The author is upset at the recent judgement of the Supreme Court in Post Master vs. Living Media India that if the department delays filing an appeal without sufficient cause, the appeal has to be dismissed to “teach the department a lesson“. This amounts to punishing innocent citizens for the incompetence of one officer says the author. Instead, the incompetent officer(s) should be made to pay costs from his pocket to “teach him a lesson” rather than to dismiss the appeal and prejudice innocent citizens, argues the author.
I just can’t understand why Judges keep talking about it but just can’t do anything about it. Since time immemorial, Judges have been lamenting the indifferent attitude amongst the officers in the department towards filing appeals in time. Almost every single appeal is delayed – some by a few months and some by a few years! Judges give an earful to the department’s counsel but then meekly condone the delay. This has become a ritual.
I don’t see how this is acceptable. Why should I and you, taxpayers and citizens, have to bear the burden of what one irresponsible officer in the Postmaster’s office did or did not do? Also, what if the officer was in a conspiracy with an unscrupulous assessee to deliberately delay filing the appeal and get it dismissed?
Lord Curzon, who was the Viceroy and Governor-General of India between 6.1.1899 to 18.11.1905, was the first to encounter the menace. He described it in immortal words:
“Your despatch of August 5 arrived. It goes to Foreign Department. Thereupon Clerk No. 1 paraphrases and comments upon it over 41 folio pages of print of his own composition, dealing solely with the Khyber suggestions in it. Then comes Clerk No. 2 with 31 more pages upon Clerk No. 1. Then we get to the region of Asst. Secretaries, Dy. Secretaries and Secretaries. All these gentlemen state their worthless views at equal length. Finally we get to the top of the scale and we find the Viceroy and Military Member, with a proper regard for their dignity, expanding themselves over a proportionate space of print. Then these 49 papers wander about from Department to Department and amid the various Members of Council. I am grappling with this vile system in my own department, but it has seated itself like the Old Man of the Sea upon the shoulders of the Indian Government and every man accepts, while deploring the burden.”
More than a 100 years have passed since then. After that, there have been a plethora of judgements of the Supreme Court and High Courts, in all of which the Learned Judges have done nothing but to “lament” over the irrepressible ways of the Government. In 1979, the Supreme Court called the irresponsible attitude of the department the “curse of Lord Curzon” .
Now watch how the individual concerned will move like his pants were on fire! He won’t sit down till the appeal is filed. He won’t wait for the period of limitation to expire. His alacrity and efficiency in attending to judicial matters will put his private sector peers to shame
In Ornate Traders vs. ITO 219 CTR 256, the Learned Judges wrote reams of paper on the subject, ending with the “pious hope” that the department would mend its irresponsible ways.
And now the Supreme Court, after giving another earful to the department, says that the appeal should be dismissed to teach the department a lesson. I don’t see how this is acceptable. Why should I and you, taxpayers and citizens, have to bear the burden of what one irresponsible officer in the Postmaster’s office did or did not do? Also, what if the officer was in a conspiracy with an unscrupulous assessee to deliberately delay filing the appeal and get it dismissed?
If an individual officer or officers were responsible for the delay, should he/ they not be hauled up and made to pay the price?
There is nothing difficult about this. All that has to be done is for the Court to impose personal costs on the officer concerned. The Court has to say:
“Dear Sir, thank you for filing the appeal with a delay of 100 days. Your explanation for the delay is bogus. The appeal is admitted but please deposit Rs. 10,000 from your salary to the Orphans & Widows Charity Trust by tomorrow and send us the receipt. Have a great day!”
Now watch how the individual concerned will move like his pants were on fire! He won’t sit down till the appeal is filed. He won’t wait for the period of limitation to expire. His alacrity and efficiency in attending to judicial matters will put his private sector peers to shame.
That’s the only way to teach irresponsible officers of the department a lesson. There is a saying in Hindi “Laaton Ke Bhoot Baaton Se Nahin Maante” (people who don’t do their duty except after being forced to do so will never be persuaded by sweet talk) which fits the situation aptly.
CA Vellalapatti Swaminathan Iyer