LexTalk World Interviews Mr. Viral Vora. Viral Vora is the Managing Partner of VPV Legal and Associates. He is a graduate in Civil Engineering and ran a construction company for over a decade before obtaining his Bachelor in Laws from the University of Mumbai. He also has an MBA from UBI, Belgium and is enrolled on the Rolls of Solicitors in England & Wales. He also has completed his Masters in Law (Corporate and financial law) from the prestigious Jindal Global Law School. Viral specializes in the real estate, construction and infrastructure sector with a particular emphasis on litigation, contracts and conveyancing and corporate matters. He also has a varied allied work experience in corporate mergers and acquisitions, insolvency resolution, banking and finance, taxation and arbitration. With more than two decades of hands-on legal experience, he has appeared before all the courts, tribunals and other quasi-judicial forums at the appellate level, particularly the Supreme Court of India.
Viral is a prolific negotiator with a stern business acumen who ensures the objective of his clients are met. His proactive approach is reassuring.
Host: Tell us about a complex legal issue you worked on. Describe the complexity and tell us how you approached it?
Viral: I deal with complexity on a daily basis, but what stands out is a pertinent debate that world is presently struggling with – sustainable development.
I was closely involved in a landmark decision of the Bombay high Court and later the Supreme Court of India on the topic. The central issue was the lack of adequate Solid waste disposal (SWD) facilities in the island city of Mumbai. Due to a space crunch and a population explosion, the archaic waste disposal sites proved unable to handle the excess load.
As a result, the Bombay High Court came down heavily banning all new construction in the city. This was certainly a hard-line stand for the environment against development. I represented the leading association of Real Estate Developers before the Supreme Court. Submissions were made, particularly by the real estate industry to ensure that the new constructions had adequate waste disposal mechanism in-built. Surety was also given that the waste in the construction process too will be adequately disposed.
Working with environmental experts was truly enriching. Trying to make projects more sustainable is the need for the hour, not just in the real estate sector or because of a court mandate but because this is a significant challenge facing the global community today. The industries must respond quickly for a sustainable future.
Host: The pandemic saw some courts begin moving towards more remote proceedings and availability. Is this sustainable, and a possible way to increase access to justice, in your opinion?
Viral: I feel that the current infrastructure in India is adequate though not optimum to sustain a permanent virtual court proceedings. I must add that this is fast changing. The courts, at least the constitutional courts, have a very strong infrastructure base which is capable of sustaining remote proceedings. However, not all, particularly the more senior litigants as well as lawyers are technologically savvy. There is certainly the concern with limited internet penetration in the country. In spite of these limitations, I feel there are several advantages to virtual courts. The costs of travel are significant, particularly if the proceedings are in the Supreme Court. Now, a person in Kanyakumari or Aizawl does not have to travel all the way to Delhi to attend Court.
Host: How would you rate the current legal system drive towards encouraging access to justice? Is there tangible movement in closing the justice gap?
Viral: Access to justice has a variety of facets. As far as timely justice is concerned, the Indian courts certainly have a tremendous backlog. Proceedings take a minimum of 10-15 years in court and so significant impetus is placed on interim or ad-interim relief. Speaking personally, the case is more or less settled once the relief is granted or refused at the interim stage because the parties realise that a final judgment of the court would not be feasible in the short term. The settlement largely takes place along the lines of the interim orders.
But this is changing. With many tribunals and vacancy of judges reduced, the backlog is set to reduce in a few years’ time. The focus now however, should be on court procedure. Adjournments should be an exception and not the rule. Heavy costs should be imposed for malicious litigation or for employing delaying tactics. The courts have also in the past shown deference to seniors while granting adjournment, this too must be limited. Seniors must understand to not take up more matters than they can handle.
Host: In the era of legal technology, what are the most common used tools for you?
Viral: The entire legal services industry is going through a technological overhaul. The penetration of Artificial Intelligence in legal services is also in its nascent stages. In Europe particularly, arbitrations with an AI computer as arbitrator are already taking place for rudimentary issues. Its penetration into deeper and more complex issues will be a no-brainer once AI is also sufficiently developed.
Another significant way that technology has already changed the legal industry is in research. Gone are the days where lawyers open books to research case-laws and other legal principles. Everything is online and answers are found with the touch of a button. Online legal research tools are now considered an essential component of today’s law offices. The reliance on technology has certainly increased with the pandemic.
Host: Let us go sector specific now: Do you feel that the recent developments in real estate law in India, particularly with RERA are fit for purpose? Are the flat owners now on a more level footing with the developers? How has the pendulum swung?
Viral: I am always of the view that enforcing of legislation is better than making a new legislations. Even today RERA has required an additional compliance, though I agree with the point that it requires a developer to bring back the funds into the project (the 70:30 rule), we still see many projects that are completely derailed.
Though RERA has the provision for revocation of registration are not going to be accepted without a tough fight. Presently we are yet to see any such orders of RERA authorities in any of the States. Just recently, for the enforcement of the order of the RERA authorities directing refund to flat purchaser, the purchaser was required to approach the Bombay High Court for recovery.
In nutshell, what is required more is a firm hand of the enforcing authorities rather than over legislation. In the case which I have referred to, the failure on the part of the promoter to the return the money – the district collector may recollect the money as arrears of land revenue as per the RERA Statute. Though, the BHC granted relief, it did not pursue against the district collector who is otherwise required to execute the RERA order.
Therefore, it is high time that a legislation is required to ensure the accountability of officers of the government. The perception that they are sacrosanct needs to be amended. There is a need to justify inaction and not just an action – and even sometimes over-zealous actions!
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