The fact that Cyber Appellate Tribunal (CAT) the appellate authority for all Adjudications in the country under Section 46 of ITA 2000/8 has not been functional since June 2011 has been discussed adnauseam on this site. (Refer here). It was therefore heartening to note that a Parliamentary Panel made reference to CAT in one of its recent briefings. (Refer DNA article).
The committee is reported to have made the following observations.
The committee also expressed concern on only one Cyber Appellate Tribunal (CAT) being set up in the country till date though the Act provides for setting up Benches in other parts of the country.
“The Committee are surprised to learn that since inception of CAT, only 17 appeals have been disposed off by the former Chairperson and 21 appeals are still pending for hearing in the Tribunal which are scheduled for disposal on appointment of the new Chairperson,” it said.
While expressing their displeasure over the undue delay taking place in disposal of appeal by the CAT, the committee strongly recommended the department to deploy adequate manpower at the earliest.
“Efforts may also be made to set up CAT branches in other parts of the country, if need arises,” it said.
We may recall that it is not only the CAT that has been rendered dysfunctional over the last 4 years, even the State level Adjudication systems have also been rendered dysfunctional.
The first adjudicator who recognized his powers and duties under ITA 2000 was Mr PWC Davidar of Tamil Nadu. He went on to provide the first adjudication decision against a Bank namely ICICI Bank in the complaint filed by Mr S. Umashankar who had lost money out of phishing. ICICI Bank promptly appealed to CAT. CAT admitted the appeal with the condition that the Bank deposits Rs 5,50000/- with the adjudicator against the loss they were decreed to pay. The appeal was heard and when the judgement was about to be delivered, the then Chair Person attained Super annuation. Since then, the case is awaiting appointment of the new Chair Person.
Additionally TN adjudicator had provided other judgements and was also hearing certain cases against PNB which were also appealed against and got stuck in the CAT. In the meantime J Jayalalitha took over as CM and promptly transferred Mr Davidar out of his position as IT Secretary ( Adjudicator by designation) and the TN adjudication system went dead.
Subsequently Maharashtra IT Secretary Mr Rajesh Aggarwal became active and held out several judgements in which Banks were indicted. He also innovated with E-Adjudication and was threatening to disrupt the system. He was promptly transferred to Delhi and since then the Maharashtra Adjudication has gone dead.
In Bangalore some applications were made to the Adjudicator and one of which was against Axis Bank which was also the Bank which does E Governance work for Karnataka Government. With this conflict, the Adjudicator gave out a bizarre ruling that Section 43 of ITA 2000/8 cannot be invoked by a Company (In the subject case the complainant was a company) and also that no complaint could be entertained on a Company (Respondent Bank was the company) and dismissed the complaints. The argument was that the word “Person” used in Section 43 does not apply to a Body corporate. The appeal to this blatantly erroneous decision has also got stuck in the non functioning CAT.
These developments indicate that Banks who were hurt in some of these judgements brought undue influence on the MCIT and stalled the activation of CAT. The CJI is also a party to this delay in appointment of the Chair Person to CAT since the appointment suggested by the Ministry has not been approved by CJI. The Karnataka High Court which was moved to correct the impasse got stalled because the decision to appoint a CAT Chair person was pending at the CJI’s office.
As a result of these developments, the Cyber Judiciary System in India is presenting a void. At a time we are talking of “Digital India” and increasing cyber crimes, the situation is appalling.
The entire system therefore seems to have conspired against the Cyber Crime victims in India seeking a judicial remedy.
During 2010, CAT did sit in Chennai in the case of Umashankar Vs ICICI Bank and created a precedent. There were also advanced discussions for the setting up of a Southern Bench in Bangalore. But unfortunately with the transfer of the then IT Secretary/Adjudicator Mr Ashok Manoli, all these projects were shelved and subsequently the Government of Karnataka and the subsequent Adjudicators have not shown any interest.
The Parliamentary committee deserves commendation for flagging the issue of non functional CAT but needs to push through more strongly measures to re activate the CAT. This gives a glimmer of hope to all Cyber Crime victims that Cyber Judiciary is likely to be active once again in India.
Let’s keep our fingers crossed.