Seeking to reduce the number of cases in which it is a party, the government may not approach the Supreme Court against high court orders where the financial implication is less than Rs 50 lakh.
The government is “actively considering” to increase by five times the financial threshold of cases, to Rs 50 lakh, in which it will move the Supreme Court against verdicts of high courts. As of now, the threshold is Rs 10 lakh.
For example, currently government departments approach the apex court in case they have to forego an amount of Rs 10 lakh or more following a high court decision in individual cases. If the proposal is implemented, central departments and ministries will approach the top court only if the financial implication is Rs 50 lakh and above, a senior government functionary told PTI.
But if a high court decision overturns a policy, the Supreme Court should be approached even if the financial implication is negligible, he said.
Most of the cases involve the Income Tax Department, the Department of Posts, the Defence Ministry and the Railways.
According to government data, as on June 12, 2017, a total of 1,35,060 government cases and 369 contempt cases were pending in courts. Government litigation includes service matters and conflict with private entities as well as disputes between government departments and between public sector undertakings.
Contempt cases are generally a result of non-adherence to judicial directions and failure to file affidavits on time and appear before courts. “Approximately 46 percent of the total pending cases in courts pertain to the government. These include cases relating to public sector undertakings and other autonomous bodies,” said a Law Ministry document, citing data available on the website of LIMBS—the government’s Legal Information Management and Briefing System.
Attorney General KK Venugopal had recently told his law officers that they should ensure that frivolous appeals planned by ministries related to service matters of individuals do not reach the Supreme Court and special leave petitions are filed only in cases where a policy decision of the government is involved.
The AG had told additional solicitors general that when the Law Ministry refers proposals of various ministries to file special leave petitions in the top court challenging a high court order relating to service matter of individuals, the law officers should ensure that frivolous pleas are not allowed to reach the apex court.
If a special leave petition has to be filed by a central ministry or a department, it approaches the Law Ministry which seeks the opinion of one of the additional solicitors general. If the opinion of the ASG is positive, the special leave petition is filed. Over 3.14 crore cases are pending in courts across India.
In a letter addressed to his Cabinet colleagues heading various ministries, Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had recently said, “The government must cease to be a compulsive litigant… The judiciary has to spend its maximum time in tackling cases where the government is a party, and the burden on the judiciary can only be reduced if the cases are filed after taking a careful and considered view.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had also termed the government as the “biggest litigant” and had pushed for a need to lessen the load on the judiciary which spends its maximum time in deciding cases where the government is a party.