Litigation Supreme Court of India

A formula for decentralising justice

Recently, the Andhra Pradesh State Committee of the All India Lawyer’s Union (“the AILU”) organised a State Convention in Hyderabad. It highlighted the agony of the litigant public in going to New Delhi from distant places in South India to attend to cases in the Supreme Court, and demanded a bench of the Supreme Court for South India. Pavan Kumar presents a brief background to the debate. 

Former Supreme Court judge, Justice Krishna Iyer, while inaugurating a similar convention of lawyers from the southern states, had observed:A large number of the people in the country are below the poverty line and it is not possible for them to travel up to New Delhi for fighting their case in the Apex Court. The Supreme Court of India would become the Supreme Court of the people of India if it takes the lead in establishing benches in four zones of the country … If the bench of the Supreme Court had been set up for a while in Hyderabad and found useful, benches can be rationally and pragmatically set up in other centres where chartered high courts are functioning…”

Article 130 of the Constitution of India, 1950 (“the Constitution“) empowers the Chief Justice of India, with the approval of the President, to appoint a place or places other than Delhi, as the seat of the Supreme Court. However, none of the Chief Justices of the Supreme Court have yet favoured the invocation of this enabling provision. 

Under the chairmanship of Dr. Justice A.R. Lakshmanan, the Law Commission suo motu took up the subject for consideration. It noted the dire need for a solution for the unbearable load of arrears under which the Supreme Court is functioning, as well as the unbearable cost of litigation for those living in far-flung areas of the country. The Commission also noted that the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law and Justice (“the Commission“) in its Second (2004), Sixth (2005), and Fifteenth (2006) Reports has repeatedly suggested that in order to make speedy justice available to the common man, benches of the Supreme Court had to be established in the Southern, Western and North-Eastern parts of the country. The Commission finally recommended the setting up of a Constitution bench at Delhi to deal with constitutional and allied issues, and four ‘Cassation Benches’. A court of cassation is the judicial court of last resort and has power to quash (‘casser’ in French) decisions of the inferior courts. The recommendation was for such courts to be set up for the northern region at Delhi, the southern region at Chennai or Hyderabad, the eastern region at Kolkata, and the western region at Mumbai, to deal with all the appellate work arising out of the orders or judgments of the high courts of the particular region. (Click here to see the 229th Law Commission Report, August 2009.)

However, in February 2010, the full court of the Supreme Court (twenty-seven judges, led by Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan), rejected the Law Commission’s suggestion. In a unanimous resolution, the full court reiterated its stand that dividing the Supreme Court would affect the country’s unitary character. Previously, successive Parliamentary Standing Committees on Law and Justice have said that setting up benches outside Delhi “would neither impair unity and integrity nor undermine the importance of the Supreme Court.” Eventually, the Central Government also dropped the idea for the moment, relying on the reservations expressed by the Attorney General, Ghoolam Vahanvati.

The issue did not die down. Senior Advocate K.K Venugopal pointed out that instead of establishing more benches of the Supreme Court, the establishment of four regional Courts of Appeal would be a more effective means to ensure that the poorest litigant from the farthest corner of India has inexpensive and ready access to justice. According to him, four regional Courts of Appeal need to be established as final appellate courts, while restricting the Supreme Court of India to its true function as a Constitutional Court.

What do you feel is the correct formula to take the Supreme Court to all parts of the country? Tell us in the comments below.

Corporate Litigation

One-member meetings

The High Courts of Kerala and of Punjab and Haryana have considered whether a meeting of one member alone is permissible, but have not satisfactorily laid out the law on one-member meetings. Though neither court was faced with facts specifically requiring resolution of the entire issue, both judgments leave certain critical issues unexamined while one has, in apparent error, missed the point that the statutory language itself permits one-person meetings in certain circumstances.

Quorum for meetings

Section 174 of the Companies Act, 1956 (“the Act”) prescribes the quorum requirements for a general meeting.

Sub-section (1) prescribes that two members, in the case of a private company and five, in the case of a public company, personally present shall be the quorum for a meeting of the company, unless the Articles provide for a larger number.

