Appellate authorities must not keep cases pending indefinitely as such inaction may affect the fundamental rights of the parties involved, the Bombay High Court recently observed [Apna Chemist v. Assistant Commissioner (Zone-3) & Anr.].
A division bench of Justices GS Kulkarni and Firdosh Pooniwalla added that there should not be a scope for appeals to become a case of “operation being successful, but patient dead.”
“There cannot be a scope for a theory of ‘operation being successful however the patient dead’. The petitioners would certainly have a legal right to know, the status of their challenge insofar as the interim reliefs or the final reliefs they seek in their appeals, before they are made to suffer the suspension order,” the Court said.
The Court was dealing with petitions by some chemist shop owners (petitioners) who complained that appeals filed by them against the suspension of their licenses were not being listed before the appellate authority.
It was also submitted that no interim order was passed yet on their stay applications.
The lead petitioner (Apna Chemist) in the case had its license suspended on October 3 last year. The suspension was for a period from 8 January, 2024 to 17 January, 2024. An appeal challenging this order was filed on October 31, 2023.
However, the appeal was neither listed after that nor was any interim order passed on the stay application.
A similar situation was complained of by other chemist owners as well. Aggrieved by this, the petitioners approached the High Court for relief.
They argued that the remedy of appeal would be rendered otiose if the appeal is decided after the suspension period is over.
The High Court proceeded to direct the appellate authority under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act to decide on appeals filed by chemist shop owners within eight weeks. The Court also stayed the effect of the suspension orders till the appeals or stay applications are decided.
The Court opined that failure to pass an appropriate order by the appellate authority would have a direct bearing on the rights of the chemist shop owners to carry on their trade.
“The non-passing of an appropriate order (interim or final), would also have a direct bearing on the rights of the petitioner to carry on trade, occupation/ business. Such inaction on the part of the appellate authority is likely to affect the rights guaranteed to such persons under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution read with Articles 14, 21 and 300A of the Constitution,” the Court held.
It also said that the appellate authority was expected to provide effective remedies in line with its statutory powers.
“The appellate authority is expected not to overlook the significant obligation with the powers the appellate authority wields, in adjudication of the statutory appeals. Once the remedy is provided by law, it is required to be an ‘effective remedy’ in letter and spirit. The appellate authority hearing the statutory appeals would be required to be alive to the consequences,” the bench observed.
With these observations, the High Court disposed of the matter by directing the appellate authority to expeditiously decide on the appeals.
“Till the appeals/stay applications are decided, the orders suspending petitioner’s licences, subject matter of challenge in the appeals, shall remain stayed,” the Court added.
Advocates Atal Bihari Dubey, Arvind Tiwari, Rahul Mishra and Rushikesh S. Kekane appeared for the chemists (petitioners).
Additional government pleaders AI Patel and MS Bane appeared for the respondent-authorities.