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PIL : PUBLICITY INTEREST LITIGATION?

WHAT IS PIL?

In Indian law means litigation for the protection of public interest. It is litigation introduced in a court of law, not by the aggrieved party but by the court itself or by any other private party. It is not necessary, for the exercise of the court’s jurisdiction, that the person who is the victim of the violation of his or her right should personally approach the court.

Public Interest Litigation is the power given to the public by courts through judicial activism. Such cases may occur when the victim does not have the necessary resources to commence litigation or his freedom to move court has been suppressed or encroached upon.

The court can itself take cognizance of the matter and proceed Suo moto or cases can commence on the petition of any public-spirited individual. In simple words, means, litigation filed in a court of law, for the protection of Public Interest, such as pollution, Terrorism, Road safety, constructional hazards etc.

Public interest litigation is not defined in any statute or any act. It has been interpreted by judges to consider the intent of the public at large. Although, the main and only focus of such litigation is only Public Interest there are various areas where public interest litigation can be filed.

EXAMPLE OF PIL:-

Violation of basic human rights of the poor– Content or conduct of government policy- Compel municipal authorities to perform a public duty.- Violation of religious rights or other basic fundamental rights Almost exactly 40 years ago, in March 1979, Kapila Hingorani made history by filing and securing the release of nearly 40,000 undertrials languishing in the jails of Bihar’s Patna and Muzaffarpur, in the ‘Hussain Khatoon’ case.

The ‘Hussainara Khatoon’ case established a new paradigm in the Indian justice system, which until 1979 was accessible to only those personally affected by the law or facing penal action.

The court allowed Hingorani to pursue a case in which she had no personal locus standi making Public Interest Litigations (PILs) a permanent fixture in Indian jurisprudence. Ever since PILs has become the champion of the underprivileged and those wronged by the system.

Public interest litigation uses the law to advance human rights and equality, or raise issues of broad public concern. It helps advance the cause of minority or disadvantaged groups or individuals.
Public interest cases can arise from both public and private law matters concerning various rules and regulations that govern the exercise of power by public bodies and even when a public body is not involved such as employment law or family law.

It has most ideally and commonly been used to challenge the decisions of public authorities by judicial review to review the lawfulness of a decision or action, or a failure to act, by a public body.

PILs have been responsible for landmark verdicts that have outlawed instant triple talaq, identified privacy as a fundamental right, opened the doors of the Sabarimala temple in Kerala and Mumbai’s Haji Ali shrine to women legalised consensual homosexual relations and made passive euthanasia permissible etc.

LANDMARK CASES:

S.P. Gupta v. Union of India

A new era of the PIL movement was heralded by Justice P.N. Bhagwati in the case of S.P. Gupta v. Union of India. In this case, it was held that any member of the public or social action group acting bonafide can invoke the Writ Jurisdiction of the High Courts or the Supreme Court seeking redressal against violation of legal or constitutional rights of persons who due to social or economic or any other disability cannot approach the Court.

By this judgment, PIL became a potent weapon for the enforcement of public duties were executed in action or misdeed resulted in public injury. And as a result, any citizen of India or any consumer groups or social action groups can now approach the apex court of the country seeking legal remedies in all cases where the interests of the general public or a section of the public are at stake.

PILs: From Public Interest to ‘Publicity Interest’ Litigations

PILs these days are being used as a means to further bigotry and communal hate in the name of public interest. The filling of flippant cases has resulted in the erosion of the sanctity of the PIL system, which has been responsible for some of the most progressive verdicts delivered by various courts. In the absence of any robust mechanism to filter genuine pleas from frivolous pleas known as “public interest” or “political interest” litigations, irrational petitions have soared in great numbers. The courts place the onus of curbing the menace on litigants’ moral conscience.

Frivolous filing of PILs has not only resulted in added burden on the judiciary but has significantly led to trust erosion in the entire exercise, even if a frivolous plea is eventually dismissed, the judges have to spend a lot of time going through the prayer and, on most occasions, hearing the petitioner.

