Supreme Court, India: Administrative issues
This is a collection of articles archived for the excellence of their content.
Air travel of judges, 2013-16
The Times of India, Jun 17 2016
At Rs 1 Lakh, Gogoi & Chelameswar Stand Last: RTI
Supreme Court judges may be neck deep in work but that has not confined them to the courtroom and case files with many judges clocking impressive flying hours in the last three years. In response to an RTI query from advocate Gaurav Agrawal, the SC Registry has provided interesting information about the countries visited by several judges along with their spouses from April 2013 to March 2016 and the airfare borne by the apex court.
Justice A K Sikri till March 2016 undertook seven trips abroad with his wife. They visited AmsterdamHague (Netherlands) with transit through London and Dubai (UAE), Singapore (twice), Hong Kong, Brussels with transit through Zu rich, Macao (China) with transit through Hong Kong and Beijing, and Tel Aviv with transit through Zurich. In total, their air tickets cost the SC Rs 37.91 lakh.
CJI T S Thakur and his wife visited Colombo (Sri Lanka), Canberra (Australia) with transit through Singapore and Sydney , St Petersburg (Russia) with transit through Moscow and Dubai, Ithaca, Washington and New York (all in the US) with transit through London (UK) and Newark and Chicago (US). The air tickets cost the SC Rs 36.88 lakh.
Justices J Chelameswar and Ranjan Gogoi figured last in the list, having incurred the least expense on air tickets despite travelling with their spouses. Justice Chelameswar took one trip abroad to Kathmandu which cost the SC Rs 1.13 lakh while Justice Gogoi's trip to Bhutan cost the top court Rs 1.46 lakh.
Justice Madan B Lokur took the land route and travelled alone to Islamabad and Bhutan and claimed nothing but took two trips abroad with his wife to Bermuda with transit through London, and Antalya with transit through Istanbul (both in Turkey). The SC paid Rs 25.09 lakh for the air tickets.
Justice Anil R Dave and his wife travelled to Canberra (Australia) with transit through Singapore and Sydney , and Strasbourg (France) with transit through Paris and Zurich (Switzerland). The cost of air travel was Rs 17.93 lakh.
Justice J S Khehar and his wife undertook just one foreign trip to Sanya and Boao-Hainan provinces in China with transit through Beijing and Hong Kong which entailed a cost of Rs 6.85 lakh.
Justices F M I Kalifulla and S A Bobde both travelled abroad alone.Justice Kalifulla went to Strasbourg (France) with transit through Paris and Zurich (Switzerland) costing Rs 9.18 lakh. Justice Bobde went to New York for which the air tickets cost Rs 4.50 lakh.
SC expels 2 court masters for diluting Ambani order/ 2019
In a first of its kind case, the Supreme Court has dismissed two court masters for audaciously tampering with its order and diluting the summons to Reliance ADAG chairman Anil Ambani and other officials of the group in a contempt case filed by Ericsson against Reliance Communications.
On the plea of advocate Dushyant Dave on January 7, a bench of Justices R F Nariman and Vineet Saran had taken note of the alleged breach of undertaking given by Ambani and other officials of the group and asked them to be present in court. Request by Ambani’s counsel Mukul Rohatgi and Kapil Sibal to exempt them from personal appearance was rejected.
However, the order uploaded on the SC website curiously conveyed that though notice had been issued to Ambani and others in the contempt petition filed by Ericsson, the alleged contemnors could mark their presence through their counsel. Dave had drawn Justice Nariman's attention to this discrepancy between the order dictated in open court and the one uploaded on the SC website.
Noticing the glaring discrepancy, a furious Justice Nariman promised action. He sent a complaint to Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, who initiated an inquiry. SC sources said the complaint was followed by an internal inquiry and it was found that the two court masters had indeed tampered with the court order to dilute its rigour in summoning Ambani, Reliance Telecom chairman Satish Seth and Reliance Infratech chairperson Chhaya Virani.
Ambani and others later appeared before the court and remained present for two days till the bench headed by Justice Nariman completed hearing on the contempt petition filed by Ericsson.
