SC stresses on the service in legal service

Written by Indu Bhan | Indu Bhan | Updated: Aug 28 2013, 07:00am hrs
Re-routing of power lines

Quashing the Orissa High Courts decision that asked the Orissa Power Transmission Corporation Ltd (OPTC) to re-route power transmission lines, the Supreme Court has asked the property owner to pay damages of R10 lakh for frustrating the implementation of the scheme due to unwarranted litigation. In this case, Orissa Power Transmission Corporation Ltd vs Asian School of Business Management Trust, after more than 14 years of notification of about 50 transmission schemes, the predecessor of the latter, who had purchased some parcels of land in 2005, had raised objection against execution of the scheme on the ground that the power lines would cross the building constructed by it.

While the Corporation refused to shift the transmission towers, which was affirmed by the trial court in 2008, the HC considered alternative sites and ordered re-routing. The HC also held that the two notifications of 1991 and 1996 as ultra vires on the grounds that the central governments approval was not obtained before implementation of the schemes.

OPTC appealed to the Supreme Court which observed that the exercise undertaken by the HC for ascertaining the availability of alternative route through which the transmission line could be routed was totally unwarranted, resulting in miscarriage of justice. It further said that the trust, which bought the land 14 years after the notification, had no locus standi to seek shifting of the transmission lines when 150 towers had already come up and the OPTC had spent over R14 crore.

SC criticises excise dept

Slamming the excise department for unnecessary litigation on a paltry amount of duty of R1.34 lakh, the Supreme Court said that the long and chequered history of the litigation in the case of CCE vs Ayyappan Textiles Ltd has resulted in colossal waste of its time and also that of other fora. While dismissing the departments appeal, the apex court even criticised the sectoral tribunal for going into questions of law unwarranted by the facts of the case this is a typical case where at every stage of the litigation irrelevant legal principles were pressed into service resulting in colossal waste of time of adjudicators including time of the Supreme Court.

In this case, the dispute was over the quality of a batch of cotton yarn. The department had issued a show cause notice in 1994 after it found that the assessee was manufacturing higher counts over and above the tolerance limit and cleared the same without payment of appropriate duty on the higher counts. While it held the company liable to pay a further R4,98,034 towards the duty with penalty on the goods allegedly manufactured between 1989 to 1993, the Collector of Central Excise confirmed the demand to the extent of only R1,33,573. The department carried the issue in appeals before many adjudicators including the tribunal, which also dismissed its plea.

Law is no trade

Expressing concern over the legal profession getting commercialised, the apex court said that fighting litigation has become so expensive that it has gone beyond the reach and means of a poor man. For a long time, the people of the nation have been convinced that a case would not culminate during the life time of the litigant and is beyond the ability of astrologer to anticipate his fate, it said, while observing that lawyers are equal partners with judges in the administration of justice. Advocates cannot behave with doubtful scruples or strive to thrive on litigation Law is no trade, briefs no merchandise. An advocate being an officer of the court has a duty to ensure smooth functioning of the court. He has to revive the person in distress and cannot exploit the helplessness of innocent litigants.... The apex courts observations came in a suo motu contempt petition where an advocate-on-record after lending his signature, for consideration, to a petition before the top court had failed to appear even once.

After accepting an unconditional apology and an undertaking from the advocate, the court said that such an attitude tantamount to cruelty in the most crude form towards the innocent litigant.