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Ram Nagar Trust No.1 vs. Mehtab L Sheikh (Bombay High Court)
March, 13th 2018

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

(i) I compute the delay from 25th November 2016 until today. This is a period of 450 days; possibly more, but not less. Costs must be imposed for each day’s delay. 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. 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.

(ii) Computed at Rs.1000/- per day for each day’s delay for 450 days, the costs work out to Rs4,50,000/-. This amount of Rs.4,50,000/- will be paid to the 1st Defendant as costs by 7th March 2018 and time to complete the filing is, subject to payment of those costs, extended till that date. No filing is to be accepted in the registry unless there is proof of costs having been paid. It is made clear that if the costs are not paid or filings are not completed by that time, the Suit will stand dismissed without further reference to the Court.

(iii) Then I am told that the 1st Plaintiff is a public charitable trust and the suit is about land for an educational or charitable purpose. This is even more shocking. 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. 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.

(iv) 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

(v) The Plaintiffs’ application now assumes that Court will continuously condone delays, that delays are par for the course. This is an assumption that we must be rid of immediately. 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. Shriram J’s orders cannot be treated with such contempt and disregard. It cannot be assumed that noncompliance with his, or any other, Court’s orders has no consequence. If there is a genuine reason to extend time, an application must be made to the Court and directions sought.

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