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The PIL urging the setting up of National Court of Appeal has faced stiff resistance from the Attorney-General, Mukul Rohatgi. Chief Justice of India, TS Thakur, who presided over the three-Judge bench which heard the matter, appears to have a different point of view.
After a few hearings, the bench has now reserved judgment on whether the matter should be referred to a Constitution bench.
Bar & Bench spoke to the petitioner, Vengadessane Vasanthakumar to understand what inspired him to file the petition, and how he answers the critics of NCA.
Vasanthakumar, 34, hails from the Union Territory of Puducherry, born as a second son in a middle class family. He was the first generation graduate in his family, and studied at Puducherry till his B.Com. Thereafter, with the aid of education loan, he studied law at Bangalore University. He is now a practicing advocate in Chennai.
Bar & Bench: The AG has said that the NCA would only add to lawyers’ pockets and would not help reduce pendency, and that it would not serve any other purpose.
V Vasanthakumar: At the outset, I would respectfully say that he himself being a lawyer cannot remain as just a mouthpiece of the Union of India. The said comment is highly regrettable.
The NCA would absolutely absolve the common man of the hindrance of geographical distance.
Bar & Bench: The AG has alleged before the Supreme Court that you did not disclose the fact that you had already filed a petition before the Madras HC which stood dismissed on March 5, 2015 while in this PIL you have made a categorical statement that you have not filed any other PIL on the issue.
V Vasanthakumar: In fact, the petition before the Madras High Court was rejected on the ground of maintainability. The said petition was not even numbered on the judicial side. Therefore, the issue of “res judicata” would not arise at all.
Bar & Bench: The critics say that it is the lower courts which need attention.
V Vasanthakumar: Of course, the lower courts need to be strengthened. Nevertheless, either of the parties to a litigation do approach the higher courts.
The Supreme Court was established with an intention to interpret the question of national and constitutional importance. It should not be clogged with private litigation between individuals.
The government must take logistics with regard to judges’ ratio in the constitutional courts and subordinate judiciary.
Bar & Bench: The critics say that adding one more level of adjudication will not help in decreasing litigation but would rather add to it. This would be a boon for the advocates alone.
V Vasanthakumar: Again, it is condemnable to demoralise the lawyers’ community. While the British were ruling us, the judicial committee of the Privy Council at London was the highest judicial authority. Considering the difficulties undergone by the Indian lawyers, the then British Government, enacted the Government of India Act, 1935 and by virtue of Section 200 of the said Act, Federal Court of India, was established as intermediary court between the High Courts and the Privy Council.
The Federal Court would decide on factual aspects; the Privy Council only entertained a matter if it involved the interpretation of a question of law.
After the Indian Constitution came in to force, the Supreme Court superseded the Federal Court and assumed the role of Privy Council.
Bar & Bench: If Article 136 is circumscribed, and its use limited, would that serve your purpose, rather than NCA?
V Vasanthakumar: According to me, the Constitution was drafted by members of Constituent Assembly, after deliberations for more than two years considering the situation as it was then.
Now, there are wider dimensions in our country in various aspects, such as population explosion, enactment of many statutes both by state legislatures and Parliament, increase in crime rate, march of technology, etc.
Therefore, I would earnestly and sincerely appeal to the Union of India, to kindly consider the overall circumstances and to arrive at a concerted decision to establish National Court of Appeal as suggested by the Constitutional Bench of Hon’ble Supreme Court way back in the year 1986.
Bar & Bench: Why can’t we try to get Supreme Court benches, which have already been recognised in the Constitution? If the SC benches are set up, it would help remedy the problem of access.
V Vasanthakumar: It is a welcome move and could materialise if the consensus is arrived at by the President of India and the Chief Justice of India, in terms of Article 130, of the Constitution.
The Apex Court has not passed any order rejecting the establishment of Benches of the Supreme Court in places other than Delhi. I don’t think setting up different benches will have any impact on the administration of the court.
Bar & Bench: Will NCA delay finality of judgments, as the litigants who lose in NCA, are likely to approach the Supreme Court for further relief?
V Vasanthakumar: Not at all. The NCA with regional benches at Chennai, Bombay, Delhi and Calcutta would have jurisdiction over the southern, western, northern and eastern states respectively. The NCA would be final arbiter of the litigation between the parties such as rent control proceedings, labour issues, civil litigation, criminal matters etc.
If the NCA comes across matters of questions of law involving national importance and Constitutional importance, it could grant leave to appeal to the Supreme court.
Bar & Bench: What got you so concerned about this issue of access to justice? Is there any personal factor to this concern – have you experienced lack of access personally which made you think about NCA as a solution?
V Vasanthakumar: Since I am a lawyer, I am aware of my constitutional rights. Hence, I approached the Supreme Court for establishment of National Court of Appeal for the second time. There is no personal interest at all.
The issue of access to justice has been declared as fundamental right by the Apex Court in various judicial pronouncements. This should not become a mirage and the Union of India should consider making it a reality.