Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Indian judiciary’s new low: A case settled after 72 years

India’s oldest litigation at 72 years was disposed of last week by a bench of the country’s oldest high court, whose current Chief Justice Prakash Shrivastava was born a full decade after the case had been filed in 1951.

While the Calcutta high court would be relieved that the litigation pertaining to liquidation proceedings of the erstwhile Berhampore Bank Ltd is finally out of the way, it still has two of the next five oldest pending cases in the country to deal with — all of them filed in 1952, a year after the one at the top of the pile made its entry.

Of the remaining three cases, two are civil suits being heard in civil courts in Bengal’s Malda and one is pending in the Madras high court. The Malda courts have lined up hearings in March and November to try and settle these sticky litigations.

The Berhampore case finds mention in the National Judicial Data Grid as the oldest one to be heard in any Indian court until January 9, when Justice Ravi Krishan Kapur’s disposal order of September 19 last year was signed, sealed and delivered with a typographical correction.

The genesis of the case was a November 19, 1948, order of the Calcutta high court to wind up the then insolvent and litigation-mired Berhampore Bank. A petition challenging the liquidation proceedings was filed on January 1, 1951, and registered the same day as “Case No. 71/1951”.

The Berhampore Bank had been entangled in multiple litigations to recover money from debtors. Several of these debtors moved court, challenging the bank’s claims.

According to records, the petition challenging the bank’s liquidation came up for hearing in the HC twice last September, but nobody apparently turned up. Justice Kapur then sought a report from the court’s liquidator. On September 19, the assistant liquidator told the bench that the case had been disposed of in August 2006. It transpired that this wasn’t updated in the records, ensuring that the case remained on the pending list.

Of the two second oldest cases that are still pending in the HC, Justice Kapur had last heard one on August 23, 2022. He directed an advocate and a special officer to meet all parties and suggest modalities to bring the protracted litigation to an end. There is very little data available on the other 1952 case.

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