Petitioner Interest Litigation – Time To Check.
PIL-1 & PIL-2
The advent of Public Interest Litigation (PIL-1) was perhaps one of finest moments in the history of Indian judiciary. Rules of Locus Standi were relaxed, formal requirements regarding lodging of a petition were simplified, the procedure adopted was not adversarial in nature, Courts could order far reaching remedial measures and the execution of the remedial orders so passed was supervised and followed up. While notable judgments were passed in PIL-2, a transformed version gradually inserted itself which we may term as Private Interest Litigation (PIL-2). A plethora of sponsored litigation in form of PIL-1, but which precisely was PIL-2, flew in before the constitutional courts. The Supreme Court took note of it in Balwant Singh Chaufal's case and laid guidelines against frivolous PILs.
In this piece, I wish to attract attention towards the third category of interest litigation which has over past few years thrusted itself upon constitutional courts. I am focusing from 2015-2018 [4 years] and taking few samples of such Petitioner Interest Litigation (PIL-3) filed before the Supreme Court. What led me to do some research on this issue is the observation by the Chief Justice yesterday that some discipline has to be maintained as to the prayers in the PIL while dismissing a PIL filed against the appointment of Rakesh Asthana with random prayers.
Figurative Data – PIL-3
In an hour of research, I could easily gather that in the past 4 years, at least 73 absolutely frivolous PILs have been filed before the Supreme Court. [enclosed below] These PILs were not only filed against Union of India but also against Narendra Damodardas Modi, Arun Jaitley, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Salman Salim Khan, Nitish Kumar, different States, High Courts and against the Supreme Court as well. Most of these interest litigation petitions were filed by Manohar Lal Sharma and Asok Pande etc. We also have what are termed as 'ambush petitions' where frivolous petitions are deliberately filed on controversial issues with the sole intention of suffering dismissal in order to create an impression of judicial approval of the issue. Asok Pande was found guilty in a contempt proceeding during March 2017 by the Allahabad High Court for misbehavior in court while appearing as counsel in a petition filed by his daughter. He was sentenced to three-month imprisonment and was restrained from entering the premises of Allahabad High Court for two years. The judgment noted that Pande had "crossed all boundaries of recklessness and indulged in wild accusations". During October 2017, in the SLP filed by Pande, the Supreme Court refused to interfere with the restraint order passed in regard to entering the HC premises but suspended the sentence. This did not deter Pande and he approached the Supreme Court with his ''Master of the Roster' PIL which was taken on board by the then Chief Justice Dipak Misra. No notice was issued, judgment was surprisingly reserved on the same date and 2 days later judgment was delivered asserting his power as the Chief Justice of India. Another PIL filed at the same time with much better grounds by renowned luminary Shanti Bhushan thereafter was junked. The chilling effect [in one sense] these ambush petitions put on real petitions with meaning is alarming.
Why are such petitions filed and repercussions
I ask myself, why are such extremely frivolous interest litigation petitions filed? Apart from an attempt to gain popularity, or to attract attention or to play a gamble that if you file 100 PILs atleast in one you'll get something, or to get notice issued and attempt illegal tactics, I do not find any good reason as to why these petitions be filed at all. The system as it exists today in the Supreme Court paves way for a petition to be filed in the name of the PIL petitioner and if the petition has some merit and it goes on for hearings, one may get her name inked in history books through law reports. We know M.C.Mehta through his PILs filed for environment conservation and Indira Sawhney for the landmark judgments in reservation jurisprudence. The concept of XYZ v UOI, makes XYZ rush to the court for any concern whatsoever and make an attempt to get her name registered as the first one to approach and thereby become what we popularly know at bar as the 'lead petitioner'. Other petitions connected to the same issue are simply tagged and are to be heard at the final stage. This is what happened in the Coal Scam petition filed first by Manohar Lal Sharma [and perhaps which encouraged him to do so quite often]. He became the lead petitioner and the petition by Common Cause became the tagged one. This mode of filing Petitioner Interest Litigations or as I suggest PIL-3 with the sole motive suffering from a creepy attention seeking disorder must be discouraged as it is making the system weak. These petitions are apparently rushed in a slip shod manner, filed without any statistical or figurative data, there is absolutely no research conducted and drafting of the petitions is apparently unworthy of constitutional courts.
My aim is not to discredit public-spirited citizens who actually strive towards causes but to highlight how a section is misusing the cause for ulterior motives and must be stopped. Coming to suggestive measures to curb filing of such interest litigations, I have three suggestions in mind. Firstly, everytime a petition of this nature comes up [more particularly when it is mentioned and listed], heavy costs should be imposed upon the petitioner. Secondly, if the petition carries merit, the name of the petition be changed from XYZ v UOI to 'In re PQR Cause'. This will benefit the researchers to locate matters easily as well as the Court to answer causes. Pertinently it will discourage the media hungry petitioners to rush to the court to gather attention. Thirdly, the Bar Council and the Bar Associations should come forward and issue necessary orders/resolutions towards creating a sense of awareness against this practice.
It is anyway high time to check such interest litigations. It is, in any case, a public interest which must prevail over private interest and even more on petitioner interest.
Namit Saxena is a lawyer based in Delhi
[After publishing this story Advocate Ashwini Upadhyay has send a list of PILs filed by him and said that he has not filed any frivolous PILs. We are publishing the list along with this Article]
Here Is A LIST Frivolous PILs [2015-2019]