Madras High Court: In a batch of writ appeals filed under clause 15 of the Letters Patent against the orders dated 16-06-2023, 22-06-2023 passed by the Single Judge, directing the Madras Bar Association (‘MBA’) to pay compensation of Rs. 5 lakhs, after an Advocate was prevented from drinking water from MBA premises, on the ground that he was not a member of the MBA, the division bench of S.Vaidyanathan* and K. Rajasekar, JJ. has said that the litigation being in private interest, it could not be entertained under the garb of public interest, even be it an Advocate, acting on behalf of his junior, as only the aggrieved party has to ventilate his grievance only as a private litigation and not as a Public Interest Litigation. However, if any public interest is involved in litigation, it has to be agitated only before a Division Bench and a single Judge cannot entertain such a Petition. The Courts have to be guided only by the nature and admissibility of litigation and not by any other extraneous factor. Hence, the writ petition itself is not maintainable, having not been filed by the alleged victim.
In the case at hand, a practising Advocate in the Madras High Court, in an urge to get his thirst quenched, rushed to the water filter kept in the hall of the MBA and when he was filling his water tumbler, a Senior Advocate, came to him and forcefully snatched the tumbler from his hand and yelled at him that he should not drink water there and asked him to get out. Thereafter, the Advocate filed a complaint to the Secretary of MBA, and the Association replied by denying the alleged incident and also stating that a non-member of their Association should not enter and use the facilities of their Association.
Subsequently, the respondent (father of the Advocate) sent another petition to the MBA, requesting action against the said Senior Advocate. In response, the then Secretary of the said Association had replied that suitable action would be initiated against the member, after the Association election. As of now, no action was taken against the said member
The respondent had also filed two miscellaneous petitions, one seeking to evict/shift the MBA from the High Security Zone of Madras High Court and another seeking a direction to the Registrar General, High Court, Madras and the Madras Bar Association not to conduct birthday celebrations and tea parties within the Association.
The Court said that the pivotal issue that arises for consideration in the case at hand is the maintainability of the writ petition before the Single Judge. The issue revolves around a disputed question of fact and hence, the High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, cannot go into such disputed question of fact. Further, on the face of record, the lis appears to be private in nature, but a lengthy order has been passed in the writ petition on the premise that it is public interest litigation.
Concerning the issue that whether writ petition against the Registrar General is maintainable, the Court viewed that the writ petition ought to have been transmitted to be placed before the Chief Justice, as it involves a question pertaining to the administrative decision regarding listing.
After taking note of Rule 17 of the Writ Rules, the Court said that when the relief sought in the writ petition is against the Registrar General, the matter has to be heard by a Division Bench to which the case is assigned by the Chief Justice.
Thus, it was held that if it is a Public Interest Litigation, the Single Judge has no jurisdiction to take up the matter, in the light of Rule 17(1)(v) of the Writ Rules, as per which, the matter has to be heard and decided only by the Division Bench and if it is not a Public Interest Litigation, then, the directions given by the Single Judge in the writ petition, cannot hold good. However, as the nature of relief sought in the case at hand, being allegedly in public interest, it ought to have been heard only by a Division Bench.
On maintainability of writ petition, the Court said that the issue cannot be treated partly as a Public Interest Litigation and partly as a Private Interest Litigation. Further, the Respondents cannot blow hot and cold over the same matter, by contending that it is not a Public Interest Litigation and also, taking a stand that the Single Judge can mould the relief.
Thus, the Court viewed that unless the order of the Single Judge is set aside, the matter cannot be transmitted to the Division Bench, as a writ petition seeking a relief against the Registrar General of this Court, can be heard only by a Division Bench and not by a Single Judge. Therefore, the Court set aside the order of the Single Judge.
On the issue of discrimination based on caste in the selection of members to the MBA and that only 5 to 7 members of the MBA belong to Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe community, the Court said that discrimination does not flow from denial of membership. Merely because MBA is permitted to occupy a place inside the Madras High Court, it does not mean that the affairs of the Association can be controlled by the High Court, including grant or denial of membership, as it is an autonomous body and it has its own by-laws and any contravention in the application of by-laws has to be agitated in accordance with law.
Further, it noted that there is no finding by the Single Judge as to whether the incident alleged by the respondent has taken place or not, because the alleged victim and the alleged aggressor are no more and such an incident itself is disputed.
As per the Court, allegation of the respondent that there is discrimination based on caste in the Madras Bar Association is far-fetched. As the respondent’s son was not a member of the Madras Bar Association. Entitlement to enter into the Association and enjoy the benefits would flow only to the members and not all persons can make a grievance and seek redressal of the grievance, when the entity is an autonomous one, but merely granted a public space.
The Court remarked that Lawyers’ community, by itself, forms a separate class and it is open to any Association to decide about the membership of the specific Association, and if membership has been arbitrarily denied, the said person can question the same before the appropriate forum. In the case on hand, there is no such relief claimed by filing a separate Petition.
The Court said that it does not want to intervene in the membership process of MBA, as long as no violation of by-law is claimed. If there is any violation, it is open to the aggrieved party to go before the appropriate forum to seek redressal and the Court could consider the same after deciding the maintainability of the writ petition.
As regards compensation of Rs.5,00,000/- ordered by the Single Judge payable by Madras Bar Association to the respondent, when the dispute itself is beyond the adjudication of the Writ Court, the Single Judge has gone beyond the scope of the writ petition and moulded and granted reliefs, in exercise of extraordinary jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, which cannot be sustained.
[Secretary, Madras Bar Association v Elephant G. Rajendran, 2023 SCC OnLine Mad 7457, Decided on 06-11-2023]
*Judgment Authored by: Justice S.Vaidyanathan
Advocates who appeared in this case :
For Appellant: Senior Counsel G. Masilamani, Senior Counsel V. Prakash, Senior Counsel E. Om Prakash, Senior Counsel P.S.Raman,
For Respondent: Advocate Elephant G. Rajendran, Standing Counsel Karthik Ranganathan, Advocate. R. Sankarasubbu, Advocate S. Mahaveer Shivaji