Irked by the “lackadaisical response” of the BMC lawyers in “several important” cases, the Bombay High Court has directed the civic body to explain the logic it employs for leaving these cases to “not-so-capable” advocates while engaging services of “senior counsel for petty matters”. The court directed Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) Commissioner Ajoy Mehta to file an affidavit on the issue by September 7 this year. A bench of Justices BR Gavai and MS Karnik said that considering that the corporation pays these lawyers using funds from the “public exchequer”, it owes an explanation to the court and to the public for leaving the “important cases to not-so-capable lawyers.”. “There is no doubt that it is the sweet choice of a litigant to engage whichever lawyer it wants to. However, the BMC runs on the money that it receives from the public exchequer. It ultimately spends the tax payers’ money,” the bench said. “Therefore, we direct the BMC to personally file an affidavit explaining the logic behind the corporation’s policy to engage senior counsel for petty matters, and leaving the important matters to those lawyers who are on its payroll,” it said.
The bench also directed the BMC Commissioner to explain, in the affidavit, why “there is always an inordinate delay on part of the corporation when it comes to submitting its replies and affidavits in cases where it is a party.” It warned that if it finds the explanations in the affidavit to be “unsatisfactory”, it will be “constrained to summon the BMC Commissioner to court”. The directions came while the court was hearing a petition filed by a real estate developer challenging an adverse order of the National Green Tribunal.
Not only had the Corporation delayed filing its reply in the case, but its lawyer also failed to satisfy the court’s queries on the Union government’s policies and environmental rules relevant to the case. “We are taking judicial notice of some old newspaper reports that say that the BMC spends hundreds of crores on legal fees paid to senior lawyers. We have also noticed that even in petty matters concerning demolition of unauthorised structures, the services of senior lawyers are engaged. “However, in cases like the present that involve complicated issues, interpretation of laws and so, we find that BMC is being defended by a lawyer who is an employee of the corporation.
“We fail to appreciate the rationale behind leaving important matters that have bearings on the fate of many to the mercy of a lawyer who is not equipped to meet the challenges raised by the other side,” the bench said.