Recently, Delhi witnessed large scale protests by various groups demanding stricter punishment and speedier trial in cases of sexual assault against women.  In light of the protests, the central government has constituted a Commission (headed by Justice Verma) to suggest possible amendments in the criminal law to ensure speedier disposal of cases relating to sexual assault.  Though the Supreme Court, in 1986, had recognised speedy trial to be a fundamental right, India continues to have a high number of pending cases. In 2012, the net pendency in High Courts and subordinate courts decreased by over 6 lakh cases. However, there is still a substantial backlog of cases across various courts in the country.  As per the latest information given by the Ministry of Law and Justice, there are 43.2 lakh cases pending in the High Courts and 2.69 crore cases pending in the district courts.[1]

After the recent gang-rape of a 23 year old girl, the Delhi High Court directed the state government to establish five Fast Track Courts (FTCs) for the expeditious adjudication of cases relating to sexual assault.   According to a news report, other states such as Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu have also begun the process of establishing FTCs for rape cases.  In this blog, we look at the status of pending cases in various courts in the country, the number of vacancies of judges and the status of FTCs in the country. Vacancies in the High Courts and the Subordinate Courts One of the reasons for the long delay in the disposal of cases is the high number of vacancies in position for judges in the High Courts and the District Courts of the country.  As of December 1, 2012, the working strength of the High Court judges was 613 as against the sanctioned strength of 895 judges.  This reflects a 32% vacancy of judges across various High Courts in the country.  The highest number of vacancies is in the Allahabad High Court with a working strength of 86 judges against the sanctioned strength of 160 judges (i.e. vacancy of 74 judges).   The situation is not much better at the subordinate level.  As on September 30, 2011, the sanctioned strength of judges at the subordinate level was 18,123 judges as against a working strength of 14,287 judges (i.e. 21% vacancy).  The highest vacancy is in Gujarat with 794 vacancies of judges, followed by Bihar with 690 vacancies. Fast Track Courts The 11th Finance Commission had recommended a scheme for the establishment of 1734 FTCs for the expeditious disposal of cases pending in the lower courts.  In this regard, the Commission had allocated Rs 500 crore.   FTCs were to be established by the state governments in consultation with the respective High Courts.  An average of five FTCs were to be established in each district of the country.  The judges for these FTCs were appointed on an adhoc basis.  The judges were selected by the High Courts of the respective states.  There are primarily three sources of recruitment.  First, by promoting members from amongst the eligible judicial officers; second, by appointing retired High Court judges and third, from amongst members of the Bar of the respective state. FTCs were initially established for a period of five years (2000-2005).  However, in 2005, the Supreme Court[2] directed the central government to continue with the FTC scheme, which was extended until 2010-2011.  The government discontinued the FTC scheme in March 2011.  Though the central government stopped giving financial assistance to the states for establishing FTCs, the state governments could establish FTCs from their own funds.  The decision of the central government not to finance the FTCs beyond 2011 was challenged in the Supreme Court.  In 2012, the Court upheld the decision of the central government.[3]  It held that the state governments have the liberty to decide whether they want to continue with the scheme or not.  However, if they decide to continue then the FTCs have to be made a permanent feature. As of September 3, 2012, some states such as Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Kerala decided to continue with the FTC scheme.  However, some states such as Haryana and Chhattisgarh decided to discontinue it. Other states such as Delhi and Karnataka have decided to continue the FTC scheme only till 2013.[4]

Table 1: Number of Fast Track Courts and the pending cases in FTCs                     (As on March 31, 2011)

State No of FTC No of cases transferred until March 31, 2011 Pending cases
Arunachal Pradesh 3 4,162 2,502
Bihar` 179 2,39,278 80,173
Assam 20 72,191 16,380
West Bengal 109 1,46,083 32,180
Goa 5 5,096 1,079
Punjab 15 58,570 12,223
Jharkhand 38 1,10,027 22,238
Gujarat 61 5,37.636 1,03,340
Chattisgarh 25 9,4670 18,095
Meghalaya 3 1,031 188
Rajasthan 83 1,49,447 26,423
Himachal Pradesh 9 40,126 6,699
Karnataka 87 2,18,402 34,335
Andhra Pradesh 108 2,36,928 36,975
Nagaland 2 845 129
Kerala 38 1,09,160 13,793
Mizoram 3 18,68 233
Haryana 6 38,359 4,769
Madhya Pradesh 84 3,60,602 43,239
UP 153 4,64,775 53,117
Maharashtra 51 4,23,518 41,899
Tamil Nadu 49 4,11,957 40,621
Uttarakhand 20 98,797 9006
Orissa 35 66,199 5,758
Manipur 2 3,059 198
Tripura 3 5,812 221
Total 1192 3898598 6,05,813

Sources:  Lok Sabha Unstarred Question No.498, March 3, 2012; PRS


[1].  Rajya Sabha Starred Question no 231 dated December 10, 2012.

