Thursday, October 01, 2015

M Sreenivasa Murty


(For the sake of record though damp squib for many)

30 Sept was an eventful day in Supreme Court. At the end of some 90 minutes of arguments before and after lunch break, the day ended up with a long adjournment of the cases to 18 Nov. The next date was Judge's proposal and decision. Mr Jay Savla pressed for an earlier date (next week was possible) but his request was not agreed to by the Bench, as his was the lone voice on the point. 

The main drama that got enacted today was full of contradictions. The twice mentioned request of LIC for adjournment due to the 'non-availability' of the Solicitor General was not necessary on 30 Sept as the SG was reportedly available.  Eventually when our turn came and SL No 105 was taken up, Mr Ranjit Kumar, SG was yet to show up. He was reported to be coming in few minutes. Judge was accommodative, and allowed the other Sr Counsel present to commence (what appeared to me to be informal) arguments. Mr Sekhar (newly engaged 2nd Sr Advocate by AIRIEF?) started with some introductory remarks. Mr Nidhesh Gupta, who was also in attendance and standing, took over. He went straight to his point referring to the Jaipur Judgement according to which the Board Resolution of 2001 should be implemented and it does not need Government approval as held by the HC. 

One contradiction I referred to above, was manifest because, LIC the Appellant ought to have first commenced its arguments (through the SG) in support of the Appeals and thereafter Jaipur Counsel, would have opposed the same. But the 'availability' of the SG and at the same time, his physical non-availability to commence arguments for LIC the Appellant, resulted in putting the cart before the horse. And some avoidable faux paus.

SG walked in, apologizing to the Bench. It was very evident that he was not at all prepared for the cases, no time to get briefed by LIC AoR. There was no substantial participation by him till it was lunch break. Case moved to be resumed at 2.00 PM, much to the relief of the entire LIC team including its battery of Lawyers and a big contingent of Officials from Central Office, headed by Mr Prakash Chand, Chief (Per). 

During his arguments before lunch, Mr Nidhesh Gupta asserted that LIC can itself implement its Board Resolution, as there are precedents when Chairman issued instructions in the past affecting Pension Rules. He tried to quote certain Circulars of the Chairman in that regard. He was interrupted by the Judge who asked what those circumstances are and how many people were involved. Some discussion ensued with interventions by the Sr Counsel on all sides and the Judge.  It was evident that Mr Nidhesh Gupta's point did not find favor with the Bench. The Judge went to the extent of stating that if the Resolution was not statutory and if it required Govt approval to become effective, that is how it is and the Counsel cannot defend the Jaipur decision to the contrary, with his line of approach (citing precednts). Mr Gupta I think sensed the mind of the Judge and gently backed out (but not fully) and referred to Art 14 of the Constitution and DS Nakara Judgement in passing. He also made an observation that Justice Misra himself decided Pension matters on the basis of Nakara case 'although your Lordship held that DS Nakara decision stands diluted'. This part of the observation on 'dilution' of Nakara case was not accepted by the Judge and there was considerable discussion on what was said and what was meant etc., 

Post lunch session was no different. A couple of pass over matters were first taken up to facilitate SG to re-appear. Arguments resumed but SG didn't come. 

After putting some interesting and leading questions to the counsel on both sides (like, ‘are these Petitioners eligible for Pension or is there any dispute on that?’ ‘How did they become eligible for Pension? If they had exercised option to receive Pension, what about those who did not opt for Pension?’ There was a chorus of answers - not all were accurate. Judge knows not only the significance of his questions but even the answers, I think. He put everybody in their place and took control of the issues. He told LIC counsel; there are different categories of Pensioners who receive different rates of Pension. Based on their dates of retirement. Forget Govt for a while, it is your baby. How do you defend your position? We will look into Board Resolution, Govt's non-approval etc., independently later. 

For fuller arguments by the SG, cases adjourned to 18 Nov. There was the question from the Bench whether the matters are listed under 'part-heard' category. The cause lists don't show so. Then the order dated 25 March was located which said 'Post as Part- heard'. As requested by all the Counsel (not LIC) there is a specific direction to post on Top of the list. This time it is categorical if it is of any relief even after 48 days. It will be at Sl. No 101 on 18 Nov 2015. 
Soon after the matters got adjourned to 18 Nov, the interim directions to pay 20% was raised (I think by GNS Sr Counsel). Everybody joined pouring their woes. LIC counsel gave his brilliant Report Card. He lavished on how well they paid in Jaipur, in Delhi and when he came to Chandigarh he was at his vicious best. He vehemently accused that when LIC tried to withdraw 20% and pay ‘as ordered by this Hon’ble Court’, the Petitioners objected and contended that SC Order is not applicable to them. He also desperately tried to show the Order allegedly passed to that effect by the HC. When Mr Savla attempted to intervene and rebut the absurd accusation by LIC counsel, Justice Misra himself intervened and dismissively brushed aside the accusation and declined to buy the remarks. In spite of it, when the Counsel insisted on producing the HC Order to support his claim, the Judge almost got annoyed and remarked, ‘No, no, you counsel can twist the things as you want, we are not interested to go in to that’. The unsaid response of the Judge was ‘Why would the Petitioners ever say, ‘Supreme Court Order is not applicable to us?’  The issue was not further discussed except 'our Order to pay 20% remains'. Mr Nidhesh checked with Mr KML how much he was paid, and highlighted the shabby handling of the 20% payment by LIC. 

Just before the people moved out, Solicitor General rushed in, profusely apologizing for not being able to come back. He explained why and how he was stuck in the Court of Justice Thakur. Justice Misra comforted him and said he has not missed much, he can get briefed and come back on 18 Nov to argue.   

If I may conclude this report with my assessment of what happened on 30th, I will say nobody has gained anything today, except Justice Misra. He got a clear idea of what our case is all about. More than the Counsel appearing for the Pensioners. 

This is a honest & factual report, as I noted things from the closest quarters. Will post separately later, on what I learnt on 30th about our case.