State's Opposition To PILs A Fig Leaf To Cover Its Failure To Provide Social Justice : Justice Madan Lokur [Read Judgment]


Justice Madan B Lokur made certain significant observations regarding the importance of Public Interest Litigation while issuing guidelines for prison reforms.  Absence of governance due to failure of State to faithfully and sincerely implement laws, and also mis-governance by Governments were identified reasons compelling Courts to take up issues in PILs. The failure of the State to take remedial steps to fill in the gap when there is no operative law has resulted in public interest litigation, said Justice Lokur.

The opposition made by State to Courts acting on PILs was stated to be a ruse to cover up governance failures.

"In recent times, usually and regrettably, the State has chosen to challenge the idea of public interest litigation or denigrate it by chanting the mantra of ‘judicial activism’ or ‘separation of powers’. In most cases, these mantras are nothing but a fig leaf to cover the failure of the State to recognise the existence of the rule of law and the need for providing social justice to the people of the country, as stated in the Preamble to our Constitution, Justice Lokur observed.

It was also added that  public interest litigation has given a voice to millions of marginalized sections of society, women and children. Public interest litigation is one of the important contributions of India to jurisprudence. It was also mentioned that the Indian experience has encouraged some other countries to introduce public interest litigation in their jurisprudence.

Though Justice Lokur acknowledged that there were instances where Courts have exceeded jurisdiction in PILs, it was stated that "occasional transgressions on both sides, cannot take away the significance of public interest litigation as a non-adversarial source of righting some wrongs and encouraging social change through accountability and, in cases, transparency".

The case regarding prison reforms was suo moto initiated by the SC on the basis of a letter recieved from a former Chief Justice of India R C Lahoti. Though there was initial resistance from the State, the proceedings became non-adversarial in nature following the intervention of Attorney General. Four issues, namely, overcrowding in prisons;unnatural deaths of prisoners; gross inadequacy of staff; and the available staff being untrained or inadequately trained, were highlighted in the letter of former CJI.

The bench comprising Justice Lokur, Justice Abdul Nazeer and Justice Deepak Gupta issued a slew of directions in that regard, and constituted a Prison Reforms Committee to be headed by retired SC judge Justice Amitava Roy to oversee its implementation.

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