In a bid to shed the tag of being the biggest litigant, the government has decided to attach law officers to various central ministries to ensure that courts are only approached as a last resort and cases where chances of winning are lean are not pursued. The Narendra Modi government, which is reviewing the 2010 National Litigation Policy of the previous UPA dispensation, has proposed to attach law officer to each central department to “take a holistic view of litigation” while filing new cases or defending the pending cases.The philosophy behind the new policy is to approach courts once the government department is fully satisfied that litigation is the only resort left.
The cases which have lean chance of winning by the government will not be pursued further. Majority of the cases in which government is party relate to service disputes and indirect taxes.
The pendency of cases in courts besides being burden upon public exchequer also diverts attention of government from meaningful governance, the draft policy states. Though there are no official figures available as of now, Law Ministry believes that government is a litigant in 46 per cent of the cases in higher judiciary. As in 2010, 57,179 cases were pending in the Supreme Court and 42,17,903 were pending in the 24 high courts at the end of 2011.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law and Personnel in its latest report has quoted Law Secretary P K Malhotra as informing the panel that government is perceived as the largest litigant in various courts and tribunals. “To reverse this image, the government is proposing a new National Litigation Policy, whereby every court case/order will be closely scrutinised within the department itself with a view to determine as to whether the matter be agitated further or the department should accept the decision of the court and implement it,” the committee quoted Malhotra. Sources in the Ministry said the draft policy will shortly be referred to a Committee of Secretaries who will study the proposal threadbare.
Then, an informal group of ministers will take a final call on the policy before it is sent for clearance of the Union Cabinet. There is also a proposal to set up a web portal to make centralised data available where each ministry/department will be required to upload the details of cases pending in various courts/tribunals and the status of these cases.
The proposed policy makes it clear that government departments should avoid going to court against each other. The committee was told that the Department of Legal Affairs in the Law Ministry is also planning to decentralise the availability of legal assistance to the ministries and departments by providing services of Indian Legal Service officers at door step in each Ministry. Majority of the legal opinions sought by ministries will be handled by these officers and only “sensitive matters” will be referred to the Law Ministry. All ministries have been asked to assess their requirement of Legal Service officers.