14 December 2004
Supreme Court


Case number: SLP(C) No.-026269-026269 / 2004
Diary number: 23984 / 2004



CASE NO.: Special Leave Petition (civil)  26269 of 2004

PETITIONER: Dattaraj Nathuji Thaware

RESPONDENT: State of Maharashtra & Ors.

DATE OF JUDGMENT: 14/12/2004



(Arising out of CC No. 11374 of 2004)


       This case is a sad reflection on members of the legal profession  and is almost a black spot on the noble profession.  The petitioner who  belongs to this profession filed a petition styled as "Public Interest  Litigation" before the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court.  By the  impugned judgment, the High Court dismissed it holding that there was  no public interest involved and in fact the petitioner had resorted to  black mailing respondent nos. 6 and 7 and was caught red handed  accepting "black mailing" money.  The High Court also noticed that the  allegations of unauthorized constructions made in the petition were  also not true.   

       Cost of Rs.25,000/- (Rupees twenty five thousand only) which was  levied, was directed to be paid to the affected respondent nos. 6 and 7  before the High Court.

       It is, in fact, a black day for the black robed professionals, if  the allegation, as found by the High Court to be true and which  presently appear to be the subject matter of further proceedings in a  criminal case, are true.  This will leave the members of the legal  profession black faced for the black deed of the petitioner who may be  as the High Court found a black sheep in the profession.  Though the  petition filed by the petitioner carried the attractive brand name of  "Public Interest Litigation", the least that can be said is that it  smacks of every thing what the Public Interest Litigation should not  be.

When there is material to show that a petition styled as a public  interest litigation is nothing but a camouflage to foster personal  disputes, said petition is to be thrown out.  Before we grapple with  the issue involved in the present case, we feel it necessary to  consider the issue regarding public interest aspect. Public Interest  Litigation which has now come to occupy an important field in the  administration of law should not be "publicity interest litigation" or  "private interest litigation" or "politics interest litigation" or the  latest trend "paise income litigation".  The High Court has found that  the case at hand belongs to the last category. If not properly  regulated and abuse averted, it becomes also a tool in unscrupulous  hands to release vendetta and wreck vengeance, as well. There must be  real and genuine public interest involved in the litigation and not  merely an adventure of knight errant borne out of wishful thinking. It  cannot also be invoked by a person or a body of persons to further his



or their personal causes or satisfy his or their personal grudge and  enmity.  Courts of justice should not be allowed to be polluted by  unscrupulous litigants by resorting to the extraordinary jurisdiction.   A person acting bona fide and having sufficient interest in the  proceeding of public interest litigation will alone have a locus standi  and can approach the Court to wipe out violation of fundamental rights  and genuine infraction of statutory provisions, but not for personal  gain or private profit or political motive or any oblique  consideration. These aspects were highlighted by this Court in The  Janta Dal v. H.S. Chowdhary (1992 (4) SCC 305) and Kazi Lhendup Dorji  vs. Central Bureau of Investigation, (1994 Supp (2) SCC 116). A writ  petitioner who comes to the Court for relief in public interest must  come not only with clean hands like any other writ petitioner but also  with a clean heart, clean mind and clean objective.  (See Ramjas  Foundation vs. Union of India, (AIR 1993 SC 852) and K.R. Srinivas v.  R.M. Premchand, (1994 (6) SCC 620).

       It is necessary to take note of the meaning of expression ’public  interest litigation’. In Stroud’s Judicial Dictionary, Volume 4 (IV  Edition), ’Public Interest’ is defined thus:

"Public Interest (1) a matter of public or general  interest does not mean that which is interesting as  gratifying curiosity or a love of information or  amusement but that in which a class of the community  have a pecuniary interest, or some interest by which  their legal rights or liabilities are affected."

       In Black’s Law Dictionary (Sixth Edition), "public interest" is  defined as follows:

"Public Interest something in which the public, or  some interest by which their legal rights or  liabilities are affected.  It does not mean anything  the particular localities, which may be affected by  the matters in question.  Interest shared by  national government...."

       In Janata Dal case (supra) this Court considered the scope of  public interest litigation.  In para 52 of the said judgment, after  considering what is public interest, has laid down as follows:

"The expression ’litigation’ means a legal action  including all proceedings therein initiated in a  Court of law for the enforcement of right or seeking  a remedy.  Therefore, lexically the expression "PIL"  means the legal action initiated in a Court of law  for the enforcement of public interest or general  interest in which the public or a class of the  community have pecuniary interest or some interest  by which their legal rights or liabilities are  affected."

       In paras 60, 61 and 62 of the said judgment, it was pointed out  as follows:

"Be that as it may, it is needless to emphasis that  the requirement of locus standi of a party to a  litigation is mandatory, because the legal capacity  of the party to any litigation whether in private or  public action in relation to any specific remedy  sought for has to be primarily ascertained at the  threshold."

