BY J VENKATESAN IN THE HINDU
It is permitted to be invoked in very exceptional circumstances: Bench
The Supreme Court, while deciding to examine the scope of Article 136 of the Constitution, said it was like Article 226 (writ jurisdiction of High Courts) was a discretionary remedy and the Supreme Court was not bound to interfere even if there was an error of law or fact in the order under challenge.
A Bench consisting of Justices Markandey Katju and R.M. Lodha, quoting various judgments, pointed out that Article 136 was never meant to be an ordinary forum of appeal at all. “It has become a practice of filing SLPs against all kinds of orders of the High Court or other authorities without realising the scope of Article 136.”
The Bench said: “The very conferment of the discretionary power defies any attempt at exhaustive definition of such power. The power is permitted to be invoked not in a routine fashion but in very exceptional circumstances as [and] when a question of law of general public importance arises or a decision sought to be impugned before the Supreme Court shocks the conscience. The Supreme Court would not under Article 136 constitute itself into a tribunal or court just settling disputes and reduce itself to a mere court of error.”
The judges said: “After all, the Supreme Court has limited time at its disposal and it cannot be expected to hear every kind of dispute. The apex court lays down the law for the whole country and it should have more time to deliberate upon the cases it hears before rendering judgment as Mr. Justice Frankfurter observed. However, sadly the position today is that it is under such pressure because of the immense volume of cases in the court that judges do not get sufficient time to deliberate over the cases, which they deserve, and this is bound to affect the quality of our judgments.” Let notice be issued to the respondents, they said.
The Bench noted the concern expressed by senior advocate K.K. Venugopal in a lecture pointing out that an alarming state of affairs “has developed in this court because this court has gradually converted itself into a mere Court of Appeal which has sought to correct every error which it finds in the judgments of the High Courts of the country as well as the vast number of tribunals. Mr. Venugopal has further observed that this court has strayed from its original character as a Constitutional Court and the apex court of the country. According to him, this is a self-inflicted injury, which is the cause of the malaise which has gradually eroded the confidence of the litigants in the apex court of the country, mainly because of its failure to hear and dispose of cases within a reasonable period of time.”
Mr. Venugopal, the Bench said, “has pointed out that in the year 1997 there were only 19,000 pending cases in this court, but now, there are over 55,000 pending cases and in a few years’ time the pendency will cross one lakh cases. In 2009, almost 70,000 cases were filed in this court, of which an overwhelming number were SLPs under Article 136. At present, all these cases have to be heard orally, whereas the U.S. Supreme Court hears only about 100 to 120 cases every year and the Canadian Supreme Court hears only 60 cases per year.”
The Bench, therefore, wanted the issue to be settled by a Constitution Bench. It issued notice to the Supreme Court Bar Association, the Bar Council of India and the Supreme Court-Advocates-on-Record Association. The Constitution Bench may also consider appointing some senior advocates of this court as amicus curiae to assist in the matter so that it can be settled after considering the views of all the parties concerned.