India Justice Report 2019 shows country’s failing criminal justice system

India has only 1 police personnel for every 663 individuals. Most states and Union Territories (UTs) spend less than Rs. 100 per prisoner per day.


The report also states that in India, per capita public spending on legal aid is only Rs. 0.75 per annum. In a country where over 1.25 billion population is eligible for free legal aid, the per capita spending of 75 paise is quite a disgrace. One may infer that economically weaker sections must have low accessibility to legal remedies due to lack of proper infrastructure for legal aid across the country.

This is the data offered by the India Justice Report, 2019 brings out other staggering data points. A first time initiative of the Tata Trusts, it lends weight to bare bone common knowledge of India’s failing criminal justice system.

By the people, for the people

Despite every government’s mandate to provide an accessible, affordable, impartial, efficient and responsive justice system to all in keeping with the constitutional promise, either of ‘equality before the law’ (Article 14) or the universal duty of all governments to ensure ‘the protection of life and personal liberty’ (Article 21), India fails in this regard. A judiciary over burdened with litigation, an unprofessional police force, also overworked and insufficient in number, poor conditions of prisons and growing number of under trial prisoners, are just the tip of the iceberg.

India has promised measurable progress in justice delivery via the universally agreed upon UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Goal 16 specifically recognizes the need to ‘provide access to justice for all and to build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels’.

However, this report highlights that each individual sub-system is starved for budgets, manpower and infrastructure; no state is fully compliant with the standards it has set for itself.

International rankings

On the 2019 Rule of Law Index, India’s overall ranking is 68 amongst 126 countries. Looking at 3 other parameters in the same index, which comprise the overall index are Order and Security; Civil Justice ad Criminal Justice. While India ranks at a poor 111 for Order and Security, it ranks comparatively better in Civil Justice at 97 and at 77 for criminal justice which is still not among the top 50%.

  1. Prisons

Salient findings

  • Prevalence of HIV, sexually transmitted infections, Hepatitis B and C, and tuberculosis in prison populations is two to 10 times higher than the general population.
  • In 2016, 67.7% of India’s prison population were undertrial prisoners
  • Kerala ranks first in overall average of all indicators of prisons in the state.
  • The prison occupancy in Delhi is as high as 180%
  • In Uttar Pradesh 95,366 inmates are handled by 1 correctional personnel.
  • In 2016, Uttar Pradesh, with over 68,000 undertrial inmates, had the highest number and accounted for about 23 per cent of all undertrial prisoners.
  • Nationally, 19 states and UTs spent between ₹20,000 to ₹35,000 per inmate annually. This is less than ₹100 per day on each prisoner.

The report speaks of the overcrowding and staff shortages can be as hard on prison staff as prisoners. Low salaries, poor training, lack of promotional opportunities, long hours, arduous workloads and high vacancies at all levels characterize prison administrations across states. High vacancy in prison staff create certain practical compulsions. Where rules provide for convicts to act as warders, convict officers or night watchmen, certain prisons come to be heavily dependent on long-term inmates, who manage various tasks, from main gate registration to working on all administrative tasks and even disciplining others. Dependence means their behaviour with other prisoners—any exploitation, violence, collusion in illegal activities or corruption—has to go unchecked.

For prisons to have a more reformative and rehabilitative character, such shortcomings in terms of budget spending and filling up of vacancies become important considerations. The important factor of increasing number of under trial prisoners is also a ghost that haunts our justice system and many a times unwarranted arrests and delay in filing of charge sheet are responsible for these figures.

  1. Police

Salient findings:

  • Only 6.4% of the police force have been provided in-service training. That means that over 90% deal with the public without any up-to-date training
  • Tamil Nadu ranks first in all indicators of Police which means the state has a strong police force with presumably good infrastructure, resources and adequate human resources which are indicative of their quality of delivery output.
  • Only 1 amongst 22 sates (for which this data was available) was able to fully utilise its police Modernisation Fund.
  • The police’s capacity to deliver is determined by how well the State provisions the police with adequate budgets, personnel, and infrastructure to fulfil its varied and multifarious duties.
  • Karnataka is the only state to have very nearly filled officer-level reservations in all caste categories.
  • As of January 2017, the average all-India per capita spend on policing was ₹
  • In relative terms, among the large and midsized states, the state that covered urban and rural populations the most evenly was Kerala.

This indicates that most police personnel lack proper training after induction into the forces, this could mean any kind of training which is important to keep the forces up to date with technology, or with the new laws that might require sensitization or soft skills in communication, and general topics pertaining to law such as public policy, new trends in criminology, among others.

The budgetary allocation of the states towards the police force is also an important factor to look at for the holistic growth of the forces, which will help in improving infrastructure and thus better and more effective policing.

