New Delhi: Embarrassed by repeated court raps for delays on part of union ministries in filing their replies and affidavits, the Law Ministry has sought "appropriate action" against officials of departments who are negligent in handling such matters.
In a strongly-worded letter to all Union secretaries, Law Secretary P K Malhotra has said that he has been informed by his field officers and government counsels appearing on behalf of Union of India before courts and tribunals that "many a time" replies and counter-affidavits are not filed in the court within the time granted.
He said it causes inconvenience to the courts, delays proceedings and leads to "unnecessary embarrassment" to the government.
"Of late, courts have been taking serious view of delay in filing replies and counter-affidavits and imposing heavy cost to be recovered from the officer concerned," he said in his letter, copies of which have also been marked to the Prime Minister's Office and the Cabinet Secretary.
Malhotra pointed out that recently the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court took a serious view of the failure on part of the Environment Ministry to file its reply on time.
Quoting from the court order, he said when an additional solicitor general sought more time to file a counter-affidavit, the high court pointed out that "despite the time period being granted as requested... Whether it is six or eight weeks...In every case there is a second request made for filing counter-affidavit...This issue needs to be set right."
He said the court has asked him to ensure a better coordination "and put the officers concerned to notice that this court would have no other option but to impose exemplary costs for the delay in filing counter-affidavits and that the costs would be recovered from the officer concerned."
The Law Secretary said the Department of Legal Affairs has been issuing instructions from time to time that nodal officers of ministries and departments should stay in touch with the government counsel for proper handling of court matters.
"I shall be grateful if you can sensitise your officers that court cases are properly monitored and replies are filed on time to avoid passing of such orders in future. If any officer is found negligent in handling court matters, the administrative ministry may consider taking appropriate action against him in accordance with the rules," the letter said.
In a bid to shed the tag of being the biggest litigant, the Narendra Modi government is working on a 'National Litigation Policy' as part of its efforts to streamline governance and reduce burden on courts.
The policy will help various Union ministries and departments define types of cases to be pursued in courts and those which need to be dropped after review.
Though there are no concrete figures, Law Ministry believes government is party to at least 46 per cent of the court cases ranging from service matters to indirect taxes.