       In para 96 of the said judgment, it has further been pointed out



as follows:

"While this Court has laid down a chain of notable  decisions with all emphasis at their command about  the importance and significance of this newly  developed doctrine of PIL, it has also hastened to  sound a red alert and a note of severe warning that  Courts should not allow its process to be abused by  a mere busy body or a meddlesome interloper or  wayfarer or officious intervener without any  interest or concern except for personal gain or  private profit or other oblique consideration."

       In subsequent paras of the said judgment, it was observed as  follows:

"It is thus clear that only a person acting bona  fide and having sufficient interest in the  proceeding of PIL will alone have as locus standi  and can approach the Court to wipe out the tears of  the poor and needy, suffering from violation of  their fundamental rights, but not a person for  personal gain or private profit or political motive  or any oblique consideration.  Similarly a vexatious  petition under the colour of PIL, brought before the  Court for vindicating any personal grievance,  deserves rejection at the threshold".

       It is depressing to note that on account of such trumpery  proceedings initiated before the Courts, innumerable days are wasted,  which time otherwise could have been spent for the disposal of cases of  the genuine litigants. Though we spare no efforts in fostering and  developing the laudable concept of PIL and extending our long arm of  sympathy to the poor, the ignorant, the oppressed and the needy whose  fundamental rights are infringed and violated and whose grievances go  unnoticed, un-represented and unheard; yet we cannot avoid but express  our opinion that while genuine litigants with legitimate grievances  relating to civil matters involving properties worth hundreds of  millions of rupees and criminal cases in which persons sentenced to  death facing gallows under untold agony and persons sentenced to life  imprisonment and kept in incarceration for long years, persons  suffering from undue delay in service matters - government or private,  persons awaiting the disposal of cases wherein huge amounts of public  revenue or unauthorized collection of tax amounts are locked up, detenu  expecting their release from the detention orders etc. etc. are all  standing in a long serpentine queue for years with the fond hope of  getting into the Courts and having their grievances redressed, the  busybodies, meddlesome interlopers, wayfarers or officious interveners  having absolutely no public interest except for personal gain or  private profit either of themselves or as a proxy of others or for any  other extraneous motivation or for glare of publicity break the queue  muffing their faces by wearing the mask of public interest litigation  and get into the Courts by filing vexatious and frivolous petitions and  thus criminally waste the valuable time of the Courts and as a result  of which the queue standing outside the doors of the Courts never  moves, which piquant situation creates frustration in the minds of the  genuine litigants and resultantly they loose faith in the  administration of our judicial system.

       Public interest litigation is a weapon which has to be used with  great care and circumspection and the judiciary has to be extremely  careful to see that behind the beautiful veil of public interest an  ugly private malice, vested interest and/or publicity seeking is not  lurking. It is to be used as an effective weapon in the armory of law  for delivering social justice to the citizens.  The attractive brand



name of public interest litigation should not be used for suspicious  products of mischief.  It should be aimed at redressal of genuine  public wrong or public injury and not publicity oriented or founded on  personal vendetta. As indicated above, Court must be careful to see  that a body of persons or member of public, who approaches the court is  acting bona fide and not for personal gain or private motive or  political motivation or other oblique considerations.  The Court must  not allow its process to be abused for oblique considerations by masked  phantoms who monitor at times from behind. Some persons with vested  interest indulge in the pastime of meddling with judicial process  either by force of habit or from improper motives, and try to bargain  for a good deal as well to enrich themselves. Often they are actuated  by a desire to win notoriety or cheap popularity.  The petitions of  such busy bodies deserve to be thrown out by rejection at the  threshold, and in appropriate cases with exemplary costs.

       The Council for Public Interest Law set up by the Ford Foundation  in USA defined the "public interest litigation" in its report of Public  Interest Law, USA, 1976 as follows:

"Public Interest Law is the name that has recently  been given to efforts provide legal representation  to previously unrepresented groups and interests.   Such efforts have been undertaken in the recognition  that ordinary market place for legal services fails  to provide such services to significant segments of  the population and to significant interests.  Such  groups and interests include the proper  environmentalists, consumers, racial and ethnic  minorities and others."

       The Court has to be satisfied about (a) the credentials of the  applicant; (b) the prima facie correctness or nature of information  given by him; (c) the information being not vague and indefinite.  The  information should show gravity and seriousness involved.  Court has to  strike balance between two conflicting interests; (i) nobody should be  allowed to indulge in wild and reckless allegations besmirching the  character of others; and (ii) avoidance of public mischief and to avoid  mischievous petitions seeking to assail, for oblique motives,  justifiable executive actions.  In such case, however, the Court cannot  afford to be liberal.  It has to be extremely careful to see that under  the guise of redressing a public grievance, it does not encroach upon  the sphere reserved by the Constitution to the Executive and the  Legislature.  The Court has to act ruthlessly while dealing with  imposters and busybodies or meddlesome interlopers impersonating as  public-spirited holy men.  They masquerade as crusaders of justice.  They pretend to act in the name of Pro Bono Publico, though they have  no interest of the public or even of their own to protect.

