Lawyers in the Supreme Court have started a unique drive to raise Rs 100 for a fellow advocate who was asked to pay the amount as fine for alleging bias in listing of cases by the court’s registry officials.
A bench led by Justice Arun Mishra had on 6 July dismissed advocate Reepak Kansal’s petition alleging that the top court’s registry gave preferential treatment to influential law firms and litigants while listing matters.
The court had then said there was no “justification” in alleging “discrimination” against the department working with less staffers during a pandemic and imposed a fine of Rs 100 on Kansal.
Kansal’s colleagues are now contributing 50 paise each, and once the amount is collected, the coins will be deposited with the court’s registry.
In his petition, Kansal had stressed before the court that guidelines were needed to stop the registry from “discriminating against ordinary lawyers”.
During the hearing, Kansal also voiced his objection against the registry’s swiftness in listing the petition filed by Editor-in-Chief of Republic TV Arnab Goswami as an urgent case. His plea was filed before Goswami’s but it took days to be listed before the court, Kansal had argued.
“The collection drive was started a day after the judgment. Lawyers became a part of it because they felt the issue raised in my petition needed the bench’s intervention,” Kansal told ThePrint.
Dushyant Dave, president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, said the order in Kansal’s case was “deeply disappointing”.
“Misuse of discretionary powers to list cases in the Supreme Court is writ large. Matters that deserve to be listed but are not high profile never get listed on time. This has seriously affected the practice of young advocates who get to file one or two cases a month. If they do not get listed, their livelihood is seriously undermined, more so during the pandemic,” he told ThePrint.
‘Collection a symbolic protest’
For the collective drive, a WhatsApp group was created on 7 July with about 150 lawyers. Initially, the amount was fixed as Re 1 for each member. Later, it was brought down to 50 paise after more lawyers joined the group.
So far, Kansal said he has received money from 100 lawyers. “Fifty paise is not in common use nowadays. Therefore, it is difficult for lawyers to find it.”
ThePrint spoke with some of the lawyers who have contributed to the fine amount. All of them said they were of the view that the bench should have looked into Kansal’s grievance.
A lawyer, who did not want to be named, told ThePrint that the collection is a symbolic protest against the registry and the court. “We started this movement as a response to show that we all stand by the cause espoused by Kansal.”
“If the court has imposed a fine on Kansal then the best way to show our displeasure is to deposit it in 50 paise coins. Let the registry do some work,” said another lawyer, on the condition of anonymity. To dismiss Kansal’s petition without an inquiry was not justified, he added.
Baseless and reckless allegations: Supreme Court
Kansal’s petition was dismissed with an observation that he had levelled “baseless and reckless” allegations against the Supreme Court registry at the time when officials were putting themselves in danger to serve litigants.
“During such a hard time, it was not expected of the petitioner, who is an officer of this court, to file such a petition to demoralise the registry of this court instead of recognising the task undertaken by them even during pandemic and lockdown period,” the bench had said, while imposing the fine.
About Goswami’s case, the court said his petition was listed urgently in view of the order from a competent authority. “It pertained to liberty and freedom of media,” the court had noted.
The bench also said it had become a widespread practice to blame the registry.
“To err is human and there can be an error on the part of the dealing assistants too. This is too much to expect perfection from them, particularly when they are working to their maximum capacity even during the pandemic. The cases are being listed. It could not be said that there was an inordinate delay in listing the matters in view of the defects,” it had observed.