Sub-sections (3) to (5) are applicable, under sub-section (2), unless the Articles provide otherwise. These subsections provide that:

Sub-section (3) provides that a meeting called by requisition of members shall, if there is no quorum, stand dissolved.

Sub-section (4) provides that meetings other than those dealt with under sub-section (3) shall, in case of lack of quorum, stand adjourned.

Sub-section (5) provides that “if at the adjourned meeting also, a quorum is not present … the members present shall be a quorum”.

‘A meeting of one person’

Sub-section (1) makes it clear that, as a general rule, a meeting of a company cannot proceed with less than two members.

The sense imported by the word ‘meeting’ itself suggests the rule is well-founded; the phrase ‘a meeting of one person’ elicits an intuitive sense of unhappiness of wording.

The position under sub-section (1) is also in accordance with common law. In Sharpe v. Dawes, [1876] 2 QBD 26 (CA) it was held that a meeting, ordinarily and by the very nature of the term, implies a coming face to face of at least two persons and there is no ‘meeting’, speaking generally, if one only attends. In Re. London Flats Ltd., 1969 (1) WLR 711, which arose from very interesting facts (unfortunately beyond the scope this post) holds to similar effect.

English law recognises, however, that the word ‘meeting’ might be used in a special sense, to mean a ‘meeting’ of only one person. East v. Bennett Bros., [1911] 1 Ch. D. 163 is an example of such use. That case involved interpretation of a provision requiring the vote of a class of members in meeting. The Court held that the word ‘meeting’ in that provision permitted a one-member meeting, since the provision was framed at a time when the class comprised of one person only.

Though it is, therefore, plain that the presence of two members is ordinarily a prerequisite for a valid meeting in India as much as in England, the circumstances when this rule may be relaxed remain unclear. The question, therefore, resolves itself into whether there are exceptional circumstances in Indian law which permit a one-person meeting.

The provisions in the Act permitting the Government and CLB to direct that a one-person meeting be convened are some obvious exceptions, but involve intervention of judicial or administrative authorities.

Less obvious, however, is the fact that Section 174 itself, properly read, provides for a single-person meeting in certain circumstances.

Deemed quorum of one member

Under sub-section (1) of Section 174, the quorum for a meeting of the members of a private company is two, except where the Articles prescribe quorum of a greater number. Sub-section (2) makes sub-sections (3) to (5) applicable, unless the Articles provide otherwise. Therefore, sub-sections (1), (3), (4) and (5) govern meetings of a private company whose Articles do not require deference to amendatory or contrary provisions (“the Default Case”).

Shorn of unnecessary detail, these provisions mandate that a meeting lacking quorum shall stand adjourned (to the same place and time, unless the Board determines otherwise) by a week. Where there is no quorum at the adjourned meeting, members present constitute quorum (a “Deemed Quorum”).

In the Default Case, sub-section (5) operates, of necessity, to constitute a Deemed Quorum of one member. This is because lack of quorum arises, in the Default Case, exclusively where one member only is present.

It is a well-established principle of statutory interpretation that a provision ought to be construed in a manner which does not render it, or any part of it, otiose. Practically, this rule would require that a provision be given effect in every situation to which it can reasonably be said to apply.

Therefore, Section 174 has to be read, in the Default Case, as permitting an adjourned meeting of one person alone. To refuse to do so would be to render Section 174(5) otiose in the Default Case (a situation to which it can reasonably be said to apply).

The judgments of the High Courts 

The Punjab and Haryana High Court, in Bhankerpur Simbhaoli Beverages Pvt. Ltd. v. Sarabhjit Singh, [1996] 86 Comp. Cas. 842 (P&H), was dealing with an allegation that an extraordinary general meeting of the company was illegal since only one person was present. The Court held that “in order to give a finding as to whether the extraordinary general meeting was held, it is necessary to find out first, as to whether at least two shareholders were present in the meeting because a single person cannot constitute a meeting”.

This position, for which the Court drew reliance from, inter alia, the English cases above, went uncontested as is clear from the Court’s observation that “the proposition is not disputed by Mr. G Ramaswamy, senior advocate, and rightly so”.

