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The workload of India’s highest court is swelling, possibly because people are losing faith in the country’s lower courts, according to a report released Friday.

“The Supreme Court’s workload has increased disproportionately faster than the High Courts and lower courts, perhaps indicating an increasing breakdown within the judicial system of precedent-as-authority,” according to the report, published by the Center for Policy Research, a think tank in New Delhi.

The court’s workload has risen consistently since independence in 1947, barring a few years during the state-declared Emergency in the 1970s when the number of cases increased fivefold, the report says. The court has tried to deal with this by bringing on more judges and by trying to streamline  the way cases are tried.

In 2010, nearly 50,000 new admission cases were filed, double the number of cases filed in 2000.  Between 2005 and 2010, the number of cases accepted saw a 70 percent increase and the number of cases appealed increased by over 50 percent.  The number of positions for judges on the court also increased, albeit marginally, from 26 in 1986 to 31 in 2008.

The rising number of cases filed with the Supreme Court seems to suggest that “litigants (likely rightly) feel that even if the high court has decided a matter it is increasingly worth appealing the same case to the Supreme Court,” the report says. The report attributes this to how state-level courts operate, suggesting that precedents are not being followed “reliably” at that level.  With faith in the system broken, the litigants take their appeals to the top court, and “the Supreme Court has seemed quite willing to oblige,” the report says.

But the deluge of appeals originates mainly from high courts in states closer to the capital, Delhi, implying that areas “that are wealthier are on average more likely to generate more appeals,” the report says.  For instance, the northern states of Punjab and Haryana accounted for almost 20 percent of the cases in 2011, “a larger portion of the Supreme Court’s docket than high courts such as Bombay, Uttar Pradesh, or Madras that hear far more cases,” the report says.

Only 1 percent of the Supreme Court’s workload is public-interest litigation cases, defined by the court as lawsuits that “protect the interest of the public at large,” the report found.  According to the court’s Web site, such cases are “unique to the Supreme Court of India only” in that any individual or group of persons can file a petition in the name of public good.

Although the ratio of cases accepted to cases filed has remained steady in recent years, the report’s findings suggest that business-related litigation accounts for more of the court’s workload than it once did.   The report asks whether “the disproportionate acceptance of tax, commercial and arbitration cases indicates that high-priced lawyers are influencing the Court’s judgment in an unhealthy manner, or is this higher acceptance rate merely a sign of more meritorious claims?”

India’s “single integrated system of Courts has 21 state-level High Courts and 31 district and subordinate courts. The entire system is swamped under an increasing number of pending cases — as of 2010, there were over 32 million pending court cases across India’s judicial network.

The Supreme Court sets the standards for the rest of India’s labyrinthine judicial system, the report notes. But the Court’s methods of data collection, data management and relevant data disclosure are unhelpful more often than not, it finds. Not only is the sheer exercise of aggregating data about thousands of cases arduous but the process of altering an ingrained system with heaps of information is challenging. “These limitations inhibit a broader judicial and public discussion about how the Court manages its workload,” the report concludes, “and in the end, weaken the Supreme Court as an institution.”