Rare Plea by Judge Shows Disarray in India’s Bankruptcy Courts
(Bloomberg) -- In a rare plea, the chief judge at India’s bankruptcy appeals court petitioned the Supreme Court to let him work for three more days even after his term was cut short by the federal government.
A.I.S. Cheema seeks three more days to enable him to give five verdicts and then retire, his lawyer told the Supreme Court Thursday. Cheema was, until last week, the acting chairman of the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal due to retire Sept. 20, before the government abruptly named his replacement and cut short his term.
The government allowed Cheema’s request after Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana questioned the fairness of the government’s decision. Cases Cheema had heard include bankruptcy of Wind World India Ltd., which owes 47 billion rupees ($640 million) to lenders, according to details on the company’s website. The case crossed its 270-day deadline for resolution three years ago and would have to be heard again from scratch if the judge retires without giving a verdict.
The matter is another example of the disarray at India’s bankruptcy tribunals, which are already facing a severe shortage of judges making it harder to clean up one of the world’s biggest piles of bad loans. The average time to resolve an insolvency case increased from 413 days in March 2020 to 706 days by the end of June 2021, despite the government-imposed one-year moratorium on filing new bankruptcies during the pandemic.
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Almost half of the judge positions in bankruptcy courts across the country were vacant as of last month. Some 19 judges, along with 21 technical experts, are hearing around 1,700 pending insolvency cases. The tribunals and its appeals court are functioning without a full-time chairperson for over one-and-a-half-year each. India’s Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said during hearings that the government is making genuine efforts to speed up appointments.
The federal government was “emasculating” the tribunals by not appointing judges, Chief Justice Ramana said last week.
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