The Calcutta High Court recently imposed costs of Rs. 2 lakhs on a practicing advocate for approaching it with a half-baked, vague petition on sexual harassment of men and those belonging to the third gender.
A bench comprising Chief Justice Debasish Kar Gupta and Justice Shampa Sarkar opined that the petitioner, high court advocate Shiladitya Barma, had approached the court “for the purpose of publicity and such an attempt at the cost of consumption of the time of the Court should be stopped in limine at the bottom of the door”.
It then imposed costs of Rs. 2 lakhs to be paid to the state exchequer within a fortnight.
The petition had, among other things, demanded a direction to the authorities to ensure that while handling “acts of sexual harassments of and non-consensual sexual contacts with the people of masculine and third genders of the State of West Bengal…proper steps, and procedures are taken for the resolution, settlement and/or prosecution and also all other steps required for doing complete justice to the said victims are duly been taken”.
It had further demanded that authorities be directed to not treat such situations negligently or as a joke.
Hearing the petition, at the outset, the court took a “cursory look” at the definition of a ‘Public Interest Litigation’ under Rule 56 of the Rules of Calcutta High Court. It then raised doubts over the intent behind the petition and the preparation undertaken for the same, observing,
“Keeping in mind the aforesaid provision of Rule 56 of the Rules of High Court at Calcutta, we are of the opinion that according to the settled principles of law in a Public Interest Litigation, the litigant has to lay a factual foundation of the statement made in the writ application and such information furnished by him should not be vague and indefinite and at the same time, the Court must be aware of the possibility to approach the Court to have a fishing and roving enquiry.”
As per the order, the court repeatedly asked the petitioner to point out an instance of failure on the part of the authorities to deal with the alleged harassment of a man or a person belonging to the third gender.
“In spite of repeated requests by this Court to the petitioner to point out the reason for inability of the persons/victims concerned to approach the law enforcing agencies and other authorities for their protection and/or for taking action against their offenders, the petitioner failed to meet the query of the Court,” the court noted.
At this juncture, the petitioner attempted to rely on unverified news reports, a move that didn’t garner him any brownie points with the court, which then pointed out the lack of any research conducted by him, rapping him for approaching it with vague pleadings.
The court explained, “So, this Court is not in a position to proceed on the basis of the submissions made before us from the Bar, as the pleadings are vague and lacking in material particulars. With regard to the question of undertaking the research work, we find that the petitioner is more concerned with the theoretical aspect of the matter and he wants to make submissions to prove his knowledge on the subject, instead of exposing specific cases of the victims he is representing and those who are not in a position to approach the Court of law.
In the averments there is nothing to show that the victims of such sexual harassment had approached the law enforcing agencies but there was total non-cooperation on behalf of the State machinery.”
It, therefore, dismissed the petition, though not without costs.