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Even in our own country we have recognised this departure from the strict rule of locus standi in cases where there has been a violation of the constitutional or legal rights of persons who by reason of their socially or economically disadvantaged position are unable to approach the Court for judicial redress. We have in such cases permitted a member of the public to move the Court for enforcement of the constitutional or legal rights of such persons and judicial redress for the legal wrong or legal injury caused to them. Take for example, the decision of this Court in Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration where this Court accepted the habeas corpus petition of a prisoner complaining of brutal assault by a head warden on another prisoner. It may be incidentally mentioned and this is a point of some importance in the area of judicial remedies -- that in this case the Court broadened the scope of habeas corpus by making it available to a prisoner, not only for seeking his liberty, but also for the enforcement of a constitutional right to which he was lawfully entitled even in confinement. Similarly, in Dr. Upendra Baxi v. State of U. P. (1981) 3 Scale 1137 when it was found that the inmates of the Protective Home at Agra were living in inhuman and degarding conditions in blatant violation of Article 21 of the Constitution and by reason of their socially and economically disadvantaged position, they were not in a position to move the Court for judicial redress, two law professors of the Delhi University addressed a letter, to this Court seeking enforcement of the constitutional right of the inmates under Article 21 by improvement of the living conditions in the Protective Home, so that the inmates can live with human dignity in the Protective Home. This Court treated the letter as a writ petition and permitted the two law professors to maintain an action for an appropriate writ for the purpose of enforcing the constitutional right of the inmates of the Protective Home and providing judicial redress to them. This Court has also entertained a letter addressed by a journalist claiming relief against demolition of hutments of pavement dwellers by the Municipal Corporation of Bombay and this letter has been treated as a Writ Petition by a Bench presided over by the Chief Justice of India and interim relief has been granted to the pavement dwellers.


17. It may therefore now be taken as well established that where a legal wrong or a legal injury is caused to a person or to a determinate class of persons by reason of violation of any constitutional or legal right or any burden is imposed in contravention of any constitutional or legal provision or without authority of law or any such legal wrong or legal injury or illegal burden is threatened and such person or determinate class of persons is by reason of poverty, helplessness or disability or socially or economically disadvantaged position, unable to approach the Court for relief, any member of the public can maintain an application for an appropriate direction, order or writ in the High Court under Article 226 and in case of breach of any fundamental right of such person or determinate class of persons, in this Court under Article 32 seeking judicial redress for the legal wrong or injury caused to such person or determinate class of persons. Where the weaker sections of the community are concerned, such as under-trial prisoners languishing in jails without a trial inmates of the Protective Home in Agra or Harijan workers engaged in road construction in the Ajmer District, who are living in poverty and destitution, who are barely eking out a miserable existence with their sweat and toil, who are helpless victims of an exploitative society and who do not have easy access to justice, this Court will not insist on a regular writ petition to be filed by the public spirited individual espousing their cause and seeking relief for them, This Court will readily respond even to a letter addressed by such individual acting pro bono publico. It is true that there are rules made by this Court prescribing the procedure for moving this Court for relief under Article 32 and they require various formalities to be gone through by a person seeking to approach this Court. But it must not be forgotten that procedure is but a handmaiden of justice and the cause of justice can never be allowed to be thwarted by any procedural technicalities. The Court would therefore unhesitatingly and without the slightest qualms of conscience cast aside the technical rules of procedure in the exercise of its dispensing power and treat the letter of the public minded individual as a writ petition and act upon it Today a vast revolution is taking place in the judicial process; the theatre of the law is fast changing and the problems of the poor are coming to the forefront. The Court has to innovate new methods and devise new strategies for the purpose of providing access to justice to large masses of people who are denied their basic human rights and to whom freedom and liberty have no meaning. The only way in which this can be done is by entertaining writ petitions and even letters from public spirited individuals seeking judicial redress for the benefit of persons who have suffered a legal wrong or a legal injury or whose constitutional or legal right has been violated but who by reason of their poverty or socially or economically disadvantaged position are unable to approach the Court for relief. It is in this spirit that the Court has been entertaining letters for Judicial redress and treating them as writ petitions and we hope and trust that the High Courts of the country will also adopt this pro-active, goal-oriented approach. But we must hasten to make it clear that the individual who moves the Court for judicial redress in cases of this kind must be acting bona fide with a view to vindicating the cause of justice and if he is acting for personal gain or private profit or out of political motivation or other oblique consideration, the Court should not allow itself to be activised at the instance of such person and must reject his application at the threshhold, whether it be in the form of a letter ad-dressed to the Court or even in the form of a regular writ petition filed in Court. We may also point out that as a matter of prudence and not as a rule of law, the Court may confine this strategic exercise of jurisdiction to cases, where legal wrong or legal injury is caused to a determinate class or group of persons or the constitutional or legal right of such determinate class or group of persons is violated and as far as possible, not entertain eases of individual wrong or injury at the instance of a third party, where there is an effective legal aid organisation which can take care of such cases.


