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Courts deprecate practice of filing PIL for Publicity, Personal/Political/Monetary Gains- impose exemplary costs for abuse of the process of law

The citizens are becoming aware of their rights and whenever they feel that government policies and decisions are hampering the common good or there is gross abuse and violation of human rights, or laws & procedure are causing social injustice or there is blatant discrimination against a particular class, they approach the Jurisdictional High Court or the Apex Court by filing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL).

The Courts, in turn, listen to the Petitioners and grant relief in cases where the Petitioner is able to convince the Court that the issue pertains to people at large and injustice is being caused by the applicable laws or by the apathy of the executive in its administration. The dictum of the Court p binds all citizens, executive and the Government alike.

Public Interest Litigation has been defined in Stroud's Judicial Dictionary, Volume 4 thus:
"Public Interest (1) a matter of public or general interest does not mean that which is interesting as gratifying curiosity or a love of information or amusement but that in which a class of the community have a pecuniary interest, or some interest by which their legal rights or liabilities are affected."

The integral & fundamental constituent of a PIL is that it is maintainable only when it advances/raises issues of broad public concern. PIL is thus a petition filed by an individual or a non-government organisation or citizen groups seeking justice on an issue that has a larger public interest. PIL gives common people an access to the judiciary to obtain legal redressal for a public cause.

Thus one can approach the Courts by filing PIL provided the cause affects the public at large. It is pertinent that PIL cannot be filed for personal gains, benefits or interest but only in larger public interest. However, it is seen that PILs are being regularly filled by NGOs, Political Activists, Social & Religious Organisations, Labour Unions, Trade & Industries Associations not always for a Public Interest but for personal gains in the garb of public cause. The Courts have been univocally deprecating the practice of filing PILs for personal advantage.

It is apt to refer to the case of The Janta Dal v. H.S. Chowdhary 1992 (4) SCC 305 wherein the Apex Court considered the scope of 'Public Interest Litigation' wherein the Court elucidated the concept of public interest and observed thus:

"The expression litigation means a legal action including all proceedings therein initiated in a Court of law for the enforcement of right or seeking a remedy. Therefore, lexically the expression PIL means the legal action initiated in a Court of law for the enforcement of public interest or general interest in which the public or a class of the community have pecuniary interest or some interest by which their legal rights or liabilities are affected."

The Court gave a warning against misuse of PIL for personal gains & held thus:
"While this Court has laid down a chain of notable decisions with all emphasis at their command about the importance and significance of this newly developed doctrine of PIL, it has also hastened to sound a red alert and a note of severe warning that Courts should not allow its process to be abused by a mere busy body or a meddlesome interloper or wayfarer or officious intervener without any interest or concern except for personal gain or private profit or other oblique consideration."

In the later part of the said judgement the Apex Court further observed thus:
"It is thus clear that only a person acting bona fide and having sufficient interest in the proceeding of PIL will alone have as locus standi and can approach the Court to wipe out the tears of the poor and needy, suffering from violation of their fundamental rights, but not a person for personal gain or private profit or political motive or any oblique consideration. Similarly a vexatious petition under the colour of PIL, brought before the Court for vindicating any personal grievance, deserves rejection at the threshold".

It is worth mentioning that one such PIL has recently attracted the ire of the Allahabad High Court. While dismissing the said PIL, the Court had imposed hefty costs of Rs. 50000/- for abuse of the process of law and for wastage of the precious time of the Court.

The Allahabad High Court in PIL No. 255 of 2021 in the case of Afsana vs. State Of U P And 3 Others decided recently on February 5, 2021 has held that the said Petition is not a genuine PIL but a Petition for personal gains in the garb of PIL. Accordingly, the Court dismissed the PIL & imposed exemplary costs. While dismissing the PIL, the Court held thus:

"This aspect further establishes the fact that the petitioner is personally interested in seeking allotment of fair price shop. Thus, the present petition cannot be held to be a genuine public interest litigation and deserves to be dismissed with exemplary cost. We do so, petition stands dismissed with cost of Rs. 50,000/- (Rupees Fifty Thousand).

The cost be deposited by the petitioner with the High Court Legal Services Authority, High Court of Judicature of Allahabad within a period of 15 days from today failing which, office is directed to initiate proceedings against the petitioner for non-compliance of this order."

The brief facts of the case are that the Petitioner filed PIL seeking direction to the State & the local administration for initiating proceeding in respect of allotment of fair price shop in a village in District Jaunpur. It was pleaded that the fair price shop in question having not been allotted has hampered proper and smooth distribution of goods to the card holders. However, during the hearing of the PIL it transpired that the petitioner's daughter-in-law had participated in the allotment of said fair price shop.

Accordingly, the Court observed that the petitioner has not filed this petition seeking direction for initiating proceeding in respect of allotment of fair price shop in public interest and that the personal interest of the petitioner is very much manifest from the facts on record. It is also pertinent that the counsel for the petitioner conceded that the petitioner is interested in the allotment rather than smooth distribution of the goods from the said fair price shop. Accordingly, the Court ordered dismissal of the PIL.

The Apex Court has time & again held that a writ petitioner who comes to the Court for relief in public interest must come not only with clean hands like any other writ petitioner but also with a clean heart, clean mind and clean objective. The cases of Ramjas Foundation vs. Union of India, AIR 1993 SC 852 and K.R. Srinivas v. R.M. Premchand, 1994 (6) SCC 620 are germane on these findings.

