Legislator Thapa while speaking during the second day of the Tenth Assembly Sixth Session while discussing on the ‘Sikkim Public Demands Recovery Bill’ said “Why there is no room for appeal in the bill? Why District Collector is made Supreme Court Judge, is the DC God? Why so much power given to the DC?”
Thapa also claimed that there is no room for cross-examination and lacks in fair trial. “It appears as violation of natural law. The trial by the DC will be quasi-judicial. There is no natural justice; hence, this amendment needs to be made right. In Sikkim, people can mortgage the land for loan, but what about the defaulters from outside the State? There is no provision for that”.
In his reply K.N. Lepcha, Minister for Land Revenue & Disaster Management defended stating that, “Sikkim Public Demands Recovery Bill was passed in 2006, but we are now trying to make it more stringent after all the careful considerations. State Bank of Sikkim is the banking system of the State government, thus the loans taken must be returned. The stringent action is only against wilful defaulters. However, government will look into the suggestions, and they will be accepted to give some space for the defaulters. We are trying to ensure loan recovery that is unlike any other State. This is an attempt towards solving the issues of defaulters money without having to make an appeal in the Court and as such the issue can be resolved by the District Collector himself”.
However, despite the questions and various arguments raised by the Upper Burtuk legislator, the Sikkim Public Demands Recovery Amendment Bill was passed in the Assembly.
Speaking with Sikkim chronicle, Legislator Thapa on August 24 said, “Law should not be one-sided, this particular recovery act seems to be harsh. Our people take loans because they need it for various purposes, and I feel that the people of Sikkim are law-abiding”
Thapa claimed that there is no room for cross-examination, in which he said, “I think the biggest concern is towards the lack of cross-examination, it should be a fair trial. Even the Judge of the Supreme Court is not final with his verdict. There is room for cross-examination with International courts and law. So, how can this amendment give such a power to the DC that cross-examination cannot be carried out? Equally, this amendment questions on how recovery will be made from outside the State. These were some of the concerns that the government needed to look upon”.
On asking Thapa about no law for recovery of the loans taken in crores and not given back to the bank, he said,“ I am also son of Sikkim, I also want our bank to have money back, but my only concern is the law is one-sided. When we see, even the murderers have right to appeal to higher authority. In section 5 (1) of the amendment says ‘evidence shall be taken in affidavit and cross-examination shall not be permitted’ and if someone is not permitted for cross-examination then it’s not fair law”
In the contrary, PW Bhutia, Managing Director State Bank of Sikkim welcomed the amendment of Sikkim Public Demands Recovery, speaking with local media on August 23, he said, “The Sikkim Public Demand Recovery Act, 2006 was very small whereby the area of coverage was limited. The government, with a view of brings about an act at par with rest of the nation, amendment was initiated. The act is not just for the SBS, SBS is one of the beneficiaries of the act. The act will be applicable in all the revenue due sectors of the government for recovery like electricity, water taxes and others. When it comes to SBS rules like SARFAESI Act, 2002 which empowers the banks to attach properties on their own without having to go to any court, the said acts and rule is not applicable in SBS. We were in need of a strong act but this doesn’t mean by implementing such act the government or SBS wants to harass the loaners or customers. Those defaulters who knowingly are defaulting their repayment needs to be cautious, as per the act necessary strong action can be initiated for recovery. The government by passing the amended act is trying to send a strong message to the people of Sikkim that by this act in place all the escape routes of the defaulters who knowing are violating the repayments are blocked and action would be initiated as per the law”.
What is Sikkim Public Demands Recovery Act, 2006?
The Sikkim Public Demands Recovery Act, 2006 was enacted with a view to recover public demands from people who were defaulting in paying various government revenues and dues including debts taken from the State Bank of Sikkim on time.
The amendment with the insertion of new section 4A Procedure after applications is made before the Certificate Officer (DC) mentions, “Summary procedure shall be adopted under this Act for adjudication of dispute. Evidence shall be taken on affidavit and cross-examination shall not be permitted except in a few deserving cases”. The new amendment has further more new insertions – 4B, 4C, 4D, 6A, 6B, 10A, 12A, 13A, 14A, 14B, 14C, 14D, 14E, 14F, 14G and 15A.
The powers of the certificate officer or the District Collector as mentioned in the gazette dating back to June 2008, mentions that every certificate officer shall be deemed to be a Civil Court for the purpose of sections 345, 346, and 347 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. Every Civil Officer for the purpose of enquiry into any dispute relating to the issue of certificate for money shall have the same powers as conferred on the Civil Court under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, in respect of – enforcing attendance of any person and examining him on oath. Compelling and production of documents and material objects. Issuing commissions for purpose of examination of witness and every enquiry shall be deemed to be a judicial proceeding within the meaning of section 193 and 228 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.