In the last Annual Report, in achapter titled ‘Introspection and Challenges’, an attempt was made to highlight the areas in which the Odisha judiciary had faced challenges and the steps proposed to be taken to meet them. While reviewing the performance of the Odisha judiciary in the past year 2022, it is seen that while there has been reasonable progress in several areas, formidable challenges still remain. A few of these need to be explained.

TACKLING THE DOCKET EXPLOSION:

High Court -

At the beginning of the year 2022, the total pendency of cases of all types was 1,96,662. During 2022, 1,04,321 cases were instituted as compared to 1,28,786 in 2021. The total disposal of cases in 2022 was 1,36,599 as compared to 1,05,182 in 2021, which is an increase in disposal by 29.86%. At the end of the year 2022, 1,64,384 cases remained pending. Judgments were delivered by the High Court in 2168 cases as compared to 810 in 2021. The Case Clearance Rate (CCR) that is, Disposal/Institution x 100 was 130.94% in 2022 as compared to 81.67 in 2021.

As mentioned in the previous Annual Report, consequent upon abolition of the Odisha Administrative Tribunal (OAT) in August 2021, of 49,878 cases pending before the OAT were transferred to the High Court. Of these, 41,572 cases were disposed of during 2022. This was able to be achieved by distributing these cases among 7 benches. 8306 cases remained at the end of 2022.

District Courts –

The total pendency of cases of all types was 17,89,677 at the beginning of 2022. 5,52,948 cases were instituted during 2022 as compared to 4,34,810 cases in 2021. Of these, 5,15,392 cases were disposed of in 2022 ascompared to 2,38,588 cases in 2021. This reflects rate of increase in disposal by 116%. At the end of 2022, 18,26,100 cases remained pending. Judgments were delivered in 1,61,263 cases as compared to 72,806 cases in the 2021.

The Case Clearance Rate (CCR) that is, Disposal/Institution x 100 was 93.20% in 2022 as compared to 54.87 in 2021. This has been possible by adopting proper case-management strategies by the judicial officers devoting of personalized attention.

This was possible by identifying 13 pilot districts which focused attention on disposal of yearold cases.

In addition, there was substantial disposal of cases by adopting Alternative Dispute Resolution Modes (ADR) as also by way of withdrawal of prosecution by the government resorting to section 321 of CrPC.

3,37,277 cases were disposed of in 5 Lok Adalats held during the year 2022.

44,989 cases were withdrawn from prosecution by the government in consultation with the High Court under the provisions of Section 321 of Cr.P.C.

All these have considerably lessened the burden of docket explosion.

Uneven distribution of cases in different courts:

It has been the experience that cases were unevenly distributed in the dockets of the different courts across the State. As a result, some courts were overburdened with work, while some others had less work. This resulted in nonoptimum utilization of the available judicial resources. The issue was discussed in the District Judges’ Conference held on 26th and 27th February, 2022 and it was resolved to adopt rationalization of cases among the different courts so as to ensure their even distribution.

The District Judges were instructed to impress upon all transferring courts to transfer such number of cases to the trial courts so as to maintain equal pendency to the extent possible.

As such, a total number of 3,24,900 cases were transferred to different trial courts. This resulted in striking a balance in regard to pendency of cases among all courts.

As a following on the above measure, 25 new cognizance-taking courts were inaugurated across the State on 21st November, 2022. As a result, the heavy burden on the existing cognizancetaking courts has considerably reduced. The above process of rationalization is expected to ensure greater efficiency and higher disposal of cases in the days to follow

Loss of court working hours:

The Odisha Judiciary as a whole has been facing the problem of loss of court working hours for a variety of reasons, which include holding of references due to deaths of lawyers and judges, leave/ official tour of judges and the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2022, 3118 working hours (reference = 1,537; leave/official tour = 1,395 and Covid-19 = 185) out of 23,736 working hours were lost in the High Court. [Working hour = Total Working hour per day (5 hours 15 minutes) x No. of working days x working strength of the Judges] Likewise, the cumulative loss of court working hours of the District Courts lost in the State during 2022 was 2,22,447. This was due to many reasons including cease work, picketing and strike by lawyers. [Working hour = Total Working hour per day (6 hours) x No. of average loss of working days x average working strength of judicial officers in the State]

The orders passed by the Supreme Court in TP(C) No. 2419 of 2019 M/s PLR Projects Pvt. Ltd. v. Mahanadi Colfields Ltd and others on 12th December, 2022 and 14th December, 2022 have helped adopt a changed approach. (Appendix-Q)

Judge strength:

The sanctioned strength of the High Court as on 1st January, 2022 was 27.

The sanctioned strength of the High Court as on 31st December, 2022 was 33. The working strength of the High Court as on 1st January, 2022 was 18.

The working strength of the High Court as on 31st December, 2022 was 22.

The sanctioned strength of the District Court judges as on 31st December, 2022 was 1001. The working strength of district court judges as on 1st January, 2022 was 785 and as on 31st December, 2022 itstood at 767.

