Since May 28, 2023, the day Justice SV Gangapurwala took oath as Chief Justice of the Madras High Court, 542 new Public Interest Litigation (PIL) petitions were filed before the principal bench of the High Court. As per statistics revealed by the High Court Registry, as of January 12, 2024, CJ Gangapurwala disposed of 399 such PILs..In other words, 73.6 per cent of the PILs that were heard by the Chief Justice were disposed of over the course of the last eight months..Just to add perspective to the figures, as per the Madras High Court’s annual report for the year 2022, of the 1,19,772 writ petitions that the Court took up through the year, only 49,971 or 41.72 per cent of such cases were disposed of..The reason for such a high disposal rate of PILs, according to the Chief Justice himself, is a “very simple filter” he employs to screen “frivolous litigation.” Most of the time, when a new PIL is filed, the judge asks the petitioner to establish his or her bona fides before the Court.And if he is left unconvinced, the Chief Justice directs litigants to deposit some money with the Registry as pre-condition to hear the PIL.The Chief Justice is also known to impose costs on dismissal of long drawn PILs that ultimately get dismissed by the Court..Pay up or shut up.On July 7 last year, a Bench of CJ Gangapurwala and Justice AD Audikesavalu directed PIL petitioner and self-proclaimed temple activist Rangarajan Narasimhan to deposit ₹3.5 lakh (₹50,000 for each of his seven PILs alleging irregularities in appointment of trustees for temples across Tamil Nadu) to prove his bona fides.The Court clarified that such amount will be returned to the petitioner if his PILs were found to be genuine. But if they were frivolous, the amount would be forfeited.Narasimhan, who is a familiar face in court room number one of the Madras High Court, has filed countless PILs against the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) Department in the past, most pertaining to the management of cash-rich temples across the State. He agreed to pay the amount..On August 26 last year, the same Bench asked lawyer and PIL petitioner ML Ravi to deposit ₹1 lakh with the Registry to prove his bona fides in the PIL seeking a direction to the Central Board of Film Certification to revoke the UA certificate — which allows children aged below 12 to watch a movie under parental guidance — issued to Rajinikanth-starrer Jailer.The Bench headed by the Chief Justice initially asked Ravi what was the point in hearing the case, as a fortnight had passed since the movie’s release. But when Ravi insisted on the PIL being heard, the Chief Justice asked him to pay the amount of ₹1 lakh.Ravi then chose to withdraw the PIL saying he could not pay the amount.“I have been filing PILs here at the Madras High Court for the last 10 years. The current Chief Justice, however, insists on a person’s bona fides even though the whole idea of public interest litigation is that any conscientious citizen is permitted to take up a public cause. If I am personally, singularly affected, I have other remedies. I can file a writ petition or a criminal OP as the case may be. But when it comes to PILs, a public cause must be involved. And the court simply has to determine whether that public cause exists or not,” Ravi said..On November 4 last year, the Chief Justice, who was at the time presiding over a Bench along with Justice D Bharatha Chakravarthy, once again directed Ravi to deposit ₹1 lakh to establish his bona fides.This time, Ravi had filed a PIL seeking directions to prohibit the DMK's signature campaigns against the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) at school campuses in the State.Ravi chose to withdraw again and then moved a fresh plea before the Supreme Court directly. The Supreme Court eventually dismissed his petition..Recounting his experience, Ravi said,“I do not have that kind of money to pay, so I went to the apex court. However, as I said earlier, the court’s job is to examine whether there is a public cause or not and the Supreme Court did examine that at least. After I withdrew the PIL against the CBFC certification for Jailer, I came to know that a similar petition had been filed against the Tamil film Leo before the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court. And the Madurai bench had issued notices on the PIL while the principal bench had refused to engage with or to issue notice on my PIL here which was so similar."Ravi insists that PILs are very important in a democracy as they ensure access to justice for even those who are unable to come to court themselves..Cutting out the clutter.The Chief Justice also has a different system of listing PILs in the causelist. The Madras High Court has never had a separate day allocated for PILs, like, for instance, the Delhi High Court does. In the past, particularly when the Madras High Court was headed by Chief Justice MN Bhandari or Acting Chief Justice T Raja, a handful of PILs, old and new, used be listed every day, dispersed seemingly at random across the day’s causelist.However, ever since CJ Gangapurwala took charge, the PILs in his Court, particularly the older ones, get listed separately in ‘List 2'. List 1 consists of an average of 130 matters, writ petitions, writ appeals, appeals arising from Intellectual Property Rights matters etc.The writ petitions in List 1 also include fresh or newly instituted PILs. And on any given day, the first list contains an average of just two or three such PILs.The second list has around 50-60 matters, most of them older PILs that have been pending hearing, await further directions, or which need to be disposed of.While List 1 is dynamic, and changes each day, List 2 continues through the week, depending on how many matters from List 1 were heard on that day.