Deprecating the practice of courts accepting documents submitted by litigants in sealed covers, the Bombay High Court said that this “pernicious practice” should not be permitted since it violates the principles of fair justice and transparency in judicial process and prejudices the opposite side in the case.
A division bench of Justices GS Patel and Kamal Khata observed: “No litigant can disadvantage the opponent by squirrelling some information into the court record ‘in sealed cover’. No party is entitled to rely on such ‘sealed cover material’ to the prejudice of the other side, and no court should permit it.”
"Against the concept of fair justice"
It added that the practice was against the concept of fair justice. “To do so flies in the face of every concept of fair justice and openness and transparency in the decision-making process. It is time to bury this thoroughly pernicious practice," the bench said.
The HC was hearing a petition filed by one Sonali Tandel challenging an order of the Chief Executive Officer of the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) in relation to allotment of a flat.
She alleged that she was severally prejudiced by being deprived of transit rent and also being denied the flat to which she was entitled.
Earlier, another bench that was hearing the plea, took note of this and noticed that the developer of the project – Ranka Lifestyle Ventures – had not been appearing before the court while continuing to defy its orders. The court had issued show cause notice to the developer and MHADA to explain why contempt of court action should not be initiated against them for continuing to defy court orders. It also asked the developer to file a disclosure affidavit setting out a list of unsold flats and bank details and IT Returns in a sealed cover.
The same was submitted before the earlier bench, which accepted it.
However, the bench led by Justice Patel disapproved of this practice and clarified that it would not permit the same. “The simplest general principle is that anything that the Court can see, the opposing party must be allowed to see,” it said.
Non-compliance with a judicial order
“Where there are private disputes between two parties and a court has ordered a party to make a disclosure on affidavit of some material, there is simply no question of that party putting in anything ‘in sealed cover’. As a matter of law, that is non-compliance with a judicial order. In a given case, it will invite action in contempt,” the order underscored.
The judges accepted the developer’s proposal of reserving two flats in the redeveloped building for Tandel. She can move into one of the flats immediately and shift to the other flat, with a larger area, if the court decides she is entitled to it.
The court lifted the ongoing stay on the issuance of an Occupancy Certificate (OC) for the redeveloped building and released the other unsold flats. The developer has been directed to maintain detailed records of all apartment sales, including the names of purchasers, transaction dates, and apartment areas.
The HC has kept the matter for hearing on October 12, 2023.