It would be apposite to refer to the case in which the Apex Court on 12th February 2021 issued bailable warrants against the chairperson of NGO Suraz India Trust for not depositing the exemplary cost of Rs 25 lakh imposed on it vide order dated May 1, 2017 for filing 64 PILs over the years without any success for abuse of the process of law and for wastage of precious time of the Highest Court of the country.

It is relevant that the 5 member Bench of the Apex Court in Suraz India Trust & Anr vs. Union Of India (2017) 14 SCC 416 held as under:

"For the judicial time wasted by Suraz India Trust, we consider it just and appropriate to impose exemplary costs on it. This is imperative, as it would discourage, the instant nature of indiscretion, not only at the hands of Suraz India Trust, but also at the hands of other similarly placed individuals, who may have been emboldened, to adopt the course treaded by Mr. Rajiv Daiya. The costs imposed on the petitioner are hereby quantified as Rs. 25 lakhs (Rupees twenty five lakhs only). The aforesaid costs shall be deposited by Suraz India Trust, with the Supreme Court Advocates on Record Welfare Trust, within three months from today. Failing deposit, the above costs shall be recoverable from Mr. Rajiv Daiya, its Chairman, through his personal proceeds, if necessary."

It would be trite to refer to the landmark Judgement of the Apex court in Dattaraj Nathuji Thaware vs State Of Maharashtra & Ors (2005) 1 SCC 590 which deprecated the practice of filing PILs for personal gains and confirmed imposition of exemplary costs on such petitioners and held as under:

"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. Before we grapple with the issue involved in the present case, we feel it necessary to consider the issue regarding public interest aspect. 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". The High Court has found that the case at hand belongs to the last category.

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 knight errant borne out of wishful thinking. It cannot also be invoked by a person or a body of persons to further his or their personal causes or satisfy his or their personal grudge and enmity. Courts of justice should not be allowed to be polluted by unscrupulous litigants by resorting to the extraordinary jurisdiction. A person acting bona fide and having sufficient interest in the proceeding of public interest litigation will alone have a locus standi and can approach the Court to wipe out violation of fundamental rights and genuine infraction of statutory provisions, but not for personal gain or private profit or political motive or any oblique consideration......

It is depressing to note that on account of such trumpery proceedings initiated before the Courts, innumerable days are wasted, which time otherwise could have been spent for the disposal of cases of the genuine litigants. Though we spare no efforts in fostering and developing the laudable concept of PIL and extending our long arm of sympathy to the poor, the ignorant, the oppressed and the needy whose fundamental rights are infringed and violated and whose grievances go unnoticed, un-represented and unheard; yet we cannot avoid but express our opinion that while genuine litigants with legitimate grievances relating to civil matters involving properties worth hundreds of millions of rupees and criminal cases in which persons sentenced to death facing gallows under untold agony and persons sentenced to life imprisonment and kept in incarceration for long years, persons suffering from undue delay in service matters - government or private, persons awaiting the disposal of cases wherein huge amounts of public revenue or unauthorized collection of tax amounts are locked up, detenu expecting their release from the detention orders etc. etc. are all standing in a long serpentine queue for years with the fond hope of getting into the Courts and having their grievances redressed, the busybodies, meddlesome interlopers, wayfarers or officious interveners having absolutely no public interest except for personal gain or private profit either of themselves or as a proxy of others or for any other extraneous motivation or for glare of publicity break the queue muffing their faces by wearing the mask of public interest litigation and get into the Courts by filing vexatious and frivolous petitions and thus criminally waste the valuable time of the Courts and as a result of which the queue standing outside the doors of the Courts never moves, which piquant situation creates frustration in the minds of the genuine litigants and resultantly they loose faith in the administration of our judicial system.....

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 armory of law for delivering social justice to the 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 considerations. The Court must not allow its process to be abused for oblique considerations by masked phantoms who monitor at times from behind. Some persons with vested interest indulge in the pastime of meddling with judicial process either by force of habit or from improper motives, and try to bargain for a good deal as well to enrich themselves. 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.......

No litigant has a right to unlimited draught on the Court time and public money in order to get his affairs settled in the manner as he wishes. Easy access to justice should not be misused as a licence to file misconceived and frivolous petitions. (See Dr. B.K. Subbarao vs. Mr. K. Parasaran, (1996 (7) JT 265). Today people rush to Courts to file cases in profusion under this attractive name of public interest. They must inspire confidence in Courts and among the public.....

As noted supra, a time has come to weed out the petitions, which though titled as public interest litigations are in essence something else. It is shocking to note that Courts are flooded with large number of so called public interest litigations where even a minuscule percentage can legitimately be called as public interest litigations. Though the parameters of public interest litigation have been indicated by this Court in large number of cases, yet unmindful of the real intentions and objectives, Courts are entertaining such petitions and wasting valuable judicial time which, as noted above, could be otherwise utilized for disposal of genuine cases."

On the basis of a catena of judgements, referred to above, it is imperative for any person filing a PIL to ascertain that the PIL has been filed for the benefit of public at large and not for his personal gains. The Courts have to examine every PIL whether it is really intended for the benefit of public or for 'publicity', ' personal gains', 'political gains' or 'monetary gains'. If the PIL has been filed with such an ulterior motive, the Courts would not only be constrained to dismiss such so called PILs but impose heavy exemplary costs to deter filing of such unwanted petitions.

Written By: Inder Chand Jain
Ph no: 8279945021, Email: [email protected]

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