Monday, February 6, 2023

State cannot act as Private Litigant: Supreme Court

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The Supreme Court has observed that the State, which is the largest litigant, stands in a category apart, having a constitutional duty to assist the court in the dispensation of justice and cannot behave like a private litigant, relying on abstract theories on the burden of proof.

“The State acts through its officer who are given powers in trust. If the trust so reposed is betrayed, whether by casualness or negligence, will the State still be liable for such misdemeanor by its officers betraying the trust so reposed in them or will the officers be individually answerable,” the court asked.

These remarks were made by a bench of Justices Navin Sinha and Krishna Murari on January 23, 2020, while setting aside an order of the Andhra Pradesh High Court.

The High Court had dismissed a writ petition filed by a pharmaceutical company challenging denial of exemption from Customs duty on the ground that the authorities of the State were also unaware of the clarificatory notification and neither did the petitioner bring it on record.

The petitioner firm had appealed against the apex court orders of December 7, 2016 and June 14, 2017, rejecting the writ petition as also the review application.

Justices Sinha and Murari said it is absolutely no defence of the State authorities to contend that they were not aware of their own notification of September 18, 1994.

“The onus heavily rests on them and a casual statement generating litigation by State apathy cannot be approved,” the court noted.

The bench said, “The State is the largest litigant as often noted. It stands in a category apart having a solemn and constitutional duty to assist the court in dispensation of justice. The State cannot behave like a private litigant and rely on abstract theories of the burden of proof.”

In its verdict, the apex court observed that it was unfortunate that the High Court failed to follow its own orders in a similar matter.

— India Legal Bureau

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