‘A people’s court’

Published : Apr 17, 2013 00:00 IST

CHENNAI : 19/12/2010 : Mohan Parasaran, Additonal Solicitor General of India . Photo : N_Sridharan.

CHENNAI : 19/12/2010 : Mohan Parasaran, Additonal Solicitor General of India . Photo : N_Sridharan.

MOHAN PARASARAN WAS THE SENIOR-MOST Additional Solicitor General of India at the time of his appointment as the Solicitor General in February this year, when Rohinton Nariman resigned from the post. Aged 51, Mohan Parasaran has wide experience in all branches of legal practice and has a keen understanding of the government’s litigation policy announced in 2010. The policy is based on the recognition that the government and its various agencies are the predominant litigants in courts and tribunals in the country. Accordingly, the policy declared that the government must cease to be a compulsive litigant, and that its approach that matters should be left to the courts for ultimate decision had to be discarded. Here, he answers questions on the policy and related issues.

While answering a question in the Lok Sabha recently, Minister for Law and Justice Ashwani Kumar revealed that the litigation policy, announced by former Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily in 2010, had not been approved by the government yet.

When policy decisions are taken, they are sent to the Cabinet for approval. One Ministry does not take a call on issues of policy. Even though the same has not been approved, it was widely publicised in 2010 when it was launched, and it has been at the back of the government’s mind. In effect, the government has been trying to streamline the litigation which is being conducted on its behalf. We see the litigation policy as a model.

Has there been a review of the pending cases, in which the government is a party, before the High Courts and the Supreme Court?

That is being done constantly by the Supreme Court and the respective High Courts themselves. In some of the High Courts, the situation causes concern. For instance, in the Allahabad High Court, very old appeals are still pending. But by and large, improvement in information technology, and the grouping of matters in the Supreme Court have led to good disposals. Yet, there is pendency because of the absence of adequate number of judges.

Because of the expansion of the right to information, anybody can file and ask for any information. The applicant need not have any locus standi . That is one area which has actually resulted in the spiralling of litigation. They get some information, some of it guesswork, go to courts and file PILs [public interest litigation]. So, the government possibly must think of tinkering with this Act. I am not against providing information under this Act, which is a fundamental right. But it should be actually asked for by persons who genuinely want some information. We are only worried that our enemy country can set up three or four people and can repeatedly file applications and even seek information on matters pertaining to defence and national security. Of course, exemptions are there. But the Act doesn’t define who can apply. Sometimes, in the guise of finding out about environmental clearance for a project or a road, one can get information about national security.

Even though the litigation policy is there, so far no concrete step like withdrawing cases has been taken by the government. It has only been applied with some sort of rigour prospectively and not with regard to the pending matters.

The National Legal Mission aims to reduce the average pendency time from 15 years to three years. How far has this been achieved?

To be frank, that has not been achieved. There has been an increase in the rate of disposal and awareness.

The government appointed an empowered committee to monitor the implementation of the policy, and you are also an ex-officio member of it. What has been your experience with this committee?

The committee met only on a few occasions and gave some recommendations. Thereafter, there has not been any meeting of minds.

Do the law officers certify the need to file an appeal and specify the reasons why it is not considered fit or proper to file an appeal?

Whenever any Ministry approaches the Law Ministry on any matter, the Law Ministry expresses its views and sends the file for the opinion of the law officer concerned. The law officer at the level of Additional Solicitor General or the Solicitor General sometimes has to examine even petty matters, or service matters, and consider whether it involves a matter fit enough to be taken to the Supreme Court. Ultimately, it depends on the opinion of the law officer of the Union. As far as I am concerned, wherever I feel a particular case is not fit enough to be filed, I tend to give elaborate reasons. And matters which are fit enough to be filed, there the reasons are set out in short… that they involve substantial questions of law, which require interpretation, because there you need not justify.

What is the government’s attitude to PIL?

We welcome PIL petitions. But in the guise of PIL, very frivolous petitions are being filed, only for the sake of publicity. If a piece of legislation is enacted by Parliament to tackle vexatious litigation, it can also take care of vexatious PIL. The Supreme Court has laid down general principles on when a PIL petition may be admitted. On the basis of those, Parliament can lay down general norms.

There have been suggestions for structural reforms of the Supreme Court, including formation of regional Benches.

There is a view that the Supreme Court is tilted towards a particular class. Of course, the court was expected to hear matters involving important questions of law and the Constitution or the public interest. But now, you must see the expectations of the common man. What I feel is that the Supreme Court must be considered a people’s court. Judges have accordingly fine-tuned themselves. I won’t agree with the criticism that the the Supreme Court is lopsided or pro-particular court or deciding more cases appealed from a particular High Court when compared with other High Courts.

But the data suggest that.

Data might suggest that. The Supreme Court hears all sorts of matters—rent control, matrimonial disputes, petty criminal cases. Many courts [in the Supreme Court], including the Chief Justice’s court, actually try to hear two or three normal simple matters involving common people. The impression that is being conveyed is that the court is accessible to everybody. You can’t have regional Benches. The demand can be satisfied by having videoconferencing. That day is not far off. With the improvement of technology, why transfer the entire infrastructure elsewhere?

On the inconsistency of judgments, some judges may have strong views on matters, which may lead to conflict. Mistakes used to occur in the past owing to inadvertence. That has actually come down.

I feel there has to be, on a daily basis, a Constitution Bench, not only to hear pending Constitution matters but other important matters. Previously, if you see the history of the Supreme Court, five judges [constituting a Bench] was a regular feature, even though the number of judges was fewer.

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