From the Desk of the Chief Justice

2022 was an eventful year for the Judiciary in Odisha. It was a year of revival and resurgence after two years of the Covid 19 pandemic, the last phase of which was experienced in the first few months of 2022. The 75th year of the High Court of Orissa commenced on 25th of July 2022.

In 2022, the Judiciary in Odisha witnessed an improved performance on all fronts. While disposal of cases by the High Court increased by over 29.86 % (1,36,599 cases disposed in 2022 compared to 1,05,182 cases in 2021), and the clearance rate was 130.94 %, the District Judiciary also put up an impressive performance by disposing of 5,15,392 cases which was 116.01% over 2021 (2,38,588 cases). Even in terms of the judgments delivered, there was a marked improvement. The High Court delivered 2,118 judgments in 2022 while the District Judiciary delivered 1,61,263 judgments. The corresponding figures for 2021 were 810 and 72,806 respectively

A number of factors contributed to this improved performance. The High Court had the highest ever number of 24 Judges for most of 2022. By the end of the year, the number was 22 with the retirement of two Judges. In the District Judiciary too, 50 new Judges were inducted at the level of the Orissa Judicial Service and 20 at the level of the Orissa Superior Judicial Service.

A number of factors contributed to this improved performance. The High Court had the highest ever number of 24 Judges for most of 2022. By the end of the year, the number was 22 with the retirement of two Judges. In the District Judiciary too, 50 new Judges were inducted at the level of the Orissa Judicial Service and 20 at the level of the Orissa Superior Judicial Service.

After a gap of seven years, an Annual Report of the functioning of the Orissa Judiciary in 2021 was released at the District Judges Conference held between 25th and 27th February, 2022, which itself was being held after a gap of over nine years. The conference witnessed the participation of the District Judges and the Chief Judicial Magistrates of each of the 30 districts. Three important recommendations of the District Judges’ Conference, which were followed up on and implemented during 2022 were (a) rationalization of the distribution of the caseload among judges (b) opening of paperless courts in the districts and (c) targeted timely disposal of rape cases and cases under the POCSO Act

Many first-time initiatives were launched in 2022. In every District Court, a Vulnerable Witness Deposition Centre (VWDC) was inaugurated. Odisha became the first state in the country to have a VWDC in every district. On 17th September, 2022, the Chief Justice of India, Justice U.U. Lalit inaugurated 34 Paperless Courts in the Districts.

Other initiatives included the Lawyer of the Year award for the District Court lawyers which is perhaps the first of its kind in the country. In 2022, the High Court bestowed this Award on 22 lawyers practising in the District Courts. The purpose of the scheme is to identify talented lawyers in the age bracket of 30 to 40 years and to encourage them to conduct full-fledged trials.

To incentivize better performance by the District Judiciary, the High Court announced a scheme for recognizing the ‘Best Performing District Court.’ This was done by categorizing District courts on the parameters of judge strength and caseload into three zones.

The year also witnessed the completion of the modernization and refurbishing of the Judicial and Administrative branches in the High Court. The working ambience for the employees has visibly improved. Employees completing 25 years of dedicated service in the High Court were felicitated at a function held on 1st February, 2022. The felicitation of retiring employees once in every two months continued with greater participation of High Court judges.

The Record Room Digitization Centre (RRDC), which has been the sinecure of appreciative eyes throughout the country, completed one year of its functioning on 11th September, 2022 with an impressive performance in terms of the number of case records digitized. 2022 also saw the launch of the Judicial History Project with a conservation lab being set up by INTACH to treat and revive fragile judicial records and then archive them with the help of experts. The opening of District Court Digitization Hubs in ten districts by Justice D. Y. Chandrachud, the

Chief Justice of India on 12th December, 2022 has taken the digitization project to the next level. It is expected that by the end of 2023, every judicial record in every District Court and every case record in the High Court would be digitized and it will be possible to have every Court in Odisha function as a paperless Court.

My colleagues in the High Court sitting in various Administrative Committees have overseen the functioning of the District Courts as well as the Registry of the High Court on a continuous basis and this has greatly helped in the improved performance over the year. The Bar and Bench relationship in the High Court has remained cordial. The orders passed by the Supreme Court of India in the months of November and December 2022 have underscored the need for complete commitment by lawyers in the Districts to their profession keeping in view the constitutional promise of equal and fair justice to the litigants. These orders, it is expected, will further improve the relationship between the Bar and the Bench in the Districts.

The years 2021 and 2022 may be viewed as years of progress and transformation of the Judiciary in Odisha, the prime reason for which has been the successful adaptation of technology and best management practices. This would not have been possible but for the dedicated and unstinting efforts of the Registry of the High Court led by the Registrar General and his team of officers, and the staff of the High Court. This has been matched in equal measure by the District Judiciary, both on the judicial and administrative side, including the staff in the District Courts.

There are still milestones to be achieved and this is not the time for the judiciary in Odisha to become complacent but to build on the achievements. The State and Central Governments have lent complete support to the measures taken by the High Court in achieving the targets and goals set for itself in the year 2022. Their continued support will ensure an even better performance by the High Court of Orissa in its 75th year and the Odisha Judiciary as a whole in the years to come.

There are still milestones to be achieved and this is not the time for the judiciary in Odisha to become complacent but to build on the achievements. The State and Central Governments have lent complete support to the measures taken by the High Court in achieving the targets and goals set for itself in the year 2022. Their continued support will ensure an even better performance by the High Court of Orissa in its 75th year and the Odisha Judiciary as a whole in the years to come.

For me personally I am aware that this will be the last of the messages as Chief Justice. As I step down this year, after completing over two years of satisfying work, I shall live in the knowledge that the Odisha Judiciary is on the right track to be among the best in the country. I wish to record my deep appreciation of all those who made it possible including my colleagues in the High Court, the Registry, the Judicial Officers in the various districts and the staff.

Cuttack

10th February, 2023

Dr. S. Muralidhar

Chief Justice