  1. Judiciary

Salient findings:

  • There are 28 million cases pending in Indian subordinate courts out of which 24% have been pending for more than 5 years.
  • Tamil Nadu ranks first (among 18 states) again in judiciary in overall average of all quantitative indicators.
  • On average, no state or UT apart from Delhi spent even 1 per cent of its budget on the judiciary.
  • At the subordinate court level, in twenty-one states and UTs, a case remains pending for 5 years on average or more
  • Only Odisha and Tripura had a case clearance rate above 100% in both High Court and subordinate court levels.
  • Not a single High Court or state’s subordinate judiciary had reached its complete complement of sanctioned judicial posts

The report deals with the requirements of a that a well-functioning judiciary is without doubt vital to the maintenance of rule of law, social cohesion, and sustainable development. The capacity of the judiciary to deliver is significantly influenced by the infrastructure, budgets and human resources available to it, and the diversity within it. Currently, judiciary budgets cover establishment costs, i.e. salary, allowances, and minimum operational costs, but do not usually stretch to capacity building or allow for innovation and experimentation. In the large and mid-sized category, Haryana spends the most (₹201) per capita, while West Bengal at the bottom spends one-fourth of that (₹52).

  1. Legal aid

  • There is one Legal services clinic per 42 villages.
  • Arunachal Pradesh, Lakshadweep and Andaman and Nicobar Islands) do not have a single legal service clinic.
  • Kerala ranks first again in Legal aid in overall average of all quantitative indicators
  • None of the state in India have used their entire NALSA (National Legal Services Authority) budget allocation
  • In 15 states and UTs out of 36, Lok Adalats settled more than 50% of the pre-litigation cases they took up.
  • As of 2018, there were 664 district legal services authorities (DLSAs) and 2,254 sub-divisional/taluka legal services committees established across districts
  • Tripura, West Bengal, Telangana, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh are states that are yet to establish DLSAs in all their judicial districts.
  • As of January 2019, there were 63,759 panel lawyers and 69,290 paralegal volunteers (PLVs) working with LSIs across the country.
  • India has about 5 legal aid lawyers per 1,00,000 population
  • The per capita public spending on legal aid is only Rs. 0.75 per annum

The report says that India’s legal aid system is possibly one of the largest and most extensive in the world. ‘Legal services’ are not only restricted to representation in court cases, but also include spreading legal literacy, facilitating actualization of the entitlements of people under welfare laws and schemes, and the provision of advice and counselling. The biggest challenge in the implementation of legal aid services is the uneven organizational practices in the delivery of legal services across districts and sub-divisions. Given that nearly 1 billion Indians are eligible for free legal aid, the creation of necessary infrastructure is a fundamental pre-requisite in the fulfilment of this mandate.

Important Themes in the Report

  1. Women

  • There are 7% women in the entire police workforce. And at officer level, we have only 6% women.
  • Only 18% of panel lawyers with Legal Services Institutions (LSIs) that provide legal aid are women
  • Women account for 28% in the lower judiciary, and 12% at the High Court level.
  • Bihar is the lone state that has adopted 38 per cent reservation for women, across sectors in public recruitments.
  • Nationally, Chandigarh and Dadra and Nagar Haveli had the highest share of women in their overall police force at 18 per cent and 15 per cent respectively
  • Over 5 years, 31 states and UTs have improved women’s representation in the force. The pace, however, is much too slow.
  • Maharashtra, Uttarakhand and Kerala posted a decline in the overall percentage of women in the period from 2012-2016.
  • There are just 9.6 per cent women across all levels of the prison administration.
  • Thirty-six per cent of PLVs (24,999 of total 69,290 PLVs) appointed are women.

Quite naturally women have an important role to play in a justice delivery system where offences against women have consistently been on the rise. A women’s perspective and -approach in dealing with offences against women is imperative and the shortage of women personnel in the justice delivery system is alarming and needs to be mitigated at the earliest, for a balanced system.

The presence of women judges portrays the institution that upholds law and dispenses justice as an equal opportunity space driven by fair, meritocratic, and non-discriminatory practices and norms.[1] The presence of a large number of women panel lawyers and PLVs is essential for reaching out to a constituency that is often under-served and faces socio-cultural barriers when they try to come forward for legal assistance

  1. Personnel


  • There are 151 police personnel per one lakh people
  • Sanctioned strength: 193 per one lakh people
  • In India police cover is 1 for every 663 individuals, going as high as over 1,600 in some cases.

This raises some serious questions on the efficacy of the police workforce and and also on public safety. How can one policeman protect 663 individuals?


  • Prisons are understaffed by at least 33% with the highest vacancies found at the officer and correctional staff levels
  • Nationally, on an average, vacancies ranged from 33% to 38.5%.
  • The Model Prison Manual, 2016, has suggested one correctional officer for every 200 prisoners, and one psychologist for every 500
  • As of 2016, this ratio stands at one welfare officer per 2,033 prisoners, and 21,650 prisoners for one psychologist
  • 12 states and UTs have a shortfall of 50% or more medical officers.
  • There are only 621 correctional staff across India’s 1,412 prisons.

The report says that the All India Committee on Jail Reforms (1980– 1983), popularly known as the Justice Mulla Committee, had made several recommendations to develop an All India Prison Service as a professional career service with appropriate job requirements, sound training and proper promotional avenues. Unfortunately, even nearly forty years on, these recommendations have not been systematically implemented. After the Mulla Committee Report, there had been no study on prisons and prison reforms, until the Supreme Court set up the Justice Amitava Roy Committee in 2018.

