The Bombay High Court on Friday took a stern stand and asked the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation to immediately invite applications from lawyers interested in being empaneled on the Junior Panel "A" of the Municipal Corporation after a panel counsel for the corporation stated some incorrect facts and submitted an incorrect affidavit which misled the Court.
A division bench of Justice SJ Kathawalla and Justice BP Colabawalla were hearing a contempt petition filed by Spark Developers alleging that the Municipal Corporation has not complied with the High Court's order dated November 2, 2017.
In the said order, Court had directed BMC to demolish the illegal structures on the side of one DP Road. The Municipal Corporation filed its affidavit dated November 25, 2019, stating that out of 34 unauthorized structures it had already demolished 28 unauthorized structures and is unable to demolish 6 structures because of an order passed by the City Civil Court, Mumbai directing the Corporation to maintain status quo.
Thereafter, on January 8, 2020, Advocate Jaymala Oaswal, Panel Counsel of the Corporation (not in-house Advocate) submitted that the City Civil Court is hearing the notice of motion in suit and Court has now fixed the hearing on January 15, 2020. The said statement dated January 8 was recorded and based on that High Court asked the City Civil Court to hear the petitioners on January 15 and pass orders to enable the High Court to decide the said petition.
However, petitioner's advocate Rohan Mahadik informed the bench that the statement made by the Counsel for the Corporation on January 8 was an incorrect statement since the said notice of motion was already disposed of by the Learned Judge of the City Civil Court as far back as on October 1, 2015 and there was no hearing fixed on January 16. Therefore, the directions given to the City Civil Court could not be implemented.
Thus, the bench noted-
"Every Court operates/functions on the basis of trust. Since it is impossible for the Court to go through each and every page of the Affidavit or the pleadings, the Court accepts the statements made by the Advocates before the Court, presuming that the Advocate making the statement before the Court understands his/her responsibilities as an officer of the court. It is therefore incumbent on the part of the Advocate/s to ensure that no incorrect facts are put on Affidavit as well as before the Court, failing which the Court will be misled into passing incorrect orders as is done in the present matter."
Thereafter, the bench enquired about the fees paid to such junior panel lawyers by the Corporation. The bench was informed that a reasonable amount of Rs.50,000 per case is given to advocates empanelled as Junior Panel 'A' of the Municipal Corporation.
"However, we have repeatedly noted that the assistance given by some of the Panel Advocates to the Court is not at all satisfactory. We have therefore enquired from the Chief Law Officer how the Advocates are selected for being empaneled on the Junior Panel "A" and how the briefs are distributed amongst them by the Corporation. We are informed that advertisements are issued by the Municipal Corporation inviting applications from the Advocates and that at present they have about 50 Advocates on the Junior Panel "A" of the Corporation.
Since we find that only the same few faces (Panel Advocates) appear before us for the Corporation, we again inquired as to how the briefs are distributed amongst the 50 Advocates currently empaneled. We are informed that the briefs are distributed by the Senior Law Officer and/or the Deputy Law Officer. However, in view of the urgency in some of the matters, the in-house lawyers are now distributing the briefs amongst the panel lawyers. We do not understand what is the urgency in the matters when 99% of the matters taken up during the week are listed on the Weekly Board which is made available every weekend. The Chief Law Officer of the Corporation also informed us that many of the empaneled Advocates are no longer interested in accepting the briefs from the Corporation."
Finally, the bench observed-
"In view of the above and for better functioning of the Legal Department of the Corporation, we suggest that the Corporation should immediately invite applications from the Advocates interested in being empaneled on the Junior Panel "A" of the Municipal Corporation setting out therein the fees of Rs.50,000/- paid by the Corporation to each of the empaneled Advocate per matter and give wide publicity to the same, by displaying the advertisements in all the Bar Rooms/Libraries of the High Court and thereafter prepare a fresh list of Junior Panel Advocates for representing the Corporation in the High Court. If this is not done immediately the problems arising from time to time in matters will continue and will compel us to summon the Commissioner of Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai and appraise him of the present state of affairs."