“Tareekh pe tareekh, tareekh pe tareekh, tareekh pe tareekh milti gayi My Lord, par insaaf nahi mila” This dialogue from famous film Damini by actor Sunny Deol’s is one of the most celebrated dialogue ever! But sadly, it reveals the biggest truth of the Judicial System in our country.

The Apex Court in a number of pronouncements have deprecated the practice of seeking unwanted Adjournments as a device to pull on the litigations thereby illegally abusing the process of law & clogging the Courts.

It is sad that there are laws and orders that provide sufficient safeguards against frequent adjournments, but the implementation and enforcement of the same is lacking. The Apex Court has been repeatedly warning the litigants who are willfully defying the  guidelines issued by the Courts. The Courts have been imposing heavy & exemplary costs but the habitual litigants are unfettered and employing the ‘device’ of adjournment to the detriment of the Judicial System and the law abiding opposite parties. Inspite of repeated warnings & calls by  Presidents and Chief Justices of India to curb the practice of repeated adjournments, the unwanted ‘Adjournment Culture’ continues to dog the judicial system.

A  study on the matter revealed that the average number of adjournments granted in the district and subordinate courts range from 12-32 in civil cases and from 8-24 in criminal cases. The party not interested in the early disposal of the case do not file written statements,  counters, rejoinders and seek time on lame grounds. Already the apathy of the Judicial Officers, their Leave, their Training and sometimes due to long duration of ‘Vacant Courts’, the disposal time is already long coupled with adjournments, strikes by advocates & staff, the poor litigant does not get timely redressal. Adjournments are a lucrative business as the lawyer, his clerk, the court peshkar & the chaprasi all get share for lethargy without any work & effort. Adjournments are sought  and mechanically given by courts and the whole Judicial System contributes to the delaying tactic by way of Adjournments. Litigants are often anguished over the adjournments granted as their money, effort & time goes waste but find themselves helpless in combating this menace

It would be trite to refer to the case of the Apex Court in Surinder Kaur And Ors vs Tanvir Singh Bal SLP (C) No(s). 32740/2015 decided on 14-05-2018. The brief facts of the case are that a very large number of adjournments had been taken in this matter by the respondents. The Court was irked that the petitioner was about 89 years of age and was suffering from spinal tuberculosis and surprisingly  the Trial Court was liberally granting adjournments. A bench headed by Justice Madan B Lokur expressed regret over the way the trial court was liberal in granting adjournments even though the property dispute involved a senior citizen woman fighting for over a decade. The bench was  annoyed by the fact that inspite of the specific direction by the  Punjab and Haryana High Court in 2015 for speeding up the proceedings, the trial court did not comply with the order. The Apex Court observed that the respondent should not be allowed to have a walkover and win the case by default in case Surinder Kaur loses her battle with life due to overstretched trial.

It would be relevant to refer to the Apex Court’s case in M/S Shiv Cotex vs Tirgun Auto Plast P.Ltd.& Others [(2011) 9 SCC 678 which dealt with this controversy. The Court expressed dismay at the culture of Adjournments and directed the courts below not to show mercy on litigants who intentionally seek Adjournments & held thus:

“15. Second, and equally important, the High Court upset the concurrent judgment and decree of the two courts on misplaced sympathy and non – existent justification. The High Court observed that the stakes in the suit being very high, the plaintiff should not be non-suited on the basis of no evidence. But, who is to be blamed for this lapse? It is the plaintiff alone. As a matter of fact, the trial court  had given more than sufficient opportunity to the plaintiff to produce evidence in support of its case. As noticed above, after the issues were framed on July 19, 2006, on three occasions, the trial court fixed the matter for the plaintiff’s evidence but on none of these dates any evidence was let in by it. What should the court do in such circumstances? Is the court obliged to give adjournment after adjournment merely because the stakes are high in the dispute?