Insofar as the Court proceeded on an admission, the judgment cannot provide much authority for the position in law. In any event, the Court has stated little more than what is already clear from Section 174(1), that is, as a general rule, there cannot be a meeting of one person.

In Kerala v. West Coast Planters’ Agencies Ltd., AIR 1958 Ker 41, the Kerala High Court – in appeals against Orders of acquittal in the prosecution of a company and its managing director – dealt with whether there could be a general meeting under Section 76 of the Companies Act consisting of one member (the company, at the relevant time, had only one member) and whether the managing director could be prosecuted under Section 76(2) for failure to convene such meeting of one member.

The Magistrate’s order of acquittal, the Court notes, took “the common sense view that for a meeting there must be at least two persons, that a man cannot meet himself, and that the general meeting required by Section 76(1) being an impossibility, no liability attached under Section 76(2) or Section 133(3) to either of the accused”.

The Court placed its imprimatur on the Order of acquittal and the view taken by the Magistrate. Relying, inter alia, on Sharp v. Dawes (supra) and East v. Bennett Brothers (supra), the Court said: “…[T]he common sense view taken by the Magistrate is also the true view in law”.

Excepting for one dimension discussed infra, this judgment has also not added much to the general rule that a meeting requires more than one person.

Objections to deemed quorums of one-member and the Section 13 Rule

The two objections raised against reading Section 174 as necessarily permitting an adjourned meeting of one person in the Default Case, although distinguishable, are based on a common premiss and flow into one another.

The first of the two objections is that the interpretation of Section 174(5) as permitting a one-person meeting is contrary to the literal interpretation rule, since Section 174(5) uses the word ‘members’ while mandating that those remaining at the adjourned meeting would constitute quorum. The answer to this objection is simply that it fails to account for the General Clauses Act, 1897 (“the GC Act”). Section 13 of the GC Act provides:

13. Gender and Number – In all (Central Acts) and Regulations, unless there is anything repugnant in the subject or context – words importing the masculine gender shall be taken to include females, and words in the singular shall include the plural, and vice versa.”
(emphasis supplied)

The interpretive tool in Section 13 (“the Section 13 Rule”), as applied, requires that the word ‘members’ in sub-section (5) be read to include ‘member’. There is clearly nothing repugnant in the subject or context of Section 174 that excludes its application.

As a matter of fact, the context of Section 174(5) supports application of the Section 13 Rule since one dimension of its applicability (that cannot be excluded without violating the rule against redundancy) necessarily involves a situation where one member alone is present, that is, an adjourned meeting of a ‘Default Case company’ lacking quorum (a ‘Default Case company’ refers, obviously, to a private limited company whose quorum, under S.174(1) is two members and to whom sub-sections (3) to (5) applies).

The second objection to interpreting Section 174(5) as permitting a single-person meeting – in essence an extrapolation from the first – grounded the decision of the High Court of Kerala in the West Coast Planters’ Agency Case. The State had argued before the High Court that:

Regulations 51 and 52 in Table A to the First Schedule to the Act (now embodied in Section 174 of the Companies Act, 1956) … read together imply that a meeting can be held with less than two members. 

… Regulation 51 lays down that two members personally present shall be a quorum in the case of a private company and Regulation 52 says that if at an adjourned meeting a quorum is not present, the members present (which covers the case of one member, the plural including the singular, and which, in the case of a private company can be only one) shall be quorum”.
(emphasis supplied)

The High Court rejected the State’s proposition on the basis of a ‘reductio ad absurdum’ argument, holding that:

if Section 147 and 162(iv) of the Act contemplate the case of a one-man company, they contemplate also a no-man company, for the reduction of membership below two or seven as the case may be, can as well be to zero as to one (similarly in the case of the regulations, the absence of a quorum of two includes a case where none is present).”
(emphasis supplied)

There is no reference in the judgment to the General Clauses Act, 1897 and it is not known whether the State based its argument on the Section 13 or not. That provision, however, is a complete response to the Court’s objection.

