Apex court irked over flawed government appeals

By Rana Ajit,IANS,

New Delhi : The Supreme Court has expressed grave concern over the tendency of state and central governments to appeal to it on almost all high court rulings against them, often with wrongly drafted lawsuits, and that too after months of delay.

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Disconcerted over wrong drafting of a lawsuit by the Karnataka government, a bench of Justice R.V. Raveendran observed: “It is a matter of concern that minimum care is not taken even to verify the petition before filing. The frequency of carelessly drafted lawsuits is rapidly increasing.”

The bench, which also had Justice J.M. Panchal, expressed concern after detecting some grave factual errors in a lawsuit by the Karnataka government. The court eventually dismissed the appeal Feb 9. The verdict was released last week.

The state government had come to the apex court challenging a state high court ruling that had enhanced the compensation to a farmer to around Rs.40,000 from a paltry sum of Rs.5,300 for a piece of land that was more than one acre.

The government had moved the apex court even though its original compensation package had worked out to be nine paise per square foot, which it had not paid despite a lapse of 17 years.

The apex court dismissed the Karnataka government’s lawsuit after detecting it had been drafted wrongly to make it appear that rather than the particular farmer, it was his legal representative who had been given the enhanced compensation by the high court.

The bench pointed out that the apex court rules provide that any high court ruling is challenged only through a lawsuit drafted and verified by a special category of advocates, called advocates-on-records, a designation acquired by lawyers after passing a fairly tough examination conducted by the apex court.

The bench said that this rule would become meaningless if the government continued filing wrongly drafted lawsuits.

The apex court also decried various governments’ tendency to come to it in appeal in almost each and every case decided against it by high courts or lower courts and, more importantly, after months of delay.

“More than half of Special Leave Petitions (SLPs or the lawsuits challenging a high court ruling) filed in the Supreme Court are by the state governments and union of India,” said the apex court.

“The remedy (to approach the apex court) through filing an SLP under Article 136 of the Constitution is an extraordinary (legal) remedy, intended to be invoked in special cases and should not be treated so casually, negligently or routinely,” the bench counselled the government.

The bench also expressed concern over the inordinate delay by governments in coming to the apex court to challenge high court rulings.

“About 90 percent of the lawsuits filed by the government are filed with applications for condonation of delay,” said the bench, adding: “The delay is usually condoned keeping in view the administrative snarls and bottlenecks, governmental procedures and the public interest.

“But there is an urgent need for the government to streamline its decision-making process for filing special leave petitions and reduce the delay. Delays in filing, virtually every SLP by governments, make a mockery of the provision relating to limitation and the meaning of sufficient cause,” said the bench.

A court ruling has to be challenged in a higher court within a deadline of generally three months and if not challenged within it, a ruling attains finality and is not supposed to be disturbed by the higher court without sufficient and just reason. This provision is aimed at ensuring that the winning party is not left waiting endlessly to get the benefit of the ruling.