Taking stern view of the non-compliance of its orders, the Bombay High Court last week imposed costs of Rs. 4,50,000 on a charitable trust.
Imposing the costs, Justice G.S. Patel made it clear that this is how such delays and non-compliances should be dealt with, observing, "For far too long we have been used to issuing directions without consequences for default, and for far too long Courts have assumed that condoning delay by saying this is a ‘final opportunity’ is sufficient. Clearly it is not. It is only when there is an order of the kind I have passed today that the defaulting party seems to get galvanized into compliance, and that we see, for the first time, some alertness. Parties and their Advocates will understand that what is issued with directions for filing is not a recommendation. It is an order of the Court. It does not give a party a choice. Compliance is mandatory, not optional."
The Court was dealing with a suit filed in 2009. During a recent hearing, Justice Patel noted that the Plaintiff Trust had failed to file their list of witnesses, Evidence Affidavit and compilation, which was supposed to be filed on 5 November, 2016, despite having been granted extensions on two previous occasions. The Trust had, in fact, now sought another week's time for complying with the Court's orders.
This was opposed by the Defendants, contending that there was no valid reason for non-compliance, and demanding that terms be imposed on the Plaintiff for such non-compliance. Agreeing with such contentions, Justice Patel imposed costs of Rs. 1000 per day of delay on the Trust, starting from November 25, 2016, for a period of 450 days thereafter.
Justice Patel explained that costs should be imposed for each day's delay, instead of picking a random figure, explaining, "Costs must be imposed for each day’s delay... Fixing ad hoc figures like this is counter-productive. Parties believe that even if the delay is inordinate, the costs of that delay will be negligible; and hence they continue to extend the delay. The costs must be real. They must be sufficient to convey the message that non-compliance with our orders brings consequences; that these consequences are inevitable and unavoidable; and the consequences are not some piffling trifle."
The Court further added that while fixing such costs, the amount must not be so less as to render the entire exercise meaningless, observing, I do not think that, in this day and age, and especially in this city, costs of Rs.1000 per day are at all unreasonable. Anything less than that is illusory and meaningless and the time has gone when a Court could, would or should pick up some utterly random figure like Rs.5,000 or Rs.25,000, a number wholly without tether to the actual days of delay.
It then directed the Plaintiff Trust to deposit the amount with the Registry by 7 March, and that the date for fillings would be extended till that date, subject to the sum being deposited.
Curiously, the Plaintiff Trust approached the Court again on the same day at 3 pm, demanding a reduction in the costs imposed. This did not go down well with the Court, which noted with contempt that the suit was being negligently handled despite it involving land for an educational or charitable purpose.
It then rapped the Trust for its handling of the case, observing, "That a trust should be so utterly negligent about its own case is reason enough to warrant immediate action against the trustees and have every one of them removed. A public trust has a higher duty of care, not a lower one."
The Court further asserted that the fact of the Plaintiff being a Public Charitable Trust would not help it before the Court, which sees everybody as the same, noting, "Besides, this submission is utterly egregious: what am I being told? That because the 1st Plaintiff is a trust therefore a different standard applies? Before courts, all parties are exactly the same. We will make exceptions for the poor, the illiterate, the helpless. They will receive our protection. But educated trustees charged with a solemn fiduciary duty will not get a free pass only because they claim to espouse some worthy cause."
It added that an application for reduction of costs would now result in the costs of delay being doubled, reiterating that such delays will have to be dealt with a heavy hand, and observing, "Let me put it plainly. No more adjournments. No more ‘tareek pe tareek’. Enough is enough. That a Court will endlessly grant adjournments is not something that parties or advocates can take for granted. Nor should they assume that there will be no consequences to continued defaults and unexplained delay."
Read the Judgment Here