“I always sit at least for half an hour beyond the official court hour to finish my board for the day. So, after the first list gets over, I take matters from the second list. On any day, if the first list remains to be completed, then the second list carries forward as is to the next day,” Chief Justice Gangapurwala told Bar & Bench..Justice Chakravarthy, who shares the Bench with CJ Gangapurwala currently, told Bar & Bench that another thing that helps in screening and speedy disposal of frivolous litigation is the Chief Justice’s habit of passing “short orders.”“He (CJ Gangapurwala) is very clear that in service matters, there can’t be any PILs, or that not every matter requires a lengthy order. When required, he will pass straightforward two-line orders and we are done. This is something that I have learned from him. It has helped us cut a lot of clutter,” Justice Chakravarthy said..A price to pay.A perusal of the first court’s judgments shows that over the last six months, the Bench led by CJ Gangapurwala also imposed costs on two PIL petitioners, whose PILs, instituted in 2023, were eventually dismissed for being frivolous or without cause.On September 13, the Bench led by CJ Gangapurwala dismissed a PIL and imposed costs on petitioner M Kesavan, who had claimed a road was being constructed on a designated water body in the State, but had no documentary or any other evidence and research to back his claim..On November 20, 2023, the Bench directed PIL petitioner R Rajendran, who was seeking implementation of a single-judge’s previous order without confirming if such order had already been implemented or not, to deposit costs, saying that Rajendran had “wrongfully invoked the jurisdiction of the Court for entertaining the Public Interest Litigation.”.Incidentally, Rule 7A of the Bombay High Court PIL Rules allows the High Court to direct a PIL petitioner to deposit a security amount in the court subject to final or interim orders.Last year, during a hearing on a PIL before the Madras High Court, CJ Gangapurwala had made the reference to this Rule while cautioning the petitioner against pursuing his not-so-sincere PIL. At the time, the Chief Justice had remarked orally that the Madras High Court’s Rule Committee and Registry too should perhaps look into devising similar Rules..The Chief Justice's strategy to filter out frivolous PILs appears to have found favour with the Bar.Advocate Sharath Chandran, who has acted as amicus curiae in several matters at the Madras High Court, said that CJ Gangapurwala was known for a similar approach even during his tenure as the Acting CJ and then CJ of the Bombay High Court.“CJ Gangapurwala has been very strict with the issue of one’s locus standi in a PIL, which is great, because in the past, the Madras High Court has been quite lax about it. He has been following the text book method where the court filters genuine litigation from frivolous ones. It is a great approach from the institution’s point of view because the Court then gets to spend time on important judicial work instead of having to engage with what is supposed to be the executive’s job,” Chandran said..Senior Advocate and Additional Advocate General for Tamil Nadu J Ravindran also agreed that the Chief Justice's method of disposing of PILs is beneficial to the institution and is reflective of the judge's efficiency."Our current Chief Justice is like MS Dhoni. Just as how Dhoni has the ability to hit massive runs in limited balls, CJ Gangapurwala has this habit of quickly disposing of cases without compromising on justice. All his orders are justifiable and equitable. He gives patient hearing to PIL petitioners but doesn't waste time if the matter appears to be frivolous. Also, I do not think any of his PIL orders have been challenged, so that again speaks volumes. In fact, I don't recall any other judge of the first court of the Madras High Court being able to finish 100-120 matters of his board every day. In the past, it has always been 40 to 50 matters being finished on an average every day. So, what is happening now is really good for the institution," AAG Ravindran said..As per the latest statistics made public by the High Court, the principal bench at Chennai has 1,50,616 cases pending as on January 2, 2023 and the Madurai bench has 83,929 cases pending on January 2, 2023.While the figures on its disposal rate for the corresponding year are yet to be published, as per the past annual reports of the Court, in 2022, the total case disposal rate for the principal bench of the Madras High Court was 61% while it was 39% for the Madurai bench.The case clearance rate for both the benches together for 2022 was recorded as 114%. As per the annual report, 1,61,810 cases were instituted before the principal seat in Chennai and the Madurai bench between January 1, 2022 and December 31, 2022 and the Court disposed of 1,85,203 cases during the same period.