After he took over as the 38th Chief Justice of India last year, Justice SH Kapadia said huge costs would be imposed on litigants filing frivolous public interest litigation (PIL) petitions. His statement was widely welcomed because instances of unscrupulous elements filing PILs to advance personal or pecuniary interest had witnessed an upward trend in recent years. And last year too, a bench of the apex court raised concern over the misuse of PILs. The same bench had also issued a set of guidelines, which it wanted all courts in the country to observe while entertaining PILs.
In a speech in September 2008, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also expressed concern over the misuse of the PIL: “Many would argue that like in so many things in public life, in PILs too we may have gone too far. Perhaps a corrective was required and we have had some balance restored in recent times.”
Now, in what could result in the most effective tool against frivolous PILs, the Union Ministry of Law and Justice is giving final touches to a law to regulate the PIL. And helping the Ministry in its endeavour is none other than former Chief Justice of India P N Bhagwati, acknowledged as somebody who along with Justice V R Krishna Iyer pioneered the concept of PIL in the country.
“For last many years, there has been demand that there should be some checks and balances so as to ensure that only genuine PILs, which are filed with the public good in mind, are allowed while those aimed at either harassing some individual or corporate or protecting the interests of an individual or corporate should be checked at the very initial stage. Even the Supreme Court was constrained to issue guidelines to regulate the PILs. We have decided to try and take it forward and bring a legislation laying down guidelines for PILs,” Union Law Minister M Veerappa Moily said.
Sources in the Law Ministry told The Indian Express that Moily has already held meetings with Justice Bhagwati and some legal experts to seek their suggestions. Among other things, the Ministry is proposing to effectively discourage and curb the PILs filed for extraneous considerations. It also wants to make it an offence for anybody to file a PIL for extraneous and ulterior motives and empower the courts to discourage such PILs by imposing exemplary costs.
In its judgment, where it talked of the need to regulate the PIL, the SC bench had said that instead of “every individual judge devising his own procedure for dealing with the PIL, it would be appropriate for each High Court to properly formulate rules for encouraging the genuine PIL and discouraging the PIL filed with oblique motives”.
Aware that there could be some who might question the need for such a law, Moily said he was ready to bring around all such persons by explaining to them the need to have such a law. “We are not making it illegal to file a PIL. But we only want to check frivolous and motivated PILs,” he said.
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