Gamble in litigation


The SC finds that petitioners do not always come with clean hands

Most sane people prefer to stay away from the painfully slow and overcrowded courts. It is a misfortune to be dragged to a court, especially when one is an ordinary law-abiding citizen. The ancient Chinese swore at a foe, “let you be hauled to a court even if you’re innocent!”

However, there is a deviant species who attempt to gamble with law suits. They use the system to settle political scores or subdue business rivals. The Supreme Court spotted this class two years ago in the case Dalip Singh vs State of Uttar Pradesh and remarked: “In the last 40 years, a new breed of litigants has cropped up. The quest for personal gain has become so intense that those involved in litigation do not hesitate to take shelter in falsehood, misrepresentation and suppression of facts. Those who attempt to pollute the stream of justice or touch the pure fountain of justice with tainted hands are not entitled to any relief.”

The Supreme Court decided a few cases of this variety last week and even imprisoned one petitioner who lacked bona fides. One petition was moved by vocal politician Amar Singh. It was his constant whine that his political opponents in power are tapping his phones and his private conversations with friends in high places and celebrities were aired in the media. Therefore, he moved the Supreme Court invoking his fundamental right to privacy. But the court rejected his petition, calling it “an attempt to mislead the court on the basis of frivolous allegations and by suppression of material facts.”

Chastising those who move courts with such dubious motives, the judgment said: “This court wants to make it clear that an action at law is not a game of chess. A litigant who approaches the court must come with clean hands. He cannot prevaricate and take inconsistent positions.” Since the Amar Singh petition was vague, not conforming to the rules of procedure and riddled with inconsistencies, the court did not go into his main grievance — infringement of privacy.

The only positive outcome of the case was the court’s request to the government to “frame certain statutory guidelines to prevent interception of telephone conversation on unauthorised requests.” In this case, Reliance Infocom acted on a forged request from the police.

In another judgment, Kalyaneshwari vs Union of India, the court deprecated misuse of public interest litigation to wage business battles. A writ petition was filed in the Gujarat High Court seeking the closure of asbestos units, alleging that the material was harmful to humans. The high court dismissed it, stating that the petition was filed at the behest of rival industrial groups that wanted to push their products as substitute for asbestos. Undaunted, a similar petition was then moved in the Supreme Court. The plea was not only dismissed, but the person who mooted it was asked to pay cost of Rs 1 lakh and sit in the court for a whole day.

The judgment said: “The petition lacks bona fide and in fact was instituted at the behest of a rival industrial group, which was interested in banning of the activity of mining and manufacturing of asbestos. A definite attempt was made by it to secure a ban on these activities with the ultimate intention of increasing the demand of cast and ductile iron products as they are some of the suitable substitute for asbestos. Thus it was litigation initiated with ulterior motive of causing industrial imbalance and financial loss to the industry of asbestos through the process of court.”

The court declared that it was its duty in such circumstances to punish the petitioners exercising its power under the Contempt of Courts Act. The court must “ensure that such unscrupulous and undesirable public interest litigation be not instituted in courts of law so as to waste the valuable time of the courts as well as preserve the faith of the public in the justice delivery system.”

This variety of cases is not entirely new. They come with apparently laudable motives, but if the veil is removed they expose the real intentions. In the case, Subhash Kumar vs State of Bihar (1991), the complaint was that effluents released from the Tata Iron and Steel Company’s washeries were not only contaminating the Bokaro river but also ruining agricultural land. Later the court found that the petitioner was an influential businessman who was buying the slurry from the company for several years. His private interest was hurt when the company refused to provide him more slurry. Hence his public interest litigation. Such instances have occurred despite the stringent reaction of the courts at all levels and guidelines set by the apex court in some judgments.


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