The Supreme Court has cautioned that unscrupulous elements should not be allowed to "disguise" PILs to settle personal scores and upheld the extension granted to the special officer of Tirupati temple by the Tirumala Tirupathi Devesthanam Board.
A bench of justices B Sudershan Reddy and S S Nijjar in a judgement said that motivated PILs ought be dismissed "at the threshold" to prevent vested interests and busybodies from misusing judicial forums in such matters.
"The credentials, the motive and the objective of the petitioner have to be apparently and patently above board. Otherwise the petition is liable to be dismissed at the threshold," Justice Sudarshan Reddy observed while writing the judgement.
The apex court found fault with the Andhra Pradesh High Court for entertaining the PIL filed by Mangati Gopal Reddy, a devotee challenging the extension granted by the Board to Special Officer P Seshadri.
"By now it ought to be plain and obvious that this court does not approve of an approach that would encourage petitions filed for achieving oblique motives on the basis of wild and reckless allegations made by individuals, ie, busybodies; having little or no interest in the proceedings.
"The high court ought to have satisfied itself with regard to the credentials of respondent no. 1 before entertaining the writ petition, styled as public interest litigation. Respondent no.1 had merely pleaded that he moved the writ petition as he is a devotee of Lord Venkateswara. He is an agriculturist by profession," the bench said.
On April 28, 2010, the high court set aside the extension granted to Seshadri on the ground that it was contrary to Rule 13 of the TTD Board which prohibited continuing any employee beyond the superannuation age. The court had passed the order on Reddy's PIL which alleged that the extension was granted despite the incumbent facing corruption charges.
The controversy relates to embezzlement of funds and, in particular, loss of 300 gold dollars each weighing 5 gms in August, 2008.
Seshadri retired on July 31, 2006 but was given five years extension thereafter, Reddy had alleged.
Disagreeing with the high court's finding that the extension was contrary to the regulations, the apex court said the rule applies to every employee "except to the officers or staff taken on contract basis and officers or staff taken on deputation from the government or other organisations." Seshadri was serving on a contract basis.
According to the apex court, the petitioner had failed to supply any specific particulars as to how he is in possession of the said information against Seshadri.
"The controversy with regard to the management and administration of the temple's properties and funds have been deliberately mixed up with the extension granted to the appellant by the TTD Board. It is an admitted position that different proceedings are pending with regard to the management controversy of the temple trust.
"The aforesaid controversy had no relevance to the extension granted to the appellant. The writ petition seems to have been actuated by some disgruntled elements. He has also failed to show as to how and in what manner he represents the public interest," the bench said.
The apex court recalled its observations in the Divine Retreat Centre case that PIL can only be entertained at the instance of bonafide litigants. It cannot be permitted to be used by unscrupulous litigants to disguise personal or individual grievances as PILs.
"The facts placed on record in the present proceeding would clearly indicate that the appellant has not come to court with clean hands. He has failed to establish his credential for moving the writ petition as public interest litigation. In our opinion, the high court has failed to examine the matter in its correct perspective.
"The writ petition was undoubtedly moved by motives other than what was stated in the writ petition. A perusal of the affidavit in support of the writ petition would clearly show that the writ petition had been filed by the petitioner at the instance of some other persons who are hiding behind the veil," the bench remarked while allowing Seshadri's appeal.