Under the present system, only judges have the power to decide if a petition should be admitted or dismissed while the job of the Registry (of the SC or any high court) is to ensure that technical requirements of filing a petition have been fulfilled by the litigant.

Petition gets listed for admission irrespective of its merit, eating away the court’s time that could otherwise be utilised to hear the massive backlog of cases.

The total number of cases pending before the SC, as of December 1 last year, stood at 56,994.
The National Judicial Data Grid puts the total number of cases pending before various high courts, as of March 17, at a whopping 42.89 lakh.

STEPS TO PREVENT MISUSE OF PIL

There is a need for an effective deterrent to prevent such frivolous cases, especially those that blatantly violate the Constitution, from being filed. Judiciary needs to be more proactive in dealing with those who file cases purely to gain publicity.

A litigant who takes liberties with the truth or with the procedures of the court should be left in no doubt about the consequences to follow.

All the courts should impose exemplary costs against petitioners who try to choke the judicial system with absurd PILs mocking both the basic law of justice as well as the secular fabric of the nation.

The court cannot abdicate its responsibility (of deciding whether a case deserves to be heard) in favour of the Registry as it is within the powers of the court, and its Chief Justice, to lay down broad guidelines for the Registry to follow while deciding what kind of cases deserve to be listed The Registry should be empowered to at least check the credentials of the person filing a PIL and those who have a prior record of filing such cases should be warned of the consequences.

RELATED CASES

JUHI CHAWLA PETITION: 5G CASE –

The Delhi High Court on Friday dismissed a lawsuit filed by actor Juhi Chawla against
setting up of 5G wireless networks, calling the petition a ‘publicity stunt”, and imposed a fine of RS 20 lakhs ‘for abusing the process of law’.

The suit, filed by Chawla, social worker Veeresh Malik and Teena Vachani, said that if the telecom industry’s plans for 5G come to fruition, no person, animal, bird, insect, and plant on earth will be able to avoid exposure, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, to levels of RF radiation that are 10x to 100x times greater than what exists today.

The counsel for the telecom department said the 5G policy did not fall in the category of public nuisance and 5G was obviously not prohibited in law. The counsel representing private telecom companies argued that launching 5G technology was a policy of the government and as it was a policy, it could not be a wrongful act.

Dr B. Singh vs Union of India

On 11 March 2004, the Bench said “it is shocking to note that courts are flooded with a large number of so-called PILs, whereas only a minuscule percentage can legitimately be called PILs”. The court passed the order. while dismissing a PIL by Dr B Singh who questioned the propriety of a person appointed as a Judge.

Dr Singh, who did not have any personal knowledge of the allegations made against the judge by Ram Swarup, had earlier unsuccessfully moved the Punjab and Haryana High Court.

Observing that the petitioner had moved the court for publicity and there was no trace of public interest, the Bench said he deserved a fine of Rs. 50,000. It, however, imposed a fine of Rs. 10,000 in the hope that he would mend his ways.

ASWINI UPADHAYA CASE

The Supreme Court dismissed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by BJP leader Ashwini Upadhyay seeking directions to the Central and state governments to control black magic, superstition and religious conversion by intimidation, threats and deception. “What type of petition is this? We will impose a heavy cost”, said Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman.

The bench which also had Justices BR Gavai and Hrishikesh Roy added it was a publicity interest litigation and that too a very harmful kind. Advocate Ashwini Upadhyay, the petitioner, who is also a BJP leader said religious conversion by “carrot and stick” and “by hook or crook” not only offends Articles 14 (right to equality), 21 (right to life and personal liberty), 25 (freedom of thought, conscience and religion), but also the principles of secularism, which is an integral part of the basic structure of Constitution.

Upadhyay alleged that the Centre and states have failed to control “the menace of black magic, superstition and deceitful religious conversion”, though it was their duty under Article 51A (fundamental duties).

SOHRABUDDIN SHEIKH CASE

In the PIL, the petitioners questioned why the CBI had only challenged Amit Shah’s discharge in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case and not that of the police officers named in the case. So, “In all these judgments of dismissal, the high court has recorded several reasons why such pleas should not be allowed. Besides, the Supreme Court has laid down specific grounds in its previous orders clarifying what qualifies as a PIL,” Singh argued.