Ericsson had accused Ambani and others of going back on the undertaking given to the court that they would pay Rs 550 crore to the Swedish telecom company. The SC had in its August 3, 2018, order recorded the undertaking and asked RCom to pay the amount to Ericsson. The court is yet to deliver its verdict in the contempt case.
The SC bench had taken note of the alleged breach of undertaking by Anil Ambani and other officials of ADAG and asked them to be present in court. Request to exempt them from personal appearance was rejected
Disposal of cases
2015, July-Dec: disposal of cases by individual judges
The Times of India Jan 08 2016
33,888 Cases Cleared In 2015
Chief Justice of India T S Thakur recently conducted a first-ever internal study to assess the individual contribution of 13 senior judges, heading two or three-judge benches in the Supreme Court, in reducing pendency of cases. The conclusion: five of the judges chipped away at pendency while the others added to it.
Tackling pendency was always seen as a collective task in the Supreme Court and individual efforts of judges were seldom focused upon. But CJI Thakur, after taking over on December 2, asked the SC reg istry to determine how each of the 13 judges had performed in terms of disposal of cases in the past six months -from July to December 2015. However, the index may not be an indicator of how the judges performed. One judge may have got cases involving complex questions of law or Constitutional issues, requiring hearings running into days and impeding the bench from disposing of a large number of cases, while others may have handled simpler cases allowing them to score higher.
The study had just three parameters: number of cases listed before the judge, number of cases in which notice was issued (meaning that many cases were introduced into the justice delivery system) and number of cases disposed. The difference between the number of cases a judge introduced into the system by issuing notice and the number of cases disposed of showed his disposal rate. If the number is positive, the judge added to case pendency; if negative, the judge helped to bring down pendency .
The list compiled by the registry took into account the disposal by the judges till 11.25am on December 12, 2015.From the list compiled, Jus ices A R Dave, Ranjan Gogoi, CJI Thakur, Madan B Lokur and J S Khehar reduced pendency while the remaining eight contributed to it. Justice Dipak Misra added the high est number of cases, followed by Justices P C Ghose, V Sen, Kurian Joseph, F M I Kalifulla, M Y Eqbal, V G Gowda and J Chelameswar. Justice Sen retired on December 30.
Disposal of cases since 2011 by the Supreme Court also saw wide fluctuations. It was 36,472 cases in 2011; 33,221 in 2012; 39,747 in 2013; 43,437 in 2014 and 33,888 in 2015.
2018: opened for guided tours
The Supreme Court, one of independent India’s first major buildings to be designed by an Indian architect, has opened its doors for guided tours.
Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi launched the project at a small function held at the Judges’ Lounge in the court. He said the idea behind the venture was that “a public institution should be opened up in a limited way.”
An in-house think tank was also launched to strengthen the court’s knowledge infrastructure.
The tours are free and will be conducted between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. every Saturday, except on declared holidays. The excursion will be rounded off with a visit to the Supreme Court museum. A guide will educate batches of 20 visitors on historic cases and the architecture of the building. The tour will culminate in a short film about the court.
Camera, eatables not allowed
Visitors will have to comply with the tour rules, which include a ban on smoking, bringing eatables, tobacco items, cameras and backpacks.
Visitors can book their tour online. Once they arrive, they will be ushered through the majestic courtrooms and the plush Judges’ Library and introduced to the imposing structure in all its glory.
According to the book Courts of India Past to Present, compiled by an editorial board led by Justice S.A. Bobde, the Supreme Court structure is unlike the President’s House and the Parliament Building, which hark back to the colonial period and were designed by British architects.
Designed by the renowned architect Ganesh Bhikaji Deolalikar, the Supreme Court, with its pillared portico and the front verandah, is in the neo-classical style of architecture.
The colour combination used in the building of the court borrows heavily from the Mughal architecture.
Nature of cases considered
Government main litigant, taxation cases dominate
The Central Board of Excise and Customs (CBEC), the agency responsible for collecting indirect taxes, has been the biggest litigant in the last three years, filing twice as many appeals in the Supreme Court than private companies, a study by the government's official auditor showed.