The reading of ‘members’ as including ‘member’ in Section 174(5) is based on a rule of interpretation contained in Section 13 of the GC Act, which is a statutory prescription. This rule requires, context permitting, that a word in the singular shall include the plural and vice versa. Clearly, the provision does not extend to reading the singular or plural, as used, to include ‘none’.

The High Court’s view is, therefore, but a flight of fancy, unmoored from readily available interpretive tools. Apart from being mandatorily applicable to determine Parliament’s true intention, these tools, properly applied, would have left no room for such concerns as the Court raised.

Cases other than the default case

It remains to be determined whether one person can constitute a Deemed Quorum in cases other than the Default Case, viz.:

a) In cases of public limited companies where sub-section (1) applies

b) In cases of either public / private companies where a higher quorum stipulated by sub-section (1) is prescribed by Articles in exercise of power conferred by that provision

(The Default Case, together with the cases at (a) and (b), comprise the ‘universal set’ of situations conceivable under Section 174. Consequently, if a Deemed Quorum of one member is permissible in these cases also, then adjourned meetings can proceed with a Deemed Quorum of one member in all cases.)

Although absence of quorum in meetings of companies at (a) and (b) does not necessarily mean that one member alone is present (as it does in the Default Case), it must be permissible for an adjourned meeting to go on, under Section 174(5), with a Deemed Quorum of one member in these cases also.

To hold otherwise would arguably violate Article 14; such a reading implies that Parliament has chosen to treat ‘Default Case companies’ and other companies differently, although they are similarly situated (that is, faced with an adjourned meeting where one member alone is present despite lapse of stipulated time from commencement).

(Aditya Narayan is an advocate at the Karnataka High Court.)

Litigation Lounge Supreme Court of India

Strike a balance

In his autobiography, Before Memory Fades, Fali S. Nariman wrote:

We demean ourselves and our profession when we resolve to strike work, and (so) paralyse the working of courts, where public cases and causes demand our expertise, intercession and assistance.

Pro-Telengana advocates recently boycotted courts in Andhra Pradesh. The protesting advocates had demanded a 42 per cent quota for advocates from the Telengana region in the appointments to various law officers, such as government pleaders and public prosecutors in courts, as a compensatory measure. After many days of stalemate, the Government finally acceded to the demands. The episode generated sharp and divergent public opinion about the mode of protest.

Andhra Pradesh High Court. Image here and on the article banner by Cephas 405; original image published here. Image published under the Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 3.0 License.
Andhra Pradesh High Court. Image here and on the article banner by Cephas 405; original image published here. Image published under the Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 3.0 License.

When the Supreme Court in Harish Uppal v. Union of India, (2003) 2 SCC 45 was faced with a similar question, it had observed:

It is settled law that it is unprofessional as well as unbecoming for a lawyer who has accepted a brief to refuse to attend Court even in pursuance of a call for strike or boycott by the Bar Association or the Bar Council. It is settled law that Courts are under an obligation to hear and decide cases brought before it and cannot adjourn matters merely because lawyers are on strike.

The Hon’ble Court had also asserted:

Unfortunately strikes and boycott calls are becoming a frequent spectacle. Strikes, boycott calls and even unruly and unbecoming conduct are becoming a frequent spectacle. On the slightest pretence strikes and / or boycott calls are resorted to. The judicial system is being held to ransom. Administration of law and justice is threatened. The rule of law is undermined.

However, a view has been expressed that the observations of the Hon’ble Supreme Court are apt only in situations where a lawful redress is available to remedy injustices. Instances of protest for self-determination almost certainly require special treatment. Without delving into the details and the correctness or otherwise of the pro-Telangana agitation, it has to be said that there is some substance to that view.

It would not be out of place to mention here that the movement for Indian freedom is replete with incidents of boycott of courts by lawyers and freedom fighters. In fact, resolutions adopted by the Indian National Congress during the Non-Cooperation Movement, included the ‘boycott of courts by lawyers and litigants’ on the agenda.

Lawyers are officers of the court and have an overriding professional duty to facilitate the administration of justice. Clearly, the ‘strike weapon’ ought to be employed sparingly and wisely and only as a last option, but each lawyer should decide whether and when to use it according to his or her own ‘political sensibility’.