18. The types of cases which we have dealt with so far for the purpose of considering the question of locus standi are those where there is a specific legal injury either to the applicant or to some other person or persons for whose benefit the action is brought, arising from violation of some constitutional or legal right or legally protected interest. What is complained of in these cases is a specific legal injury suffered by a person or a determinate class or group of persons. But there may be cases where the State or a public authority may act in violation of a constitutional or statutory obligation or fail to carry out such obligation, resulting in injury to public interest or what may conveniently be termed as public injury as distinguished from private injury. Who would have standing to complain against such act or omission of the State or public authority? Can any member of the public sue for judicial redress? Or is the standing limited only to a certain class of persons? Or there is no one who can complain and the public in-Jury must go unredressed. To answer these questions it is first of all necessary to understand what is the true purpose of the Judicial function. This is what Prof. Thio states in his book on "Locus Standi and Judicial Review";


Is the judicial function primarily aimed at preserving legal order by confining the legislative and executive organs of government within their powers in the interest of the public (Jurisdiction de droit objectif) or is it mainly directed towards the protection of private individuals by preventing illegal encroachments on their individual rights (jurisdiction de droit subjectif)? The first contention rests on the theory that Courts are the final arbiters of what is legal and illegal ....Requirement? of locus standi are therefore unnecessary in this case since they merely impede the purpose of the function as conceived here. On the other hand, where the prime aim of the judicial process is to protect individual rights, its concern with the regularity of law and administration is limited to the extent that individual rights are infringed.


We would regard the first proposition as correctly setting out the nature and purpose of the judicial function, as it is essential to the maintenance of the rule of law that every organ of the State must act within the limits of its power and carry out the duty imposed upon it by the Constitution or the law. If the State or any public authority acts beyond the scope of its power and thereby causes a specific legal injury to a person or to a determinate class or group of persons, it would be a case of private injury actionable in the manner discussed in the preceding paragraphs. So also if the duty is owed by the State or any public authority to a person or to a determinate class or group of persons, it would give rise to a corresponding right in such person or determinate class or group of persons and they would be entitled to maintain an action for judicial redress. But if no specific legal injury is caused to a person or to a determinate class or group of persons by the act or omission of the State or any public authority and the injury is caused only to public interest, the question arises as to who can maintain an action for vindicating the rule of law and setting aside the unlawful action or enforcing the performance of the public duty. If no one can maintain an action for redress of such public wrong or public injury, it would be disastrous for the rule of law, for it would be open to the State or a public authority to act with impunity beyond the scope of its power or in breach of a public duty owed by it. The Courts cannot countenance such a situation where the observance of the law is left to the sweet will of the authority bound by it, without any redress if the law is contravened. The view has therefore been taken by the Courts in many decisions that whenever there is a public wrong or public injury caused by an act or omission of the State or a public authority which is contrary to the Constitution or the law, any member of the public acting bona fide and having sufficient interest can maintain an action for redressal of such public wrong or public injury. The strict rule of standing which insists that only a person who has suffered a specific legal injury can maintain an action for judicial redress is relaxed and a broad rule is evolved which gives standing to any member of the public who is not a mere busy-body or a meddlesome interloper but who has sufficient interest in the proceeding. There can be no doubt that the risk of legal action against the State or a public authority by any citizen will induce the State or such public authority to act with greater responsibility and care thereby improving the administration of justice. Lord Dip-lock rightly said in Rex v. Inland Revenue Commrs. (1981) 2 WLR 722 at p. 740:


It would, in my view, be a grave lacuna in our system of public law if a pressure group, like the federation, or even a single public-spirited taxpayer, were prevented by out-dated technical rules of locus standi from bringing the matter to the attention of the Court to vindicate the rule of law and get the unlawful conduct stopped.... It is not, in my view, a sufficient answer to say that judicial review of the actions of officers or departments of central government is unnecessary because they are accountable to Parliament for the way in which they carry out their functions. They are accountable to Parliament for what they do so far as regards efficiency and policy, and of that Parliament is the only judge; they are responsible to a Court of Justice for the lawfulness of what they do, and of that the Court is the only judge.


