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SLP graduates, turns SEP and joins the undead in terrifying conclusion of Court Witness’ SLP Quadrilogy

SLP: Neither living nor dead
SLP: Neither living nor dead
Late last month a young Court Witness’ first special leave petition (SLP) was educated by The Eminent Senior Counsel and disciplined by a slightly less eminent senior counsel, leaving CW in a sweating mess. So, he waited, for the next day that his SLP would finally be heard. Little did he know what lay in store… [read previous column]

The hearing was over in a matter of seconds. The Court issued notice, stayed the High Court’s judgment and even granted us ‘dasti’.

As ESC (the Eminent Senior Counsel) and JSC (Junior Senior Counsel) disappeared from the courtroom in opposite directions, their respective clerks converged on me and handed me mysterious white envelopes, grinning widely.

Bills. Of course.

Bakshi-ji was also there.

“What happened?” he asked, with a sly grin when I caught his eye. I am pretty sure now that he already knew. He’d probably seen me shepherd ESC and JSC into the Court and could predict the outcome in advance.

“Notice, stay and dasti” I replied, beaming, still clueless.

“Good, good.” he added nodding.

“Er, Bakshi-ji…”


“Um… What is dasti?”

Dasti service is literally service “by hand”. Along with the formal notice being issued by the Court, the Court can also permit parties to effect service to the other side by giving them a copy of the notice and SLP and getting an acknowledgment that they’ve received it all. It’s supposed to make things easier and quicker.

Supposed to.

Dasti service has to be effected only with a copy of the order of the Court to that effect. Once service is complete, the copy of the order with the signatures of all parties acknowledging receipt has to be filed in court with a sworn affidavit signed by the party stating that service has indeed been effected. But nothing moves without a copy of the order.

It had been one week since the hearing and there was no sign of a copy of the order.

My client, who obviously knew what dasti was, kept calling me daily demanding to know where the order was. Bakshi-ji was getting more and more difficult to find, and his answers as to when I could get a copy of the order were getting more and more evasive.

Eventually I spotted him outside one of the courtrooms and did a double take.

A die job

A hair dyeing operation had obviously gone wrong and Bakshi-ji’s greying curls were now a shocking purple-pink.

It was the toughest conversation I’ve ever had, trying my best to be confrontational about the dasti order without dissolving into a puddle of giggles about Bakshi-ji’s hair.

My persistence must have paid off (or perhaps it was my steady refusal to bring up the colour of his hair in the middle of the conversation), but Bakshi-ji finally assured me that we would get the order today itself, but I needed to come with him to the Registry later in the afternoon.

So I followed Bakshi-ji into the dark belly of the beast – the inner offices of the Supreme Court registry.

The crypt

We ascended a narrow set of stairs, past the registrar’s court and up one floor. Here, the ceiling’s low and the corridor’s lined with ancient steel cupboards bearing mystifying symbols in an unknown language. At least, that’s what it seemed like but the registry folk seemed to know what was contained in each.

The corridor is also lined with doors painted with more alien symbols and sometimes, a name or two, or a recognisable department. There are no signs of ventilation. The air is stale, untouched by sunlight.

Somewhere, a broken Aquaguard bleated out its tinny, familiar tone giving the surroundings surreal background music.

Bakshi-ji led me in through one of the doors and we walked into one of the offices of the registry. It was filled with piles of papers and files in no apparent order and somewhere between these files, I found a curiously modern set of cubicles manned by registry officers hunched over new desktops. It was disorienting, like stumbling through ancient ruins and finding an air conditioner.

Bakshi-ji seemed to know all of them by name, and they likewise, him.

He darted in and out of the doors between the cubicles in a manner that would suggest the movement was not all random Brownian motion but in fact aimed at meeting some far-off goal that does not seem obvious at first.

Claustrophobia soon overcame me, and I moved into the low ceilinged, dim-lit corridor. It didn’t help. The sound of the broken Aquaguard was no longer tinny but had become a relentless metallic clanging in my head.

I staggered around trying to get a proper gasp of air when all of a sudden Bakshi-ji materialised before me grinning toothily and waving a piece of paper.

It was the dasti order.

I high-tailed it out of the registry and into the sunshine, clutching the order and swearing never to set foot inside again.

Dark rituals

Eventually, two months later, service of notice was complete, the pleadings were all ready and the case was all set to be finally disposed (the ESC and a new JSC had been briefed, the state of origin of the presiding judge having changed). ESC and the new JSC were briefed again.

This time I didn’t even end up a sweating mess.

I assured my client that we would get the case disposed of in this very hearing and get the order we wanted. To my surprise he seemed less than enthusiastic about the prospect.

On the actual day of the hearing, the matter was finally called up and with military precision all counsel for both parties stood up and a babble of indecipherable voices broke out. Of course the other side had their own ESC and JSC and they all wanted to be heard at exactly the same time. Except, counsel for the other side wanted an adjournment to file a document or three.

The matter stood adjourned and my face must have betrayed my disappointment.

My client looked positively delighted.

Rinse, repeat, reanimate

Four weeks later, it was the same rigmarole, except it was ESC’s turn to ask for a few weeks’ adjournment on his account.

Next time it was the turn of the other side ESC’s and so on, and about four hearings later, the Court did the inevitable; it granted leave – the matter would be heard as a regular “Civil Appeal” and come up in its own course.

To the uninitiated, my matter being admitted with “leave to appeal” might sound like a good thing. But Supreme Court insiders will know that granting leave is the court’s way of making the case “somebody else’s problem” (or an SEP as Douglas Adams would call it).

My case entered the “system”, joined that vast and mysterious hive mind IT infrastructure controlling most of the listing of cases.

It will not be heard from again until it comes up for hearing “in its own course” - a polite euphemism for “not for the next three years”.

It didn’t matter to my client. He had his stay. He’d got what he wanted.

It didn’t matter to the other side. They knew they were on a weak wicket anyway, but wouldn’t like a precedent in a judgment set against them.

It didn’t matter to the lawyers on each side. They’d get paid for each appearance.

And in the larger scheme of the 50,000 plus pendency of cases, my SLP became just one more number somewhere in the system.

Epilogue of the damned

Every once in a while Bakshi-ji scans the weekly list as he always does and calls me up when he sees one particular SLP.

It’s listed this week he says.

I shrug. I place the customary call to my client and repeat Bakshi-ji’s information. He wants it adjourned. Again.

I hammer out a letter seeking adjournment, find some inane yet plausible reason for the court not to bother about this SLP-now-Civil Appeal and send it to our AOR to get it circulated it to all concerned before the hearing.

I turn up on the day it’s listed, wait for the number to be called up, stand at the nar and inform the court that a letter’s been circulated.

The other side shrugs, the judges read the letter, shrug and put away the copy of the appeal dictating the order adjourning the matter as asked for. The court master takes down the order and with a shrug puts the file in the bundle to be sent back to the registry.

I walk away from the court with my green cardboard file and put it away till the next call from Bakshi-ji.

Court Witness is an advocate of the Supreme Court of India and tweets @courtwitness1.

Court Witness’ previous postcards:

Photo by danhollisterduck

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