January,13,2016: Questioning the locus standi of the NGO Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) in filing public interest litigations pertaining to corporate issues like 4G, the Supreme Court on Tuesday grilled advocate Prashant Bhushan for filing a large number of PILs through his NGO.
“Why should we hear PILs filed by CPIL? You are a professional litigant. Can you become a centre for PILs? Can anyone walk into your office and tell you ‘I want to file a PIL’? We will not allow the process to be taken for a ride. Any number of petitions are filed by you. We can’t allow you to be a perpetual litigant,” a bench headed by Chief Justice of India T S Thakur said.
The bench, however, made it clear that the queries are to find out if any rival corporate house has sponsored the petition.
After facing a series of searching queries, Bhushan said that the CPIL was an organisation formed by senior lawyers and had an expert committee which scrutinises every petition before it is filed in the court.
“There is a committee which comprises Fali Nariman, Anil Divan, Kamini Jaiswal, my father (senior advocate Shanti Bhushan) and myself and all petitions are scrutinised by us,” Bhushan told the bench.
Justice Thakur said that whenever a PIL is filed by CPIL, the court should have the confidence that the same is not at the instance of a party which is trying to settle scores with someone else. “Is there any mechanism to scrutinise the litigation which will establish that the litigation is not sponsored by a third party? We would like to go into the question whether petitions filed by CPIL go through such a process and it is a serious PIL,” Justice Thakur said.
The court made it clear that when a petition is filed by CPIL, the court usually considers it seriously while the same petition might be treated indifferently if filed by a party with commercial interests.
“When you come to us, we take you seriously. But when a commercial competitor comes to us, we might not. This competitor knows this and might send a proxy to you with documents and information which you otherwise don’t have access to. You have to establish a credible mechanism to justify that a particular case is fit to be filed,” theChief Justice said, adding, “Your organisation should not become an instrument in the hands of commercial rivals of others and it should not appear that both of you work hand-in-gloves.”
To the court’s query, Bhushan said that there is a mechanism in place. “Whenever a commercially interested person comes to us, we look at the information given to him with great suspicion. It is only after the committee scrutinises the information and is satisfied that there is public interest involved, we decide whether to file a case or not,” he said.
“So is it just Kamini Jaiswal (who is also associated with the NGO) and you sit and decide in your chambers? Our impression is that you have no mechanism to verify the credibility of your information,” Justice Thakur said referring to Bhushan’s submission that about 50 PILs have been filed by the CPIL over the years.
Then Bhushan submitted, “So are your lordships suggesting that we should have a research wing?”
“You should have an investigative wing. It will help you and us,” said Justice Thakur.
There were also queries about the funding of CPIL, to which Bhushan replied that “there is hardly any funding” and most of the work is pro bono.
The present PIL, filed through Bhushan, sought quashing of the permission granted by the government to Reliance for providing voice telephony on broadband wireless access (BWA) spectrum and pitched for a court-monitored CBI investigation in the alleged Rs 40,000 crore scam.
It alleged that the Centre’s decision to allow voice telephony has given undue benefit of about Rs 22,842 crore to RJIL and corresponding loss to the government and “is therefore arbitrary, unreasonable and discriminatory”