This broadening of the rule of locus standi has been largely responsible for the development of public law, because it is only the availability of judicial remedy for enforcement which invests law with meaning and purpose or else the law would remain merely a paper parchment, a teasing illusion and a promise of unreality. It is only by liberalising the rule of locus standi that it is possible to effectively police the corridors of powers and prevent violations of law. It was pointed out by Schwartz and H.W.R. Wade in their book on "Legal Control of Government" at page 354:


Restrictive rules about standing are in general inimical to a healthy system of administrative law. If a plaintiff with a good case is turned away, merely because he is not sufficiently affected personally, that means that some government agency is left free to violate the law, and that is contrary to the public interest. Litigants are unlikely to expend their time and money unless they have some real interest at stake. In the rare cases where they wish to sue merely out of public spirit, why should they be discouraged?" It is also necessary to point out that if no one can have standing to maintain an action for judicial redress in respect of a public wrong or public injury, not only will the cause of legality suffer but the people not having any judicial remedy to redress such public wrong or public injury may turn to the street and in that process, the rule of law will be seriously impaired. It is absolutely essential that the rule of law must wean the people away from the lawless street and win them for the court of law.


19. There is also another reason why the rule of locus standi needs to be liberalised. Today we find that law is being increasingly used as a device of organised social action for the purpose of bringing about socio-economic change. The task of national reconstruction upon which we are engaged has brought about enormous increase in developmental activities and law is being utilised for the purpose of development, social and economic. It is creating more and more a new category of rights in favour of large sections of people and imposing a new category of duties on the State and the public officials with a view to reaching social justice to the common man. Individual rights and duties are giving place to meta-individual, collective, social rights and duties of classes or groups of persons. This is not to say that individual rights have ceased to have a vital place in our society but it is recognised that these rights are practicably meaningless in today's setting unless accompanied by the social rights necessary to make them effective and really accessible to all. The new social and economic rights which are sought to be created in pursuance of the Directive Principles of State Policy essentially require active intervention of the State and other public authorities. Amongst these social and economic rights are freedom from indigency, ignorance and discrimination as well as the right to a healthy environment, to social security and to protection from financial commercial, corporate or even governmental oppression. More and more frequently the conferment of these socio-economic rights and imposition of public duties on the State and other authorities for taking positive action generates situations in which single human action can be beneficial or prejudicial to a large number of people, thus making entirely inadequate the traditional scheme of litigation as merely a two-party affair. For example, the discharge of affluent in a lake or river may harm all who want to enjoy its clean water; emission of noxious gas may cause injury to large numbers of people who inhale it along with the air, defective or unhealthy packaging may cause damage to all consumers of goods and so also illegal raising of railway or bus fares may affect the entire public which wants to use the railway or bus as a means of transport. In cases of this kind it would not be possible to say that any specific legal injury is caused to an individual or to a determinate class or group of individuals. What results in such cases is public injury and it is one of the characteristics of public injury that the act or acts complained of cannot necessarily be shown to affect the rights of determinate or identifiable class or group of persons: public injury is an injury to an indeterminate class of persons. In these cases the duty which is breached giving rise to the injury is owed by the State or a public authority not to any specific or determinate class or group of persons, but to the general public. In other words, the duty is one which is not correlative to any individual rights. Now if breach of such public duty were allowed to go unredressed because there is no one who has received a specific legal injury or who was entitled to participate in the proceedings pertaining to the decision relating to such public duty, the failure to perform such public duty would go unchecked and it would promote disrespect for the rule of law. It would also open the door for corruption and inefficiency because there would be no check on exercise of public power except what may be provided by the political machinery, which at best would be able to exercise only a limited control and at worst, might become a participant in misuse or abuse of power. It would also make the new social collective rights and interests created for the benefit of the deprived sections of the community meaningless and ineffectual.