  1. Judiciary

  • In 27 states and UTs including, Haryana, Maharashtra and Kerala, there is just one subordinate court judge for over 50,000 people.
  • Each of the 18 Large and Mid-sized states had High Court judge vacancy of above 25%
  • At the subordinate Court level, six of the 18 Large and Mid-sized states had over 25% vacancy of judges
  • Only Sikkim has a High Court judge vacancy of less than 20%.

The shortages in personnel or long-standing vacancies lead to overworked staff burdened with increasing workload. It is known that our justice delivery system is over burdened due to increasing population and the justice delivery system needs a workforce commensurate with the increasing population. India is a demographically enriched country and yet we are unable to harness this to mitigate the personnel shortfall across sectors. The report says that there is a structural challenge when it comes to filling the vacancies of judges at high court and subordinate level, the impending lack of infrastructure. However, at the current strength of judges, the infrastructure is even 11.3% surplus, if the positions are to be filled to a 100%, there will be a shortfall of 4,071 court halls.

  1. Diversity

  • There are 19 States and UTs having more than 15% reservation for Schedules Castes (SCs) in officer; their target has not been met. The average gap being 35%
  • There are 14 states and UTs having more than 15% reservation for Scheduled Tribes (STs) in officer cadre; their target has not been met. The average gap being 44%
  • There are 22 states and UTs having more than 15% reservation for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in officer cadre; their target has not been met. The average gap being 55%
  • Tamil Nadu ranks first in the Diversity index amongst all 4 pillars of justice, which is based on 10 indicators such as ratio of actual to reserved positions for SCs, STs, and OBCs and percentage of women in all four services; Maharashtra ranks 4th.
  • Only 2 out of 31 states (for which this data was available) met at least 80% of their declared quotas of reservations
  • Nine states in India do not reserve any kind of quota.

The report says that diversity within police departments is both an organizational value to be attained and a practical priority when policing a society as varied as India with its state level specificities. The report says that diversity in public institutions affirms the democratic idea of inclusiveness.

Effects on economy

Beyond the moral and normative frame, an unreformed justice system is hampering long-term economic growth. The inability of the system to deliver justice and maintain the rule of law has led to an uptick in violence, which according to the Institute for Economics and Peace, has cost India an equivalent of 9 per cent of its GDP[2]

Development and economic growth are impacted by the degree to which the rule of law is upheld. A closer inspection shows India’s performance is particularly pulled down by delays in registration of property (69 days) and the enforcement of contracts (1,445 days)[3].


The India Justice Report is a quantitative analysis of the capacity of the four pillars of justice, namely, judiciary, police, prisons, and legal aid. They have been studied using six filters – budgets, human resources, work load, diversity, infrastructure and trends (in the last five years). The data sets gathered and presented in this report are vast and quite comprehensive. Here’s a look at the salient features of the report, examining each pillar of justice and the themes therein.

The report points out the absence of qualitative measurement in its methodology and explains that the focus is on qualitative factors like in manpower, infrastructure, the workload burden and trend indicators which are preconditions necessary for qualitative outcomes.

The rankings have been done fairly by bifurcating large and mid-size states and small states on basis of population. Thus, there are 18 Large and mid-size states with population above 10 million and 7 small states with population below 10 million.

The complete report can be read here.

In conclusion

This report, as previous studies have done, makes it amply clear that India’s justice delivery system is plagued with substantive and structural issues which can be resolved with proper and effective budgetary allocation, a need basis assignment of the allocated budget, having well trained and adequate human resources to fulfil the purpose of the institution, have adequate representation for women and other reserved classes so that the justice delivery system can be said to appreciate equal interests of all in the society, build a robust infrastructure to facilitate smooth functioning of all the cogs in the system.  Crucial to all of this however is political will which appears lacking both in the ruling party and the opposition.

While this is not an exhaustive list of measures, one can always innovate and find out newer, better and more efficient ways to make a system work better and to make it more productive and for that it is important that research and development is encouraged in each of the four pillars of our justice delivery system, to recommend time and again innovative ways to improve the workings in the system, instead of waiting for judicial or statutory committees to be formed.

The Executive and the Judiciary have a behemoth task at hand if the entire justice delivery system to work efficiently, all four pillars ought to work in congruence as the success of one depends on the performance on the other and the sooner this is regarded importance, the sooner we will be able to visualize a fair and efficient justice delivery system in India.

[1] Rosemary Hunter, ‘More than Just a Different Face? Judicial Diversity and Decision-making’, Current Legal Problems, Vol. 68, (2015), pp. 119–141.

[2] ‘The Economic Value of Peace 2018: Measuring the Global Economic Impact of Violence and Conflict’, Institute for Economics and Peace, Sydney: October 2018. Available at: (last accessed on 25 June 2019).

[3] Doing Business, 2019. Available online at:



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