What was in the realm of fantasy till yesterday in now in the realm of reality, thanks to technological advancements. The author, a crusader for making legal justice affordable to the common man, argues that if setting up Benches of the Supreme Court in various cities is not possible then an alternative viable solution is for the Supreme Court to hear out-station matters by video-conferencing for the benefit of the common man. The pioneering steps taken in this regard by the Tribunal show that the concept is practical, feasible and cost-effective says the author
All India Federation of Tax Practioners have made a representation to Government of India from time to time to constitute four Benches of Apex court in different regions. The Bar Council of Maharashtra & Goa vide letter dated 11/4/2000 also endorsed the view of the Federation. However, full Bench of the Apex Court was not in favor of having the Benches of Supreme Court in different regions. It seems the Government may not initiate the proposal to constitute Benches of Supreme Court in four regions. At present common man of our country cannot think of approaching the Apex Court for justice it is beyond his reach. Shri Ashok H. Desai, Sr. Advocate and Former Attorney General of India in his speech stated that every adjournment in Supreme Court costs the client minimum of about Rs.1 lakh. If this is the minimum cost for an adjournment, one can imagine how expensive it would be for citizens to approach the Supreme Court for justice.
One of the alternatives for regional benches of Apex Court could be to have E-Bench of Supreme Court. 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, the matters of Nagpur are heard by members sitting in Mumbai at Mumbai Bench. The experience is very satisfactory and both the assessee and the department are very happy with the functioning of this bench. E-Bench of Supreme Court may be initially started with SLP relating to direct and indirect tax matters. As per the concept, the litigants will be given an option to ‘opt in’ or ‘opt out’. If in case the litigants desire not to be heard by the E-Bench of Apex Court , he may have an option to opt out. This option would be given to him even at the time of hearing of matter by E-Bench of Apex Court. There will not be any prejudice caused to the assessee by hearing the matter before E-Bench of Apex Court, assessees will be given a full opportunity to represent the matter. For representing the matter before E-Bench of Apex Court a lawyer need not be tech savvy, he need not invest any amount on computers etc for making representation before the E- Bench of Apex Court. According to me, the concept of E-Benches of Apex Court will help the citizens. To begin with, the concept may be introduced in respect of Direct Taxes hearing with SLP arising from the orders from Bombay High Court. One Court of Bombay High Court may be converted in to E-Court.
The above suggestions are made objectively so that the desire of our Hon’ble Prime Minister to have an unpolluted, speedy and inexpensive justice is fulfilled. It will act as a shining star in the minds of people to respect and salute the judiciary, the torch bearer for an orderly and civilized society.
I am sure that for this noble cause, all political parties would whole heartedly support the Government. E-Bench of Income-tax Appellate Tribunal which started from 10th December 2012 is working very satisfactorily, there could be further improvement in the implementations. It is desired that the Hon’ble Law Minister, Parliamentary Committee and representatives from Apex Court must visit ITAT Mumbai and after satisfying with the working of E-Tribunal, thereafter take an appropriate decision.
A thought for debate.
Dr. K. Shivaram
Reproduced with permission from the AIFTP Journal, January 2013