973. It is also difficult to hold that the recognition of the 'standing' of the lawyers to file these petitions would in any way interfere with the doctrine of separation of powers since it is not the case of Shri Mridul that a person who has indisputably the right to file these petitions cannot in law raise the Questions urged before us in these cases. If the issues are no unjustifiable, the petitions may have to be dismissed on the ground that the impugned administrative action is beyond judicial review but this has no bearing on the question of 'locus standi' of the petitioners, who are lawyers. Lawyers are entitled to* approach the Court to direct the Government to appoint sufficient number of permanent Judges and to appoint sufficient number. of additional Judges for the maximum period of two years having regard to the arrears and the business of the Court. They may also legitimately agitate that additional Judges should not be appointed when permanent vacancies have remained unfilled for no good reason.


974. It has, however, to be made clear that it cannot be said that lawyers only because they have a right to practice in a court have 'locus standi' to file petitions in respect of every matter concerning judges, courts and administration of justice. There are many such matters in which they have no 'locus standi' to ask for relief. By way of illustration, lawyers cannot question the establishment of a new court on the ground that their professional prospects would be affected thereby. (See V.R. Mudvedkar v. State of Mysore AIR 1971 Mys 202. Even in these cases on the question of non-appointment of Mr. S.N. Kumar and on the question of transfer of Mr. K.B.N. Singh, the lawyer-petitioners may have no voice. But for the active participation of these two persons, the petitions regarding relief's concerning them individually would have probably become liable to be dismissed on the ground that the lawyers have no 'locus standi' to make these prayers.


974A. But, since as already stated, Mr. S.N. Kumar and Mr. K.B.N. Singh-have requested the Court to consider and if thought fit to grant relief in their favour and the learned Attorney-General has fairly stated that he would not raise the objection that the petitioners have no locus standi in view of the importance of the questions debated in these cases, we hold that the petitions cannot be rejected merely on the ground that the petitioners who are lawyers have no locus standi to file these petitions. Before leaving this topic, it has to be observed that the question of locus standi in the field of administrative law is still in a fluid state and it is not possible to lay down in any one case the principles which can govern all situations.


Supreme Court of India

Janata Dal vs H.S. Chowdhary And Ors. on 28 August, 1992

Locus Standi


61. Though it is imperative to lay down clear guidelines and propositions; and outline the correct parameters for entertaining a Public Interest Litigation - particularly on the issue of locus standi yet no hard and fast rules have yet been formulated and no comprehensive guidelines have been evolved. There is also one view that such adumbration is not possible and it would not be expedient to lay down any general rule which would govern all cases under all circumstances.


62. Be that as it may, it is needless to emphasise 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.


63. The traditional syntax of law in regard to locus standi for a specific judicial redress, sought by an individual person or determinate class or identifiable group of persons, is available only to that person or class or group of persons who has or have suffered a legal injury by reasons of violation of his or their legal right or a right legally protected, the invasion of which gives rise to action ability within the categories of law. In a private action, the litigation is bipolar; two opposed parties are locked in a confrontational controversy which pertains to the determination of the legal consequences of past events unlike in public action. The character of such litigation is essentially that of vindicating private rights, proceedings being brought by the persons in whom the right personally inhere on their legally constituted representatives who are thus obviously most competent to commence the litigation.


64. In contrast, the strict rule of locus standi applicable to private litigation is relaxed and a broad rule is evolved which gives the right of locus standi to any member of the public acting bona fide and having sufficient interest in instituting an action for redressal of public wrong or public injury, but who is not a mere busy body or a meddlesome interloper; since the dominant object of PIL is to ensure observance of the provisions of the Constitution or the law which can be best achieved to advance the cause of community or disadvantaged groups and individuals or public interest by permitting any person, having no personal gain or private motivation or any other oblique consideration but acting bona fide and having sufficient interest in maintaining an action for judicial redress for public injury to put the judicial machinery in motion like actio popularize of Roman Law whereby any citizen could bring such an action in respect of a public delict.


