The author, an eminent Senior Advocate and champion of judicial independence points out that what was in the realm of a dream till now, namely, the constitution of regional Supreme Court Benches, may soon become reality. The Hon’ble Chief Justice of India, Mr. H.L. Dattu, has clearly indicated that he is in favour of such regional Benches. The Hon’ble Prime Minister’s Vision of “Digital India” may help lawyers at remote places to argue matters before Supreme Court Judges sitting in Delhi or before the regional Benches.
The Free Press Journal on 13-10-2014 carried a news item that the Honourable Chief Justice of India Mr. H. L. Dattu is in favour of setting up regional Benches of the Supreme Court. The Law Commission of India in its 229threport dated 5th day of August, 2009, after a detailed study strongly recommended having four regional Benches of the Supreme Court. One of the reasons stated by the report is quoted below:
“We are today also in dire search for solution for the unbearable load of arrears under which our Supreme Court is functioning as well as the unbearable cost of litigation for those in far–flung areas of the country. The Agonies of a litigant coming to New Delhi from distant places like Chennai, Thiruvananthapuram, Puducherry in the South, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa in the West, Assam or other States in the East to attend a case in the Supreme Court can be imagined; huge amount is spent on travel; bringing one’s own lawyer who has handled the matter in the High Court adds to the cost; adjournment becomes prohibitive; costs get multiplied. We suo motu took up the subject for consideration and have recommended that a Constitution Bench be set up at Delhi to deal with constitutional and other allied issues and four *Cassation Benches be set up in the Northern region at Delhi, the Southern region at Chennai/ Hyderabad, the Eastern region at Kolkata and the Western region at Mumbai to deal with all appellate work arising out of the orders/ judgments of the High Courts of the particular region”
The All India Federation of Tax Practitioners has made a representation to the Government of India from time to time to constitute four Benches of the Apex court in different regions. The Bar Council of Maharashtra & Goa too vide letter dated 11/4/2000 endorsed the view of the Federation. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law and Justice has also repeatedly suggested that in order to promote speedy justice to be made available to the common man, benches of the Supreme Court have to be established in the Southern, Western and North–Eastern parts. Honourable Mr. A. B. Vajpayee, then as opposition leader, supported the cause of the Federation. Former Prime Minster of India Dr. Manmohan Singh also endorsed the view of the Federation. However, earlier full Bench of the Apex Court was not in favour of having the Benches of Supreme Court in different regions. However, the reasons were not made available for such a decision.
As the present Chief Justice of India is in favour of Setting up Benches in different regions, it is necessary that the Government must act immediately in the interest of the common man of our Country. Incidentally, the Supreme Court has issued notice to the Centre and the Ministry of Law seeking their views on the issue of establishment of a National Court of Appeal with regional benches in major cities to finally decide cases arising from High Courts. This notice was issued in a PIL filed by Puducherry-based Advocate V. Vasantha Kumar on this issue.
A common man of our country cannot think of approaching the Apex Court for justice as it is beyond his reach. Mr. Ashok H. Desai, Sr. Advocate and Former Attorney General of India, in his speech said that every adjournment in Supreme Court costs a litigant minimum of about Rs.1 lakh. If this is the minimum cost for an adjournment, one can imagine how expensive (in the present high inflationary economy) it would be for citizens to approach the Supreme Court for justice.
One may also think of having e-Bench of Supreme Court in different regions. The hearing of the matter before the Apex court can be done by linking various High courts and affording facilities for arguing the matter before the Apex court sitting at respective High Court. E-Bench of the Supreme Court can take up the matters state wise e.g. One day could be for matters of Mumbai, one day could be matters from Chennai or other places etc. Initially, an option may be given to the parties to hear the matters through e-Bench or regular Bench. The Income-tax Appellate Tribunal has started the e-Tribunal at Mumbai wherein matters of Nagpur are heard by members sitting in Mumbai at Mumbai Bench. This experience is very satisfactory for both the assessee and the department. An e-Bench of the Supreme Court may be initially started with SLP relating to direct and indirect tax matters. As per the concept, the litigants could be given an option to ‘opt in’ or ‘opt out’. If in case the litigants desire not to be heard by the e-Bench, he may have an option to opt out. This option would be given to him even at the time of hearing of the matter by e-Bench of Apex Court. There will not be any prejudice caused to the assessee by hearing the matter before the e-Bench. Assessee’s can be given a full opportunity to represent the matter. For representing the matter before e-Bench, a lawyer need not be tech savvy, he need not invest any amount on computers etc. for appearing before the e-Bench. According to us, the concept of e-Benches of the Apex Court will help the citizens of this country to go forward with the modern technology which is the need of the hour.
We are sure that for this pragmatic and visionary cause, all political parties would whole heartedly support the Government. It is therefore earnestly submitted that the Hon’ble Law Minister, the Parliamentary Committee and the representatives from the Apex Court visit the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal Benches at Mumbai, to evaluate the fruitful result as stated above, to enable them to take proper decision thereafter.
The Law Commission of India also made a reference to Article 130 of the Constitution and stated that “If article 130 is liberally interpreted, no constitutional amendment may be required for the purpose of setting up of Cassation Benches in four regions and a Constitution Bench at Delhi. Action by Chief Justice of India with the President’s approval may be enough. It may also be noted that under article 130 the Chief Justice of India acts as a persona designate and is not required to consult any other authority/person. Only Presidential approval is necessary. However, in case this liberal interpretation of article is not feasible, suitable legislation /Constitutional amendment may be enacted to do the needful.”
Honourable Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi is known for taking quick and bold decision in the interest of the people of India. We hope and trust the Government of India will initiate the process of setting up regional benches of the Supreme Court. When the people has given absolute majority to the present Government and if no action is taken now for the cherished dream to secure speedy justice in a convenient manner and at a bare minimum cost, of constituting regional Benches may remain simply a dream in vacuum. The said issue being of national importance, all of us should try to invite the focused attention of the respective elected Members of Parliament and urge them to take up the matter with Honourable Prime Minister of India.
The above suggestions are made objectively so that the dream of our Hon’ble Prime Minister which is our dream too, to have speedy and inexpensive justice for all may be fulfilled.
The Federation is proposing to send one more representation to Honourable Prime Minister of India and Honourable Law Minister and also proposing to make a presentation to his Honour personally on the subject, if called upon to do so. We are confident to receive an invitation of the Hon’ble PM for this service to the society in general.
Thoughts on similar lines are most welcome!
Dr. K. Shivaram
Editor-in-Chief, AIFTP Journal
Reproduced with permission from the AIFTP Journal, November 2014