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What are the options for RNRL?

The Supreme Court verdict on the gas dispute concerning RIL and RNRL has expectedly attracted much interest. An actual copy of the judgement is yet unavailable to me but it is clear that there were two decisions, with the CJI concurring with the decision rendered by Justice Sathasivam. The consequences of this decision are being felt not only by the sudden surge in the trading price of certain scripts but it has also led to a lot of speculation on the next steps that may be adopted. One theory doing the rounds is that a review petition may be filed. While a distinct likelihood, more needs to be understood about the review process in the SC to evaluate its possibility in the overall litigation strategy.

Enshrined in Article 137 of the Constitution, the SC has the power to review any judgement pronounced by it. Subject to the provisions of any law made by the Parliament, the SC may make any rules for regulating its practice and procedure, including where it relates to the review of its judgement. Detailed in Part 8 Order 40 of The Supreme Court Rules, 1966, stipulated that an application for a review must be filed by way of a petition within a period of 30 days from the date of the judgement on which review is sought. It is expected that such a petition will clearly set out the grounds on which the review is sought and such ground must be in keeping with the grounds mentioned in Order 47 Rule 1 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908. The Code provides for limited grounds either on account of discovery of new/important evidence that was not available at the time when the dispute was originally heard or on account of some mistake or ‘error apparent’ on the face of the record.

Adopting the above approach, the SC has time and again held that a party is not entitled to seek a review of a judgement merely for the purpose of a rehearing and to seek a fresh decision on a case. It is fairly well settled that “a judgement pronounced by the Court is final and departure from that principle is justified when circumstances of a substantial and compelling character make it necessary to do so”.

It may be of interest to note that, unless otherwise ordered by the SC, applications for review are normally considered and disposed of by way of a circulation without any oral arguments being heard. However, the party seeking the review is at liberty to supplement its petition by additional written arguments. The SC may sometimes dismiss the review petition even without issuing notice to the other side. What may be of greater interest to note is that the Rules state that the review application shall ‘as far as practicable’ be circulated to the same Judge or Bench of Judges that delivered the initial judgement that is sought to be reviewed. In the event a review were to be filed against the judgement in the above stated gas dispute case, the absence of Chief Justice Balakrishnan, due to retire on May 11, may not necessarily close the door on the review petition. In such circumstances, the review would be considered by a third judge, whose role will be limited to consider if such a petition is filed in keeping with the grounds prescribed in the Code and will definitely not require a rehearing of the entire case.

In practice, applications are filed to seek clarifications on a judgement. The SC denounces such practice, especially when such applications are filed only to seek a hearing or to attempt to circumvent the in-chamber listing by way of circulation of review petitions. This begs the question on the remedies available once the SC dismisses a review petition. Analysing this issue, a constitution bench of the SC laid down a mechanism “to deal with the matters where the question of inherent lack of jurisdiction, violation of the principles of natural justice, manifest illegality or palpable injustice has been brought to the notice of the Court”. The SC has held that to “prevent abuse of its process and to cure gross miscarriage of justice, it may reconsider its judgement in exercise of its inherent powers” and this process sometimes takes the form a “curative petition”. But to ensure that the floodgates are not opened, the SC has laid down a strict mechanism for filing such curative petitions. The intention of doing so is obvious—to achieve finality of the judgement delivered by a court.

Considering the above highlighted limitations of a review petition, RNRL may be well be advised to pursue other alternatives. While the judgement needs to be studied before drawing any conclusion, it may be premature to term the same as a defeat for RNRL. On a preliminary understanding, the directions of the SC asking the parties to renegotiate within a stipulated period of six weeks and within the framework of the government policy may well be the breather to resolve the stalemate. It is in no one’s interest to drag this matter further and it is best that all energies are expended to ensure that further negotiations are conducted with utmost good faith.

First Published in the Financial Express on May 10, 2010

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