Supreme Court recalls law requiring PSUs to obtain COD approval
In ONGC vs. CCE 104 CTR (SC) 31, the Supreme Court directed the Central Government to set up a ‘Committee on Disputes’ to monitor disputes between the Government and Public Sector Enterprises and give clearance for litigation. It was held the no litigation could be proceeded with in the absence of COD approval. This was followed in ONGC vs. CIDCO (2007) 7 SCC 39 and it was held that even disputes between PSUs and State Governments would require COD approval.
In CCE vs. Bharat Petroleum Corporation, a 2 Judge Bench of the Supreme Court held that the working of the COD had failed and that the time has come to revisit the law. The matter was referred to a Larger Bench for reconsideration.
HELD by the Larger Bench recalling its orders in ONGC vs. CCE 104 CTR (SC) 31, (2004) 6 SCC 437 and ONGC vs. CIDCO (2007) 7 SCC 39:
The idea behind setting up of the … “Committee on Disputes” (CoD) was to ensure that resources of the State are not frittered away in inter se litigations between entities of the State, which could be best resolved, by an empowered CoD … Whilst the principle and the object behind the aforestated Orders is unexceptionable and laudatory, experience has shown that despite best efforts of the CoD, the mechanism has not achieved the results for which it was constituted and has in fact led to delays in litigation …. on same set of facts, clearance is given in one case and refused in the other.
This has led a PSU to institute a SLP in this Court on the ground of discrimination. We need not multiply such illustrations. The mechanism was set up with a laudatory object. However, the mechanism has led to delay in filing of civil appeals causing loss of revenue. For example, in many cases of exemptions, the Industry Department gives exemption, while the same is denied by the Revenue Department. Similarly, with the enactment of regulatory laws in several cases there could be overlapping of jurisdictions between, let us say, SEBI and insurance regulators. Civil appeals lie to this Court. Stakes in such cases are huge. One cannot possibly expect timely clearance by CoD. In such cases, grant of clearance to one and not to the other may result in generation of more and more litigation. The mechanism has outlived its utility. In the changed scenario indicated above, we are of the view that time has come under the above circumstances to recall the directions of this Court