       Courts must do justice by promotion of good faith, and prevent  law from crafty invasions.  Courts must maintain the social balance by  interfering where necessary for the sake of justice and refuse to  interfere where it is against the social interest and public good.   (See State of Maharashtra vs. Prabhu, (1994 (2) SCC 481), and Andhra  Pradesh State Financial Corporation vs. M/s GAR Re-Rolling Mills and  Anr., (AIR 1994 SC 2151).  No litigant has a right to unlimited draught  on the Court time and public money in order to get his affairs settled  in the manner as he wishes.  Easy access to justice should not be  misused as a licence to file misconceived and frivolous petitions. (See  Dr. B.K. Subbarao vs. Mr. K. Parasaran, (1996 (7) JT 265). Today people  rush to Courts to file cases in profusion under this attractive name of  public interest.  They must inspire confidence in Courts and among the  public.

       As noted supra, a time has come to weed out the petitions, which



though titled as public interest litigations are in essence something  else. It is shocking to note that Courts are flooded with large number  of so called public interest litigations where even a minuscule  percentage can legitimately be called as public interest litigations.  Though the parameters of public interest litigation have been  indicated by this Court in large number of cases, yet unmindful of the  real intentions and objectives, Courts are entertaining such petitions  and wasting valuable judicial time which, as noted above, could be  otherwise utilized for disposal of genuine cases. Though in Dr.  Duryodhan Sahu and Ors. v. Jitendra Kumar Mishra and Ors. (AIR 1999 SC  114), this Court held that in service matters PILs should not be  entertained, the inflow of so-called PILs involving service matters  continues unabated in the Courts and strangely are entertained.  The  least the High Courts could do is to throw them out on the basis of  the said decision. The other interesting aspect is that in the PILs,  official documents are being annexed without even indicating as to how  the petitioner came to possess them. In one case, it was noticed that  an interesting answer was given as to its possession. It was stated  that a packet was lying on the road and when out of curiosity the  petitioner opened it, he found copies of the official documents. Apart  from the sinister manner, if any, of getting such copies, the real  brain or force behind such cases would get exposed to find out the  truth and motive behind the petition. Whenever such frivolous pleas,  as noted, are taken to explain possession, the Court should do well  not only to dismiss the petitions but also to impose exemplary costs.  It would be desirable for the Courts to filter out the frivolous  petitions and dismiss them with costs as afore-stated so that the  message goes in the right direction that petitions filed with oblique  motive do not have the approval of the Courts.

                 In S.P. Gupta v. Union of India (1981 Supp. SCC 87)it was  emphatically pointed out that the relaxation of the rule of locus  standi in the field of PIL does not give any right to a busybody or  meddlesome interloper to approach the Court under the guise of a public  interest litigant.  He has also left the following note of caution:  (SCC p.219, para 24)

"But we must be careful to see that the member of  the public, who approaches the court in cases of  this kind, is acting bona fide and not for personal  gain or private profit or political motivation or  other oblique consideration.  The court must not  allow its process to be abused by politicians and  others to delay legitimate administrative action or  to gain a political objective."

       In State of H.P. vs. A Parent of a Student of Medical College,  Simla and Ors. (1985 (3) SCC 169), it has been said that public  interest litigation is a weapon which has to be used with great care  and circumspection.

       These aspects have been highlighted in Ashok Kumar Pandey v.  State of West Bengal (2004 (3) SCC 349) and Dr. B. Singh v. Union of  India & Ors. (2004 (3) SCC 363).

       It is disturbing feature which needs immediate remedial measure  by the Bar Councils and the Bar Association to see that the process of  law is not abused and polluted by its member.  It is high time that the  Bar Councils and the Bar Associations ensure that no member of the Bar  becomes party as petitioner or in aiding and/or abetting files  frivolous petitions carrying the attractive brand name of "Public  Interest Litigation".  That will be keeping in line with the high  traditions of the Bar.  No one should be permitted to bring disgrace to  the noble profession.  We would have imposed exemplary cost in this



regard but taking note of the fact that the High Court had already  imposed costs of Rs.25,000/-, we do not propose to impose any further  cost.

       Let copy of this judgment be sent to Bar Council of India and the  Supreme Court Bar Association by the Registry for necessary action.  

       The petition deserves to be dismissed, which we direct.