Sales Tax Tribunal Bar Association vs. The State of Maharashtra (Bombay High Court)

DATE: June 28, 2016 (Date of pronouncement)
DATE: July 6, 2016 (Date of publication)
AY: -
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Severe strictures passed at the attitude of the Government in creating “hurdles and obstacles in the smooth working and functioning of all the tribunals and courts” and the fact that the “State has yet to adopt a culture of respect and regard for the judiciary”. Directions given that issue of allotment of residential quarters to Tribunal Members should not be kept a “closely guarded secret” but made public

(1) Mr. Sonpal states that now no Government official will sit on the files or hold on to the request of such judicial officers who are to join as members of any judicial tribunal or court in the State of Maharashtra. Mr. Sonpal submits that the moment the appointment is notified and a request comes from such official for allotment of residential accommodation in Mumbai, an allotment order would be placed in hands even before he joins duty or at least on the date he joins the duty. The insistence on compliance with the Government Resolutions particularly that the officer must first join the post and thereafter notify his requirement to the Departmental Head would be relaxed in cases of judicial officers and who have no residential accommodation of their own in Mumbai.

(2) Although we welcome these statements and accept them as undertakings given to this court, we are sceptical. Meaning thereby, we have our own doubts whether the State will abide by these undertakings. There are ways and means by which the General Administration Department and the Finance Department of the State create hurdles and obstacles in the smooth working and functioning of all the tribunals and courts set up by the State. Ordinarily, these courts are under the administrative and judicial control of this court. Our experience is that most of the judicial officers, who have no base in Mumbai but chosen for manning such tribunals and courts are not allotted residential accommodation expeditiously. Their wait is endless. Sometimes the High Court administration had to arrange for a dormitory type accommodation for their temporary or transit stay. This situation has never undergone any change for decades together.

(3) Equally, we must note the plight of the support staff. Those working as Class III and Class IV officers and serving either on the establishment of the High Court, City Civil Court, Small Causes Court and other such courts and tribunals are not allotted a residential accommodation from the Government for years together. The High Court administration goes on corresponding and making requests in writing in that behalf. The files are moved by the High Court officials, but even they have to wait endlessly for response, much less favourable and positive. Whenever requests with specific names have been made, the State desires to treat them as out of turn or special requests. They would treat such a request as a special case and process the files only then. There also the stock reply is that the powers are vested only in the Chief Minister of the State and so long as the files are not cleared from his secretariat under his signatures, no allotment orders can be issued. This is the experience of the judicial as well as administrative staff in the State.

(4) It is these dismal state of affairs which compel us to observe as above. We are still apprehensive for this State has yet to adopt a culture of respect and regard for the judiciary. The judiciary is an important organ of the State. The State has a wider connotation and included in it are the legislature, executive and the judiciary. The executive wing of the State Government continues to show disrespect and disregard to the judiciary in matters which are of above routine nature. We have seen precious time being wasted on the judicial side on such trivial issues. We do not think that such state of affairs are prevailing anywhere else in the country. The other State Governments are responsive and they regard such request from the judiciary as an urgent matter and take steps to comply with it promptly. That is because there is a realisation that vital functions such as the maintenance of law and order and equally the administration of justice are sovereign and regal. They cannot be outsourced or privatised. The judiciary should not be embroiled and engaged in these problems and the administrative machinery should help it in solving the same. If judges and judicial officers do not have the minimum comfort and necessities, none should expect speedy justice. If the judicial officers in the State continue to worry about allotment of residential quarters and have to wait for months together or sometimes till their retirement for such allotment,, then, something is drastically wrong with the administration and governance of the State and needs repairs. We do not think any statements made by Mr. Sonpal and which we have recorded as undertakings given to this court are going to improve the situation. We hope that we do not have to say anything more. The departments concerned have to simplify and streamline the entire process. We have found in the affidavit of the General Administration Department that their process lacks transparency. The allotment of government residential quarters appears to be a closely guarded and secret affair. The General Administration Department should forthwith display on its website all the relevant information. They must indicate the availability of Government accommodation and for allotment of judicial officers and other senior administrative officers. They must indicate on the website itself as to how many residential quarters and from a common pool are earmarked for allotment to the judiciary and particularly the senior judicial officers serving the State. If any application is received for allotment, the date of receipt of such application, the serial number allotted to it and when was it considered and disposed of should be displayed on the website. If there is a reason for delay and on exceptional occasions, then, the reasons for the same ought to be also indicated with clarity. We would expect the Government to earmark certain tenements in Mumbai for allotment to judicial officers and the officers in the rank of Class II, Class III and Class IV serving in judicial and administrative wings of the judiciary. These earmarked tenements, if few in number and inadequate, then, steps be taken to increase it and what arrangements have been made by the State. All this be now indicated on affidavit and we expect Mr. Sonpal to file such a comprehensive affidavit from both the Departments. We would expect the same deponents to report to this court by filing further affidavits. It is time that we inform and impress upon the administration of the State that when this court is critical of their conduct and examines it in such a manner on the judicial side, it does not mean to look down upon anybody. It merely discharges its duty and fulfills its responsibilities towards the public. As the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India observes and holds, in the case of Bigyan Kumar and Ors. vs. Union of India and Ors. We say nothing more. We hope that the senior administrative functionaries are aware of the constitutional status and position of the judiciary. It is expected to be impartial and independent. No direct or indirect interference with the functioning and working of the Judges at all levels is tolerated by the Constitution. That is the only corrective mechanism available to the citizens against the illegalities committed by State officials and which result in their legal rights being jeopardised. In the adversarial system of justice that we have, the State is proving to be the single largest adversary. It is responsible on most occasions in creating and generating litigation. The statistics have proved this fact. Such attitude and approach of the State results in setting up more courts of justice and judicial tribunals. That requires trained, efficient and equipped manpower, staff and infrastructure. That is hopelessly lacking in the State of Maharashtra and especially in Mumbai. In the prevailing set up, the State and its residents would never be able to fulfill and honour the constitutional mandate of cheap, inexpensive, quick and firm justice.

(5) We place this matter on 9th August, 2016 in the fond hope that on that date we may not have to be still harsh and critical. We would expect the vacancy in the post of judicial member as also in the post of administrative member to be filled in and the tribunal then functions to its capacity.

(6) We are not making these observations by restricting the case only to the Sales Tax Tribunal. We would expect these directions and observations to hold good equally for other courts and tribunals functional in the State. Let therefore a copy of this order be forwarded to the Chief Secretary of the State. He should invite the attention of all concerned to the above observations.

One comment on “Sales Tax Tribunal Bar Association vs. The State of Maharashtra (Bombay High Court)
  1. Parth says:

    How Tribunal Bar Association is concerned with accommodation for the Tribunal members? ‘Begani shadi me Abdulla diwana’?

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