15 May 2023 7:08 AM GMT
The Supreme Court on May 12 rebuked the Presiding Officer of Debts Recovery Tribunal Chandigarh for filing a special leave petition against an order of the Punjab and Haryana High Court. The DRT Presiding Officer approached the Court alleging that the High Court had passed adverse remarks against him affecting his credibility and reputation.A bench comprising Justices MR Shah and CT...
The Supreme Court on May 12 rebuked the Presiding Officer of Debts Recovery Tribunal Chandigarh for filing a special leave petition against an order of the Punjab and Haryana High Court. The DRT Presiding Officer approached the Court alleging that the High Court had passed adverse remarks against him affecting his credibility and reputation.
A bench comprising Justices MR Shah and CT Ravikumar noted that the High Court is looking into the grievances raised by the lawyers of DRT against the Presiding Officer and that the High Court had merely sought instructions regarding the the status of the matter pending before the Chairman, Debts Recovery Appellate Tribunal. So, at this stage, the DRT Presiding Officer should not have "rushed" to the Supreme Court, the bench said.
Dismissing the petition with "great displeasure", the Supreme Court stated :
“It is very unfortunate that the petitioner being the Member of the Tribunal has filed the present Special Leave Petition. When the Members of the Bar Association approached the High Court for some grievances, which were earlier also raised against the petitioner and when the High Court is looking into the same and the High Court has observed that the counsel on behalf of the Tribunal to get necessary instructions at what stage the grievances raised against the petitioner are pending before the Chairman, DRAT, the petitioner should not have rushed to this Court by way of the present Special Leave Petition. We refuse to entertain the present Special Leave Petition with our great displeasure. The Special Leave Petition stands dismissed.”
There is a history of friction between the Presiding Officer and the DRT lawyers.
In October, 2022, the Debt Recovery Tribunal Bar Association had approached the High Court in a writ petition alleging that the same Presiding Officer had harassed counsels appearing both for financial institutions and borrowers. Protesting against the said officer the Bar Association had also gone on a strike on 26th October, 2022 and refrained from appearing before the said Presiding Officer. Though the High Court deprecated the conduct of the Bar Association for going on a strike, it did pass an interim order to prevent ‘wholesale dismissal’ of cases pending before him. Noting ‘serious allegations’ against the Officer and his ‘severely strained’ relationship with the Bar Association, a Division Bench of the High Court had restrained him passing any adverse orders in any of the cases pending before him until 30th November, 2022.
Challenging that direction of the High Court, Mr. M.M. Dhonchak, the concerned Presiding Officer, had filed an SLP before the Apex Court in November last year. He had contended that it is well settled law that the Bar Association has no authority to discuss the conduct of a Judge in its meeting. Further, he had argued that advocates cannot resort to strike/boycott and a Bar Association cannot pass a resolution to support the strike/boycott of the Court work. He had submitted that he has a reputation of being an honest and upright judge after his years of service as a District Judge and that the High Court's order sends a message that the judicial officers should be subservient to the "arm-twisting" tactics adopted by the Bar.
On 02.12.2022, the Supreme Court had observed that an order retraining a judicial member from adjudicating matters is not sustainable in law. In the view of the same, the Apex Court modified the High Court’s order and permitted Mr. Dhonchak to proceed with hearing matters before him on merits. It was advised that being a part of the justice delivery system both the Bar and the Bench maintain cordial atmosphere. On 12th December, 2022, the Apex Court had disposed of the matter asking the Chairperson of DRT to take an appropriate decision independently.
Later, before the High Court, critically commented on the Presiding Officer dismissing an application on ground of delay and held that such an attitude reflected insensitivity of the officer towards people, especially with respect to those who were facing outstanding loans because of COVID 19 pandemic. Instructions were sought as to how many such applications were restored and how many are pending in view of the directions by Apex Court dated 12.12.2022.
The DRT Bar Association was represented by Siddharth Batra, Advocate-on-Record along-with Rhythm Katyal, Advocate. Proceedings before the Supreme Court
Case Title: MM Dhonchak v. Debts Recovery Tribunal Bar Association & Ors., SLP No. 7926 of 2023
Click here to read the order