May 6, 2024


Does India need a National Litigation Policy?

One of the components of the BJP’s and Congress’ manifestos is how they talk about judicial reform. It’s one thing both parties seemingly agree on – the judiciary needs some changes. However, they might not agree on what those changes are and what needs to be done. We’ve already seen an overhaul of the criminal justice system.

One interesting thing the BJP has promised in its manifesto is implementing a National Litigation Policy to expedite resolutions of cases in the courts and reduce the number of cases in which the government is a party. There’s no doubt the judiciary has a massive backlog of cases. Would a Litigation Policy help in any of these?


In 2010, the Union government formulated the National Litigation Policy (NLP) to reduce the overwhelming number of cases involving the central or state governments or public sector undertakings (PSUs) clogging the judicial system. Over a decade on, this policy remains only on paper.

Just how bad is the situation? In 2022, former Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana stated that government litigation accounted for nearly 50% of all pending cases. We don’t have an exact number since the government, for some reason, doesn’t maintain a database on cases it’s involved in.

Per the National Judicial Data Grid, as of last year, there are over 4 crore pending cases before the District and Taluk courts, over 60 lakh before High Courts, and over 80,000 before the Supreme Court.

Unnecessary litigation involving the government has been an age-old issue. All it does is add to the judicial system’s backlog and exchequer. Back in 1974, Supreme Court judge Justice Krishna Iyer criticised government departments and agencies for filing frivolous lawsuits and wasting the court’s time.

In 2009, the Supreme Court said unwanted litigation by governments and statutory authorities fell at the feet of officers tasked with making decisions. The court said they have a tendency to challenge all orders against the government and protect themselves from any future accusations of improper motives.

In 2017, the Law Ministry came up with an “Action Plan to Reduce Government Litigation”. The thrust of this plan was that appeals should only be filed in cases that involve significant policy matters. Departments like the Railways and Revenue formulated plans to monitor court cases. Despite this, an NLP is what many see as the best solution.

The Centre, for its part, has been adamant that the policy is being formulated over the past several years. In 2021, it told the Delhi High Court that a “new and revised” policy was in the works. Now, the BJP has promised it in its manifesto.

VIEW: It’s absolutely necessary

Last year, the Supreme Court fined the Uttar Pradesh government ₹50,000 for filing an unnecessary appeal concerning the grant of retirement gratuity to a deceased government employee. Litigation continued for thirteen years due to a technical issue. There are way too many cases like this to count and show why a National Litigation Policy is urgently needed.

The long life of litigation pending in courts has disastrous consequences. Among them is the denial of justice, perhaps the most adverse. There’s already a high pendency of cases due to a lack of infrastructure and a shortage of judges. There’s also a financial cost. Law Ministry estimates showed ₹272 crore on litigation expenses over the past five years. Unnecessary litigation pursued by the Centre and states only amplifies this pendency and makes things worse for the common man.

The NLP has some features that could do some good. The government shouldn’t become a compulsive litigant. The policy will help do away with the “let the courts decide” attitude. In service issues, an appeal won’t be filed in cases where the issue pertains to cases of retirement or pension without involving any legal principle. Officers in charge of decision-making must be protected from government action.

COUNTERVIEW: An uphill task

If the country or the government were serious about reducing the load on the judiciary, there would already be an NLP in place. The fact that it has been over a decade and remains only on paper speaks to just how tough it is to formulate such an air-tight policy. While the BJP has promised it in its manifesto, some of its ministers withdrew their assurances to Parliament about having such a policy.

A previous iteration of the policy didn’t include the formation of committees that would review its implementation and look for accountability in litigation involving government agencies. It was never implemented properly and failed to make any substantial impact. The Modi government has been in power for a decade, and things haven’t changed.

While the government’s long-standing stance is that the policy is being formulated, the Law Ministry said something else. A couple of years back, it told the Parliamentary Committee on Government Assurances that it decided to discard the policy based on comments from the Committee of Secretaries, which felt an NLP wasn’t necessary. Having an NPL should be predicated on some available data on government litigation. That’s not there. In an era of digital governance, with no such data, an NLP would be tough to formulate.

Reference Links:

  • Power Point: In search of a national litigation policy – The Financial Express
  • National Litigation Policy: Need Of The Moment – The Journal of Indian Law and Society Blog
  • Excessive litigation by State: Case for implementation of National Litigation Policy, 2010 – The Leaflet
  • Seven years on, national litigation policy a work in progress – Hindustan Times
  • Why legal experts are sceptical about the BJP’s promise to bring back a national litigation policy – Scroll

What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)

a) India does need a National Litigation Policy.

b) India doesn’t need a National Litigation Policy.


For the Right:

Worker Let Down

For the Left:

In Amethi and Raebareli Congress sends out the wrong message