06 August 2020

Public interest litigation is not a pill or panacea for all wrongs

The petitioner claims to have filed this petition as Pro Bono Publico, questioned for an oblique motive, therefore, this Court is required to first satisfy itself regarding the credentials of the petitioner, the prima-facie correctness of the information given by them because after all the attractive brand name of public interest litigation cannot be used for suspicious products of mischief. It has to be aimed at redressal of genuine public wrong or public injury and not publicity-oriented or founded on personal vendetta or private motive. The process of the Court cannot be abused for oblique considerations by masked phantoms who monitor at times from behind. The common rule of locus-standi in such cases is relaxed so as to enable the Court to look into the grievances complained of on behalf of the poor, deprive, deprivation, illiterate and the disabled and who cannot vindicate the legal wrong or legal injury caused to them for any violation of any constitutional or legal right. But, then while protecting the rights of the people from being violated in any manner, utmost care has to be taken that the Court does not transgress its jurisdiction nor does it entertain petitions which are motivated. After all, public interest litigation is not a pill or panacea for all wrongs. It is essentially meant to protect basic human rights of the weak and disadvantaged. Public interest litigation is a weapon which has to be used with great care and circumspection and the Judiciary has to be extremely careful to see that behind the beautiful veil of public interest an ugly private malice, vested interest and/or public interest seeking is not lurking. It is to be used as an effective weapon in the armoury of law for delivering justice to the citizens. Courts must do justice by promotion of good faith and prevent law from crafty invasions. It is for this reason that the Court must maintain social balance by interfering for the sake of justice and refuse to entertain where it is against the social justice and public good.[Para No.2]

Public interest litigation is not a pill or panacea for all wrongs

    In the case of Shri Sachidanand Pandey and another versus The State of West Bengal and others AIR 1987 SC 1109, the Hon'ble Supreme Court observed as follows:-
"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. Public Interest Litigation has now come to stay. But one is led to think that it poses a threat to Courts and public alike. Such cases are now filed without any rhyme or reason. It is therefore necessary to lay down clear guidelines and to outline the correct parameters for entertainment of such petitions. If Courts do no restrict the free flow of such cases in the name of Public Interest Litigations, the traditional litigation will suffer and the Courts of law, instead of dispensing justice, will have to take upon themselves Administrative and executive functions. This does not mean that traditional litigation should stay out. They have to be tackled by other effective methods, like decentralizing the judicial system and entrusting majority of traditional litigation to Village Courts and Lok Adalats without the usual populist stance and by a complete restructuring of the procedural law which is the villain in delaying disposal of cases...
  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."[Para No.3]

    In S.P.Anand, Indore versus H.D.Deve Gowda and others (1996) 6 SCC 734, the Hon'ble Supreme Court held as under:-
"18..... 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. Besides, it must be remembered that a good cause can be lost if petitions are filed on half-baked information without proper research or by persons who are not qualified and competent to raise such issues as the rejection of such a petition may affect third party rights. Lastly, it must also be borne in mind that no one has a right to the waiver of the locus standi rule and the Court should permit it only when it is satisfied that the carriage of proceedings is in the competent hands of a person who is genuinely concerned in public interest and is not moved by other extraneous considerations. So also the Court must be careful to ensure that the process of the Court is not sought to be abused by a person who desires to persist with his point of view, almost carrying it to the point of obstinacy, by filing a series of petitions refusing to accept the Court's earlier decisions as concluding the point. We say this because when we drew the attention of the petitioner to earlier decisions of this Court, he brushed them aside, without so much as showing willingness to deal with them and without giving them a second look, as having become stale and irrelevant by passage of time and challenged their correctness on the specious plea that they needed reconsideration. Except for saying that they needed reconsideration he had no answer to the correctness of the decisions. Such a casual approach to considered decisions of this Court even by a person well- versed in law would not be countenanced. Instead, as pointed out earlier, he referred to decisions having no bearing on the question, like the decisions on cow slaughter cases, freedom of speech and expression, uniform civil code, etc; we need say no more except to point out that indiscriminate use of this important lever of public interest litigation would blunt the lever itself."[Para No.4]
    Public interest litigation is a weapon which has to be used with great care and circumspection and the judiciary has to be extremely careful to see that behind the beautiful veil of public interest an ugly private malice, vested interest and/or publicity seeking is not lurking. It is to be used as an effective weapon in the armoury of law for delivering social justice to citizens. The attractive brand name of public interest litigation should not be used for suspicious products of mischief. It should be aimed at redressal of genuine public wrong or public injury and not publicity oriented or founded on personal vendetta. As indicated above, Court must be careful to see that a body of persons or member of public, who approaches the court is acting bona fide and not for personal gain or private motive or political motivation or other oblique consideration. The Court must not allow its process to be abused for oblique considerations. Some persons with vested interest indulge in the pastime of meddling with judicial process either by force of habit or from improper motives. Often they are actuated by a desire to win notoriety or cheap popularity. The petitions of such busy bodies deserve to be thrown out by rejection at the threshold, and in appropriate cases with exemplary costs.[Para No.12]

   From the aforesaid exposition of law, it can safely be concluded that the Court would allow litigation in public interest only if it is found:-

(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 mala fide 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 required examination;

(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.[Para No.15]

    The mere fact that the petitioner claims himself to be the resident of the State will also not furnish him a cause of action for grant of the reliefs as sought for in this petition for the simple reason that the petitioner himself claims to have filed this petition on behalf of those candidates, who were to take the examination. This is clearly evident from the perusal of the para- 4 of the petition, which reads as under:-
"4. That it is pertinent to mention here that although Hundreds of the aggrieved selected applicants of the aforesaid Examinations are in constant touch with the petitioner herein, however, they are not willing to disclose their names in the instant petition, fearing vendetta by respondent No. 1 and thus the instant petition has been preferred as a PIL by the humble petitioner herein. Further the representation made by many selected applicants to respondent No. 1, the same would be provided if, this Hon'ble Court directs the present petitioner and the present petitioner beseeching this Hon'ble Court in the interest of justice present the same as and when required."[Para No.17]

    In the given circumstances, we have no doubt in our mind that the instant petition is nothing but a publicity oriented petition and not a Public Interest Litigation and the same is accordingly dismissed with costs of Rs.10,000/- to be paid to the H.P. High Court Advocates' Welfare Association. Pending application(s), if any, also stands dismissed.[Para No.21]

Himachal Pradesh High Court

Himachal Pradesh Public Service Commission

Decided on 05/08/2020

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