Should the court be a silent spectator and leave control of the case to a party to the case who has decided not to take the case forward?It is sad, but true, that the litigants seek – and the courts grant – adjournments at the drop of the hat. In the cases where the judges are little pro-active and refuse to accede to the requests of unnecessary adjournments, the litigants deploy all sorts of methods in protracting the litigation. It is not surprising that civil disputes drag on and on. The misplaced sympathy and indulgence by the appellate and revisional courts compound the malady further. The case in hand is a case of such misplaced sympathy. It is high time that courts become sensitive to delays in justice delivery system and realize that adjournments do dent the efficacy of judicial process and if this menace is not controlled adequately, the litigant public may lose faith in the system sooner than later. The courts, particularly  trial courts, must ensure that on every date of hearing, effective progress takes place in the suit.

16. No litigant has a right to abuse the procedure provided in the CPC. Adjournments have grown like cancer corroding the entire body of justice delivery system. It is true that cap on adjournments to a party during the hearing of the suit provided in proviso to Order XVII Rule 1 CPC is not mandatory and in a suitable case, on justifiable cause, the court may grant more than three adjournments to a party for its evidence but ordinarily the cap provided in the proviso to Order XVII Rule 1 CPC should be maintained. When we say `justifiable cause’ what we mean to say is, a cause which is not only `sufficient cause’ as contemplated in sub-rule (1) of Order XVII CPC but a cause which makes the request for adjournment by a party during the hearing of the suit beyond three adjournments unavoidable and sort of a compelling necessity like sudden illness of the litigant or the witness or the lawyer; death in the family of any one of them; natural calamity like floods, earthquake, etc. in the area where any of these persons reside; an accident involving the litigant or the witness or the lawyer on way to the court and such like cause.

The list is only illustrative and not exhaustive. However, the absence of the lawyer or his non-availability because of professional work in  other court or elsewhere or on the ground of strike call or the change of a lawyer or the continuous illness of the lawyer (the party whom he represents must then make alternative arrangement well in advance) or similar grounds will not justify more than three adjournments to a party during the hearing of the suit. The past conduct of a party in the conduct of the proceedings is an important circumstance which the courts must keep in view whenever a request for adjournment is made. A party to the suit is not at liberty to proceed with the trial at its leisure and pleasure and has no right to determine when the evidence would be let in by it or the matter should be heard. The parties to a suit – whether plaintiff or defendant – must cooperate with the court in ensuring the effective work on the date of hearing for which the matter has been fixed. If they don’t, they do so at their own peril. Insofar as present case is concerned, if the stakes were high, the plaintiff ought to have been more serious and vigilant in prosecuting the suit and producing its evidence. If despite three opportunities, no evidence was let in by the plaintiff, in our view, it deserved no sympathy in second appeal in exercise of power under Section 100 CPC. We find no justification at all for the High Court in upsetting the concurrent judgment of the courts below. The High Court was clearly in error in  giving the plaintiff an opportunity to produce evidence when no justification for that course existed.”

It shall not be out of place to refer to the concern of the President of our country who while addressing a conference of SCAORA in 2018 on the subject expressed his dissent on the long delays in adjudication of cases in courts due to the  “culture of seeking adjournments as a norm” and called for curbing this practice.

He hoped that the entire legal fraternity will resolve not to seek adjournments except in absolutely unavoidable circumstances and observed thus:

“There is a culture of seeking adjournments as a norm rather than an exception. New thinking is gradually taking place on frequent adjournments. The judiciary is making sincere efforts to curb this practice.”

It is heartening that the Courts have started taking a tough stand on unwanted adjournments. Recently the Calcutta High in the case of  Casem  Pioneer Property Management Ltd. v. Amazon Sellers Services Private Limited & Anr. [CS/2/2016] on 11th January directed a party to pay Rs 20,000 as costs (to be paid to Bharat Sevasram Sangha, Kolkata) “for unnecessarily delaying the trial in a Commercial Suit.” The Court also clarified that no further adjournment would be granted in the matter.

It is imperative that the advocates & chartered accountants in proceedings in Courts, in assessment & appellate proceedings under Direct & Indirect Taxes  should not seek unwanted adjournments and clog the process of law. In order to instill the confidence of our people in Courts, it is necessary to unclog the Courts and grant speedy justice to litigants. The menace of unwanted adjournments has to be dealt with as per the guidelines of the Apex Court, as discussed above. The Courts should adopt strict measures in matters of adjournments and impose exemplary costs on the litigants adopting adjournments as a ruse/device for prolongation of cases.

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May 2021