Dr. K. Shivaram, Sr. Advocate, has lauded Shri Narendra Modi, the Hon’ble Prime Minister, for unveiling the ‘New India Vision & Road Map’ for the Country. He has pointed out that in the ‘New India Vision’, the role of the judiciary cannot be left behind. The author has accordingly identified the issues in the judicial system which are stumbling blocks to progress and offered valuable suggestions on how to achieve speedy disposal of matters and administer justice to citizens in a more efficient manner
On the occasion of 72nd Independence day celebrations, Honourable Prime Minster of India Shri Narendra Modi addressed the occasion by putting forward a new India vision and road map to the Nation. It is the duty and obligation of the every citizen to support the vision of the Honourable Prime Minster.
As tax consultants and tax payers of our country, we desire that in the new India Vision, the role of the judiciary cannot be left behind. We therefore make an appeal to the Honourable Prime Minster of India to consider the suggestion of the Tax Bar. As per a paper report there will be an annual conference of the Chief Justices and Chief Minsters at Delhi on 1st September, 2019 where the Honourable Prime Minster of India and the Honourable Chief justice of India will be sharing their vision for the future of the judiciary. We are making an appeal to consider the following issues to aid in the speedy disposal of matters before various judicial and quasi-judicial forums and the better administration of justice.
1. Linking of Supreme Court with all High Courts and hearing of Special Leave Petitions via E-Benches of the Apex Court
The All India Federation of Tax Practitioners have made various representations from time to time suggesting that the Honourable Supreme Court may constitute e-benches in the premises of various High Courts. The hearing of Special leave Petitions before the Apex Court can be done by linking the High courts with the Supreme Court thereby affording the litigants the facility for arguing matters before the Supreme Court from the respective High Courts. The E-bench of the Supreme Court may take up the matters on a High Court-wise basis, e.g. one day could be for matters of the Bombay High Court, another day from the Madras High Court and so on, in rotation for each High Court on a regular basis. Initially, an option may be given to the parties to hear the matters through an e-Bench or a regular Bench and upon the success of the pilot project, the said system can be adopted with suitable changes after consulting with all the stake holders.
The Income Tax Appellate Tribunal has started an e-Court at Mumbai through which the matters of Nagpur are heard by members sitting in Mumbai at the premises of the Mumbai Bench. The experience has been very satisfactory as per both, the tax payers as well as the Department. The e-Bench of Supreme Court could initially be started for the hearing of Special Leave Petitions (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, they may take the option to opt out. The E-courts may be set up in the premises of all the High Courts around the Country. This will save precious time and reduce cost of litigation. In the era of digitalisation, if this suggestion is implemented, tax payers will get access to justice without the strenuous effort of travelling to Delhi.
2. Increase in the age limit of retirement for Judges of the High Court from 62 to 65 years
The Parliament has constituted a committee headed by Smt. Jayanti Natarajan as Chairperson for considering the increase in age limit of Judges of High Courts from 62 to 65. The Committee observed as under:-
“Taking into account the justifications given by the secretary, Department of Justice, and the statement of objects and reasons appended to the bill, the committee supports the proposal for increase in the retirement age of judges of the High Courts from sixty two years to sixty five years and to be at par with the retirement age of the judges of the Supreme Court. The Committee also acknowledges that the Bill has been brought forth in pursuance of the recommendation made by the Committee in its earlier reports”
Though the committee has made the above recommendation on 7th December 2010, no steps have been taken for the implementation of the same till date. It is desirable that an appropriate decision may be taken at the earliest upon this issue. We are of the considered opinion that an increase in age limit will help in the increase of disposal of cases due to the greater availability of senior Judges due to which there could be a substantial reduction in pendency of cases.
3. Availing services of retired judges on a tenure basis of five years:
Article 224A of the Constitution of India enables the appointment of retired judges at sittings of High Courts as ad-hoc judges. As the pendency in the various high Courts is increasing, the services of ad-hoc judges may be availed for effective disposal of cases and efficient dispensation of justice. This step shall help in reducing the pendency of matters before various High Courts by increasing the bench strength.
4. Institutionalised process of elevation of Judicial Members of the ITAT to be appointed as Judges of High Court
Till now, very few Members of the ITAT as well as other Tribunals have been elevated to the High Courts. This process of selection should be institutionalised which will help in bringing transparency. It is also desired that all the High Courts have a permanent tax bench where a Judicial Member of impeccable integrity could be elevated from the ITAT. Members of the ITAT, due to their specialised knowledge and experience in ‘tax’ and ‘business accounts’, would be able to understand and decide the issues efficaciously. This may also act as an attraction for many young and bright lawyers to join the Tribunals as Members.
5. Special allocation of Funds in the Budget of every year should be made for the functioning of the Courts just as allocations are made for the defence of our Country
The Judiciary is one of the pillar of the democracy. There must be a separate allocation of funds for the judiciary in each budget. The procedure for disbursement of funds to the judiciary must be simplified. It is worth considering that Finance Ministry may make it a point to meet the concerned Officials of the judiciary and hold discussions about the funds required for modernisation and allocate the required funds to the Judiciary from time to time.
As per the newspaper report dated 3-8-2019 (Times of India, Saturday), it has been highlighted that more than half of the District Courts in the Country do not have functional washrooms and other amenities. In Mumbai, there is only one special court designated to deal with prosecution matters of Direct taxes as well as other economic offenses. There are more than 10,000 cases pending to be heard. There are matters pending for framing charges since more than 15 years. Unless some remedial measures are taken, entire system may collapse. The need of the hour is to have proper infrastructure for the Judiciary. This is possible only when proper allocation of funds for the judiciary is done.
6. Responsive system to be established in respective Ministries to discuss and take action on suggestions made by the Apex Court, High Courts and other Judicial authorities.
It has been observed that various High Courts make have several recommendations to the Government of India to look into certain matters and take appropriate measures. However, there is no mechanism to find out whether the issue is brought to the notice of Ministry concerned and what follow up action has been taken. It is therefore, advisable to put up such suggestions on the website of the High Courts or of the concerned Ministry where the progress on each direction can be tracked, scrutinised and appropriate action can be taken. This will bring transparency in the functioning of the Ministry and will also bring accountability.
7. Authority under Prohibition of Benami Property Transactions Act, 1988 and The Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002
The Adjudicating Authorities under the Prohibition of Benami Property Transactions Act, 1988, and under The Prevention of Money laundering Act are currently situated at Delhi. Due to this reason, litigants have to travel to Delhi for adjudication of their matters, be it for a mere adjournment or for a complete hearing. This causes great hardship to the litigants apart from the already existing implications under the Acts sought to be disputed by them.
At present there is no Adjudicating Authority at Mumbai or in any other part of the country. It is desired that the Adjudicating Authority may be set up in across the country to provide effective redressal dispute resolution mechanism for litigants that are located away from the Capital Cities. Till the time such zones are established, the Adjudicating Authority may be allowed to have camps in different places and may be allowed to have touring benches where the number of appeals are substantial in number. This will help the litigants in saving precious time and cost of litigation will come down. It would further help the litigants to get speedy justice.
We hope Government will consider these proposals that shall, in our opinion, greatly streamline the disposal of cases. We are sure that the implementation of these suggestions shall go a long way in providing effective and efficacious remedy to the litigants across the country.
Dr. K Shivaram
Chairman, Editorial Board, AIFTP
Reproduced with permision from the AIFTP Journal, August 2019 :