Make the common man “supreme”

common man supreme court

The author expresses dismay that justice from the Supreme Court is beyond the reach of common citizens of our Country. He makes out a strong case for setting up of four zonal benches of the Supreme Court and also argues that the use of tele-conferencing by the judiciary is imperative to save time and costs.

1. Hon’ble Shri L. K. Advani, Leader of Opposition while addressing the conference at Delhi on 30th August, 2008 on the theme of “Governance and Politics” has stated that “In India only 0.2 per cent of the GNP is spent on the judiciary. We shall increase it by five times in five years”. He also stated that his party would explore the suggestion that there should be four Zonal benches of the Supreme Court. Article 130 of the Constitution of India reads as under “The Supreme Court shall sit in Delhi or in such other place or places, as the Chief Justice of India may, with the approval of the President, from time to time, appoint.” It may be worth appreciating that the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal when it started in the year 1941, had only one Bench functioning at Delhi, whereas today, it has 63 Benches which are functioning from 27 cities and it enabled the tax-payers to get speedy justice without spending much on cost of litigation. Considering the success of the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal it is desirable to constitute four Zonal Benches of the Supreme Court of India.

2. Hon’ble Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, while addressing the conference at Delhi on 19th August, 2006, has said “There is concern about the cost of litigation and cost of obtaining justice”.

3. Shri F. S. Nariman, Sr. Advocate, Supreme Court of India, Member of Parliament and President of Bar Association of India, while delivering Key note address on 6th September, 2002, in a conference organised by FICCI and The Bar Association of India on Theme of “Governance – Indian Judiciary”, has stated as under:–

“I think it is time that the highest court also went to the people in the sense of, not of proliferation; we do not want the Supreme Court in each and every nook and corner of India. But we want it in a zone just as the Law Minister has said that we should have an international law school in the four zones, why cannot we have a Supreme Court in the four zones?”

4. Shri R. K P. Shanker, Former President of International Bar Association also endorsed the view of Shri Fali S. Nariman for setting up of Supreme Court Benches in four zones for the benefit and convenient of the ordinary litigants. 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.

5. If this is the minimum cost for an adjournment, we can imagine how many person can afford to approach the Supreme Court for justice. If this trend continues it is only big Corporates and Multinationals who would afford to approach the highest court of the land for justice.

6. Our Federation on 20-8-1999 & 2-6-2000 has made similar representations to then Hon’ble Law Minister to constitute the Benches of the Supreme Court in four zones.

7. The paper reports dated 26-5-2000 has also stated that, the Parliament Committee has asked the Union Government to pursue the Supreme Court to set up its Benches in three distant regions.

8. The Bar Council of Maharashtra & Goa vide letter dated 11-4-2000 also endorsed the view of the Federation.

9. Mumbai is the commercial capital of our country which contributes more than 40% of Direct and Indirect revenue of the Government of India. Ironically, more than 50% of the matters pending before Hon’ble Supreme Court on Direct and Indirect taxes arises from the State of Maharashtra. If we consider, the appeals filed from the States of Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka & Goa, we find that more than 60% of the matters which are pending before the Hon’ble Supreme Court, originates from these states.

10. For a common man to approach the Hon’ble Supreme Court for justice, is beyond his means for the simple reason that it is impossible for him to engage a lawyer, to meet the high travelling cost, staying expenses and other incidental costs, and also on the uncertainty of exact date of hearing. Any matter, which an assessee desires to take up before the Hon’ble Supreme Court, will cost a minimum of five lakh rupees. It, therefore, implies that justice has a Sectorial role to play. It is only meant for the rich assessee(s). On the other hand if we take the volume of pending litigations under Direct & Indirect taxes, we find that more than 50% of the pending matters relates to small or medium assessees who find it extremely unaffordable to approach the Hon’ble Apex Court. Therefore, it is very essential to consider the proposal of having a Bench of Supreme Court at Mumbai to decide the matters of Direct and Indirect taxes along with other matters. If it works satisfactorily, the same may be extended to Kolkata and Chennai.

11. It is therefore suggested that Benches of the Supreme Court may be constituted having jurisdiction to decide the matters from the following states.

1. Supreme Court Bench at Mumbai States of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Goa
2. Supreme Court Bench at Kolkata Union Territories of Daman & Diu States of Bihar, Orissa, West Bengal & North Eastern States
3. Supreme Court Bench at Chennai Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu &
4. Principal Bench at Delhi Union Territories of Pondicherry & Lakshadweep All States and Union Territories other than mentioned in three divisions above

12. Only less than 3% of our population respectfully pays Income Tax. Therefore, the honest tax-payers are very much concerned that they get quicker and inexpensive justice. The machinery of justice, consequently, must act as a role model, so that more and more people come forward willingly to contribute to the Exchequer. The above goal can be meaningfully achieved if our system of justice is liberalized by spreading its wings of law across the important destinations of our country to make it reachable to the common man.

13. We sincerely feel that it is time to debate how litigants can get quicker and inexpensive justice from the highest judiciary of our country. 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.

14. We are sure that for this noble cause, all political parties would wholeheartedly support the Government.

15. It is also the time to introduce the technology for efficient working of the Judiciary, so that the hearing of the matter before the Apex Court can be done by linking the various High Courts and affording facilities for arguing the matter before the Apex Court sitting at respective High Court. Both the parties may be advised to file the brief submission in advance, the judges should go through the same and thereafter by granting a minimum time to both the parties so that the matter can be decided. According to us it is possible and can save the time and money of the tax-payers and can facilitate even a common man to approach the Apex Court.

16. In the interest of the citizens of our Country, the Government should have a dialogue with the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India to constitute four zonal benches of the Supreme Court and the Constitution may be amended, if required, giving the power to the Government of India to constitute the four benches of the Supreme Court. India can become a role model which may be followed by other countries. Members may send their views to the office of the Federation.


Editor-in-Chief AIFTP
(Reproduced with permission from the AIFTP Journal – January 2009 issue)

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