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This article has been written by Yatharth Chauhan pursuing a Diploma in Cyber Law, FinTech Regulations, and Technology Contracts. This article has been edited by Prashant Baviskar (Associate, Lawsikho) and Ruchika Mohapatra (Associate, Lawsikho).

This article has been published by Sneha Mahawar.

Introduction

In the case of Juhi Chawla & Ors Vs. Science & Engineering Research Board &Ors., the Delhi High Court rejected the suit instituted by Bollywood Actress Juhi Chawla challenging the establishment of 5G wireless network across the country, calling it publicity ploy filed without any understanding of the matter. The actress had requested scientific research of any negative repercussions of radio-frequency radiation released by cellular telecommunications utilizing 5G technology on Human beings and animals. The Government and Science and Engineering Research Board (SERB) were asked to affirm that the adoption of 5G technology will not affect the environment. It further recommended the Government to enlist the help of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to undertake their own research on the subject. The petition referenced the case of Brussels (Belgium), which was the first major city in the world to prohibit the deployment of 5G Technology in April 2019 due to harmful effects. 

The Court observed that the plaintiffs exploited the legal system, wasting judicial time. The Plaintiffs were ordered by the High Court to pay a fine of Rs. 20 lakhs. The plaintiffs have been given one week to pay the fee of Rs.20 lakhs before the Delhi State Legal Services Authority (DLSA). It was also observed that the lawsuit was filed to garner publicity, as evidenced by the fact that the plaintiff posted the video conference link on her social media profiles, causing the Court’s proceedings to be constantly interrupted. 

The decision to levy payment of Rs. 20 lakh was met with strong opposition. The aforementioned Order is described as hard cases which make bad law. It is also dubbed as “Judicial Overreach” because the court while passing the order went beyond the provisions of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 (C.P.C).

Plaintiffs’ suit is flawed and unmaintainable for the following reasons

  1. The plaint must contain declarations of material information in a concise way, but no evidence by which they are to be substantiated, according to Order VI Rule 2(1) of the Code of Civil Procedure. But the plaintiffs have violated Order VI Rule 2 of the C.P.C because the statement of plaintiffs are not succinct, and (ii) the plaintiffs have merged the evidence into the plaint.
  2. As per Order 6 Rule 9, unless the actual words of the document or any part thereof are important, it shall be adequate to express the effect of the contents of any document as succinctly as practicable, without putting out the entire or any part thereof. But the plaintiffs have violated Order VI Rule 9 of the C.P.C by replicating the papers in the plaint.
  3. The plaint is loaded with baseless, scandalous, and vexatious allegations that are likely to be dismissed under Order VI Rule 16 of the C.P.C.
  4. The plaintiffs have added 33 defendants. The plaint, on the other hand, fails to comply with Order I Rule 3 of the C.P.C by grouping 33 defendants into one lawsuit.
  5. The plaintiffs have linked many causes of action without adhering to Order II Rule 3 of the C.P.C.
  6. The plaintiffs have not validated the plaint, as required under Order VI Rule 15 of the C.P.C.
  7. The plaintiffs have stated that only paragraphs 1 to 8 of the plaint are authentic to their knowledge, whereas paragraphs 1 to 169 are based on information and legal advice, according to the affidavit filed with the plaint which means the plaintiffs are uninformed of any of the allegations contained in the plaint.
  8. Because the plaintiffs have no personal knowledge of any of the allegations contained in the plaint and the entire plaint is based on information and legal advice, it seems that the plaintiffs want this Court to investigate the allegation, which is not allowed by law in these proceedings.

Issue before the court

Whether the Delhi high court while imposing costs of 20 lakhs in the suit exceeded its jurisdiction?

Costs under CPC

Section 35, Order 20-A, Section 35-A, Section 35-B and Section 151 deals with the costs that courts can impose. It is a general rule that it is at the discretion of the court to impose costs. The CPC covers the costs listed below:

General costs

The general costs are dealt with under Section 35. It says that the Court shall have complete discretion to decide by whom and out of which property and to what extent the costs be awarded as well as to provide instructions for the aforementioned purposes. The Court must clarify its reasons in writing if it orders that no costs are to be incurred as a result of the event. 

