Meeting of Consultative Committee on Law & Justice Discussions on E-Courts, Justice Delivery System, Law Commission Report

The Parliamentary Consultative Committee meeting of Ministry of Law and Justice was held under the chairmanship of Shri M Veerappa Moily, Minister for Law and Justice on 16 May 2011 in New Delhi.  The meeting was attended by Members of Parliament (MPs) as Members of the Consultative Committee.  The officials from Ministry of Law and Justice and NIC attended the meeting.

The Chairman and Minister for Law and Justice apprised the Members of the Committee on Action Taken Report of the last meeting held on 6 December 2010:

  • A status on setting up of family courts in the States was informed.
  • Regional Consultations were held on Electoral Reforms in Bhopal, Kolkata, Mumbai, Lucknow, Chandigarh and Bangalore jointly with the Election Commission of India.  During these meetings, 13th Finance Commission Recommendations were also discussed with the Chief Justices of High Courts.
  • Implementation of 13th Finance Commission recommendations and utilization of grants was discussed in a State Level Conference on 5th May, 2011 with Law/Home Secretaries, Finance Secretaries and Registrar Generals of the High Courts.  15 States have formulated State Litigation Policy and sent a copy to Department of Justice which is under examination.

The other major issues discussed at he meeting pertained to the E-Court Project, improving justice delivery – steps to reduce pendency, implementation of reports of Law Commission of India and Rajiv Gandhi Advocate’s Training Scheme.

 E-Court Project – The scheme of computerization of district and subordinate courts in the country and for upgradation of ICT infrastructure of the higher courts was approved at a cost of Rs.441.8 crore in February 2007 revised in September 2010 at a cost of Rs. 935 crore due to increase in number of court complexes and courts, expansion of scope and additional items and increase in rates of products and services.  Phase I of the Project is planned to be implemented in 12000 courts till 31st March, 2012 and remaining 2249 courts till 31st March, 2014.  The following points were raised by the  Members during discussion:

 (i)                 States should be given a freedom to modify the software applications for the courts.

(ii)               Software for the e-court project should take care of regional languages for subordinate courts .

(iii)              At district and taluka level for providing power backups for hardware and other installations an option for solar energy may also be considered.

(iv)             Training modules for judges and their staff and familiarizing advocates may be provided for within the scheme.

(v)               Open source software should be used instead of propriety software as it requires lot of investment in future.  In this regard, a specific direction should be issued to the implementing agency.

(vi)             The procurement of software and hardware should be decentralized without compromising the quality.

(vii)           Close coordination with the State Governments be done.

(viii)         Technical manpower provided for the purpose should be of good quality.

 Improving justice delivery – steps to reducing pendency

The members felt that:

(i)   Petty cases should be disposed off through morning/evening courts/shift courts and Lok Adalats.

(ii)   Reform measures should be taken up with regard to Appointment of Judges and Judicial Standards and Accountability.

(iii)  A balance should be maintained while reducing the pendency that there should be no compromise on quality of judgments.  A study would be useful to study this correlation.  Department of Justice will take up this study.

Implementation of Law Commission Reports

 Members were assured that Pending recommendations of Law Commission will be considered in the Department of Law and action will be taken expeditiously.

 Rajiv Gandhi Advocate’s Training Scheme

 Members were informed that Rs. 50 lakh have been allocated to National Law University for imparting the training.  The first batch training will take place in the month of June-July, 2011.

 Members present at the meeting were  Members of Parliament Shri Manish Tiwari, Shri shadilal batra, Shri M B Rajesh, Shri P Rajeeve and Shri Gopal Vyas.

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The Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill, 2007

PRS LEGISLATIVE

The Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill, 2007 was passed by the Lok Sabha on 25th February 2009 (the last day of the session) but the bill lapsed with the dissolution of the 14th Lok Sabha.

The acquisition of land by governments for development and industrialisation has become a contentious political issue in recent years.  Many have criticized the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, as a draconian piece of legislation which has been used to forcibly acquire land without paying adequate compensation. Given the increasing chorus of protests over such issues as displacement and rights over land, the government is planning to introduce an amendment to the 1894 Act.