A case study for financial years (FYs) 2014, 2015 and 2016 on the total pendency of cases related to indirect tax disputes shows that on an average, the government has been filing over 1,700 appeals annually in the apex court, despite the fact that its success rate (winning cases) came down from 19% in 2014 to 11% in 2016.
In addition, the government has been filing at least 5,000 cases every year before various high courts. The success rate in high courts was worse -coming down from 34% in 2014 to 18% in 2016. If we combine cases pending before several appellate tribunals and commissioners of appeal of the CBEC, the revenue locked in litigation was estimated at Rs 1.89 lakh crore at the end of March 2016.
The Comptroller and Auditor General, which raised the issue in its latest report tabled in Parliament on Friday , has suggested that steps should be initiated to bring down litigation, particularly in view of the department losing a large number of cases in the highest court.
“Huge amounts of revenue remain outside the Consolidated Fund of India for substantial periods of time,“ the CAG said, based on data analysed from CBEC records. The auditor tabulated the pendency of cases in various forums, segregating them by those filed by private entities and the number of cases in which the government has gone in appeal before higher courts.
The revenue locked in li tigation was to the tune of Rs 1.37 lakh crore in 2014, which went up to Rs 1.55 lakh crore in 2015 and to Rs 1.89 lakh crore in 2016. Disputes related to indirect taxes take decades to get resolved, starting from department related appellate authorities, the settlement commission, high courts and the Supreme Court.
In many cases, the dispute arose due to “the department resorting to coercive recovery measures“ while in some instances a dispute was allegedly allowed to remain unresolved for years which benefited private companies that find enough fiscal space by holding back on payment of assessed taxes.
Out of turn listing of petitions
2017: tussle between queue-breaking senior advocates, juniors
An unsavoury tussle between queue-breaking senior advocates and queue-stuck junior advocates broke out in the open in the courtroom of the Chief Justice of India during the chaotic first 20 minutes of the daily ritual of `mentioning' for out of turn listing of a petition.
Petitions filed in the SC get into a queue for listing before a bench when their turn comes. But the CJI, being the administrative head, has the power to order out of turn listing of a petition if a lawyer convinces him in open court about the `grave urgency' requiring early hearing.
A good 20 minutes before the CJI and his companion judges assemble in courtroom No.1of the SC, the queue of advocates for mentioning for out of turn listing gradually builds up. This practice has been in vogue for years.When Justice J S Khehar was CJI, the queue was at its shortest as he used to reject 90% of the requests for early listing. But the queue got longer with the benevolent and accommodative nature of CJI Dipak Misra.
The advantage with senior advocates is that they do not have to stand in queue like the juniors to await their turn. Many a time, given the large number of cases that Justice Misra lists before his bench daily , the CJI would take requests for early listing for 20 minutes and abruptly end it saying “no more mentioning“. .
On Tuesday, as soon as the CJI said no more mentioning, advocate P V Dinesh complained to the CJI with folded hands that he had been standing in the queue for 30 minutes and his chance did not come to mention a petition for early listing. “The senior advocates have made multiple mentioning as they don't have to stand in queue. They break the queue and we are left standing,“ he said. Former attorney general Mukul Rohatgi mentioned a petition at the beginning of the ritual and then came back to mention another.
Dinesh said, “It was the tradition of the court that senior advocates should not mention petitions for early listing.“ This rubbed the CJI the wrong way . He asked, “No one else knows the tradition? Only you know it? Everyone should learn from you?“ This exchange between the advocate and the CJI gave a fresh impetus to the junior advocates to make fresh attempts to start the mentioning ritual afresh. But the CJI stopped it by asking them to leave the early hearing request forms with the courtmaster and promised to look into them to list the cases between October 3-10.
CJI bars senior advocates from out-of-turn listing
A day after a junior advocate accused senior advocates of breaking queue and tradition to seek early listing of cases, Chief Justice Dipak Misra assuaged their feelings on Wednesday by barring senior advocates from making request for `out of turn' hearing of their petitions.