Miscellaneous costs

Order 20-A deals with Miscellaneous costs. This Order lists certain things in respect of which the court may award costs. It covers expenses in serving notice, expenses pertaining to typing, writing and printing of pleadings, charges paid by party inspection of record, expenses for producing the witnesses and expenses expended by a party in order to get copies of judgments and decrees that must be provided with the memorandum of appeal in the case of appeals. This order also specifies that the costs should be awarded in line with the rules made by the High Court. 

Compensatory Costs

Compensatory costs are covered under Section 35-A. If the court determines that the litigation was brought for a vexatious or fraudulent purpose and was completely without merit, it can take deterrent action. The court can award up to Rs. 3000 as a maximum amount. An order granting compensatory costs can be appealed under Section 104 (1) (ff) of the C.P.C. An order declining to pay compensatory costs, however, is not appealable according to the proviso of section 104(1) of the C.P.C.

Costs for causing Delay

Section 35-B provides for costs for causing delay. This section was added to put a stop to litigating parties’ stalling tactics. It gives the court the authority to levy compensatory costs on the parties which leads to delay during the course of litigation. In the case of Anand Parkash v. Bharat Bhushan (AIR 1981 P&H 269 (FB), it was said that the court can extend the period if a party is unable to pay costs owing to circumstances outside his control, such as an advocate strike, declaring the final day to pay costs as a holiday, and so on. Further, In Ashok Kumar v. Ram Kumar [(2009) 2SCC 656] It was said that the current method of levying costs in civil cases is completely ineffective and does not serve as a disincentive to frivolous or extravagant litigation. A more pragmatic system regarding costs is highly required.

Inherent Power of the Court

Section 151 of the C.P.C provides for the inherent power of the court to ensure justice and prohibit misuse of the legal system. However, it is important to note that this provision cannot be used to override expressed statutory restrictions, and so power envisaged under Section 151 is limited by Sections 35, 35A, and 35B.

Judicial Interpretations

The High Court in Ashok Kumar Mittal v. Ram Kumar Gupta & Anr. [(2009) 2 SCC 656: (2009)1 SCC (cri) 836: 2009 SCC OnLine SC 106)] levied exemplary costs of Rs. 1 lakh on the petitioner and Rs. 1 lakh on the respondent after determining that both sides had lied on oath. The Supreme Court stated that the limit set forth in Section 35-A should be considered by the courts. The practice of diverting costs to the Legal Services Committee or non-party charitable foundation was questioned by the Court. It is also worth noting that hefty costs of the order of Rs. 50,000 or Rs. 1 lakh, are usually granted exclusively in writ proceedings and public interest litigation, not in civil litigation covered by Sections 35 and 35A. The rules and methods governing the levy of costs in administrative law cases cannot be applied automatically to civil proceedings governed by the C.P.C.

In the matter of Sanjeev Kumar Jain v. Raghubir Saran Charitable Trust[ (2012) 1 SCC 455: (2012) 1 SCC(civ) 275: 2011 SCC OnLine SC 1370 ], the Ashok Kumar Mittal decision was upheld. The Supreme Court expressed its dissatisfaction with the exorbitant costs levied by the High Court in violation of section 35A, which exceeded the upper limit of Rs 3,000. In this case the issue was whether a sum of Rs. 45,28,000/- imposed as costs by the High Court in rejecting an appeal was reasonable. In view of the provisions of the CPC read with the High Court Rules, the Court ruled that the High Court’s ruling awarding enormous costs was untenable. The High Court’s order imposing costs of 45,28,000/- on the appellant is set aside, and the appellant is ordered to pay the costs of the appeal before the High Court according to Rules and Rs. 3000/- as exemplary costs to the respondents.

In Vinod Seth v. Devinder Bajaj [ (2010) 8 SCC 1: (2010) 3 SCC (civ) 212: 2010 SCC OnLine SC 664], the Supreme court stated that civil courts (including the High Court) cannot impose costs without reference to legislative provisions, even in frivolous cases, under the CPC.

Conclusion 

The main purpose of awarding costs to a litigant is to compensate him for the expenses he expanded throughout the course of the case. It neither allows the winning party to benefit from it nor does it penalize the losing party.  This discretion must be employed in line with well-established legal principles, not on the basis of whim. There are no hard and fast rules that can be established. As per the facts and circumstances of the case, discretion must be applied. There is no statutory provision pertaining to costs under the CPC that allows a court to levy high costs while rejecting baseless or vexatious cases filed to garner publicity. Thus, while levying costs of Rs. 20 Lakhs in Juhi Chawla’s case the Delhi High Court has exceeded its jurisdiction. 

References 


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