Puneet Mittal, trim and sharply dressed, walks into the lobby of his law office in affluent South Delhi, a smartphone pressed to his ear. He turns to a recently hired associate, Bhavesh Verma. “We’re leaving at 9:30. And I don’t want to waste time.” But through no fault of his own, that’s just what Mittal’s going to do.
He is making his daily plunge into India’s court system, a maze of delays and procedures that puts even the most basic justice out of reach for millions. At the end of 2013, there were 31,367,915 open cases working their way through the system, from the lowest chambers to the Supreme Court. If the nation’s judges attacked their backlog nonstop—with no breaks for eating or sleeping—and closed 100 cases every hour, it would take more than 35 years to catch up, according to Bloomberg Businessweek calculations. India had only 15.5 judges for every million people in 2013, then-Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said at the time. The U.S. has more than 100 judges for every million.