SC benchmark for PILs: Clean credentials, transparent motive
INDIAN EXPRESS / KRISHNADAS RAJAGOPAL
Clean credentials and a transparent motive or objective is the least a public interest litigant is expected to have, said the Supreme Court on Thursday, laying down its benchmark for entertaining PILs. In a strongly-worded judgment, the apex court formalised its disapproval of how “masked phantoms”, acting from behind, settle private scores by using the PIL mechanism. The court specifically referred to “frivolous” litigants as busybodies who should know that the Supreme Court does not any longer “encourage” their reckless allegations via PILs.
This judgment is the first time the Supreme Court has said in a written verdict as to what it expects from PIL litigants ever since Chief Justice of India S H Kapadi’s tenure saw the court take a consistent zero-tolerance stand against frivolous PILs. “Huge cost will be imposed for filing frivolous PILs,” Chief Justice Kapadia had announced hours after he assumed office as top judge on May 12, 2009. Following this, the exodus of PILs has considerably shrunk, though “genuine” ones are duly entertained.
“By now it ought to be plain and obvious that this Court does not approve of an approach that would encourage petitions filed for achieving oblique motives on the basis of wild and reckless allegations made by individuals, ie, busybodies,” a Bench of Justices B Sudershan Reddy and SS Nijjar observed in their March 29 judgment released on Thursday.
The Bench overruled an Andhra Pradesh High Court decision of April 2010 in which it set aside the services of a retired IPS officer on special duty with the Tirumala Tirupathi temple.
The High Court’s decision was on a public interest petition filed by one S Mangati Gopal Reddy, who alleged in court that the IPS officer, P Seshadri, was involved in the loss of “300 gold dollars” from the temple and should not continue in office.The Supreme Court, surprisingly, found that the High Court had decided against Seshadri with very little information about Reddy himself, except that he is an “agriculturist” by profession and a “staunch devotee of Lord Venkateshwara (the temple deity) since childhood”.
“The parameters within which PILs can be entertained have been laid down. The credentials, the motive and the objective of the petitioner have to be apparently and patently aboveboard. Otherwise the petition is liable to be dismissed at the threshold,” the judgment stated. Reasoning as to why it continues to skeptical about a large number of PILs, the Bench speaks for the Supreme Court when it says that “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”.
“This Court must not allow its process to be abused for oblique considerations by masked phantoms who monitor at times from behind,” it said.