Taking note of the governments neglect in setting up tribunals, the Supreme Court has given a number of directions with a view to decrease the mounting debt recovery disputes and to ensure efficiency of administration. Accepting the measures suggested by the Additional Solicitor Generals for improving the working of these tribunals, the Supreme Court hoped that the government will implement all the proposals expeditiously. Taking note of the urgent need to address the abject conditions prevailing in the tribunals, it disposed off appeals filed by the union government challenging two orders of the Punjab and Haryana High Court that asked it to complete the building for Debt Recovery Tribunals (DRTs) and Debt Recovery Appellate Tribunals (DRATs) within three years in 2008. It has, for the time being, allowed the government to house them in leased premises for the smooth functioning of the DRTs. In due course, however, the top court said every debt recover authority must function from functional premises, equipped with computers and efficient and legally-qualified personnel to speedily dispose of the pending disputes, besides, asking all the high courts to ensure that the tribunals dont suffer from any more government apathy.
From the furnace, into the fire
Allowing the appeal of Uniworth Textiles Ltd, the Supreme Court has quashed the Customs and Excise Appellate Tribunals 2003 order that upheld the levy of duty and penalty imposed for the import of furnace oil by the firm. The textile firm purchased electricity from its sister concern Uniworth Ltd, another 100% EoU, till 1999. Prior to January-February, 2000, Uniworth Ltd procured furnace oil required to run the captive power plant. This purchase of furnace oil was exempted from payment of customs duty. In January-February, 2000, Uniworth Ltd exhausted the limit of letter of credit opened by it for the duty-free import of furnace oil. As a temporary measure, the textile firm made an alternative arrangement of procuring duty-free furnace oil from Coastal Wartsila Petroleum Ltd, a foreign trade zone unit, and supplied the same to Uniworth Ltd for the generation of electricity, which it continued to receive as before. The assessee received a show-cause notice from the Commissioner of Customs, Raipur, demanding duty for the period during which it imported furnace oil on behalf of Uniworth Ltd. Both the appellate authorities, viz. the Commissioner of Customs and Central Excise (Appeals) and the tribunal, affirmed payment of duty and penalty saying that since the assessee procured the furnace oil not for its own captive power plant, but for that of another, it could not claim exemption from payment of duty. However, the apex court rejected the revenue authorities contention that the act of the company was willful and mala fide, saying the serious allegation required a high order of credibility and the authorities have not discharged this burden of proof.
The need for speed
Frowning upon routine adjournments, the Supreme Court has said that speedy disposal of cases was the primary morality of justice and ethical fulcrum of the judiciary. Holding that the access to speedy justice was a human right, the court said that delay gradually declines the citizenry faith in the system. Holding that the virtues of adjudication cannot be allowed to be paralysed by adjournments and non-demonstration of due diligence to deal with the matter, the apex court said: The foundation of justice, apart from other things, rests on the speedy delineation of the list (of cases) pending in courts, it said, adding that it would not be an exaggeration to state that (speedy justice) is the primary morality of justice and ethical fulcrum of the judiciary. These observations came in a case where the Rajasthan High Court took 10 years in deciding whether an appeal pertaining to a piece of land involved a substantial question of law. The top court observed that unfortunate characteristics of endemic delays have to be avoided at any cost.