Kerala HC Recalls Judgment Dismissing PIL to Inquire Alleged Non-Utilization Of Public Funds By Journalists' Union [Read Order]

Kerala HC Recalls Judgment Dismissing PIL to Inquire Alleged Non-Utilization Of Public Funds By Journalists

The PIL alleged that Rs.25 Lakhs allotted to the Union by Kerala Govt to construct Kerala Press Club in New Delhi was kept unused.

By allowing a Review Petition, the High Court of Kerala has recalled the judgment which had dismissed a PIL seeking inquiry into the alleged non-utilization of funds by Kerala Union of Working Journalists(KUWJ). The petition alleged that the  KUWJ had kept the amount of twenty-five lakhs rupees allotted to it by the Kerala Government in 2011 for constructing "Kerala Press Club" in New Delhi non-utilized for the past seven years. The petition filed in public interest by Legal Literacy Council contended that though the money was credited in the account of the KUWJ in Federal Bank branch New Delhi and a part thereof has been withdrawn, the amount has not been used for the intended purpose. On that premise, the petition sought legal action against the office bearers of KUWJ and recovery of the allotted amount together with interest.

On March 12, 2018, a bench of the then Chief Justice Antony Dominic and Justice Dama Seshadri Naidu had dismissed the PIL, citing lack of territorial jurisdiction. It was held that since the matter pertained to alleged non-utilization of funds in New Delhi, no cause of action had arisen within the territorial limits of Kerala. The argument of the petitioner that part of cause of action had arisen in Kerala as the funds were credited by State of Kerala could not persuade the bench. The bench headed by then CJ Antony Dominic ruled that no part of cause of action had arisen within Kerala so as to attract jurisdiction as per Article 226(2), and dismissed the PIL, reserving the liberty of the petitioner to approach the competent court in Delhi.

The review petition filed against the judgment was considered by a bench of Justice P R Ramachandra Menon and Justice Dama Seshadri Naidu, after the retirement of  Justice Dominic on May 30, 2018. As per order dated 27.06.2018, the bench headed by Justice P R Ramachandra Menon recalled the judgment dated March 12, 2018. The bench held that since the issue  pertained to non-utilization of funds allotted by State of Kerala, Kerala had territorial jurisdiction as per Article 226(1) itself, and that there was no requirement to take resort to  Article 226(2) (Article 226(2) enables the High Court to issue directions to authorities outside the territorial limits of the High Court, if part of cause of action has arisen within its limits)

"Ongoing through the wordings contained in Article 226 (1), the issue particularly with regard to granting of amounts by the State of Kerala and the subjective utilisation at a different place, it very much constitutes a major part of the cause of action as having arisen in Kerala. As it stands so, the petitioner's grievance comes very much within the purview of Article 226(1), so as to have it entertained by this Court. Coming to Article 226(2), this is a power in addition to the power conferred under Article 226(1), which is to be exercised by any other State, though the subject matter as such does not come within the purview of Article 226(1) except to the extent it is sought to be dealt with under Article 226(2). The said provision as such may not be relevant for adjudication in the instant case, as prima facie, the petitioner comes within the purview of Article 226(1)".  Justice Ramachandra Menon observed in the judgment.

The review order also distinguished the judgment of Full Bench of High Court in Nakul Deo Singh vs.Deputy Commandant [1999 (3) KLT 629 (FB)], which was relied on by the earlier bench of dismiss the PIL. The Full Bench was dealing with a case where an employee had challenged a dismissal order which was issued by an authority outside Kerala. According to the employee, the fact that he had received the dismissal order in Kerala had given rise to "part of cause of action"  in Kerala, enabling him to approach High Court of Kerala. However, the Full Bench did not accept that contention, and held that mere receipt of dismissal order cannot constitute "part of cause of action".

However, the present bench headed by Justice Ramachandra Menon held that the situation in Nakul Deo was not applicable in the instant case :

This(Nakul Deo Singh), however, does not have any application as far as the present case is concerned, in so far as the grievance projected is with regard to the sanction/payment of funds by the Government, though utilisation had to take place at a different place, in New Delhi. An enquiry with regard to the funds sanctioned by the Government of Kerala is to be made by the Government of Kerala, though the place for utilization is elsewhere. Hence we are of the prima facie view, that this Court is having jurisdiction to deal with the issue. 

At the same time, the Court did not conclusively determine the issue of jurisdiction and held that the issue can be raised by the respondents after appearance.

The earlier dismissal was recalled, and notice was issued to respondents.

Read the Order Here