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The one-plus-one formula for clearing cases

There is need for an urgent reform in the judiciary. The focus should be to reduce the number of pending cases.

Much can be achieved by discouraging adjournments and fixing specific time limits for submission of arguments.

IE has been pointing to the millions of cases pending before courts at different levels and these ballooning. Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen wrote about the Argumentative Indian. It could be modified as the Litigating Indian.

The lack of clarity in our laws has contributed to the proliferation of litigation by companies and the government. Addressing a conference of Central Government Standing Counsel of southern states recently, Supreme Court Judge V Ramasubramanian (VR) said: “there are more than five lakh cases pending across the country in various courts and tribunals in which the Central government is a litigant.” VR suggested the Central Government Standing Counsel “to categorise the cases involving citizens, own employees, government contracts, tax matters, public sector units… This can help filter out a good portion of the litigation.” He also suggested the promotion of alternate dispute resolution, avoiding appeals, online consumer dispute redressal mechanism and going for compromise in deserving cases.

The brilliant civil servant, S Venkitaramanan, once told economic editors of companies engaging renowned lawyers to obtain a stay of tax claims gaining several years for non-compliance with the law. He pointed to ITC and the Tatas litigating on excise duties reduced by transferring stock. There is also the more recent tax dispute involving Renault-Nissan Automotive India which showed sales of the entire production as made in Tamil Nadu to avail of the tax incentives offered!

It is in the interest of a lawyer to prolong the case. This is seen in the routine resort to seeking adjournments.

There is also the impractical and absurd practice of listing over 60 cases before a bench in a day. The list is made available mostly on the late hours of the day or on the day of hearing. Obviously, no bench can handle this large numbers even in a month. So at the start of the day, most of the cases listed would be adjourned; hardly two or three cases would be heard during the day. Then why list this large numbers wasting the time of the litigants and the lawyers?

A chief justice who opted to resign recently protesting against her transfer, claimed that she was able to ‘dispose of’ at least 70-80 cases a day and a total of 5040 cases in her tenure of a year!

There should be a determined effort to reduce the number of pending cases. We suggest the courts adopting the 1+1 formula introduced by the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board several years ago for collecting mounting arrears of consumers’ electricity bills. This involved clearing a portion of the arrears, say one-tenth and one latest bill a month. Such a scheme will ensure clearing the pending ones as also ensuring no piling up of fresh cases.

The second reform relates to fixing specific time limits for the submission of arguments in cases before a bench hearing appeals. Senior advocate C Ramakrishna recommends the time limit of 30 minutes each for submission by the two sides enforced by US courts.

A few weeks ago, the UK Supreme Court, in a landmark decision, ruled that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s suspension of Parliament was unlawful, that will have far-reaching constitutional implications. The judges ruled that Johnson had acted illegally to suppress parliamentary scrutiny of his Brexit strategy. The unanimous judgment from 11 justices of the UK’s highest court was made after just three-days of hearing!

Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi deserves praise for hearing the decades-long Ayodhya temple-masjid case by daily hearings by the bench, and ensured having the arguments completed by the deadline of 17 October. He has promised to deliver the final judgment before the date of his retirement on 17 November. Such time-bound disposals should be the norm.

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