“The present case, however, is not a PIL, but a publicity interest litigation and should be dismissed,” Singh told the court. SHOBHA SURENDARAN CASE It was alleged by Sobha Surendran that thousands of persons have been illegally arrested and detained by police in the state but no action has been taken against the erring officers as directed by the Supreme Court.

The high court of KOCHI imposed a fine of Rs 25,000 on BJP leader Shobha Surendran for filing public interest litigation (PIL) alleging a rise in illegal arrests by police, including persons involved in protests at Sabarimala. Thus, the petition was dismissed.

KANAHAIYA KUMAR CASE

The Allahabad high court dismissed a PIL seeking deprivation of Indian citizenship of former JNU student’s union president, Kanhaiya Kumar for allegedly raising anti-national slogans during an event that took place on the JNU campus on Friday 9, 2016.

Terming the PIL filed by one Nageshwar Mishra as frivolous, a division bench comprising Justice Shashi Kant Gupta and Justice Shamim Ahmed imposed a cost of Rs 25,000 on the petitioner, saying that he filed the present petition under the grab of public interest with the sole motive of gaining cheap publicity, without even going through the relevant provision of the Constitution of India and The Indian Citizenship Act,1955.

Asok Pande (In-Person) vs U.O.I. Thru. Secy. Ministry of Law & Justice, New Delhi & Ors

A Public Interest Litigation was filed by a Practicing Lawyer of Allahabad High Court at Lucknow seeking the following reliefs: Issue a writ, order or direction like Mandamus thereby directing the Respondent No. 1 to re-name the Allahabad High Court as Prayagraj High Court of Uttar Pradesh High Court; Issue any other writ, order or direction which this Hon’ble Court deems fit and proper in the facts of the case.

”A Division Bench comprising Hon’ble Mr Justice P.K. Jaiswal and Hon’ble Mr Justice D.K. Singh has junked a Public Interest Litigation seeking renaming of Allahabad High Court to Prayagraj High Court of Uttar Pradesh High Court. The Court found that the writ petition is nothing but a ‘publicity stunt litigation’ which has been filed to get some publicity

PETITION FOR FREE COVID TREATMENT

The Supreme Court dismissed a plea seeking free treatment for all coronavirus infected patients and termed it as an attempt to gain publicity. A bench comprising Justices N.V. Ramana, Sanjay Kishan Kaul and B.R. Gavai, while hearing the plea through video conferencing, said the government will decide who will get free treatment for the coronavirus infection.

Taking a strong observation on the nature of prayer in the petition and terming it a publicity stunt, the bench said, “Do not create publicity interest litigation, we think this case should close now, no need to raise any litigation like this.” The top court reiterated that the government will decide who can avail of free treatment, and the court does not have any funds.

The court observed that treatment in government hospitals is already free, the apex court dismissed a plea seeking nationalization of the healthcare sector and its associated services till the coronavirus pandemic is not contained in the country.

The current plea was also part of this petition. A bench comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan and Ravindra Bhat had said that this is not a decision the court can ask the government to take and dismissed the prayer in the petition seeking nationalization of hospitals. The top court had cited that the government has already taken over some hospitals.

The bench had observed that such petitions are misconceived. The Solicitor General Tushar Mehta had submitted before the court that such petitions should be dismissed.

CONCLUSION

There have been many instances when the case falls under private interest, yet the case was filed as a Public Interest Litigation which is against the very objective of a PIL, where the matter complained about must relate to the wider public interest and not merely the interests of a private party.

This has often led to a distasteful waste of crucial time and limited resources at the disposal of the judiciary, weakening the urgency and importance of the very concept of PIL itself while making a mockery of the responsive justice system at the same time.

There have been many instances when the case falls under private interest, yet the case was filed as a Public Interest Litigation which is against the very objective of a PIL, where the matter complained about must relate to the wider public interest and not merely the interests of a private party. Hence there is a dire need to make adequate laws that are strict enough to restrict people from filing malicious PILs.

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