On Wednesday, the day reserved by the Delhi High Court for hearing PILs, lawyers specialising in such litigations termed the Supreme Court’s comments on “judicial overreach” as “unfortunate”.
They defended the High Court’s orders on issues affecting the public, saying the court had interfered only when the executive failed to discharge its duty.
“The observations are unfortunate. The High Court never encroaches into the area of executive by issuing orders or tries to create law. Rather they only force the executive to perform their duties. This is the purpose of PILs,” said lawyer Ashok Aggarwal.
He is the petitioner in PILs on nursery admissions, free beds for the poor in hospitals, free seats for children for economically weaker sections in schools. The court’s orders in these cases were cited by the apex court as “overreach”.
He expressed surprise as to how the Bench of Justices A K Mathur and Markandey Katju could make such observations when the matters relating to nursery admissions and free seats in schools for the poor were pending before other benches in the Supreme Court itself.
“The Bench termed the ban on interviews as illegal. But it seems they forgot that a Supreme Court Bench had on January 8 this year upheld the ban imposed by the High Court and dismissed an appeal filed by Shri Ram School. Similarly, the apex court had also justified the enhancement of fines for traffic offences which again was criticised by Justice Katju’s bench,” he said. Aggarwal said such observations would only add to the confusion prevailing in the sphere of nursery admission.
Lawyer Meera Bhatia, involved in PILs on poor conditions of burns wards, the monkey and stray dog menaces said her NGO Common Cause filed PILs only when the civic agencies abdicated their responsibility.
“Animal rights were getting priority vis-à-vis human rights. It is not that we knocked the doors of the court straightaway. We wrote letters to the government. When they failed to do their duty, we filed writ petitions in the court,” said Bhatia.
Lawyer Varun Goswami, whose PIL resulted in improvement in the quality of food served by the railways, said the PIL was an effective weapon to put the authorities on notice. Goswami said the observations by the Supreme Court portrayed a peculiar situation. “If the High Court does not act on complaints against the authorities they are criticised by the public and when they respond to the PILs and take action they come under fire from the Supreme Court,” he said.
Lawyer Sugriva Dubey who filed PILs seeking phase out of Blueline buses and the cattle menace, said the Supreme Court’s comments threaten to endanger the public interest jurisdiction of courts. “History will prove PILs have been an effective mechanism in cases of violation of basic human rights of the poor, to oppose government policies and to compel municipal authorities to perform a public duty and violation of religious rights or other basic fundamental rights.”
But lawyer K C Mittal, also president of the Delhi High Court Bar Association, welcomed Supreme Court’s observations and said it was high time the number of PILs were curbed. “From the sheer volume of PILs being filed, we know how it is being misused. It also adds to the pendency. It is also noticed that courts tend to give general orders without hearing the parties or going into the merits of the petition which is very harmful.”