TAKING A serious view of the functioning of Debt Recovery Tribunal (DRT)-I at Chandigarh and allegations of misbehaviour with advocates by its presiding officer Harcharan Singh, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has granted two weeks’ time to the Union Finance Ministry to decide three pending complaints against him about misbehaviour and financial irregularities.
A division bench comprising Justices S S Saron and Gurmit Ram, during the arguments of the case on Monday, observed that “DRT should be scrapped” as “civil courts are doing better than DRT”. The court said that the manner in which DRT was functioning, it would be more appropriate that cases be transferred back to the civil courts. Before the constitution of the DRT at Chandigarh in 2000 with the sole aim of expeditious trial of claim applications by banks and financial institutions against their defaulting borrowers, its cases were being heard by the civil courts.
Speaking for the bench, Justice Saron also made an observation that the court had come to know about Harcharan Singh’s harassment and misbehaviour even with the senior High Court advocates. DRT-I has jurisdiction over Haryana, Chandigarh and Himachal Pradesh.
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It was on September 16 last year that Additional Solicitor General of India Satya Pal Jain had informed the High Court that the Union Finance Ministry had sent the complaints to the then chairman of Debt Recovery Appellate Tribunal (DRAT) at New Delhi, Justice (retd) Ranjit Singh. Justice Singh retired on April 4.
However, Jain assured the court to submit the status of complaints within two weeks.
The High Court had taken suo motu cognisance of the functioning of the DRT-I last year and had ordered its Registrar Vigilance to conduct an inquiry into the allegations of misbehaviour and financial irregularities by Harcharan Singh in July last year. After going through the sealed cover report of the Registrar Vigilance on the last date of hearing on March 15, Justice Saron had observed that the report spoke more of the working and conduct of the presiding officer of DRT-I than the functioning of its registry. Earlier, the High Court had also observed that the presiding officer had failed to pronounce the judgment in a case even for more than eight months after the judgment was reserved.
DRT advocate I P Singh filed an application seeking a copy of the Registrar Vigilance’s inquiry report to enable DRT advocates to improve functioning of DRT on the suggestions in the report.
Amicus curiae in the case, advocates R S Bhatia and Vikas Mohan Gupta, contended that they should also be provided a copy of the report so that they could come to know whether any follow-up action was required or they should be discharged from the case.
However, advocate N C Sahni representing DRT Bar Association (Punjab) opposed the handing over of the report to the advocates stating that the report could be used to damage the image of the presiding officer.
The court will now decide about the report on May 10.
The DRT Bar Association members had from July 1 to 7 last year refrained from work in their protest against Harcharan Singh. The members had alleged that he was not only in the habit of misbehaving with the advocates but also with various senior bank officers after summoning them, and his attitude was vindictive against them.