Can a court decide a case in the absence of contesting parties? The answer is NO. But the Madras High Court has decided a civil dispute between a cement company and the Tamil Nadu government in the absence of both the parties.
Surprised at the manner in which the case was decided, the Supreme Court has set aside the order, saying disposal of the case without the knowledge of the contesting parties is “not justified”. It has asked the court to decide the case afresh “after giving the opportunity of hearing to the parties”.
The case relates to a bill that the Tirunelveli district collector sent to India Cements Ltd for use of water from the Tamirabarani river for manufacturing cement in its factory on the bank of the river.
The cement company challenged the water bill slapped on it by the state government in the HC and a single-judge bench in September 2006 quashed the order demanding water charges from the company. The state challenged the order before a division bench. The HC registry posted the appeal for hearing in the third week of March 2008.
But suddenly the division bench on March 18, 2008 took the case out of the weekly list and decided it in the absence of the parties. It allowed the state’s appeal on the ground that courts cannot interpret an agreement in a writ petition and that the parties had civil remedy available to them for resolution of the dispute.
Aggrieved by the order, the cement factory moved the SC, which was surprised by the HC’s disposal of the case without the knowledge of both parties. “It is not in dispute that the writ appeal filed by the respondent (state) was not shown in the daily cause list and it was taken up from out of the weekly list without notice to the parties or their counsel and as a result none could represent the parties...” the SC said, asking the HC to decide the state’s appeal after properly hearing the parties.