With the Lok Sabha passing the Delhi High Court Amendment Bill (2015), the pecuniary jurisdiction of district courts has gone up from Rs20 lakh to Rs2 crore, giving litigants easier justice
By Bhavdeep Kang
The standoff between the treasury and opposition in the monsoon session of parliament notwithstanding, a critical piece of legislation found its way through the Lok Sabha and on to the statute books. The Delhi High Court Amendment Bill (2015), which increases the pecuniary jurisdiction of district courts from Rs 20 lakh to Rs2 crore, was a small step for parliament, but (potentially) a giant one for litigants.
Justice, famously laggard in a country which boasts some three crore pending suits, might just pick up her pace a trifle, at least
Delhi’s district bar associations celebrated the move by calling off their hunger strike (to demand enactment of the Bill), but they aren’t quite home and dry yet. The Delhi High Court Bar Association (DHCBA), which has fought against the Bill for three years, is by no means ready to throw in the towel. And what happens when the Commer-cial Courts Bill, 2009–which gives the Delhi High Court pecuniary jurisdiction of `1 crore plus and is pending in the Rajya Sabha—becomes law?
Prima facie, the legislation is a win-win for litigants. Some 12,000 pending cases, being heard by just five benches in the Delhi High Court, will now be distributed between 11 district courts. The distribution will be geographical, with cases pertaining to a particular locality being transferred to the district court there. This should whittle down travel time considerably.
“Delhi’s district courts are equipped with the infrastructure to handle these cases. For litigants, it will be a big saving of time, money and energy,” observed Saket District Bar Ass- ociation president Vinod Sharma. The jubilation in the district courts was in stark contrast to the gloom in the high court.
DHCBA secretary Abhijat Bal said: “The lives of tens of lakhs of litigants will be in a state of utter chaos if this Bill is given effect before the Commercial Courts Bill is enacted.” All avenues, including challenging the Bill as being ultra vires of existing laws, were open to the DHCBA, he observed, adding “The struggle will go on.”
Certainly, the two Bills must be reconciled. If the Delhi High Court now no longer has original civil jurisdiction up to `2 crore, then the Commercial Courts Bill must be sui-tably re-drafted. The Bombay and Calcutta civil courts already have original jurisdiction of up to Rs1 crore.
The DHCBA has questioned the passage of the Bill on the grounds that a Delhi High Court committee recommended revising the original pecuniary jurisdiction of the district courts to Rs50 lakh in 2011. A year later, a full court of the high court decided to make it
Rs2 crore. “The Bar was not consulted or taken into confidence. Nor was the logic or reasoning behind the move made clear to us. It was arbitrary,” argued Bal.
The DHCBA pointed to statistics clearly showing that more than 85 per cent of the civil cases in the high court were valued at less than Rs 2 crore. In effect, this means that the original civil jurisdiction of the high court would be severely limited. It would become primarily an appellate court, adding one more step in the judicial process, clogging the system with appeals and costing the litigants time and money. “I cannot understand the locus standi of the DHCBA in this matter,” said Sharma. “What is the problem? Regardless of enhancement of original civil jurisdiction of district courts, the Delhi is the appellate court.”
Enhancement of the pecuniary jurisdiction of the Bombay civil courts is believed to have had a positive impact in terms of speedy listing, hearing and disposal of cases. On the other hand, in Uttar Pradesh, it took a Ballia civil court 77 years to dispose off a land dispute. And the very oldest pending suit is said to be a Shia-Sunni dispute in Varanasi going back to 1878!