HP HC | [Public Interest Litigation] Process of Court cannot be abused for oblique considerations by masked phantoms who monitor at times from behind

Himachal Pradesh High Court: A Division Bench of Tarlok Singh Chauhan and Sandeep Sharma, JJ., while dismissing the present petition said, “The petitioner has not placed on record any material which may suggest that he is a public-spirited person, so as to conclude that the instant petition has been filed in public interest.”

Background

The present Public Interest Litigation was moved to seek a writ of Mandamus, directing respondent to postpone the upcoming election to be held under Himachal Pradesh Panchayati Raj Act, 1994 in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic in the State. The public interest, apparently, seem to be the possibility of an increase in cases in the State due to the said election, which the petitioners aim to avoid through the instant petition.

 Observation

In pursuance of its decision, Court referred the following precedents;

  1. Sachidanand Pandey v. State of West Bengal, (1987) 2 SCC 295;

“Today public spirited litigants rush to Courts to file cases in profusion under this attractive name. They must inspire confidence in Courts and among the public. They must be above suspicion. It is only when Courts are apprised of gross violation of fundamental rights by a group or a class action or when basis human rights are invaded or when there are complaints of such acts as shock the judicial conscience that the Courts, especially the Supreme Court, should leave aside procedural shackles and hear such petitions and extend its jurisdiction under all available provisions for remedying the hardships and miseries of the needy, the underdog and the neglected. It is necessary to have some self-imposed restraint on Public Interest Litigants.”

  1. P. Anand v. H.D. Deve Gowda, (1996) 6 SCC 734;

“…It is of utmost importance that those who invoke this Court’s jurisdiction seeking a waiver of the locus standi rule must exercise restraint in moving the Court by not plunging in areas wherein they are not well-versed. Such a litigant must not succumb to spasmodic sentiments and behave like a knight-errant roaming at will in pursuit of issues providing publicity. He must remember that as a person seeking to espouse a public cause, he owes it to the public as well as to the Court that he does not rush to Court without undertaking a research, even if he is qualified or competent to raise the

issue.”

  1. ‘X’ v. Hospital ‘Z’, (1998) 8 SCC 296;

“… ‘Right’ is an interest recognised and protected by moral or legal rules. It is an interest the violation of which would be a legal wrong. Respect for such interest would be a legal duty. That is how Salmond has defined ‘Right’. In order, therefore, that an interest becomes the subject of a legal right, it has to have not merely legal protection but also legal recognition, the elements of a “legal right” are that the ‘right’ is vested in a person and is available against a person who is under a corresponding obligation and duty to respect that right.”

  1. BALCO Employees Union v. Union of India, (2002) 2 SCC 333;

“Public interest litigation, or PIL as it is more commonly known, entered the Indian judicial process in 1970. It will not be incorrect to say that it is primarily the judges who have innovated this type of litigation as there was a dire need for it. At that stage, it was intended to vindicate public interest where fundamental and other rights of the people who were poor, ignorant or in socially or economically disadvantageous position and were unable to seek legal redress, were required to be espoused. PIL was not meant to be adversarial in nature and was to be a co-operative and collaborative effort of the parties and the Court, so as to secure justice for the poor and the weaker sections of the community who were not in a position to protect their own interests. Public interest litigation was intended to mean nothing more than what words themselves said viz, ‘litigation in the interest of the public’.”

  1. Ashok Kumar Pandey v. State of West Bengal, (2004) 3 SCC 349;

“When there is material to show that a petition styled as a public interest litigation is nothing but a camouflage to foster personal disputes, said petition is to be thrown out… Public Interest Litigation which has now come to occupy an important field in the administration of law should not be ‘publicity interest litigation’ or ‘private interest litigation’ or ‘politics interest litigation’ or the latest trend ‘paise income litigation’. If not properly regulated and abuse averted it becomes also a tool in unscrupulous hands to release vendetta and wreck vengeance, as well. There must be real and genuine public interest involved in the litigation and not merely an adventure of a knight errant or poke ones nose into for a probe.”

 Reliance was further placed on, Dr B. Singh v. Union of India, (2004) 3 SCC 363, R&M Trust v. Koramangala Residents Vigilance Group, (2005) 3 SCC 91, Gurpal Singh v. State of Punjab, (2005) 5 SCC 136, Kusum Lata v. Union of India, (2006) 6 SCC 180, Common Cause v. Union of India, (2008) 5 SCC 511.

Decision

Court while rejecting the present petition on lack of merits, enumerated the ten pointers that must be considered before allowing any Public Interest Litigation;

(i) That the impugned action is violative of any of the rights enshrined in Part III of the Constitution of India or any other legal right and relief is sought for its enforcement;

(ii) That the action complained of is palpably illegal or malafide and affects the group of persons who are not in a position to protect their own interest or on account of poverty, incapacity or ignorance;

(iii) That the person or a group of persons were approaching the Court in public interest for redressal of public injury arising from the breach of public duty or from violation of some provision of the Constitutional law;

(iv) That such person or group of persons is not a busy body or a meddlesome inter-loper and have not approached with malafide intention of vindicating their personal vengeance or grievance;

(v) That the process of public interest litigation was not being abused by politicians or other busy bodies for political or unrelated objective. Every default on the part of the State or Public Authority being not justiciable in such litigation;

(vi) That the litigation initiated in public interest was such that if not remedied or prevented would weaken the faith of the common man in the institution of the judicial and the democratic set up of the country;

(vii) That the State action was being tried to be covered under the carpet and intended to be thrown out on technicalities;

(viii) Public interest litigation may be initiated either upon a petition filed or on the basis of a letter or other information received but upon satisfaction that the information laid before the Court was of such a nature which requiredexamination;

(ix) That the person approaching the Court has come with clean hands, clean heart and clean objectives;

(x) That before taking any action in public interest the Court must be satisfied that its forum was not being misused by any unscrupulous litigant, politicians, busy body or persons of groups with mala fide objective or either for vindication of their personal grievance or by resorting to black-mailing or considerations extraneous to public interest. [Sailesh Sharma v. State of HP,  2020 SCC OnLine HP 3056, decided on 17-12-2020]


Sakshi Shukla, Editorial Assistant hs put this story together

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