There are eighteen high courts for India's twenty-five states, six union territories, and one national capital territory. Some high courts serve more than one state or union territory. For example, the high court of the union territory of Chandigarh also serves Punjab and Haryana, and the high court in Gauhati (in Meghalaya) serves Assam, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Manipur, Tripura, and Arunachal Pradesh. As part of the judicial system, the high courts are institutionally independent of state legislatures and executives. The president appoints state high court chief justices after consulting with the chief justice of the Supreme Court and the governor of the state. The president also consults with the chief justice of the state high court before he appoints other high court justices. Furthermore, the president may also exercise the right to transfer high court justices without consultation. These personnel matters are becoming more politicized as chief ministers of states endeavor to exert their influence with New Delhi and the prime minister exerts influence over the president to secure politically advantageous appointments.
Each high court is a court of record exercising original and appellate jurisdiction within its respective state or territory. It also has the power to issue appropriate writs in cases involving constitutionally guaranteed Fundamental Rights. The high court supervises all courts within its jurisdiction, except for those dealing with the armed forces, and may transfer constitutional cases to itself from subordinate courts (see Criminal Law and Procedure, ch. 10). The high courts have original jurisdiction on revenue matters. They try original criminal cases by a jury, but not civil cases.
States are divided into districts (zillas
), and within each a judge presides as a district judge over civil cases. A sessions judge presides over criminal cases. The judges are appointed by the governor in consultation with the state's high court. District courts are subordinate to the authority of their high court.
There is a hierarchy of judicial officials below the district level. Many officials are selected through competitive examination by the state's public service commission. Civil cases at the subdistrict level are filed in munsif
(subdistrict) courts. Lesser criminal cases are entrusted to the courts of subordinate magistrates functioning under the supervisory authority of a district magistrate. All magistrates are under the supervision of the high court. At the village level, disputes are frequently resolved by panchayats
or lok adalats
The judicial system retains substantial legitimacy in the eyes of many Indians despite its politicization since the 1970s. In fact, as illustrated by the rise of social action litigation in the 1980s and 1990s, many Indians turn to the courts to redress grievances with other social and political institutions. It is frequently observed that Indians are highly litigious, which has contributed to a growing backlog of cases. Indeed, the Supreme Court was reported to have more than 150,000 cases pending in 1990, the high courts had some 2 million cases pending, and the lower courts had a substantially greater backlog. Research findings in the early 1990s show that the backlogs at levels below the Supreme Court are the result of delays in the litigation process and the large number of decisions that are appealed and not the result of an increase in the number of new cases filed. Coupled with public perceptions of politicization, the growing inability of the courts to resolve disputes expeditiously threatens to erode the remaining legitimacy of the judicial system.
Data as of September 1995