[Central Vista Verdict] Supreme Court laments misuse of PIL after transferring case from Delhi High Court to itself citing “public interest”

It was the Supreme Court which took it upon itself to transfer the petitions pending before the High Court to itself and hear the case on merits
Supreme Court
Supreme Court

The majority judgment of the Supreme Court upholding the Central Vista redevelopment project has urged for introspection of the tool of Public Interest Litigation lamenting how frivolous PILs are eating into the Court’s time which can be utilised for hearing other cases.

The judgment authored by Justice AM Khanwilkar on behalf of himself and Justice Dinesh Maheshwari and running into 432 pages goes on to bemoan, at paragraph 394, about how public interest litigation is being used to transform a Constitutional court as a superlative authority over day-to-day governance.

This, the Court said, was never the intention of PIL.

“The tool of public interest litigation or “social interest litigation”, as it is more appropriately called, was devised to open the doors of the constitutional Courts for remedying glaring injustices against humans, that is, for securing constitutional rights. It was never meant to transform the constitutional Court as a superlative authority over day-to-day governance,” the judgment said.

Judicial time is not meant for undertaking a roving enquiry or to adjudicate upon unsubstantiated flaws or shortcoming in policy matters of government of the day and politicise the same to appease the dissenting group of citizens – be it in the guise of civil society or a political outfit, the Court added.

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The time which was spent on hearing Central Vista case could have been better utilised for hearing other cases relating to liberty, pension salary, motor accident claims, land acquisition compensation, including genuine corporate resurrection, the Court said.

We need to say so because we had to spend considerable time and energy on this matter (lest the petitioners entertain a feeling of having been denied a fair opportunity), despite the pandemic situation, which at the end, we find to be devoid of substance.”

But what is interesting is that the petitions challenging the Central Vista redevelopment project was never before the Supreme Court.

The two petitions, one by Rajeev Suri and another by Lt Col (Retd) Anuj Srivastava were filed before the Delhi High Court

A single-judge bench of Justice Rajiv Shakdher had, on February 11, granted them interim relief ordering that the DDA should approach the High Court before notifying any of the proposed changes in the land use.

However, a Division bench of the Delhi High Court comprising Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice C Hari Shankar vacated the stay order on February 28.

Suri then approached the Supreme Court by way of a Special Leave Petition (SLP) challenging the limited aspect of denial of interim relief.

If the Supreme Court had declined to entertain the SLP, the case would have automatically been heard and decided by the Delhi High Court.

Instead, the Supreme Court took it upon itself to transfer the petitions pending before the High Court to itself and hear the case on merits, that is challenge to the project itself.

Interestingly, the reason given by the Supreme Court was that the case involved “larger public interest.”

The order passed to that effect by the top court on March 8 stated:

“In our opinion, it is just and proper that writ petition itself is heard by this Court instead of examining the grievance about the manner in which the interim directions have been passed and then vacated by the High Court. Indeed, this order is not a reflection on the proceedings before the High Court, in any manner, but in larger public interest, we deem it appropriate that the entire matter pertaining to challenge pending before the High Court is heard and decided by this court expeditiously.”

It, therefore, proceeded to transfer the petitions pending before the Delhi High Court to itself and ordered that the case before Delhi High Court would stand disposed of.

We can only hope that the irony of transferring the case from Delhi High Court to itself citing “larger public interest” and then berating the petitioners for misusing PIL to waste the Court’s time, is not lost on Your Lordships.

[Read March 8, 2020 Order]

Central Vista March 8 order.pdf

[Read January 5, 2021 Judgment]

Central Vista judgment.pdf
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