Lament about the law’s delays is ancient. Delay in disposal of cases apart from causing hardship to individual litigants destroys the faith of the litigating public in courts. One consequence is that litigants turn to the legal mafia, who by recourse to extra legal methods secure quick delivery of vacant possession of premises or payment of monies legitimately due. If this phenomenon is not curbed swiftly, rule of law will be the prime casualty. The recent judgment of the Supreme Court by a bench comprising Justices K S Radhakrishnan and Dipak Misra has expressed its deep concern about this state of affairs and has elaborately dealt with this problem. In the particular case before the Supreme Court, a suit was filed in 1990, was dismissed in 1997, first appeal was dismissed on July 10, 2001, and a second appeal filed promptly on July 27, 2001, remained pending for years. Why? In the words of the high court judge: “The matter is being adjourned almost on every occasion in the last 10 years to accommodate the counsel regardless of the sufficient cause and only on mere request. Even today, counsel for the appellant has not appeared. Another counsel got up and said that the counsel engaged is not well and, therefore, the case be adjourned.” Yet, the judge with “extreme reluctance and against my conscience with a view to do substantial justice was constrained to adjourn the case to accommodate the counsel”. This judicial mindset is distressing and it is high time it was given a decent burial. Justice Misra, speaking for the bench, recalled the Supreme Court’s previous observations that “adjournments have grown like cancer corroding the entire body of justice delivery system” and expressed his anguish at the nonchalant manner in which adjournments were sought and granted in a routine fashion. Justice Misra rightly stressed that delay, either by the functionaries of the court or the members of the Bar, significantly exhibits indolence. He gave a stirring clarion call for a concerted effort to wipe out arrears because “a time has come when all concerned are required to abandon idleness and arouse oneself and see to it that the syndrome of delay does not erode the concept of dispensation of expeditious justice which is the constitutional command”. He concluded with the hope that “a sensible individual inspiration and a committed collective endeavour would indubitably help in this regard”. It is the burden duty of lawyers and judges alike to ensure that this grand hope is realised and it is not a case of ‘words, words, words’.
Unorthodox Budget Musings: In a country where there are wide and persistent disparities in wealth and income, I am not opposed in principle to levy of a surcharge of 10 per cent on the so-called ‘super-rich’. I, however, think that realistically those earning not `1 crore but `10 crore or more should fall in the ‘super-rich’ category and a surcharge of even 15 per cent may well be imposed on them. A tax on windfall profits could have been levied because huge profits are made not because of individual efforts or enterprise but on account of fortuitous societal factors. Such profits can legitimately and morally be subject to a surcharge of 15 or 20 per cent. Why is estate duty at a reasonable rate not levied on persons whose net assets total over `10 crore? And why is there not an expenditure tax at a reasonable rate when lavish and ostentatious expenditure exceeding `10 lakh is incurred on weddings and other social functions? Surely, people who can afford to spend large amounts on weddings etc. should not grudge payment of expenditure tax whose proceeds can be earmarked for rehabilitation of slum-dwellers or other destitute sections of society. Reactions to the present Budget were on expected lines from political parties none of which discerned any good features in it.
Sorabjee is a former Attorney General of India