By Saurabh Malik
For bringing about a better order, the Judges and the lawyers in both the high courts and the district courts need to observe no-adjournment days on a regular basis. The system, if put in place, would entail full hearing in all the cases listed before the courts that day with neither the lawyers asking for adjournments, nor the Judges granting it, unless the facts and circumstances warrant otherwise.
At a time when as many as 3,14,14,446 cases are pending before the district courts and 44,69,720 before the high courts across the country, the need for adopting drastic and inventive schemes for bringing down the pendency is no more in the sphere of debate. It is nothing but a pressing priority.
The need for coming out and implementing ground-breaking schemes is well pronounced even in the Punjab and Haryana High Court with no less than 5,07,366 cases waiting for the hammer of justice to fall.
The seriousness of the problem can be gauged from the words of former Chief Justice of India Justice JC Shah: “.....The accumulation has reached such a proportion that there is a danger of judicial administration breaking down in future years, if the cases before the courts increase at the rate at which they are mounting today. One shudders to think what the position of judicial administration will be in a decade or two, if the present worst disparity between inflow and disposal of cases continues. Unless this problem is tackled, the litigants might be gripped with a sense of frustration and loss of confidence in courts and tribunals.”
The High Court has been expanding the list of cases before the Judges well beyond the number they can possibly hear. The Judges have even taken a break from vacations and heard old, and sometimes even forgotten, cases on Saturdays — which are otherwise not court-holding days.
The Chief Justice of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, about two years ago, had even constituted six special Division Benches and 20 Single Benches for dealing with the perpetual problem of pendency. In all, 32 Judges were to hold extra sittings on Saturdays.
Otherwise, much has been said about judicial reforms right from increasing the number of Judges to reduction in vacations and increase in the working hours. The Law Commission in 230th and 245th report has also dealt with the issue. Creation of temporary additional courts for dealing with cases over a year old, and augmenting the strength of the permanent judiciary so that disposals and institutions breakeven and there is no new creation of arrears have also been suggested.
But it is well established that an increase in the number of Judges does not essentially result in a drop in the pendency of cases. The fact that the proposed and implemented reforms have not brought about a transformation is an actuality that cannot be denied.
The solution lies elsewhere. In addition to fast-track courts, sanctioning more number of posts and host of other measures, the need of the hour is to spot and concentrate on issue plaguing the system to optimise its functioning for achieving maximum efficiency by coming out with innovative ideas. The requirement is to do something odd and something even with the Judges and the advocates putting their heads together. The observation of “no-adjournment days” could very well turn out to be an instrument of change.
The necessity for the courts to curtail the number of adjournments has never been in the field of conjectures. The courts are required to strictly grant adjournments to each respondent and petitioner in accordance with Order 17 of the Civil Procedure Code, which says “no adjournment shall be granted more than three times to a party during the hearing of the suits”.
The Allahabad High Court in the case of “Siddhartha Kumar and others versus Upper Civil Judge” had asserted: “Adjournments are so lightly treated that for any reason on earth a case can be postponed/stifled to another date, which may be after a few months. If three or four adjournments are taken in a case by a party interested in procrastinating it, a whole year is easily passed. Adjournments are generally taken on frivolous grounds. A case study showed 125 adjournments, one after the other. In 12 years, the order sheet lists only adjournments and the reasons quoted are beyond common imagination”.
The Supreme Court recently made clear its stand on deferring the hearing of cases by ruling that the counsel being out of station was not a ground for granting an adjournment. The three-Judge Bench in the case of “Ram Siromani Tripathi and others versus the State of UP and others” went on to say since it did not find out-of-station to be a good ground for adjournment, application for restoration would be entertained under no circumstances.
The Bar has been giving “no-work” call for lodging protest about things it perceived were not in order. It now needs to give a call for “no-adjournment” days. Of course, there will be cases that just cannot be heard; a party not served with notice, a reply not filed by the official concerned in the respondent government, or a litigant too unwell to attend hearing. But for all other cases, the Bar needs to cooperate and implement the decision in letter and spirit. Among other things, it would mean not coming out with a prior request to a Judge to fix the case for hearing on a date other than “no-adjournment” day.
The Allahabad High Court in its judgment had added that the disposal of cases pending in the courts cannot be speeded up by judicial officers only, without the essential cooperation of the members of the Bar.
The Bench had added: “It is the Bar which plays an important role. The lawyers should not be a party to fulfill the innate desire of their clients to procrastinate or prolong the case. The Bar has to adopt an attitude of co-participant in the process of dispensation of quick justice”.
The Bar and the Bench need to ensure judiciary is once again highly respected by the people who had faith in the quality of justice dispensed with promptly by the Judges.
Flora and fauna must be protected
The Supreme Court has made it clear that the need to protect flora and fauna constituting a major portion of the ecosystem was immediate. It has added that environmental degradation and wildlife degeneration were the “most potent threats” faced by the earth and human civilization as a whole. Delivering the verdict in the Tata Camelot case, the apex court asserted that development and urbanisation at the cost of adversely affecting natural surroundings would impact and be a cause of human devastation as seen in the 2013 floods in Uttarakhand and in 2018 in Kerala. “With warmer temperatures, flowering plants are blooming earlier in the year and migratory birds are returning from their wintering grounds earlier in the spring,” the Bench has added.
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