Supreme Court gets tough on PILs

On the PIL over pharmaceutical regulations by NRI activist Dinesh Thakur, the court asked what locus standi (the right to bring a court action) he had on the issue


A file photo of T.S. Thakur, chief justice of India, whose remarks indicate a toughening judicial stance against PILs deemed to be frivolous. Photo: PTI
A file photo of T.S. Thakur, chief justice of India, whose remarks indicate a toughening judicial stance against PILs deemed to be frivolous. Photo: PTI

New Delhi: Chief justice of India T.S. Thakur came down hard on frivolous public interest litigation (PIL) on Friday, dismissing four petitions outright and allowing one to be withdrawn.

One PIL sought to change the name of India to Bharat. Justice Thakur was scathing in his dismissal of the petition.

“We don’t want to interfere. Whatever you call it – India remains India, Bharat remains Bharat,” he said. “Public interest litigation is for some poor people. You think we have nothing else to do,” Thakur asked.

Three of the four other PILs on Friday dealt with regulation of the pharmaceutical industry, curbing advertisements of cigarettes and alcohol on the Internet and on alleged irregularities in the process followed by a special investigating team formed after the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.

On the last PIL, justice Thakur noted that it had been filed nearly 32 years after the event, calling it an attempt to keep the pot boiling.

On the PIL over regulation of the pharmaceutical industry by pharma activist Dinesh Thakur, an Indian residing overseas, the court asked what locus standi (the right to bring a court action) he had on the issue.

“How can you bring these academic issues? (It’s for) people who are affected. We will not entertain petitions from public interest activists who come here for publicity or whatever. Unless there is something very serious that affects someone, we will not entertain (it),” CJI Thakur said, allowing the PIL to be withdrawn.

Thakur’s remarks indicate a toughening judicial stance against PILs deemed to be frivolous. The Supreme Court’s approach may set an example for lower courts to follow.

When a farmers organization approached the top court against the World Culture Festival being organized by the Art of Living Foundation on the floodplains of the Yamuna river in Delhi, the court asked the petitioner if it was seeking publicity.

Earlier this year, CJI Thakur also questioned the Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL), a non-government organization that brought issues including irregularities in the 2008 2G spectrum allocations, to the notice of the court.

“Are you a professional litigant? What is the process (of filing cases)? Is there scrutiny?,” Thakur had asked. “You shouldn’t become an instrument in the hands of other interests.”

In light of the court questioning CPIL, Shweta Hingorani of the Kapila and Nirmal Hingorani Foundation, in a column in the Indian Express, wrote that the courts being mindful of the difference between “PIL for the poor and disabled and PIL relating to diffuse or collective rights” was a “positive trend”.

The foundation is a champion of PIL.

“It is, indeed, time that the PIL was reclaimed for its original constituents by limiting it to matters concerning the protection of fundamental rights of the disadvantaged and underprivileged,” she wrote. “This would help restore the legitimacy and efficacy not only of the PIL as a means of providing access to justice to the poorest of the poor, but also of the judiciary as an institution.”