22 metropolitan magistrates. They deal with cases from the east and northeast police districts. The complex also houses some courts dealing with cases of civil, labour, rent, and motor accident claims.
On 30 September 2007, 4861 criminal cases were pending in the courts of additional sessions judges at Karkardooma while 152,046 were pending in the courts of the metropolitan magistrates.
Rohini Courts Complex
Presently 30 courts are operational in the Rohini Courts Complex, dealing with civil, criminal, rent and motor accident claims cases pertaining to the west and northwest police districts. The criminal courts are presided over by eight additional sessons judges, one additional chief metropolitan magistrate, and 19 metropolitan magistrates.
On 30 September 2007, 5099 criminal cases were pending in the courts of additional sessions judges at Karkardooma while 121,614 were pending in the courts of the metropolitan magistrates.
It is interesting to see the government’s budgetary allocations for the functioning of all these courts.
The total budget of the government of Delhi in 2005-06 was 115 billion rupees, while in 2006-07 the amount was increased by over 16 per cent to 133.45 billion. The total in 2007-08 was 185.61 billion, a further increase of almost 40 per cent.
For the Delhi High Court alone, in the financial year of 2005- 06 the total expenditure was over 387 million rupees. In 2006- 07 the estimated budget, however, was 158,000 rupees less than was spent the year before. However, actual expenditure exceeded this amount by more than 77 million rupees, or 19.89 per cent
The civil and sessions courts in 2005-06 spent more than 653 million rupees. The budget for financial year 2006-07 was over 794 million; however, actual expenditure came to be only around 767 million, an increase of some 113 million rupees on the year before, or 17.34 per cent. And for 2007-08, the budget to these courts is 872 million, a further increase of almost 105 million rupees on what was spent the year previously, or 13.68 per cent up
The magistrates courts incurred actual expenditure of over 107 million rupees in the financial year 2005-06. The budget for financial year 2006-07 was almost 128 million but this came out to be over 132 million, or a 23.57 per cent increase over the previous year. In 2007-08, the budget is more than 163 million rupees, a net increase of over 30 million or 23.06 per cent more than the previous year.
When figures for all three courts are combined it shows that the increase in the budget of financial year 2006-07 over previous year was 18 per cent, while in financial year 2007-08 the increase was only 15.27 per cent
This is very low in comparison to the total budget of the government. The increase between the budgets of 2005-06 and 2007-08 was 61.4 per cent whereas the increase in budgetary allocation for judiciary was only 36.93 per cent.
In addition, in 2007 court working days numbered only around 280. Add to this leave taken by each individual judicial officer, attending of other duties like training courses as well as seasonal vacations, and the average working days of a criminal court comes to around 220 in a year.
That Delhi’s criminal justice system is badly clogged is an understatement. The system is collapsing under the weight of overload. Every person connected with the criminal courts knows this fact. The system is fast losing its credibility among law- abiding citizens and, unfortunately, illegitimate alternatives are growing.
The most badly hit are the under-trial prisoners. The jails in Delhi, as on 30 November 2007, were housing 11,836 prisoners: around double their capacity. Leaving aside other consequences, the delay in justice delivery is causing enormous misery to these prisoners, of whom on that day alone 9084 or 76.75 per cent were under-trial. Among these, 138 had been languishing for more than five years while 1999 had been in jail for between one and five.