New Delhi: Against the backdrop of India losing an arbitration case against an Australian company over delayed judicial decisions, Law Minister Salman Khurshid on Saturday emphasised on the need to improve the "structure" of the courts.
"White Industries` arbitration against Coal India went against us. I don`t believe that our system had in any deliberate, conscious way tried to give less than the equal treatment that all litigants deserve in our country. But the structure of our courts delayed conclusive decision...," he said.
He said the "structure" was not created for White Industries and that was something "we already have in place".
"The time taken by SC at times because of disagreement between benches...These are facts of life in our system and I do believe we need to work on improving the structure..." he said.
Addressing an Assocham seminar on Law and Economics here, he said, factoring in such issues in decision making is a "major problem" today.
Khurshid said while the government was discussing various options, "perhaps the courts can find a way for us. Courts can find some manner in which international covenants (treaties) that we sign and which are binding on us could find the way into interpretation of laws."
He said on issues of environment and human rights, the Supreme Court has on several occasions interpreted laws.
"The SC has read covenants in even where India has not taken any further steps to make them part of the municipal laws by amending legislation. SC has moved a step beyond, and incorporate that into the law of the land by way of judicial pronouncements," he said.
Khurshid said one of the suggestions before him was that international governance should automatically, under one umbrella legislation, become part of the municipal law.
"But we find, under the Constitution that may amount to too much delegation and, therefore, it may not stand the test of scrutiny", the minister said.
He said another way was to have special laws every time India enters into an international covenant. "...To have a special law to incorporate that into the municipal law. That`s one issue that we are faced with. And in the months to come, that would become a very pressing issue," he said.
Coal India entered into a contract with White Industries Australia Ltd in 1989 for the supply of equipment and development of a coal mine in UP. Disputes arose and were referred for arbitration under the terms of the contract. The matter reached the SC in 2006, which referred it to a larger bench, where it is still pending.
Earlier this year, a three-member international arbitration panel has decided a case against India and Coal India Ltd.
In the meantime, the Australian firm approached the UN Arbitration Tribunal, which formed a panel mutually agreed to by both parties to hear the matter at the London tribunal.
"...The Indian judicial system`s inability to deal with the issue in over nine years and Supreme Court`s inability to hear the appeal for over five years amounts to undue delay and constitutes a breach of India?s obligation," the tribunal had said.