Judicial Scrutiny Essential for Administrative Decisions on Procedural Lapses: Supreme Court

The key issue at the heart of this judgment revolves around the maintainability of curative petitions filed by the appellants following the dismissal of their review petition by the Supreme Court. Specifically, the dispute centers on the refusal of the Registrar (J-IV) of the Supreme Court to register these curative petitions, citing non-compliance with procedural requirements outlined in the Supreme Court Rules, 2013.

This case of M/s Brahmaputra Concrete Pipe Industries etc. etc. Appellant(s) versus The Assam State Electricity Board and Others [Civil appeal no. 8450 of 2016] originated with a suit instituted by the appellants under “The Interest on Delayed Payments to Small Scale and Ancillary Industrial Undertakings Act, 1993” (the 1993 Act). The appellants’ suit was initially decreed by the Civil Judge, Senior Division, Tinsukia, Assam (Trial Court). However, the High Court dismissed the suit on appeal, primarily on the grounds of its maintainability under the 1993 Act. The High Court held that the suit could not be maintained for transactions predating the operationalization of the Act on 23.09.1992.

The appellants appealed the High Court’s decision to the Supreme Court, arguing for the maintainability of their suit under the 1993 Act. However, a three-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court affirmed the High Court’s decision on 23.01.2019, finding no evidence of transactions qualifying for relief under the Act. Subsequently, the appellants’ review petition challenging this judgment was also dismissed by the Supreme Court on 18.12.2019, following an open court hearing.

The appellants then sought recourse through curative petitions, alleging errors in the judgments rendered by the Supreme Court. However, the Registrar (J-IV) declined to register these curative petitions, citing non-compliance with procedural requirements, specifically Rule 2(1) of Order XLVIII, Supreme Court Rules, 2013. This rule mandates that curative petitions must aver that the grounds therein were raised in the review petition and dismissed by circulation. Since the review petition was disposed of in open court rather than by circulation, the curative petitions were declined for registration under Rule 5 of Order XV of the Supreme Court Rules, 2013.

The appellants challenge the refusal of the Registrar (J-IV) to register their curative petitions following the dismissal of their review petition by the Supreme Court. They contend that procedural irregularities should not bar them from seeking redress for alleged errors in the judgments passed against them.

The Court analyzed the constitutional provisions relevant to its jurisdiction, particularly Articles 137 and 145, which empower the Court to review its own judgments and make rules for its procedure, respectively. Additionally, the Court delved into the interpretation of its inherent powers under Articles 129 and 142, which were cited as the basis for the curative jurisdiction.

The central legal interpretation pertained to the validity and prerequisites for filing curative petitions. The Court scrutinized the requirements laid down in the case of Rupa Ashok Hurra, particularly emphasizing the need for specific averments regarding the grounds raised in the review petition and its dismissal by circulation. This requirement was incorporated into the Supreme Court Rules 2013 under Order XLVIII.

Furthermore, the Court addressed the Registrar’s role in handling curative petitions, specifically whether the Registrar possessed the authority to dismiss a petition solely due to the absence of averments regarding the review petition’s dismissal by circulation. The Court concluded that such a decision fell within the judicial domain and required determination by a Bench of the Court rather than the Registrar.

The legal framework encompassed not only constitutional provisions but also procedural rules outlined in the Supreme Court Rules 2013, particularly Order XLVIII. The Court’s interpretation emphasized the necessity for judicial scrutiny of curative petitions, underscoring the importance of adherence to procedural requirements while acknowledging the Registrar’s limited role in determining the petition’s validity.

The Supreme Court’s analysis delved into the procedural framework regarding the handling of curative petitions by the Registry, particularly in cases where a review petition had been dismissed after oral arguments in open Court. The Court emphasized that determining the validity of a curative petition, especially in light of the specific requirements outlined in Order XLVIII Rule 2(1) of the 2013 Rules, was inherently a judicial exercise rather than an administrative one.

The Court highlighted the inadequacy of the Registry’s authority to dismiss a curative petition solely due to the absence of certain averments, such as the one regarding the dismissal of the review petition by circulation. It elucidated that such decisions needed judicial scrutiny and could not be delegated to administrative bodies like the Registry. Drawing from Order LV Rule 2 of the 2013 Rules, the Court underscored the necessity for applications seeking excuse from compliance with procedural rules to be addressed to the Registrar initially. The Registrar, in turn, would seek instructions from the Judge in chambers, and if necessary, direct the matter to be heard in open Court.

Further reasoning entailed the delineation of the proper course for handling curative petitions arising from review petitions dismissed after open Court hearings. The Court elucidated that such petitions must include a plea for exemption from compliance with procedural rules, particularly Rule 2(1) of Order XLVIII, and be placed before the chamber judge for instructions. However, in cases where review petitions were dismissed by circulation, the usual course of circulation to a Bench of senior-most Judges would be followed.

Ultimately, the Court set aside the impugned order that declined registration of the curative petition, citing its contravention of procedural rules. However, given the substantial lapse of time since the filing of the curative petitions and after reviewing the case documents, the Court refrained from entertaining the curative petitions. This decision was rooted in the assessment that the appellant failed to demonstrate sufficient grounds for invoking the curative jurisdiction.

In summary, the Supreme Court’s judgment emphasized the need for adherence to procedural rules while handling curative petitions, with a clear delineation of the respective roles of the Registry and the judiciary. While setting aside the impugned order, the Court declined to entertain the curative petitions due to the appellant’s failure to establish a compelling case for reevaluation under the curative jurisdiction.

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Written by- Aditi

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