The Amendment attempts to expand the rights of those whose land is being acquired while restricting the types of projects for which governments can acquire land. It also provides for a separate authority to settle disputes over land acquisition. A companion piece of legislation (the Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2007) attempts to specify the benefits that displaced people will receive.

 Highlights of the Bill

  • The Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill, 2007 amends The Land Acquisition Act, 1894.
  • For acquisition resulting in large-scale displacement, a social impact assessment study must be conducted. Tribals, forest dwellers, and those with tenancy rights are also eligible for compensation.
  • Acquisition costs will include payment for loss or damages to land, and costs related to resettlement of displaced residents.
    While determining compensation, the intended use of land and value of such land in the current market is to be considered.
  • The Bill establishes the Land Acquisition Compensation Disputes Settlement Authority at the state and central levels to adjudicate disputes resulting from land acquisition proceedings.

Key Issues and Analysis

  • The Bill bars the jurisdiction of civil courts on all matters related to land acquisition. It is unclear whether there is a mechanism by which a person may challenge the qualification of a project as ‘public purpose.’
  • The Settlement Authority is a judicial body but could be entirely staffed by members without judicial qualifications or experience.
  • When acquired land is resold, the original acquirer is to distribute 80% of the capital gains to the original owners or their heirs. This implies that every acquirer must track the original owners and their heirs in perpetuity. Also, the resale price of land may be difficult to compute when it is part of a larger deal in which a company is taken over.
  • Companies have to offer part of compensation as shares or debentures. Unlike shares, debentures do not provide the land owner with a share of the profits of the project.
  • The Bill makes special provisions for compensation if land is acquired under ‘urgency’. The term ‘urgency’ is not defined.

Gamble in litigation

M J ANTONY IN THE BUSINESS STANDARD

The SC finds that petitioners do not always come with clean hands

Most sane people prefer to stay away from the painfully slow and overcrowded courts. It is a misfortune to be dragged to a court, especially when one is an ordinary law-abiding citizen. The ancient Chinese swore at a foe, “let you be hauled to a court even if you’re innocent!”

However, there is a deviant species who attempt to gamble with law suits. They use the system to settle political scores or subdue business rivals. The Supreme Court spotted this class two years ago in the case Dalip Singh vs State of Uttar Pradesh and remarked: “In the last 40 years, a new breed of litigants has cropped up. The quest for personal gain has become so intense that those involved in litigation do not hesitate to take shelter in falsehood, misrepresentation and suppression of facts. Those who attempt to pollute the stream of justice or touch the pure fountain of justice with tainted hands are not entitled to any relief.”

The Supreme Court decided a few cases of this variety last week and even imprisoned one petitioner who lacked bona fides. One petition was moved by vocal politician Amar Singh. It was his constant whine that his political opponents in power are tapping his phones and his private conversations with friends in high places and celebrities were aired in the media. Therefore, he moved the Supreme Court invoking his fundamental right to privacy. But the court rejected his petition, calling it “an attempt to mislead the court on the basis of frivolous allegations and by suppression of material facts.”

Chastising those who move courts with such dubious motives, the judgment said: “This court wants to make it clear that an action at law is not a game of chess. A litigant who approaches the court must come with clean hands. He cannot prevaricate and take inconsistent positions.” Since the Amar Singh petition was vague, not conforming to the rules of procedure and riddled with inconsistencies, the court did not go into his main grievance — infringement of privacy.

The only positive outcome of the case was the court’s request to the government to “frame certain statutory guidelines to prevent interception of telephone conversation on unauthorised requests.” In this case, Reliance Infocom acted on a forged request from the police.

In another judgment, Kalyaneshwari vs Union of India, the court deprecated misuse of public interest litigation to wage business battles. A writ petition was filed in the Gujarat High Court seeking the closure of asbestos units, alleging that the material was harmful to humans. The high court dismissed it, stating that the petition was filed at the behest of rival industrial groups that wanted to push their products as substitute for asbestos. Undaunted, a similar petition was then moved in the Supreme Court. The plea was not only dismissed, but the person who mooted it was asked to pay cost of Rs 1 lakh and sit in the court for a whole day.