(Pavan Kumar is an advocate at the High Court of Andhra Pradesh.)

Litigation Supreme Court of India

Enemy properties – A time to divest. Again.

The gates of the Butler Palace in Lucknow, which is one of several expensive properties that are once again at the centre of controversy over the enemy properties law. Vivekananda N. follows the conflicts between the central government and the courts through the litigations of Raja Mohammed Amir Mohammed Khan.
The gates of the Butler Palace in Lucknow, which is one of several expensive properties that are once again at the centre of controversy over the enemy properties law.

Mahmudabad is a city in the Sitapur district of Uttar Pradesh and lies in the erstwhile state of Oudh. Its last ruler, Raja Mohammad Amir Ahmed Khan went into self-imposed exile in 1947 to Iraq and spent nearly ten years living in Karbala and Baghdad. He became a Pakistani citizen in 1957, but Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru refused to cancel his passport and Indian citizenship out of regard for him and his role in the freedom struggle. It is said that he thereafter declined Nehru’s offer to retain Indian citizenship. The late Raja passed away in London in October 1973.

More than thirty-six years later, on 30 August 2010, the Home Minister, Mr. P. Chidamabaram, announced to the Lok Sabha amid some pandemonium that the Government had decided to withdraw the Enemy Property (Amendment and Validation) Bill, 2010. The Leader of the Opposition urged that the Government was in the habit of attempting to sidestep the process of sending Bills to Standing Committees for scrutiny, and suspected that the Government may re-promulgate a controversial Ordinance once Parliament was no longer in session. The Home Minister reiterated that the Bill was being withdrawn purely to provide Members more time to study the provisions of the Bill, on their own request, due to some concerns expressed in discussions with Members, and that the Bill would be re-introduced in the winter session of the Parliament. The direct and inevitable effect of the Bill on properties worth crores of rupees across the country, including that of the late Raja, is significant and there is opposition to this Bill from several quarters, particularly in northern India.

In December 1962, during the Emergency promulgated by President, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan on account of the war with China, the Government enacted the Defence of India Act, 1962 to replace the Defence of India Ordinance, 1962. The Act was directed at providing measures necessary to ensure public safety during the time of war. Apart from amending legislations such as the Official Secrets Act to provide for severe offences under such legislations and creating special tribunals to try such offences, it also conferred powers to requisition properties for defence purposes under the Defence of India Act, apart from conferring wide rule making powers on the central government. In exercise of such power, the Government issued the Enemy Property (Custody and Registration) Order, 1962.

In 1965, when India and Pakistan were in the midst of their second major war, the Government issued a 1965 Order to replace the 1962 Order. This order was replaced by the Enemy Property Ordinance, 1968 and ultimately the Enemy Property Act of 1968.

The avowed purpose of the legislation was to take over and manage properties belonging to an enemy or an enemy firm. An enemy or enemy firm was defined under the Defence of India Act as, amongst others, a person or country committing external aggression against India. The Defence of India Act lapsesd six months after the Emergency ended, and has since been re-enacted in 1971.

The late Raja, having fled to Pakistan in 1957, had to immediately deal with his properties being vested in the authority under the Enemy Property Act. This was the Custodian of Enemy Property in India. Under the 1968 Act, the Custodian was empowered to carry on business in the name of the Raja, take action for recovering money on his behalf, make contracts and execute documents on his behalf or lease, mortgage or even sell the properties that belonged to him. Section 18 of the Act however, permitted the Union Government to divest the Custodian of such property and return the property to the original owner or any other person.

Once the late Raja had passed away, his son and sole heir, Raja Mohammed Amir Mohammed Khan, who had continued to remain in India since his birth, made representations to the Government to release the properties of his late father from the Custodian. Having failed to achieve any success, in 1981, he approached a civil court in Lucknow seeking restoration of the properties. The civil court ruled in his favour, but due to the continued inactivity of the government on the decree, Mohammed Amir Mohammed Khan approached the Bombay High Court.

