The Madras High Court on Tuesday disposed of a public interest litigation (PIL) petition that had raised a grievance that only new or fresh cases were to be heard at the recently established National Company Appellate Law Tribunal (NCLAT), Chennai Bench after a notification was issued by the NCLAT, Principal Bench addressing this issue (CA V. Venkata Siva Kumar v. The Hon`ble Registrar, The Hon`ble NCLAT and ors)
The Court also urged the Central government to ensure that the digitisation work to be carried out at NCLAT Benches is done as expeditiously as possible.
As per a July 17, 2021 notification, all pending appeals coming within the jurisdiction of the NCLAT, Chennai have also been transferred from the NCLAT, Delhi to the NCLAT, Chennai, except for matters that are part heard or reserved for judgment.
The petitioner, CA Venkata Sivakumar informed the Bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy of this development this morning.
Appearing party-in-person, Sivakumar also thanked the Bench for its intervention on the issue, pointing out that the issue has been resolved without any further arguments after the Court's last order in the matter, whereas the petition may have otherwise died a natural death.
No transfer of part-heard cases to NCLAT, Chennai
Appearing for the Corporate, Insolvency and Bankruptcy Laws Bar Association (CIBBA), Senior Advocate Arvindh Pandian however flagged an additional concern. He highlighted that even under the latest notification, part-heard matters falling within the Chennai Bench's jurisdiction would be taken up by the Principal Bench of NCLAT.
"When a Bench (Chennai Bench, in this case) gets formed, there is no concept of part-heard, they will go to the jurisdictional bench," he pointed out.
Senior advocate Pandian added that he is leaving it to the Court to decide on the appropriate course of action.
The Court, in turn, was disinclined to interfere on this issue. Chief Justice Banerjee pointed out that a lot of time may have already been spent on part-heard matters. In the order, the Court further noted such previously pending matters need not be transferred to prejudice the next or other urgent matters that may require the attention of the tribunal.
Central government requested to carry of digitization work at NCLAT Benches as expeditiously as possible
The other concern raised by Pandian was about digitisation work at the NCLAT. He noted that the Court had already urged the digitization of records in its earlier order passed in April this year. In the April order, the Court had opined that since the NCLAT Chennai Bench is at a nascent stage, modes of e-filing and a paperless form of adjudication should be adopted.
Every effort should be made to start with digitisation as soon as possible so that the minimum of hard copies need to be preserved and preservation would only in form of digital recourse without meta data linked, the Court had said.
There is also an advanced system of digitisation which has been embarked upon in the Madras High Court. If necessary NCLAT, Chennai may replicate the same so that preservation of papers after the completion of matter may not be necessary, the Bench had added.
Senior advocate Pandian today acknowledged that the NCLAT is doing its best when it comes to its functioning amid the pandemic. All the same, the funds for such digitization efforts have to come from a Central pool. He, therefore, urged the Court to direct the Central government to place a report on this issue.
The Court, in response, made the following appeal to the Union of India:
"Accordingly, the Union is requested to ensure the digitisation work of the files already physically received by the benches of the NCLAT be completed as expeditiously as possible and the system of e-filing be explored and put in place. The system can be more efficient."
With these observations, the PIL was disposed of.