The Hush Post: The Punjab Cabinet has cleared the modifications to the current disputes resolution and litigation policy to keep a tab on litigation in the departments of the state government.
A meeting of the state Cabinet was held on Monday under the chairmanship of Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh at Chandigarh.
The meeting has okayed the modifications “Punjab Dispute Resolution and Litigation Policy, 2018” that is aimed at the quick disposal of the ongoing litigation and lowering the filing of new court suits, thus reducing the financial and administrative burden on the government resulting from such cases.
The new policy would help the state government to be an efficient and responsible litigant. It would review the existing policies and instructions to bring them in line with the settled law, and remove any ambiguities and contradictions.
As per the new policy, all legal matters of the government, PSUs, government corporations etc will be handled by the office of the state Advocate General, and panels will be made in consultation with the AG. In case of difference of opinion, the matter will be referred to the Chief Minister.
In case any department wants to hire lawyers, other than that of AG’s office, it will need to take permission from the Chief Minister, the new policy provides, in a bid to check unnecessary expenditure incurred in such hiring, The Cabinet felt departments were hiring from outside though the AG office was Rs 2 crores per month on 152 law officers.
Under the new policy, employees would be encouraged to settle disputes at the level of Government itself or through an alternative dispute resolution mechanism. Similarly, Officers shall be trained to pass well-reasoned speaking orders in accordance with the settled law, after affording the stakeholders the opportunity to be heard.
The Government would endeavour to avoid unwarranted litigation in cases where the matter may be resolved/disposed of by converting the pending litigation into a representation to the concerned Administrative Secretary/Head of the Department for time bound orders, or where employee’s matters are already covered by judgments that have attained finality. In such cases, the competent authority would take a decision or grant the same relief/benefit to the other similarly placed members of the cadre, whose claims are based on similar facts and points of law, where the financial impact is less than two lakh rupees, unless there is a substantial question of law or the policy also involved and where the matter is such that no further or useful purpose will be served to the state in prosecuting such matter.
The new policy stipulates that appeal shall not be filed against ex-parte and interim orders unless absolutely necessary. Instead, an attempt would be made to have the order vacated. An appeal must be filed against an order only if the order is not vacated and the continuation of such order causes prejudice to interests of the state.
Appeals must be filed in the Appellate court in the first instance. Direct appeals to the Supreme Court must not be resorted to, except in extraordinary cases. Likewise, no appeal shall ordinarily be filed in service matter cases where the decision is on a trivial matter and does not set a precedent and pertains to an individual grievance and the decision pertains to a case of pension or retirement benefits without involving any principle and without setting any precedent.
Similarly, Appeals in Revenue matters shall ordinarily not be filed if the financial implication of the matter is less than Rs.2 lakhs, unless it involves a substantial question of law or policy and if the matter is covered by judgments of the High Courts which have attained finality, and which have not been challenged in the Supreme Court, or that of the Supreme Court and the present case cannot be distinguished from the facts of those cases.
The new litigation policy further provides that Appeals shall ordinarily not be filed in the Supreme Court unless the High Court has struck down a statutory provision/Government policy or the case involves a substantial question of law, involving the interpretation of a statute or under the Constitution of India. Appeals shall also not be filed unless the findings of fact involved are so perverse that no reasonable judicial mind could have arrived at such conclusions, or public finances are adversely affected, or there is substantial interference with public justice. Other cases in which Appeal shall be filed are where the Court of forum concerned has exceeded its jurisdiction, or the interpretation of the High Court is plainly erroneous and the judgment will set a precedent which is contrary to Government policy/rules/statutes.
Where matters are already covered by the judgments that have attained finality, then the reply should fairly indicate such position. However, where there is a sound legal basis to distinguish a given case from past precedent, or apparently similarly placed persons then the Government should provide adequate reasons for taking a different stand. The state government would take effective steps to reduce delay in filing replies, appeals/applications before the courts.
The resort to arbitration as an alternative dispute resolution mechanism would be encouraged. However, while doing so, it needs to be ensured that such arbitration has to be cost-effective, efficacious, expeditious and conducted with high rectitude.