Judges should very warily encroach on economic & fiscal regulatory measures, says SC

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New Delhi, Mar 23 (PTI) Judges should “very warily” encroach upon the field of economic and fiscal regulatory measures as they are not experts in these matters, the Supreme Court said on Tuesday.

The apex court said this while directing that no compound or penal interest be charged for the six-month moratorium announced last year amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the amount already recovered is to be refunded or adjusted in the next instalment of loan account.

A bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan said that what is best in the national economy and in what manner and to what extent financial reliefs or packages be formulated, offered and implemented is ultimately to be decided by the government and the RBI on the aid and advise of the experts.

“There are matters regarding which judges and the lawyers of the courts can hardly be expected to have much knowledge by reasons of their training and expertise. Economic and fiscal regulatory measures are a field where judges should encroach upon very warily as judges are not experts in these matters,” said the bench, also comprising Justices R S Reddy and M R Shah.

The bench said this in its 148-page verdict delivered on a batch of pleas seeking reliefs, including extension of loan moratorium, complete waiver of interest or interest on interest during the moratorium period and sector wise relief packages.

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) had on March 27 last year issued the circular which allowed lending institutions to grant a moratorium on payment of instalments of term loans falling due between March 1, 2020 and May 31, 2020, due to the pandemic. Later, the moratorium was extended till August 31 last year.

In its judgement, the bench noted that when government forms its policy, it is based on a number of circumstances on facts, law including constraints based on its resources. “It is also based on expert opinion. It would be dangerous if court is asked to test the utility, beneficial effect of the policy or its appraisal based on facts set out on affidavits,” the court said.

“No right could be absolute in a welfare state. Man is a social animal. He cannot live without the cooperation of a large number of persons. Every article one uses is the contribution of many. Hence every individual right has to give way to the right of the public at large,” it said.

The bench further noted that not every fundamental right under Part III of the Constitution is absolute and it is to be within permissible reasonable restriction.

The bench said that granting a relief of total waiver of interest during the moratorium period would have a “far-­reaching financial implication” in the economy of the country as well as the lenders or banks.

The bench, which noted the steps, measures and policy decisions declared by the Centre, RBI and the bankers, observed it cannot be said that the authorities have not at all addressed the issues related to the impact of COVID-­19 on the borrowers.

“It appears, whatever best can be offered has been offered for the different fields and to the common people as well as those persons who are affected due to Covid­19 pandemic,” it noted.

The bench also noted that economic decisions are required to be taken keeping the larger economic scenario in mind. It said that no state or country can have unlimited resources to spend on any of its projects.

“That is why it only announces the financial reliefs/ packages to the extent it is feasible. The court would not interfere with any opinion formed by the government if it is based on the relevant facts and circumstances or based on expert advice,” it said. PTI ABA MNL SA