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HomeOpinionsAn open letter to Prime Minister and Chief Justice of India

An open letter to Prime Minister and Chief Justice of India

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Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan
Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan
The author is practicing advocate in the Madras High Court

We live in scary times. The entire world is on Lockdown, it would seem. Yet, the numbers of those afflicted by Covid-19, knows no abatement, alongside those succumbing to it. Donald J Trump, leader of of the free world, who boasted a few weeks ago that “the Chinese virus would miraculously disappear as it was a ‘Do Nothing Democrats’ conspiracy against my administration, they having failed to get me impeached”, now in a 180 degrees pivot says, “We may have more than 1,00,000 fatalities in the US.”

And he goaded and was goaded himself, by the US Congress into signing a $ 2.2 trillion bailout package, to rescue the “teeming millions joining the unemployed, small businesses and even the ‘too big to fails’ facing closure”. He has promised that more help was on the way. The British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has himself joined the ranks of those impacted by Coronavirus, along with his Chancellor Rishi Sunak (social media is delighted after 200 years of British colonialism, now an Indian, son in law of N R Narayanamurthy of Infosys, was at the helm), has come with a sweet economic deal and promising more.

India is not lagging behind. After a successful Janata Curfew on 22nd March, 2020, Modi 2.0 is on an Aam Janata Rescue plan. Crores are to be put in the accounts of poor and underprivileged, allied to goodies as essentials in their homes and hands, from State Governments. Corporate India and economic purists, who always worried over ‘quantitative easing or deficit financing to make good the budget numbers’, are now crying hoarse that the Union of India “Damn the deficit as extraordinary times demand extraordinary responses. Financial prudence was the least of our priorities.” How many times they are a changing!

Be that as it may, time may have come for the Central Government and the State Governments, to grab these Pandemic Times, as THE occasion to achieve the twin aims of a huge reduction in the docket explosion in courts and a collateral yet humongous economic benefit in the hands of the litigants. Pendency in courts is a huge menace. Chief Justice after Chief Justice of India, have bemoaned it and promised solutions. They have worried that the system may collapse under its own weight, if it was not emergently attended to.

Nani Palkhivala called it, “a viral epidemic which may devour the good in the system”. He felt that the ‘snail’s pace was eating into the vitals’. Justice V R Krishna Iyer echoes the sentiments, “The State is the major culprit. Over 50% of the litigation is generated by them. The bureaucratic lethargy and unwillingness to take bold decisions persuades them to leave it in the lap of judiciary. Not a healthy state of affairs.” In a Nani Palkhivala lecture, Soli Sorabjee said “Tabulating the present pendency and juxtaposing the rate of disposal alongside the new filings, rest assured it will take only 300 years for a clean white slate”. Seminar Circuits, Law Commissions and Expert Bodies have sat, debated, discussed and delineated and the ‘why’ and ‘how’. Chief Justice Chagla downwards has opined that the answer lay in ‘identifying and appointing the most competent as Judges, and that does not come easy to political India’.

One therefore strongly feels that the Covid-19 (Coronavirus Disease 19) may just be the opportune moment to be grabbed, for a surgical remedy to be performed. Governments and constitutional courts can and need to come together for this once in a life chance to literally swipe the pendency off the surface, with a deserving dose of sanitizers. There may not be another, for Black Death, Bubonic Plague, Spanish Flu and now Covid-19- have been 1720, 1820, 1920 and 2020 phenomenons. World over, governments are vying with one another, to come up with economic dole outs. The populace is grieving on the physical, mental, emotional and economic fronts. It is felt that 1930 Depression and 2008 Economic Crisis were common colds, compared to the present.

In such a scenario, it would be a humongous bonus, if the Central, State Governments, and PSU institutions, came up with an Emergency Policy to agree to withdraw as many litigations as possible, from courts and releasing huge sums lying in court deposits to the hands of the people. There are hundreds of arbitration claims, insurance claims- particularly lakhs of compensation claims from motor accidents- tax liabilities, the works. Such sums are locked up and clogging the economic wheels, even in ordinary times. Now, one does not have to elaborate, when economic activity has come to a staggering full stop.

Add the potion and distressing inability of the ‘public servants’ to take decisions for fear of being hauled by the courts and ghosts of CVC/CBI/DVAC (Central Vigilance Commission, Central Bureau of Investigation and Department of Vigilance and Anti Corruption), you have a systemic fault line that has become an assembly line, and feeder category to the courts’ mounting arrears population. It is not going to disappear any sooner, as PILs based on newspaper reports are daily dosage for ‘activists’. There does not appear to be any vaccine on the horizon yet, to treat this viral Pandemic of inhuman proportions, on the pending litigations.

The apocryphal tale associated with Nani Palkhivala, “Father files a suit for recovery. Son obtains a decree. Grandson seeks execution of the decree. Great grandson realises the futility of the exercise’ is no longer funny or untrue. Time therefore for the powers that be, to take both issues by the scruff of the neck, throat, arms, legs, fingers, nails and deal with it m. the only way direly necessary. In one fell swoop, the Governments would have freed huge sums of money into the hands of the litigating public. And also dealt a body blow up the pendency pandemic enabling a clean slate start.

All it needs is the willingness, boldness and imagination. If Rs.1 crores and less income tax liabilities, stuck in courts, could be sorted out by an administrative order, it is eminently possible, on other fronts too. There would be many a domain expert – Advocates, retired bureaucrats, retired judges et al- ready to serve for free, for such a cause offering advices in identifying cases for withdrawal. Time is now. None is likely to grumble or question. Or even if there are dissenters and naysayers, of whom, we have no dearth, on any issue or occasion, they would be drowned out in the community of yes sayers and flow of obvious benefits, from such an exercise. Be brave. Be bold. We need leaders who not only eat last, but those who come forward first, with out of the box or without a box thinking even, for a huge national cause.

(Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan- Advocate practising in the Madras High Court)

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Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan
Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan
The author is practicing advocate in the Madras High Court
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