Indian Courts Use A LOT Of Paper. 11 Billion A Year, To Be Precise

That translates to 1.3 MILLION trees & 109 BILLION litres of water.

Published
India
4 min read

Creative producer and animator: Puneet Bhatia

Speak to some of your lawyer friends and they are likely to tell you that law is a big waste of paper!

Everyday there are lakhs of cases that are heard in Indian courts across levels. Each of these cases have hundreds of documents that are printed on thousands of sheets of paper that are simply discarded after a single use.

We, at The Quint, did the math and we found that India’s judiciary uses approximately 11 BILLION SHEETS in a year. How? Let’s take a look.

Paper Used In The Indian Judiciary In One Year

Every year, over 60,000 cases are presented before the Supreme Court of India. Each document in each case has to be filed in a specific format. For example, each document can only be typed in a 13-14 font size. They must also have a 3cm margin and be double-spaced.

However, the most banal rule seems to be that material can only be printed on ONE side of the paper.

Why does this rule exist? Well, apparently it is a colonial legacy. Earlier, due to low paper and ink quality, the ink printed on one side of the paper would seep on to the other side, making reading difficult.

But why continue with this rule in an age of superior quality printer and paper? Bahut na-insaafi, Mi Lord!

Now let’s look at the amount of paper used in the Supreme Court alone in a year. According to an estimate by IndiaSpend, each case requires 8 sets of files, and each file has about 100 pieces of paper. So the paper used JUST by the SC in a year is:

60,000x 8x 100= 48 MILLION PAPERS (Approx).

Now let’s add to this, the 113 thousand cases the Indian high courts hear each month. Assuming 9 months of functioning for the HCs (accounting for court holidays) and again, 8 files per case and 100 papers in each file, the estimated number for all high courts in a year is:

1,13,000x9x8x100 = 813 MILLION PAPERS

So, the tally as of now, with the Supreme Court and the high courts, is 861 MILLION PAPERS A YEAR!

That’s a lot of paper, right? But wait, we still need to add the lower courts to the list. These courts hear about 12.5 million cases a year. That’s another 10 billion sheets. So the total paper usage in all of India’s judiciary, in a year, is:

861 MILLION + 10 BILLION = 11 BILLION (APPROX.)

Yes, 11 billion sheets. That’s how much paper our legal system uses in a year.

The Green Cost Of Paper Usage

Now, let’s look at the environmental cost of this.

According to a paper titled ‘Conserving the Canvas: Reducing the Environmental Footprint of Legal Briefs by Re-imagining Court Rules and Documents Design strategies’ by Ruth Anne, one tree can be chopped and pulped to give us 8,333 sheets of virgin paper.

And, it requires approximately 10 litres of water to produce one sheet of paper.

So, the courts in our country use up 1.3 MILLION TREES & 109 BILLION LITRES OF WATER in a year, JUST FOR PAPER!

Now, this is not to say that these papers are useless and used without any reason, but the amount of resources used could be brought down drastically if some slight changes are made in the courts’ usage patterns.

For example, if we printed on both sides, then the water saved would be enough for all of Mumbai for FOURTEEN WHOLE DAYS.

Similarly, the water saved from SC alone would be enough to provide a city as big as Bengaluru their water requirements for a day.

What Can We Do About It?

Well, the first thing, of course, would be to start printing on both sides. The other, more long-term solution, would be to digitise court documents. This will have many benefits like:

  • Bringing in more transparency in court work.

  • Preventing court documents from getting lost.

  • Court records will be available to the lower courts, high courts and the Supreme Court at the same time.

  • Courts will be able to deal with cases faster.

In fact, e-filing was started by the SC in 2017, but the process got stalled. Why? Well, because documents in the high courts weren’t being digitised.

Why? Because they didn’t have the staff to scan and upload case papers that literally ran into lakhs of pages!

While over the last 10 years some judges have asked for papers from their courtrooms to be recycled, it has been an exception and not the rule.

So to sum it up: Our courts use a lot of paper and our courts need to care more about our trees and water.

We need justice for our trees, mi lord!

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