- Apprentice Lawyer
As evidenced by instances in the recent past, Public Interest Litigation and Article 32 petitions are no longer confined to securing fundamental rights of citizens.
From seeking perjury charges against a scribe and praying for removal of protesters to declaring a four-decade old Presidential order as unconstitutional, the scope of the PILs and Article 32 petitions has expanded to uncharted territories.
In 2020, the Supreme Court of India witnessed a plethora of petitions seeking reliefs that were truly outlandish. In one case, the Court remarked that "these public spirited individuals have too much of spirit without anything on merit". Even so, the Court surprisingly agreed to consider a few of them.
Here is a list of ten such of petitions.
A plea was filed by 94-year-old Vera Sarin praying that the Presidential notification proclaiming the 1975 National Emergency be declared unconstitutional. Sarin also prayed for damages to the tune of Rs 25 crore for the losses suffered by her on account of State excesses during emergency.
Sarin claimed that she and her husband were compelled to leave the country for fear of being thrown into jail, "in pursuance of unjustifiable and arbitrary detention orders issued against her husband."
A Bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Dinesh Maheshwari and Hrishikesh Roy issued notice to the Central government, stating that it will hear the petitioner on the limited aspect of whether the validity of such proclamation can be probed by the Court after passage of "such a long time."
The order was passed after Senior Advocate Harish Salve, appearing for the petitioner, argued that the Court is empowered to examine the validity of the proclamation of Emergency. He said,
"War crimes issues are still heard. Post World War, people are raising issues of the Holocaust now. It (Emergency) was a fraud on the Constitution. We must have this decided by this Court. I feel very strongly for this. This is not a matter for political debate. Didn't we see what happened to prisoners during Emergency?
This PIL sought directions to the Union Law Ministry to make available guides and handbooks on laws of general public interest and redressal of grievances in easily understandable language.
The petitioner, Dr Subhash Vijayran, based the plea on the basis of the fact that "writing of most lawyers is: (1) wordy, (2) unclear, (3) pompous and (4) dull."
In October 2020, Bench of Chief Justice of India SA Bobde and Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian issued notice to the Central government.
CJI SA Bobde, while issuing notice, told the lawyer,
"Another argument you should make is that if the English is not spoken with simplicity, then people will move away from using it at all."
A Secunderabad resident approached the Supreme Court against proliferation of fake spiritual gurus and ashrams.
The plea highlighted the plight of his own daughter, who he alleged was confined in an Adhyatmika Vidyalaya Ashram at Rohini in Delhi founded by Veerendra Dev Dixit, who is currently absconding after being accused of rape.
The petitioner stated that the government failed to take action against such ashrams run by the fake babas even after the apex body of sages, Akhil Bharatiya Akhada Parishad, released a list declaring 17 babas as fake in 2017.
This list included big names such as Asaram Bapu and Gurmeet Ram Rahim, apart from rape accused Dixit.
In July, a Bench of Chief Justice of India SA Bobde with Justices R Subhash Reddy and AS Bopanna posted the PIL for hearing after two weeks while asking Solicitor General Tushar Mehta to look into the issue of ashrams run by fake spiritual leaders and babas.
The petitioner said that the inmates at as many as 17 ashrams run by fake babas have unhygienic and jail-like conditions, which could heighten the risk of spreading the novel Coronavirus.
Advocate Reepak Kansal moved a plea before the top court in May this year seeking perjury action against Editor-in-Chief of Republic TV, Arnab Goswami.
The ground for the plea was that Goswami referred to himself as a journalist in a plea before the Supreme Court seeking quashing of FIRs against him for allegedly defaming Congress President Sonia Gandhi.
Kansal said that Goswami referring to himself as 'journalist' was a false statement amounting to perjury.
A Bench headed by Justice DY Chandrachud promptly dismissed the plea.
A Delhi-based lawyer and a Goa-based journalist moved the apex court seeking a probe by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) or the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into a memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed between India's Congress party and the Communist Party of China in 2008.
The petitioners - Advocate Shahshak Shekhar Jha and Savio Rodrigues - submitted that the MoU was a cause of concern regarding national security and should be investigated for offences under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).
A Bench headed by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde asked the petitioners to approach the High Court first before moving the Supreme Court. The petitioners subsequently proceeded to withdraw the petition.
The top court's intervention was also sought for reducing prices of diesel and petrol.
Kerala-based advocate Shaji J Kodankandath moved the Court contending that the soaring prices of petrol and diesel were unreasonable, considering the fact that crude oil prices were low.
The petitioner sought directions from the apex court to the Centre to reduce the price of petrol and diesel.
However, a three-judge Bench of Justices RF Nariman, Navin Sinha and Indira Banerjee warned the petitioner that if he presses with his plea, he could end up paying a heavy fine. The Court had said:
“Do you want to argue this case Because if you do, we will impose heavy costs.”
The petitioner's counsel then chose to withdraw the plea.
Since the expansion of PIL jurisprudence, there have been umpteen PILs asking the Court to intrude into the domain of policy making and legislation.
In June 2020, a PIL came up before the Supreme Court seeking ban on sale and use of Coca-Cola and Thums Up on the ground that these soft beverages are detrimental to health.
Besides seeking a ban on the sale and use of the drinks, the PIL also sought issuing of a notification by the government informing the people at large about the health hazards posed by the two soft drinks.
A Bench led by Justice DY Chandrachud not only dismissed the PIL, but also imposed costs of Rs. 5 lakh on the petitioner.
The Court observed that the PIL was filed for extraneous reasons, noting that only two specific soft drinks brands were chosen to be the target of the proceedings.
The 8-year long litigation in the 2012 Delhi gang rape case finally drew to a close early this year with the hanging of the four convicts.
However, before they were hanged, a plea was preferred before the Supreme Court by none other than a former High Court judge seeking a direction to Tihar jail authorities to give an option to the four convicts to offer their bodies for medical research by donating their organs.
However, a Bench led by Justice R Banumathi, while dismissing the plea, stared that "by way of PIL you can't seek such direction. If they (convicts) want to do it they can express such things by themselves or through their family members."
The petition by retired Justice Michael F Saldanna, was dismissed as "misconceived".
While Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai never has been the case since 1962, invoking Supreme Court's jurisdiction in relation to China was more than just bizarre. But this was what happened when at least two PIL petitions were filed with regard to China's alleged role in COVID-19 spread.
One PIL filed by a Madurai resident prayed for a direction to the Indian government to approach International Court of Justice (ICJ) for compensation to the tune of $ 600 billion from China over COVID-19 being allegedly used as a bio weapon. The petition was rejected.
Another was a plea by a Doctors' organization, Doctors For You urging the Court to direct the Government of India to make a representation to China and seek information on COVID-19 to facilitate the development of an effective antidote for the same. The plea was eventually withdrawn.
In September, a Supreme Court bench headed by CJI SA Bobde issued notice on a plea to declare the entire animal kingdom as a legal entity.
The plea by Allahabad-based NGO, People's Charioteer Organization (PCO) said that bestowing the status of “Legal Personality/Entity” should be construed as extending of the rights of a living person to the animal kingdom and that it should be considered for the purposes of halting “Animal Cruelty” as defined under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960.
Though the Bench sought response from the Central government, it orally observed it would be "difficult" for the Court to grant the prayer.
"What kind of prayer have you made? You want entire animal kingdom to be treated as legal entity? You want them to be capable of suing and being sued? Animals have protection under various statutes," CJI Bobde remarked.