TOI's Wednesday edition carried a report on advocate P V Dinesh pouring out the angst of junior advocates who stand in long queue for nearly hours without getting chance to mention their cases as senior advocates steal a march over them by breaking the queue and making mention before the CJI for early listing of their petitions.
The queue for mentioning in the CJI's courtroom on Wednesday was as usual long with senior advocates leaving juniors to wait anxiously , wondering whether they would get a chance to place request for early hearing of petitions filed by them. When the bench headed by the CJI assembled, there were four senior advocates at the head of the queue ready for starting the mentioning ritual.
But a surprise awaited them. Justice Misra announced that henceforth only advocateson-record would be eligible for mentioning before the CJI for early listing of petitions for hearing. To dispel looks of disbelief writ on the faces of senior advocates, the CJI announced his decision a little louder for the second time.
With the message driven in, the long queue melted fast into a sparse crowd of advocates-onrecord, a special class of lawyers who pass a tough examination conducted by the Supreme Court to earn the distinction of being advocates through whom alone petitions could be filed in the apex court. The mentioning ritual was over in 15 minutes and the bench commenced hearing of petitions as scheduled.
Given the benevolent and accommodative nature of the CJI, requests for early listing were numerous leading to swelling of the number of listed cases to almost 100 on Mondays and Fridays, when the SC takes up fresh petitions for scrutiny . On Wednesday , the CJI was seen rejecting early hearing requests to display a streak that the advocates experienced during his predecessor J S Khehar's tenure as CJI.
Earlier, two CJIs had informally asked senior advocates not to participate in the mentioning rituals to give chance to the junior advocates to hone their skills and earn their living.
2014-16: Hardly used
The Times of India, Jun 02 2016
Only a handful of cases have been listed every day before the vacation bench of the Supreme Court in between May 16 till end of May, belying the strong criticism of the apex court and its judges for a seven-week summer holiday. On Wednesday , only five fresh cases were listed for hearing. In the last 13 days, the number of fresh cases listed before the bench did not touch double digits on six days. Only three fresh cases were heard on May 19. Together, in the last 13 days of the vacation, 209 fresh cases were listed. Apart from the 209 fresh cases, the vacation bench heard 183 old matters.
On a regular working day , an SC bench hears more than 60 cases on average. By contrast, the vacation bench took up 30 cases, both fresh and old, daily .
Most advocates who have a good practice are vacationing abroad. In their absence, the client does not want a junior advocate to argue their case. As a result, not many cases get listed. In the late 1990s, there used to be a single vacation bench that held court only twice a week. Gradually , its frequency was increased to three days a week and then it held court daily . With more cases pouring in during the vacation, the number of benches was increased to two and then three.
But in 2014-16, only one vacation bench sits daily to deal with the small number of cases that get listed for hearing.
This time around, Chief Justice of India T S Thakur's persuasion saw many advocates agreeing to list their cases for hearing during the summer holidays. As the vacation drew closer, there was a long queue of advocates before the CJI's bench every day and many of them sought to withdraw their earlier request for listing cases during the summer break. The CJI tried to persuade the advocates to change their mind, but not many actually did. Because of this, only a handful of cases got listed during the summer break.
It was during the tenure of Justice Y K Sabharwal as CJI that the nine-week summer vacation was curtailed to seven weeks. Thereafter, Justice P Sathasivam attempted to reduce it to four weeks, but he reportedly faced strong opposition both from judges and advocates. As the British legacy of summer break continues, there is little chance of it getting reduced without the cooperation of advocates.
Winter vacation benches created by SC: 2017
Creating a first in its 67-year history as the final frontier of justice, the Supreme Court set up two vacation benches for disposal of urgent cases, including those where poor accident survivors and kin of victims have been waiting for years to get compensation.
