Heard Shri S.D. Lotlikar, learned Senior Counsel appearing for the petitioners and Shri Sudin Usgaonkar, learned Counsel appearing for respondents no.2 and 3.
2. Rule. Heard forthwith with the consent of the learned Counsel. Learned Counsel appearing for respondents no.2 and 3 waives service.
3. All the above petitions were taken up together for hearing as they challenge the common judgment passed by the learned Administrative Tribunal at Goa dated 16/08/2011.
4. Shri S.D. Lotlikar, the learned Senior Counsel appearing for the petitioners without going into the merits of the above petition has pointed out that the arguments advanced by the petitioners/appellants were concluded before the learned Tribunal on 11/04/2007 and the impugned judgment came to be passed nearly more than four years thereafter on 16/08/2011. The learned Counsel has further pointed out that such practice on the part of the Tribunal has been deprecated by the Division Bench of this Court whilst disposing of Writ Petition No.191/2012. The learned Counsel has taken me to paras 17 and 18 of the said judgment and pointed out that this Court has held that by not passing the judgment within a reasonable time after the arguments were concluded itself vitiates the judgment passed by the Court. The learned Senior Counsel as such submits that without going into the findings on merits of the dispute between the parties the impugned judgment be quashed and set aside and the matter be remanded to the learned Tribunal for fresh decision.
5. On the other hand, Shri Sudin Usgaonkar, learned Counsel appearing for respondents no.2 and 3 though does not dispute that the arguments were concluded in July, 2007 and the appeals came to be disposed of in August, 2011 nevertheless pointed out that during the interregnum the parties have filed their written arguments. The learned Counsel further pointed out that the Tribunal has considered the said submissions whilst passing the impugned judgment. The learned Counsel further points out that on merits the respondents have good case and the petitioners are unnecessarily delaying the matter.
6. In reply to the submissions of the learned Counsel, Shri S.D. Lotlikar, learned Senior Counsel appearing for the petitioners has pointed out that even this aspect with regard to filing of written arguments has also been considered by the Division Bench of this Court whilst passing the impugned judgment on the basis of the judgment of the Apex Court.
7. I have considered the submissions of the learned Counsel appearing for the respective parties. I have also gone through the judgment passed by the learned Division Bench of this Court. The Division Bench of this Court whilst passing the said judgment dated 13/06/2012 at paras 17, 18, 19, 20 and 21 has held thus:
“17. The next question which arises for consideration is whether the impugned judgment is liable to set aside in view of inordinate delay in delivering judgment after conclusion of the arguments, in view of the judgments of the Apex Court and this Court. In order to appreciate this argument, it would be appropriate to refer to the judgments relied upon by the parties.
18. In the case of R. C. Sharma (supra), the Apex Court was dealing with an appeal before the High Court of Allahabad in which the judgment was delivered after a period of 8 months after conclusion of arguments. It was urged on behalf of the appellant that the High Court had not dealt with number of submissions made because apparently they had been forgotten. At the relevant time, Civil Procedure Code did not prescribe any time limit for delivery of judgment. Yet the Apex Court held that though the Civil Procedure Code did not provide for time limit between hearing of arguments and the delivery of judgment and unreasonable delay between hearing of arguments and delivery of judgment, unless explained by exceptional or extraordinary circumstances, is highly undesirable even when written arguments are submitted. The Apex Court held that it was not unlikely that some points which the litigants considered important might have escaped notice; what was more important was that litigants must have complete confidence in the results of litigation. This confidence tends to have shaken if there is excessive delay between hearing of arguments and delivery of judgment. The Apex Court further held that justice must not only be done but must manifestly appear to be done. In the case of Anil Rai (supra), the Supreme Court was dealing with criminal appeal in which Patna High Court delivered judgment almost after a period of two years. The Apex Court held that justice must not only be done but appear to have been done and further observed that justice delayed is justice denied and justice withheld is even worse than that. The Apex Court referred to several judgments of the Apex Court and laid down guidelines to be followed by the High Courts till such time as Parliament would enact measures to deal with such problem. In the case of Devang Rasiklal Vora (supra), the Division Bench of this Court was dealing with the challenge to order passed in appeal by Central Excise and Gold (Control) Appellate Tribunal ('The CEGAT' for short) in which The CEGAT had passed the impugned order after a period of two years from the date of conclusion of arguments. The Division Bench referred to the judgments in the case of R. C. Sharma and Anil Rai (supra) and also to the judgment of the Apex Court in the case of Madhav Hayawadanrao Hoskot Vs. State of Maharashtra; (1978)3 SCC 544 in which the Apex Court took serious note of the prejudice normally caused to the litigant due to delayed pronouncement of the judgment for the reasons which are not attributable either to the litigants or to the State or to the legal profession. The Division Bench held that some of the vital points which were raised in the petition and canvassed before the Bench were not to be found in the judgment of The CEGAT, although according to learned 18 Counsel for the petitioner, they were canvassed before The CEGAT. In this factual background, the Division Bench chose to set aside the judgment only on the ground of delay in delivering the judgment. In the case of Pradeep Sangodker (supra), learned Single Judge of this Court was dealing with the petition in which the petitioner had contended that although final arguments were heard by Consumer Redressal Forum, North Goa at Alto Porvorim on 19/06/2005, no judgment was delivered by the Forum till the petition was filed in the year 2006. The learned Single Judge referred to the judgments of the Apex Court in the case of Madhav Hoskot (supra), R. C. Sharma (supra) and Anil Rai (supra) and also the judgment of Division Bench of this case in the case of Devang Vora (supra) and framed guidelines to be followed by the Judicial/ Quasi Judicial Bodies exercising jurisdiction in the State of Goa. The learned Single Judge gave the following directions which were to be followed by all Courts and Tribunals including the Administrative Tribunal of Goa, functioning within the jurisdiction of Goa:
“(i) All Courts should arrange their roaster in such a manner that they should be able to deliver judgment/ order in any matter at the soonest possible.
(ii) Where final arguments are heard in a matter, judgment should be pronounced within a period of three months from the date of conclusion of the arguments.
(iii) In Misc. Application and/or all other matters, order shall not be delayed beyond a period of two months from the date of conclusion of arguments.
(iv) Whenever judgment/order is reserved, the judgment/ order when delivered should bear the date on which the judgment/order was reserved and date on which it is delivered.
(v) Directions contained in clauses 4 and 5 (inadvertently mentioned as 4 and 5 instead of 3 and 4) above shall be subject to any statutory provisions, if any, providing for a different period such as Consumer Protection Regulations, 2005; wherein Consumer Forum is required to pass the order invariably within fifteen dates of the conclusion of the arguments as per clause-7 thereof.
(vi) Any judicial officer, failing to comply with directions at Sr.Nos.4 and/or 5 (inadvertently mentioned as 4 and 5 instead of 3 and 4) above shall report to the Registrar, High Court of Bombay at Goa every such matter where there is a failure with reasons for non-delivery of such order/ judgment. The same will form part of their personal file.
(vii) In case of Government officers discharging judicial/ quasi judicial functions, such report shall be made to the Chief Secretary of Goa and the same will form part of their personal records.
(viii) The judicial officers concerned shall also be liable for disciplinary action by the High Court and the State Government, as the case may be, for their persistent failure to comply with these directions.
(ix) It is common knowledge that most of the quasi judicial authorities communicate the decision to the parties after reserving the order. This practice should be discontinued forthwith. Every judgment/ order should be pronounced in open Court after notifying the parties the date of the order.
(x) Once the judgment/ order is pronounced, the certified copy should be made available to the parties, if applied for, not later than 7 days and not later than 2 days if the copy is applied for on urgent basis.”
In the case of Ms. Shivsagar Veg. Restaurant (supra), the Division Bench of this Court set aside the order passed by the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal, Mumbai Bench in an appeal in which final order was passed on 21/10/2005 upon conclusion of argument on 02/06/2005 on the ground that no reasons were given in support of the judgment. The Division Bench also took note of delay in delivering the judgment and gave direction to the President of Appellate Tribunal to frame and lay down guidelines on the similar lines as are laid down by the Apex Court in the case of Anil Rai Vs. State of Bihar (supra). In the case of Magna Graphics Ltd. (supra) relied upon by Mrs. Agni, learned Amicus Curiae, the learned Single Judge of this Court held respondent no.1, who was Collector, Jalgaon guilty for violating the order dated 01/11/2001 passed by the High Court holding that since respondent no.1 was discharging quasi judicial function, was bound to follow the judgment of the High Court and as such, violation of the order passed by the High Court amounted to contempt of Court. In the case of Atma Ram Builder P. Ltd (supra), The Apex Court was dealing with an order passed by the Additional District Judge in an objection by son of one of the trustees of the Trust, which was directed to hand over the possession within the period of six weeks by the Apex Court. The Apex Court initiated contempt proceedings against the tenant as well as against the Additional District Judge, who had passed an order in defiance of the order passed by the Apex Court in proceedings initiated by son of one of the trustees of the Trust, which was directed to vacate the premises. The Apex Court deprecated the practice of litigants, who are trying to frustrate the orders of the Courts by resorting to dubious and dilatory tactics and also quashed the order passed by the Additional District Judge as being totally void and further directed the Hon'ble Chief Justice of Delhi High Court to enquire into the matter and take disciplinary action against the Additional District Judge, who had passed the order frustrating the order passed by the Apex Court. In the case of Michael Gareth (supra) (unreported judgment in Writ Petition No.834/2009), while dealing with the order passed by the President, Administrative Tribunal, the learned Single Judge of this Court set aside the judgment passed by the President, Administrative Tribunal on the ground that judgment was passed on 17/10/2009, although final arguments were concluded on 22/06/2006. No doubt, in the said case just before the expiry of three years, Presiding Officer of the Tribunal had sought certain clarifications in the matter and heard the learned Counsel for the parties on 19/06/2009. Learned Single Judge quashed and set aside the final order on the ground that the judgment was pronounced with inordinate delay and in breach of the directions given by this court in the case of Pradeep Sangodker (supra).