The Bombay High Court took the same view as the Calcutta High Court did in two other cases – that Section 18 of the 1968 Act only implied that the properties vested in the Custodian, and that the owners and their heirs had not been divested of their right, title and interest in the property. The Union Government conceded before the Bombay High Court that Mohammed Amir Mohammed Khan was an Indian citizen and the sole heir to the properties but appealed to the Supreme Court on the proper construction of the 1968 Act.

24 years after legal proceedings had commenced, the Supreme Court [(2005) 8 SCC 696] directed restoration of the properties to Mohammed Amir Mohammed Khan. The view taken by the Bombay and Calcutta High Courts on the nature of vesting of the properties in the Custodian was accepted. The civil court decree had attained finality. The Court also found that Mohammed Amir Mohammed Khan, could not be termed an ‘enemy’ for the purposes of the 1968 Act, or otherwise, having been an Indian citizen all his life. Importantly, the Court took the view that it possessed the power to direct divesting of the property held by the Custodian although the 1968 Act conferred only the central government with such a power.

Incidentally, the Court also noted that the central government had refused to place on record before the High Court, a note put up before the Cabinet for a decision on release of the properties, despite an Order to such effect, evidencing mala fide intentions to retain the properties. Perhaps the fact that the Deputy Commissioner, the Superintendent of Police and several other district officers resided in such properties was a relevant factor.

At last count, the properties of the late Raja were worth over thousands of crores and included the Butler Palace and the Lawrie Building in Lucknow and the Metropole Hotel in Nainital. Figures made available in the Rajya Sabha however pegged the value of the properties vested in the Custodian of Enemy Property at a measly 75 odd crores as of August 1996.

In June 1994, there were approximately 600 odd cases involving the Custodian of Enemy Property pending in various courts in India with a vast majority of them in North India. After the Supreme Court decision, the number of such cases has multiplied many times over, with heirs to several lucrative properties rushing to the courts to reclaim their titles.

However, Mohammed Amir Mohammed Khan’s joy was short lived. In July 2010, the President promulgated an Ordinance, which formed the basis of the Bill introduced in Parliament, and sought to restore the position that existed prior to the Supreme Court judgment. The Ordinance reversed any divesting of enemy property by any means, and sought to take away the power of any court to order any divesting of enemy property from the Custodian.

Interestingly, the Ordinance and the Bill also seek to deny to any person who may have received properties after a divestment, any income received by the Custodian in respect of such a property. The Supreme Court had directed that mesne profits post a status quo order passed by it were to be handed over to Mohammed Amir Mohammed Khan. He then fought an unsuccessful litigation in the Supreme Court for his mesne profits for the period prior to the status quo order and was directed to continue civil proceedings he had already initiated for this purpose.

Opposition to the Ordinance was swift. Mulayam Singh Yadav and Lalu Prasad Yadav vehemently opposed the Ordinance as being unfavourable to poor Muslims. In their opposition, they were perhaps, motivated not only by consternation on the effect that the Bill would have on properties such as those that belonged to the Raja but were perhaps also referring to another amendment that the Ordinance had brought which conferred the Custodian with the power to evict any unauthorised or illegal occupants or trespassers on such properties.

The Raja had lost his properties to the Custodian again. He approached the Delhi High Court which immediately directed the government to not create any third party rights in properties already seized or, taken over and revested in the Custodian on the strength of the new Ordinance.

The 2010 Bill does not change the basis of the Supreme Court decision. It seeks to reverse it legislatively and ward off litigation on enemy property. It is a different matter that the Supreme Court has repeatedly cautioned that legislative reversals of court decisions or interference in judicial functioning was illegal, be it in the Representation of People’s Act (in 2003), the Bombay Provincial Municipal Corporation Act (in 1970), the Cauvery water dispute (in 1991), the Orissa amendments to the Arbitration Act (1991) or, the Karnataka State Civil Services Act (in 1973). Courts have also taken the view that Parliament ought not to sit in appeal over a decision, especially if motivated by political ideology or economic theory. The Statement of Objects and Reasons appended to the Bill, besides merely stating the effect of the Bill, is reasonably vague on the purpose behind the revesting of already divested properties in the Custodian.

The Ordinance has now lapsed, but we may not have seen the last of the ligation on the proposed amendments yet.