For more than a decade, the SC had been constituting vacation benches for hearing urgent and old matters during the long summer break. Over the years, the summer break has been cut short by more than a week and the frequency of sitting of vacation benches, and their numbers, have increased, blunting the criticism of too many vacations in the SC at a time when pendency of cases has been mounting. In the last few years, the SC has been able to bring down pendency.
Chief Justice Dipak Misra, with two primary goals — reduction of pendency in the SC and HCs as well as providing relief to poor litigants — decided to break tradition and set up vacation benches
during winter break. One bench comprised the CJI and Justice Sanjay K Kaul, while the other consisted of Justices Adarsh Goel and U U Lalit.
The bench headed by the CJI took up cases where poor litigants have been waiting to get compensation for injuries or death of kin in accidents that took place nearly two decades back. Finding that the regular court hours get crowded with myriad cases, the CJI had decided to post them together in the vacation.
Before listing the cases (as many as 113 on Friday), Justice Misra had advised the registry to take consent of the lawyers willing to appear before the court during the winter break. The response was overwhelming.
Of the 113 cases listed before the bench, the court disposed of 31 and both sides went back happy.
The bench awarded a total compensation of Rs 5.43 crore, which is Rs 17.52 lakh per claim. The high courts had granted a total compensation of Rs 3.68 crore in these 31 cases, averaging to 11.88 lakh per claim. This means the SC increased the compensation by an average Rs 5.64 lakh per claim.
2019/ CBI, police officials to curb graft in registry
At a time when several Supreme Court judges have expressed surprise over suspect listing of cases before particular benches, Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi has decided to draft in senior superintendents of police (SSPs) and SPs from the CBI and Delhi Police to keep a strict vigil on staff to prevent wrongdoing and investigate corruption in the SC registry.
This will be the first time in the SC’s history that police officers will be part of the registry on deputation and will hold ranks like additional registrar, deputy registrar, branch officers and senior court assistants to keep a watch on the lawyer-staff nexus, which has been pointed out by judges on some occasions. “SSPs, SPs and inspectors, who will come on deputation, will act as a layer between the Supreme Court and different probe agencies. They will look after vigilance work like verification of antecedents of employees, both existing and those inducted in future. These officers will also look after investigative work in case of criminal complaints against registry staff,” an official source told TOI.
SC vigilance dept rejig after ‘malpractice’ by court staff
The Supreme Court has a vigilance department but it was seldom put to use in case of alleged malpractice in listing of high-stake matters before particular benches. The need for revamp of the vigilance department and giving it a professional outlook arose when it was found that two court staff had changed the order of an SC bench to purportedly attempt to save industrialist Anil Ambani from appearing personally before the bench in a contempt case. Both the staffers were dismissed by the CJI after Justice R F Nariman complained against them.
Moreover, when a young lawyer filed an affidavit alleging that fixers and middlemen were having a field day in the SC for listing of cases in breach of the roster allocation and as per the desire of certain litigants and their lawyers, the SC appointed Justice A K Patnaik as a oneman inquiry commission to probe whether there was wrongdoing in the registry. The SC had also asked the CBI, the IB and Delhi Police to render assistance to Justice Patnaik as and when needed.
In addition to detecting black sheep among court staff to prevent malpractices, the police officers on deputation to the revamped SC vigilance cell “will undertake the job of detailed verification of character and antecedents of staff to be posted in important areas such as courts and residential offices of the judges for ensuring confidentiality and institutional integrity”, the source said.
For efficient functioning of the administration, the CJI has also decided to create separate recruitment, HR management and training cells. “The recruitment cell shall be responsible for conduct of open competitive examinations for recruitment of staff to various posts, departmental examination for promotion, examination for the Advocates-on-Record and all matters incidental with the recruitment process,” the source said.
“Creation of a regular training cell will go a long way in improving knowledge and sharpening the skills of officers and staff which will increase their efficiency and ultimately reflect on the functioning of the registry. Improvement in professional competence and administrative skills of various functionaries will also generate confidence in litigants whose interest is of paramount concern,” the source added.
Supreme Court: India (mainly SC's rulings)
Supreme Court, India: Administrative issues