In the aftermath of Covid-19 pandemic which had affected the process of recruitment in 2020 and 2021, efforts were taken for timely recruitment of judicial officers in the district courts. As a result, 50 officers of the 2021 batch and 1 officer in the cadre of District Judge were inducted into the judicial service in 2022 leaving a vacancy of 186 posts, which have already been notified for being filled up. For 19 vacancies of 2021 to be filled up in the cadre of District Judge by way of direct recruitment from the Bar, 410 applications were received pursuant to the advertisement issued on 1st February, 2022. Of these 216 candidates appeared in the written test held on 3rd April, 2022 and only 4 candidates qualified for the viva voce held on 13th May, 2022. Out of the 4 candidates, only 1 could qualify in the viva voce test and was appointed.

For 53 vacancies of 2021 to be filled up in the cadre of Civil Judge, recruitment was conducted by the Odisha Public Service Commission on 13th December, 2021. The Main written examination was held on 20th September, 2022 and Viva Voce test was held from 7th October, 2022 to 6th November, 2022. The final select list was published on 1st December, 2022 and the selected 50 candidates were appointed.

Traditional challenges:

In the last Annual Report a number of traditional challenges had been highlighted such as, non-execution of warrants, long abscondance of accused persons, non-availability of witnesses, non-disposal of Fine Misc. cases and Bailer Misc. cases etc.

In the two letters addressed to them on 18th April, 2022 and 27th October, 2022, the Chief Justice impressed upon the district judges to coordinate with the district administration and police for early execution of warrants and early apprehension of absconding accused persons (Appendix-R). The administrative judges of the districts, at the time of their visits to the districts, have also requested the police administration to expeditiously execute warrants. The district judges have been asked to instruct the judicial officers of their judgeships to prioritize disposal of Fine Misc. cases and Bailer Misc. cases.

The problem of non-availability of The problem of non-availability of witnesses, particularly the official witnesses and persons living far away, has been tackled by resorting to virtual courts. As a result there has been significant increase not only in the examination of witnesses through the virtual mode but also physically. 4,32,262 witnesses were examined in the year 2022 as compared to 2,25,352 in 2021. Of them, 2013 witnesses were examined through virtual mode in 2022. This has also contributed to increase in disposal of cases.

On the civil side the common problems faced are non-service of summons on parties, non-availability of Salaried Amin (Amin Commissioner), long pendency of execution cases, non-substitution of legal representatives of deceased parties and nondisposal of interlocutory applications etc.

While the non-availability of adequate number of Salaried Amins remains, the district judges have been instructed to drop/ dispose of execution cases in which the parties are no longer interested or not taking any steps. 7,185 such cases were dropped/ disposed of in the State. As regards the other problems, the judicial officers have been asked to adopt proper case-management strategies and focus their personalized attention for better disposal.

Record rooms and store-houses:

Records Room in the High Court as well as in the district courts of the State were in a state of disarray causing practical difficulties in tracing out required records as also in delivering certified copies thereof. This also thwarted the process of digitization undertaken for permanent conservation of records in digitized form. A conscious decision was therefore, taken to reorganize and rearrange the record rooms. The administrative judges of the respective judgeships, during their visits, laid special emphasis on this aspect. By the end of the year all record rooms in the State have been fully reorganized and rearranged in an orderly manner leading to effective retrieval of records there from as also for facilitating easy digitization of records. This has greatly facilitated the work of 10 new digitization hubs created for cluster of districts.

Similarly, the Malkhana (Storehouses) of all courts in the districts were in disorganized state being congested causing practical difficulties in withdrawal and restoration of material objects kept therein. Following the orders dated 31st January, 2022 passed by the High Court in WP(C) 31622/2021 Ashish Ranjan Mohanty v. State of Odisha and WP(C) 32580/2021 State of Odisha v. Registrar General, High Court of Orissa, a decision was taken to amend the Rule 177 of the GR & CO (Criminal) Vol I by inserting Rule 177-A providing for constitution of a Committee consisting of judicial officers and Judge-in-charge, Storehouse for identification of unidentified material objects and for their early disposal after retaining the Hash Values thereof. As a result, the storehouses of the judgeships have become organized leading to decongestion.

Infrastructure:

It is needless to mention that better infrastructure leads to better performance. Keeping in view the above, much emphasis has been laid to provide stakeholder-friendly court complexes and proper residential accommodation for judicial officers and staff. In the year 2022, 5 court buildings were inaugurated, 18 quarters for judicial officers and 72 residential quarters for staff have been constructed.

The internal layout of the court that envisages both the witness and accused being seated, while the trial is in progress, has been introduced on a test basis in Kendrapara and is being replicated in all new court complexes. The scheme annexed for identifying the Best Performing District (Appendix-P)is meant to incentivize better performance of the District Courts.

Added to the above, Odisha Judiciary has resorted to greater use of technology in the form of opening more virtual courtrooms, paperless courts, vulnerable witness deposition centers (VWDC), e-filing (3.0) enabled centers etc. Further, conscious efforts were made to provide conducive work ethic and climate among the support staff by insisting upon regular judicial officers and staff meetings/interactions. The district judges have enhanced monitoring of the work of other judicial officers of the district by holding regular review meetings.

To sum up, though challenges remain, yet Odisha Judiciary stands committed to meet the same through its positive initiatives and continued efforts so that its Constitutional obligation is fulfilled.

A Corridor in the Mediation Centre

A court room in the new building of the High Court