‘OSTS’, the acronym for ‘other side to say’, is a very popular code among subordinate court judges in Maharashtra.
They don’t even bother to write its full form, just scribble the four alphabets in the margin!
Of late, some just scribble ‘OS’ and lo and behold, the case gets shunted, postponed.
You may feel it is sheer laziness, but who knows? It could be some form of ‘environmental consciousness’ too!
Less paper and less ink used by judges contributes to a greener planet!
Most subordinate court judges have fallen in love with ‘OSTS’ and apply it at random, whether the situation warrants it or not.
Somewhat like compounders-turned-doctors prescribing ‘Crocin’ at the outset for almost everything.
A colleague narrated a recent instance of the deleterious use of OSTS.
He had been appointed through the high court’s legal aid committee to help an estranged wife file an application to get the divorce case filed by her husband transferred from a faraway place where the husband lived to a court closer to where she resided.
The case she filed subsequently was in the nearby court. It was what we call the ‘usual transfer petition’.
A high court milord granted an ex parte ad interim stay to the wife on the first date.
But he was so busy trying to finish the daily cause list put on his plate that he forgot to direct a formal ‘issuance of notice’ to the husband.
The wife’s legal aid lawyer, however, served a private notice and communicated the stay Order to the husband.
The husband thereupon engaged a lawyer who appeared on his behalf in the high court.
After the bimonthly change of assignments happened in the high court, the case appeared before another milord.
This milord saw the roznama and asked: “How did a lawyer appear when no notice was issued by my predecessor? Proper procedure has not been followed.”
He then ordered: “Issue notice”.
For whatever reason, the husband then applied to the civil judge senior division before whom his case was pending, to withdraw the case.
The wife had not even put in an appearance in that case.
But the lady judge ordered: “Other side to say.”
What objection could the wife possibly have if her husband withdrew his case against her?
The judge said: “I cannot do anything unless the other side gets the stay Order from the high court vacated.”
She said she could not permit withdrawal of the petition as even withdrawal was stayed by the ad interim Order of the High Court and it may amount to contempt of milord’s court if she ignored that stay.
So the high court was moved once again.
This time, the milord heard both sides.
The wife’s legal aid lawyer submitted that if the husband is withdrawing his petition for divorce, the wife’s application for its transfer would automatically become infructuous after that.
He therefore submitted that the statement of the husband’s lawyer that he would withdraw his divorce petition should be recorded and then the transfer application could be disposed of to enable withdrawal of the petition by the husband.
The high court milord recorded all this in his Order but did not dispose of the transfer petition of the wife.
He told the husband’s lawyer to show his order to the civil judge senior division and withdraw the divorce petition.
He then adjourned the transfer petition after a few weeks so that on that date the transfer petition could be “dismissed as withdrawn” as it would be rendered infructuous after the husband’s divorce petition was withdrawn.
When the milord’s Order was shown to the civil judge senior division by the husband’s lawyer, she questioned: “Where has the milord stated explicitly that the stay is vacated? He has merely recorded what the lawyers have offered to do.”
The lawyer explained that it could easily be understood from a plain reading of the high court’s Order that the ad interim stay was vacated as the matter had been adjourned only to enable him to withdraw his petition and report to the high court.
But the civil judge senior division would have none of it.
She told the husband’s lawyer: “You get a clarification from the high court that the stay has been vacated or I will not allow you to withdraw your petition.”
So once again the high court was moved.
This time for a “clarification”. By now, due to a change in assignments, another milord heard it.
After a long discussion about why any clarification was at all required when the earlier Order was crystal clear, this milord was told that what appeared to be clear to him and the advocates on both sides was not that clear to the learned civil judge senior division.
The milord was baffled at the understanding (or lack of it) of the civil judge senior division but after requests from the lawyers on both sides and considering that the wife was represented through legal aid, the milord relented and clarified explicitly that the ad interim stay had been vacated by the earlier Order and hence the husband should be allowed to withdraw his divorce petition.
The lawyers were relieved. Now the husband’s divorce petition would be withdrawn at last.
But if that happened, the law would perhaps not be compared to the proverbial ass … and there would be no story worth recounting.
So the story continues.
The civil judge senior division read the certified copy of the high court’s ‘clarification’ supplied by the husband’s lawyer over and over again.
Finally, as if an ‘eureka’ moment had gripped her, she triumphantly scribbled: “Other side to say.”
In case you think this is an unusual or peculiar trait restricted just to subordinate court judges, let me share an example of what happened in our most hon’ble high court in another matter.
A bar-appointee milord who was known to be very slow on the uptake was kept under observation on division Benches for a long time after his appointment as an additional judge before he was considered safe and fit enough to be given a single judge assignment.
For this first independent assignment he was given routine ‘Order matters’ which even additional registrars used to manage in the good old days with ease.
One such application was for bringing the legal heirs of a deceased applicant on record.
All relevant averments were made therein and the death certificate of the deceased applicant was duly annexed.
Such applications were to be routinely granted. But this milord was taking no risks. He had to prove that he really ‘belonged’.
Having read so many ‘unchallengeable’ OSTS Orders while warming the division Bench, he too passed that safest, tried and tested Order: “Other Side To Say!”
The deceased applicant had been cremated long back.
Had he been buried he may perhaps have turned in his grave.
The other side’s lawyer was, of course, happy.
These were easy, effortless pickings in terms of fees per needless appearance.
Another milord directed ‘other side to say’ in a matter where the petitioner, having become a ‘senior citizen’ waiting in the arrears queue for years expecting his case to be heard, filed an application for expediting the hearing of his case on the ground that he was now a ‘senior citizen’.
This did not even require application of mind as there were administrative directions in place to give priority in listing to the matters involving senior citizens.
But still an Order was passed: “Other side to say.”
As a result, the other side filed its say: “I deny that the applicant is a senior citizen and put him to strict proof.”
And that was that.
The matter got interminably prolonged.
We are very fortunate to have a functional and independent judiciary.
But when one comes across such gems on the Bench, forget what the ‘other side’ may or may not say, what can anyone say?