(N. Vivekananda is a Delhi-based advocate.)

Litigation Uncategorized

Don’t sweat it, Dwarka!

Justin Thomas visited the Dwarka District Court Complex and explored the possible future of district courts in India.
Justin Thomas visited the Dwarka District Court Complex and explored the possible future of district courts in India.

A district court in India, usually housed in a majestic colonial-era building, is easy to describe. There are the rows of advocates and notaries under every semblance of a shade. Liver-red pan stains, that marker of Indian civil space, is ubiquitous. The milling crowd haplessly try making sense of the time-place set. It is crowded, chaotic, confusing and altogether brutish.

Since the September of 2008, the Dwarka District Court Complex (“the DDCC”) has strived to be not just an exception to the rule, but also a prototype for the future rule. Situated right next to the Sector-10 Metro station in the Delhi suburb of Dwarka, the complex is a sensible blend of practicality and the futuristic.

That the DDCC is different from other courts is apparent as soon as you enter it. As you go past the gates manned by private security guards and into the complex, two things stand out – it is rather unexpectedly spic and span, and even at the peak of a Delhi summer, it is pleasantly cool. The DDCC is India’s first district court with centralised air-conditioning and 24-hours power backup.

The 79 courtrooms of the DDCA are housed in four wings in two seven-storey buildings built around a tasteful, circular courtyard. Courtrooms are at every alternate floor, surrounding expansive lobbies, with the judges’ chambers distributed in the other floors. Separate buildings house the lawyers’ chambers and the administrative block. The entire facility is disabled-friendly and provides barrier-free access.

dwarka-tjThe complex also has a canteen, a post office, a facilitation centre, and separate libraries for judges and lawyers apart from the police station and judicial lock-up. Could not find a white shirt in the morning? There is a TJ’s outlet, a Tihar Jail initiative, where white shirts sell as briskly as their famed namkeens.

The facilitation centre provides all the information the litigant or the lawyer might need about matters taken up during the day and the courtrooms where they will be heard. Coupled with the digital display boards outside every courtroom, it goes a long way in making life simpler for those with business before the court.

Mr. I. S. Mehta, the honourable district judge, who has been at the helm of affairs here since the inception of the complex, has a very hands-on approach in running it.  “When we took possession of the complex, none of these amenities were around,” he points out, “Since then we have kept adding user-friendly features to it.”

The court is also in the forefront in the use of technology. Video-conferencing enabled courtrooms are extensively used in deposing in such sensitive matters as rape cases. A new biometric attendance system will be in place from next month for employees.

The lawyers’ chambers go a long way in adding to the dignity of the complex. It provides consultation rooms to lawyers at a nominal amount. “Chambers are essential for the efficient functioning of lawyers. The facilities provided in other (Delhi) courts are hardly conducive for business,” said Mr. P. S. Singh, Secretary of Dwarka District Court Bar Association, as he was overseeing the final work on the chambers on the sixth floor.

The facilities available at the DDCC have prompted demands for the shifting of more business here. Though the court’s jurisdiction is limited to the South-West district, it has special jurisdiction over all S.138, Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881 (cheque bounce) cases involving financial institutions in Delhi. The lion’s share of pendency emanates from the S.138 cases, and eight evening courts function exclusively to dispose of them. The Family Court, too, functions in the premise. The complex also has state-of-the-art alternate dispute resolution facilities.

dwarka1With just thirty-odd functioning courtrooms, the complex is heavily under-utilised. The authorities here deem this issue a policy matter for the Delhi High Court to decide on. “There is a lot of opposition from bar associations of other courts to shifting more matters here. ” a lawyer, who did not want to be identified, informed this correspondent. There is an excellent case to be made for the shifting of more tribunals to the complex. The real test for the complex would be when it approaches capacity functioning. Also, for a court complex that has automatic taps in the washrooms where you would be loath to touch the plumbing with your bare hands in most other courts, it is extraordinary not to have a website.
It is easy to pine for the architectural refinement of Patiala House. But once you visit the cool environs of the DDCC, it is hard to keep complaining.

Justin Thomas Panachackel works at Rainmaker.