The Bombay High Court while dealing with a writ petition and two separate show cause notices has said that no litigant can disadvantage the opponent by squirrelling information ‘in sealed cover’ and it is time to bury such pernicious practice.

The Court further refused to accept Income Tax Returns and Financial Statements of Ranka Lifestyle Ventures (respondent) in a sealed cover and directed the same to file an affidavit for the same.

A Division Bench comprising Justice G.S. Patel and Justice Kamal Khata held, “No litigant can disadvantage the opponent by squirrelling some information into the court record ‘in sealed cover’. No party is entitled can rely on such ‘sealed cover material’ to the prejudice of the other side, and no court should permit it. 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 that an attempt to inundate the court with paperwork in the faint hope that it will somehow intimidate into constantly adjourning the matter will not succeed.

Advocate Prathamesh Bhargude appeared on behalf of the petitioner while Advocate S.C. Naidu appeared on behalf of the respondent.

Brief Facts -

The challenge in this case was to an order passed by the Chief Officer in 2022 and according to the petitioner, the order of Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) was contrary to an order passed by the Division Bench of the High Court. The Division Bench in January, this year, issued notice for final disposal noting that the petitioner’s contention was that she was entitled to a larger area on the redeveloped building. The Bench of Justices Sunil B. Shukre and M.W. Chandwani directed that at least one flat of be kept reserved until the next date.

There then followed an order passed by a Division Bench of Justices GS Kulkarni and RN Laddha that set out the background to the matter and the petitioner’s claims for re-accommodation on the basis that she was earlier a tenant in the previous building. A submission was made that the petitioner apprehended that she would be permanently deprived of her redeveloped tenement entitlement and that there were vacant flats in the rehab building and further third-party interest ought not to be created.

The High Court in the above context of the case noted, “Pausing briefly for a moment, we note that the previous Division Bench accepted without comment the tendering of some documents in sealed cover by the 1st Respondent. This Court has previously thoroughly deprecated this practice.”

The Court further noted that 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. If immunity from disclosure is sought, that is an application that must be made to a court and must receive a judicial order”, added the Court.

Furthermore, the Court while refusing to accept the sealed covers observed that the information in such sealed covers will be placed on Affidavit which is to be done by September 11, 2023.

“We are not concerned with any questions or apprehensions of prejudice. … We come now to Mr Naidu’s Affidavit on behalf of Ranka Lifestyle in the first show cause notice. This Affidavit is indeed voluminous and a large part of it is probably entirely unnecessary given the narrow controversy”, also observed the Court.

“If we are approaching the matter slightly differently today, it is only because we believe that what is stated on the Affidavit will more than adequately protect the Petitioner. … The stay on the OC, Item (1) of the operative portion of the order of 8th March 2023 if allowed to continue would actually hurt everyone including the Petitioner. We, therefore, vacate that stay”, held the Court.

Accordingly, the High Court extended the time to file affidavit until September 26, 2023 and listed the matter on October 12, 2023.

Cause Title- Sonali Ashok Tandle v. Ranka Lifestyle Ventures & Ors.

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