[2].  Brij Mohan Lal v Union of India (2005) 3 SCR 103.

[3].  Brij Mohan Lal v Union of India (2012) 6 SCC 502. [4].  Rajya Sabha Unstarred Question no 2388 dated September 3, 2012.

In the last few years, several states have enacted laws to curb cheating in examinations, especially those for recruitment in public service commissions.   According to news reports, incidents of cheating and paper leaks have occurred on several occasions in Uttarakhand, including during the panchayat development officer exams in 2016, and the Uttarakhand Subordinate Services Selection Commission exams in 2021.  The Uttarakhand Public Service Commission papers were also leaked in January 2023.  The most recent cheating incidents led to protests and unrest in Uttarakhand.   Following this, on February 11, 2023, the state promulgated an Ordinance to bar and penalise the use of unfair means in public examinations.  The Uttarakhand Assembly passed the Bill replacing the Ordinance in March 2023.  There have been multiple reports of candidates being arrested and debarred for cheating in public examinations for posts such as forest guard and secretariat guard after the ordinance’s introduction.  Similar instances of cheating have also been noted in other states.   As per news reports, since 2015, Gujarat has not been able to hold a single recruitment exam without reported paper leaks.  In February 2023, the Gujarat Assembly also passed a law to penalise cheating in public examinations.  Other states such as Rajasthan (Act passed in 2022), Uttar Pradesh (Act passed in 1998) and Andhra Pradesh (Act passed in 1997) also have similar laws.  In this blog, we compare anti-cheating laws across some states (see Table 1), and discuss some issues to consider.

Typical provisions of anti-cheating laws

Anti-cheating laws across states generally contain provisions that penalise the use of unfair means by examinees and other groups in public examinations such as those conducted by state public sector commission examinations and higher secondary education boards.  Broadly, unfair means is defined to include the use of unauthorised help and the unauthorised use of written material by candidates.  These laws also prohibit individuals responsible for conducting examinations from disclosing any information they acquire in this role.  The more recent laws, such as the Gujarat, Uttarakhand, and Rajasthan ones, also include the impersonation of candidates and the leaking of exam papers within the definition of unfair means.  Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Andhra Pradesh prohibit the use of electronic aids.  Maximum prison sentences for using such unfair means range from three months in Uttar Pradesh, to seven years in Andhra Pradesh. 

Issues to consider

The Gujarat and Uttarakhand anti-cheating Acts have relatively stringent provisions for cheating.  The Uttarakhand Act has a fixed 3-year prison sentence for examinees caught cheating or using unfair means (for the first offence).  Since the Act does not distinguish between the different types of unfair means used, an examinee could serve a sentence disproportionate to the offence committed.  In most other states, the maximum imprisonment term for such offences is three years.   Andhra Pradesh has a minimum imprisonment term of three years.  However, all these states allow for a range with respect to the penalty, that is, the judge can decide on the imprisonment term (within the specified limits) depending on the manner of cheating and the implications of such cheating.  Table 1 below compares the penalties for certain offences across eight states.

The Uttarakhand Act has a provision that debars the examinee from state competitive examinations for two to five years upon the filing of the chargesheet, rather than upon conviction.  Thus, an examinee could be deprived of giving the examination even if they were innocent but being prosecuted under the law.  This could compromise the presumption of innocence for accused candidates.  The Gujarat and Rajasthan laws also debar candidates from sitting in specified examinations for two years, but only upon conviction. 

These laws also vary in scope across states.  In Uttarakhand and Rajasthan, the laws only apply to competitive examinations for recruitment in a state department (such as a Public Commission).   In the other six states examined, these laws also apply to examinations held by educational institutions for granting educational qualifications such as diplomas and degrees.  For example, in Gujarat, exams conducted by the Gujarat Secondary and Higher Secondary Education Board are also covered under the Gujarat Public Examination (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 2023.   The question is whether it is appropriate to have similar punishments for exams in educational institutions and exams for recruitment in government jobs, given the difference in stakes between them.

Sources: The Rajasthan Public Examination (Measures for Prevention of Unfair Means in Recruitment) Act, 2022; the Uttar Pradesh Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 1998; the Chhattisgarh Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 2008; the Orissa Conduct of Examinations Act, 1988; the Andhra Pradesh Public Examinations (Prevention of Malpractices and Unfair means) Act, 1997; the Jharkhand Conduct of Examinations Act, 2001, the Uttarakhand Competitive Examination (Measures for Prevention and Prevention of Unfair Means in Recruitment) Act, 2023, the Gujarat Public Examination (Prevention of Unfair Methods) Act, 2023; PRS.