Government admits abuse of legal system

Vol 4, PW 12 (19 Jul 00) People & Policy

Draw up a list of reasons why you think an infrastructure project is against the public interest, get a bent lawyer to draft a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) and place it before a court.

In India, there's no easier way to block a project. Cogentrix complained bitterly about the misuse of PILs prior to its abrupt departure from India last Christmas.

Enron is no stranger to the ruse either. In India PILs are a favourite tool of environmental groups, lobbyists and vested interest that want to halt, obstruct or kill projects in the oil, gas and power sectors.

Companies that have been dragged before the Indian courts or fear they will be will no doubt welcome an acknowledgement by authorities that the system is open to widespread abuse. Sadly, the government plans to do nothing about it.

Below is the full text of a government notice released by the Press Information Bureau on 6th July: "The Government has decided not to take measures for prevention of misuse of Public Interest Litigation (PIL) at the moment. In fact, it is for the court to ensure that frivolous litigations in the name of PIL by persons having vested interests are not entertained.

PIL is usually entertained by court for redressing the grievances of the downtrodden masses, public injury, enforcing public duty, protecting social rights and vindicating public interest. It has to some extent served the purpose of helping the poor and underprivileged for getting justice.

To prevent misuse of PIL, the Supreme Court of India has laid down guidelines in Raunaq International Ltd. Vs. IVR Construction Ltd. and Malik Brothers Vs.

Narendra Dadhich and Others. The guidelines are: The PIL should not be merely a cloak for attaining private ends of a third party or of the party bringing the petition.

The court should examine the previous record of public service rendered by the organisation bringing PIL. Before entertaining a writ petition and passing any interim orders in such petition, the court must carefully weigh conflicting public interests.

Only when it comes to a conclusion that there is overwhelming public interest in entertaining the petition, the court should intervene. Even when PIL is entertained, the court must be careful to weigh conflicting public interests before intervening.

The party at whose instance interim orders are obtained has to be made accountable for the consequences of the interim order. In appropriate cases, the petitioner asking for interim orders should be asked to provide security for any increase in costs as a result of delay or any damages suffered by the opposite party in consequence of any interim order.

Stay orders or interim order if passed must be moulded to provide for restitution. If the PIL fails, the public must be compensated for the delay in implementation of the project and the cost escalation resulting from such delay on account of the interim order.

If the court finds that in the garb of PIL, actually an individuals interest is sought to be carried out or protected, it would be the bounden duty of the court not to entertain such petition. The court should restrict the flow of cases in the name of PIL, otherwise traditional litigation will suffer and courts of law, instead of dispensing justice will have to take upon themselves administrative and executive functions."