ITA 2000 was had provided the Power of Adjudication under Section 46. Under this section any dispute arising out of a contravention of ITA 2000 in which financial compensation has to be received by a person who has suffered a wrongful harm may be adjudicated. In 2003 the rules of Adjudication was announced and subsequently, every IT Secretary of a State or Union Territory was designated as an Adjudicator for the State.
Naavi was the person who pursued the first adjudication in India in the case of S. Umashankar Vs ICICI Bank in which a complaint had been filed with the Adjudicator of Tamil Nadu for compensation regarding a Phishing fraud of which Mr Umashankar was a victim. Mr Umashankar was an NRI and the case was fought by the undersigned under a Power of Attorney.
Though the rules of Adjudication expected settlement within 4 months and a possible extension of another 2 months and the appeal to be settled at the Cyber Appellate Tribunal within the next six months, the Umashankar cases registered in 2008 saw the first award by the adjudicator in 2010 on which an appeal was filed by ICICI Bank. The appeal was disposed off only in 2019 since the Cyber Appellate Tribunal was not operative for about 6 years.
Subsequently ICICI Bank filed the next appeal at the Madras High Court which dismissed the appeal in November 2022. This was a historic judgement details of which are available at www.naavi.org.
This case was indicative of a successful handling of adjudication despite the delay.
Naavi has also handled many other cases of Adjudication and in one of the cases encountered an adjudicator at Karnataka with an undisclosed vested interest in the case which resulted in a strange decision. That decision has held up the settlement for more than 10 years.
Typically we have seen apathy in handling adjudication cases by IT Secretaries and lack of legal knowledge as in the case of the Karnataka Adjudicator.
Hence I had suggested that a separate Adjudicator should be appointed exclusively under ITA 2000 and further that it can be a two member bench with one of them being a tech expert and another a legal expert.
In DIA more reliance is being placed on the system of Adjudication and tendency indicated is increasing of the penalties requiring a more responsible handling of the cases. Further the changes sought to be made in DIA will increase the cyber crimes and need for financial compensation to be dicided.
In cases where there are conflicts of interest such as when the IT Secretary has some interest in the activities of one of the litigants (such as an IT company doing business with the state Government) the Adjudicator should recuse himself and appoint an alternative adjudicator or the adjudication should be conducted by an adjudicator of a neighbouring state. (If online methods are adopted, the issues related to travelling etc can be avoided)
Presently the Cyber Appellate Tribunal has been merged with the TDSAT and TDSAT is located in Delhi only. Originally Cyber Appellate Tribunal was supposed to be able to have benches in different cities and hold hearings near the place of the victim. Alternatively TDSAT should do hearings through virtual conferences to reduce the cost of litigation.
In the DIA, these requirements need to be addressed to make adjudication people friendly.