The Uttarakhand High Court last week ruled that even if there is a bar on certain matters to be taken as PIL, there is always discretion available with the Court to do so in exercise of its inherent powers.
Moreover, the Chief Justice-led bench has also stated that even persons who are debarred under High Court rules can be entertained to file public interest petitions where allegations of misappropriation of public funds by a government-aided college, receiving funds both from the State Government and the University Grants Commission, are involved.
In the case at hand, the petitioner has invoked the jurisdiction of the Court seeking a writ of mandamus directing the State of Uttarakhand to proceed further with the investigation on the F.I.R. dated 28.03.2017 against the sixth respondent, the in-charge Principal of the college and the fifth respondent, the Secretary of the college society; a mandamus directing the State of Uttarakhand to recover the excess amount, as pointed out in the Audit conducted by the Auditors of the Comptroller and Auditor General as well as the State of Uttarakhand, from the personal account of the sixth respondent, who was then the acting Principal of the College, as also the fifth respondent, who was
the Secretary of the M.K.P. Society; and a mandamus directing the Director General of Police to constitute a Special Investigation Team to investigate into the gambit of corrupt practices currently underway in the respondent-College, as outlined in the Audit Reports; and to probe the reasons why no action was taken in the F.I.R. lodged in the year 2017.
The division bench was of the view that the serious allegations, made in the counter-affidavit filed on behalf of the State Government, would necessitate an inquiry being caused and action taken in the larger public interest of ensuring that public funds are not mis-utilized. "As the cause is in the public interest, it matters little who has brought these facts to the notice of the Court. Allegations regarding personal animosity between the petitioner and the fifth respondent, or that the Writ Petition was filed at the behest of others inimically disposed towards the fifth respondent, need not detain us, as this Court can examine these allegations, non-suiting the petitioner and entertaining the Writ Petition suo-motu", asserted the bench.
Rule 3(4)(c) of the High Court of Uttarakhand P.I.L. Rules, 2010 was canvassed, which provides that Matters strictly falling in the arena of criminal or civil jurisdiction, and which constitute disputes amongst individuals, or any matter of the like nature, shall not be entertained as PIL. "What Rule 3(4)(c) of the 2010 Rules prohibits is for a Writ Petition to be entertained, in the PIL jurisdiction of the High Court, where it relates to individual disputes in the arena of criminal jurisdiction. The present case relates to mis-utilization of public funds by those incharge of a Government aided institution, and does not relate to individual disputes in the arena of criminal jurisdiction", opined the bench.
The Court reiterated that the jurisdiction which the High Court exercises, under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, is a part of the basic structure of the Constitution. As the power of judicial review is part of the basic structure, this power cannot be curtailed or negated even by an amendment to the Constitution, much less by legislation - plenary or subordinate.
"The High Court of Uttarakhand P.I.L. Rules, 2010 have
been made to guide the High Court in entertaining Writ Petitions in its Public Interest Litigation jurisdiction. That does not curtail or negate its jurisdiction to entertain cases where it is satisfied that larger public interest would be adversely affected if it fails to intervene. As the afore-extracted allegations are serious, and cannot be brushed aside, we are satisfied that an inquiry should be caused into these allegations, and action taken pursuant thereto in accordance with law", it held.
The bench noted that in the present case, the allegations relate to mis appropriation and mis-utilization of public funds- As the Court can even treat letters addressed to it, or newspaper reports, as Writ Petitions filed in public interest, "we see no reason not to cause an inquiry into these serious allegations merely because a criminal investigation has been caused in the matter, and a Final Report is said to have been filed by the Investigating Officer".
The Court declared that even if the Uttarakhand Audit Act, 2012 does not apply to the Society of which the fifth respondent is the Secretary, mis utilization of public funds would, undoubtedly, require an inquiry to be caused, and action taken pursuant thereto in accordance with law.
"In the absence of a specific provision either in the Uttarakhand Audit Act, 2012 or elsewhere, no inquiry can be caused, would enable persons, in charge of establishments which receive public funds, to misappropriate such funds and yet claim immunity from inquiry, and action being taken pursuant thereto", stated the bench.
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