State officials cannot file frivolous cases just because they don’t have to pay out of pocket: Supreme Court

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State government officers do not have the license to file frivolous petitions merely because they do not have to pay for indulging in litigation out of their own pocket, the Supreme Court recently observed. [Special Land Acquisition Officer vs Vithal Rao]
A bench of Justices BR Gavai and Prashant Kumar Mishra made the observation while criticising a Karnataka government official for challenging a Karnataka High Court order to pay compensation to certain landowners.

The Court was displeased to find that the challenge was filed at the stage of execution, more so since the compensation award was earlier confirmed by the Supreme Court.

“We deprecate the practice of filing such a frivolous petition after the award passed by the Reference Court has attained finality before this Court … Even the High Court’s order directing payment to the landowners is now challenged by way of special leave petition. Merely because the officers of the State Government, do not have to pay for the litigation from their own pocket, they cannot be permitted to file such frivolous petitions and harass the landowners, who have already lost their valuable land”, the Court said.

The Supreme Court proceeded to impose costs of ₹5 lakh on a land acquisition officer for filing the frivolous case.

The Court added that of this amount, ₹2.5 lakhs each is to be paid to the Supreme Court Advocates On Record Association (for their library) and the Supreme Court Bar Association.

The amount was directed to be paid within four weeks.

The landowners in the case had filed execution proceedings before the competent authority after the reference court confirmed the award to be paid to them.

The executing court passed an order directing the said payment and the Karnataka High Court, on January 6, affirmed the same.

This High Court order, in turn, was challenged by the State government’s officers in an appeal before the Supreme Court, which has now been dismissed.

Additional Advocate General Avishkar Singhvi with advocates VN Raghupathy appeared for the land acquisition officer.

Senior Advocates Dhruv Mehta and Dama Seshadri Naidu with advocate Rajikumar appeared for the landowners.

The Supreme Court recently, on at least two occasions, lamented that a large part of government litigation is frivolous in nature, which adds to the workload of judges.

Last month, Justice Gavai remarked that 70 percent of government litigation appeared to be frivolous.

70 per cent of such [government] cases are frivolous. If Union and States decide, they can address this. We only read in newspapers about litigation policy being considered, but..,” he observed.

In April, Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud commented that the Central government should adopt mediation in a big way instead of taking recourse to litigation for resolving legal disputes.

“The motto of the Union government and its agencies should be ‘mediate, not litigate’,” Chief Justice Chandrachud said.

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