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This judge sat on a verdict for 3 yrs & left it hanging. Now he heads top consumer body

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Retired Supreme Court judge R.K. Agrawal’s appointment has surprised many in the legal fraternity because of his patchy record as a judge.

New Delhi: Justice R.K. Agrawal, who retired from the Supreme Court barely four weeks back, takes over as the head of the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission Friday.

Agrawal retired on 4 May and his appointment as president of the country’s top consumer disputes redressal body earlier this week has come as a surprise to legal circles – not only for its speed but also because of his patchy record as a judge in the country’s top court.

Sticking out of his four-year term as Supreme Court judge is the decision of a bench he was part of to reserve a judgment in a high profile, high stakes case for more than three years before retiring without pronouncing it. A decision that will force the case to be heard from scratch at a great cost to the parties involved.

Agrawal’s term also had a hint of controversy. He was one of the judges on the five-judge bench, which was set up by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra after annulling an order passed by a bench headed by Justice Jasti Chelameswar to go into the alleged corruption in the higher judiciary in connection with the Prasad Medical Trust case.

The new bench sent the petition to a three-judge bench headed by Agrawal. The bench dismissed senior advocate Kamini Jaiswal’s petition seeking a court-monitored probe into the alleged scam by a special investigation team (SIT). It also accused the petitioner and her lawyer of “forum-shopping”.

Considering the BJP-led NDA government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been stressing on seniority and performance while evaluating judges for positions in the higher judiciary and important judicial bodies, legal experts said the appointment of Agrawal to head the NCDRC seems like an unusual choice.

The judgment that never came

Agrawal, ThePrint has learnt, was to write the judgment in a case involving the Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission (DERC), the BSES Rajdhani Power Limited, several other big corporates and at least eight public authorities.

The private discoms, BSES Rajdhani and BSES Yamuna, had knocked on the doors of the apex court seeking a relaxation in payment of dues to power generating PSUs. The dispute was over the tariff between the two BSES entities, owned by the Anil Ambani-headed Reliance ADAG, on one side and the DERC on the other. The BSES entities averred that the tariff fixed by DERC did not cover their costs.

Trial proceedings in the case began in 2010 and after several hearings, a two-judge bench of Agrawal and Justice Jasti Chelameswar reserved the order on 10 March 2015. The bench kept the judgment pending and finally did not deliver it.

Chelameswar, the second judge in this case, cannot deliver it now and as he officially retires on 22 June, the case will have to be heard afresh by a new bench.

‘Against SC’s own norms’

“There is no option now. One of the parties will have to mention the matter in July before the chief justice and seek fresh instructions,” senior advocate Vikas Singh, one of the counsels who appeared in the case, said. “This is part of the huge indiscipline in the higher judiciary.”

Singh, who is president of the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), represented one of the respondents — Damodar Valley Corporation. He pointed out that this case is just one of the several instances where the apex court has failed to adhere to its own directive to the high courts to deliver judgments within three months of reserving them.

“The matter was mentioned several times before the two concerned judges by myself and counsel for the other parties. Each time we were told that the judgment was being written,” Singh said. “The delay in deciding the matter has resulted in payments worth thousands of crores getting delayed.”

Senior advocate Meet Malhotra, appearing for the DERC, echoed Singh’s sentiments. “In situations like this, usually the matter will have to be tried again,” Malhotra said. “Self-accountability within the Supreme Court is the need of the hour. Failure to deliver the judgment, despite at least eight mentions, is denial of justice,” he added.

“Not only were countless court hours wasted, this is a burden on the exchequer and public’s money as well,” Malhotra said. “The court’s time is public property, it must be judiciously used.”

Waiting for reform

The delay goes against the guidelines that the apex court had laid down for time-bound delivery of judgments in high courts. In Anil Rai vs State of Bihar — delivered on 6 August 2001 — a bench of Justices K.T. Thomas and R.P. Sethi had suggested that judgments should be pronounced within three months of an order being reserved.

The NITI Aayog attempted to address this in 2017 as part of efforts to bring in sweeping critical reforms in the Indian judicial system. One of the suggestions proposed in its April 2017 draft was the introduction of a ‘judicial performance index’ that would check delays in trials and address the issue of pendency of cases.

“The index can also include certain progress on process steps that have already been approved by high courts, like burden of day-to-day activity being removed from judges and given to administrative officials,” the draft said.

But as the Agrawal episode illustrates, reform is still a work in progress, the experts said.

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  1. Accountability for judges is also very necessary , nothing should be on his wisdom every thing should be on merit and with reasons. Delay in justice is also a unjustice .

  2. In Karnataka State consumer. Matters are pending from 10 years. They reserve order then put for clarification then rehearing then judgment. Yes a viscous cycle. Judge comes at 12 and goes back at 2. Lol

  3. In Chennai HC 18 MLA’s Disqualification case , Bench comprising CJ Indira Banejee and Sundar reserved their verdict on January 24 . Till now Judgement is not delivered , they have also told EC not to conduct elections for these constituencies till their judgement . Its been five months now and those constituencies doesn’t have MLA’s for close to 7 Months now . Is it Democracy ? Where are the Guidelines ?

  4. Very bad to have not delivered a judgement after so much delay. Judges should be held accountable for such things. Why is everybody else punished for any delay in compliance?

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