The judgment said: “The petition lacks bona fide and in fact was instituted at the behest of a rival industrial group, which was interested in banning of the activity of mining and manufacturing of asbestos. A definite attempt was made by it to secure a ban on these activities with the ultimate intention of increasing the demand of cast and ductile iron products as they are some of the suitable substitute for asbestos. Thus it was litigation initiated with ulterior motive of causing industrial imbalance and financial loss to the industry of asbestos through the process of court.”

The court declared that it was its duty in such circumstances to punish the petitioners exercising its power under the Contempt of Courts Act. The court must “ensure that such unscrupulous and undesirable public interest litigation be not instituted in courts of law so as to waste the valuable time of the courts as well as preserve the faith of the public in the justice delivery system.”

This variety of cases is not entirely new. They come with apparently laudable motives, but if the veil is removed they expose the real intentions. In the case, Subhash Kumar vs State of Bihar (1991), the complaint was that effluents released from the Tata Iron and Steel Company’s washeries were not only contaminating the Bokaro river but also ruining agricultural land. Later the court found that the petitioner was an influential businessman who was buying the slurry from the company for several years. His private interest was hurt when the company refused to provide him more slurry. Hence his public interest litigation. Such instances have occurred despite the stringent reaction of the courts at all levels and guidelines set by the apex court in some judgments.

http://www.business-standard.com/india/news/m-j-antony-gamble-in-litigation/435870/

‘Jurisdiction of Indian courts not barred in child custody cases’

J VENKATESAN IN THE HINDU

The Supreme Court has held that jurisdiction of Indian courts is not barred while dealing with a case of custody of a child removed by a parent from a foreign country to India in contravention of the orders of the court where the parties had set up their matrimonial home.

Giving this ruling, a Bench of Justices V.S. Sirpurkar and T.S. Thakur said: “Interest and welfare of the minor being paramount, a competent court in this country is entitled and indeed duty-bound to examine the matter independently, taking the foreign judgment, if any, only as an input for its final adjudication.”

Writing the judgment, Justice Thakur said: “Recognition of decrees and orders passed by foreign courts remains an eternal dilemma in as much as whenever called upon to do so. Courts in this country are bound to determine the validity of such decrees and orders keeping in view the provisions of Section 13 of the Cr.PC 1908 as amended by the Amendment Act of 1999 and 2002.”

The Bench said: “The duty of a Court exercising its Parens Patraie jurisdiction, as in cases involving custody of minor children, is all the more onerous. Welfare of the minor in such cases being the paramount consideration, the court has to approach the issue regarding the validity and enforcement of a foreign decree or order carefully. Simply because a foreign court has taken a particular view on any aspect concerning the welfare of the minor is not enough for the courts in this country to shut out an independent consideration of the matter.”

The Bench said: “Conflict of laws and jurisdictions in the realm of private international law is a phenomenon that has assumed greater dimensions with the spread of Indian diaspora across the globe. While intellectual content and technical skills of these youngster find them lucrative jobs in distant lands, complete assimilation with the culture, the ways of life and the social values prevalent in such countries do not come easy.”

It further said: “Experience has also shown that in a large number of cases one of the parties may return to the country of his or her origin for family support, shelter and stability. Unresolved disputes in such situations lead to legal proceedings in the country of origin as well as in the adoptive country. Once that happens, issues touching the jurisdiction of the courts examining the same as also comity of nations are thrown up for adjudication. The present happens to be one such case where legal proceedings have engaged the parties in a bitter battle for the custody of their only child, Kush, aged about 11 years, born in America, hence a citizen of that country by birth.”

In this case, the appellant, Ruchi Majoor, mother of the child, returned to India from the U.S. and obtained interim custody of the child from a trial court in Delhi.

On an appeal from the child’s father, Sanjev Majorr, the Delhi High Court set aside the order, holding that Indian courts had no jurisdiction to decide the issue since the father had already obtained an order from a U.S. court for the custody of the child.

The present appeal by the mother is directed against that order.

The Supreme Court disposed of the appeal while entrusting the child’s custody with the mother, but allowing visitation rights to the father.

Kumar V. Jahgirdhar, president of Children’s Rights Initiative for Shared Parenting (CRISP), a Bangalore-based NGO, reacting to the judgment, said: “In cases relating to international child abduction, the left behind parents, mostly fathers, are deprived of the child custody. The only solution for preventing this crime is India should immediately sign the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction.”