19. What emerges from the above judgments is that the Courts and the Tribunals functioning within the State of Goa are bound to follow the mandate given by the Apex Court in various judgments as well as the judgment of the learned Single Judge of this Court. In the case of R.C. Sharma (supra), the Apex Court has observed that unreasonable delay between the hearing of arguments and delivery of judgment, unless explained by exceptional and extraordinary circumstance, is highly undesirable even when written arguments are submitted. It has been held that in such an eventuality, some points which the litigants considered important, might have escaped the notice. But what is more important is that the litigants must have complete confidence in the result of the litigation and the same tends to be shaken if there is excessive delay between hearing of arguments and delivery of judgment; Justice must not only be done but must manifestly appear to be done.
20. It is also well settled that judicial review under Article 226 is available against the decision making process and not against the final decision or order. Admittedly, learned Single Judge of this Court has given directions to the Courts and Tribunals functioning in the State of Goa in the case of Pradeep Sangodker (supra) to deliver the judgment within a period of three months from the date of conclusion of arguments. There is no dispute that the judgment has been passed after a period of almost 15 months clearly in breach of the directions given in the case of Sangodker (supra). Moreover, perusal of the impugned judgment, more particularly paragraph 15 discloses that ballot papers which were in ballot boxes have been perused by the President of the Tribunal although the ballot boxes were not opened in the presence of the parties. Perusal of the rojnama dated 16/06/2010 discloses that ballot boxes were not opened and it was observed that the ballot boxes would be opened at the appropriate time at different stages as required by the Tribunal. Thus, the Tribunal acted clearly in breach of the principles of natural justice by opening the ballot boxes, in the absence of the parties. Thus, the procedure followed by the Tribunal is clearly in breach of the principles of natural justice. On this count and also on the ground of inordinate delay in delivery of the impugned judgment and order, we are of the considered opinion that the same is liable to be set aside. We are unable to accept the submission of Mr. Lotlikar that in the absence of any prejudice having been pointed out, the petitioners are not entitled to any relief sought in the present petition. The Tribunal having acted in breach of principles of natural justice, the judgment and order which affects the rights of the petitioners, is liable to be quashed and set aside.
21. In so far as the submission of Mr. Lotlikar that even if the matter is remanded to the Tribunal, the petitioners be not allowed to continue as the members of the Management Committee of Devasthan and the Administrator be appointed is concerned, we do not find any merit therein. The petitioners have been the members of the Management Committee of Devasthan since 2008 and by virtue of the interim orders, they continue to be so till date. Therefore, in our considered opinion, this is not a fit case in which Administrator deserves to be appointed as contended by Mr. Lotlikar. However, till the appeal is decided, the Management Committee of the Devasthan shall not take major decisions having financial implications.”
8. Considering the said judgment of the learned Division Bench of this Court and without going into the merits of the dispute between the parties, as the time taken to pass the impugned judgment is grossly unreasonable, I find it appropriate that the impugned judgment passed by the Tribunal be quashed and set aside and the matter be remanded to the learned Tribunal to decide the appeals preferred by the petitioners afresh in accordance with law.
9. In view of the above, I pass the following order:
(i) The impugned judgment dated 16/08/2011 is quashed and set aside.
(ii) Devasthan Appeals No.7,8,10,11 and 12 of 2005 are restored to the file of the learned Administrative Tribunal.
(iii) The learned Administrative Tribunal is directed to decide all the aforesaid appeals after hearing the parties in accordance with law, as expeditiously as possible.