65. It will be befitting to recall the observation of this Court in People's Union for Democratic Rights and Ors. v. Union of India and Ors. which reads thus:


But the traditional rule of standing which confines access to the judicial process only to those to whom legal injury is caused or legal wrong is done has now been jettisoned by this Court and the narrow confines within which the rule of standing was imprisoned for long years as a result of inheritance of the Anglo-Saxon System of jurisprudence have been broken and a new dimension has been given to the doctrine of locus standi which has revolutionised the whole concept of access to justice in a way not known before to the western system of jurisprudence... it is therefore necessary to evolve a new strategy by relaxing this traditional rule of standing in order that justice may become easily available to the lowly and the lost.


66. R.S. Pathak, J. (as the learned Chief Justice then was) while agreeing with the directions proposed by Bhagwati, J. (as the learned Chief Justice then was) in Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India and Ors. [1984] 2 SCR 65 at 159 expressed his view stating, "in public interest litigation, the role held by Court is more assertive than in traditional actions."


67. M.N. Venkatacbaliah, J. speaking for the Bench in Sheela Bane v. Union of India and Ors. has brought out the distinction between private litigation and public interest litigation in the following words:


In a public interest litigation, unlike traditional dispute resolution mechanism, there is no determination or adjudication of individual rights. While in the ordinary conventional adjudications the party structure is merely bi-polar and the controversy pertains to the determination of the legal consequences of past events and the remedy is essentially linked to and limited by the logic of the array of the parties, in a public interest action the proceedings cut across and transcend these traditional forms and inhibitions. The compulsion for the judicial innovation of the technique of public interest action is the constitutional promise of a social and economic transformation to usher in an egalitarian social order and a welfare State.... The dispute is not comparable to one between private parties with the result there is no recognition of the status of a dominus litis for any individual or group of individuals to determine the course or destination of the proceedings, except to the extent recognised and permitted by the Court. The "rights" of those who bring the action on behalf of the others must necessarily be subordinate to the "interests" of those for whose benefit the action is brought. The grievance in a public interest action, generally speaking, is about the content and conduct of government action in relation to the consitutional or statutory rights of segments of society and in certain circumstances the conduct of government policies. Necessarily, both the party structure and the matters in controversy are sprawling and amorphous, to be defined and adjusted or readjusted as the case may be, ad hoc, according as the exigencies of the emerging situations. The proceedings do not partake of predetermined private law litigation models but are exogenously determined by variations of the theme.


68. Though we have, in our country, recognised a departure from the strict rule of locus standi as applicable to a person in private action and broadened and liberalised the rule of standing and thereby permitted a member of the public, having no personal gain or oblique motive to approach the court for enforcement of the constitutional or legal rights of socially or economically disadvantaged persons who on account of their poverty or total ignorance of their fundamental rights are unable to enter the portals of the courts for judicial redress, yet no precise and inflexible working definition has been evolved in respect of locus standi of an individual seeking judicial remedy and various activities in the field of PIL. Probably, some reservation and diversity of approach to the philosophy of PIL among some of the Judges of this Court as reflected from the various decisions of this Court, is one of the reasons for this Court finding it difficult to evolve a consistent jurisprudence in the field of PIL. True, in defining the rule of locus standi no 'rigid litmus test' can be applied since the broad contours of PIL are still developing apace seemingly with divergent views on several aspects of the concept of this newly developed law and discovered jurisdiction leading to a rapid transformation of judicial activism with a far reaching change both in the nature and form of the judicial process.


69. In this context, it would be quite relevant to recite the observations made by Bhagwati, J. (as the learned Chief Justice then was) in S.P. Gupta v. Union of India [1981] Supp. SCC 87 at page 210 reading thus:


Today a vast revolution is taking place in the judicial process; the theatre of law is fast changing and the problems of the poor are coming to the forefront. The Court has to innovate new methods and devise new strategies for the purpose of providing access to justice to large masses of people who are denied their basic human rights and to whom freedom and liberty have no meaning. The only way in which this can be done is by entertaining writ petitions and even letters from public-spirited individuals seeking judicial redress for the benefit of persons who have suffered a legal wrong or a legal injury or whose constitutional or legal rights has been violated but who by reason of their poverty or socially or economically disadvantaged position are unable to approach the court for relief.


(emphasis supplied)


70. As briefly pointed out in S.P. Gupta's case (cited supra), there are certain exceptions carved out of the strict rule of standing, to be made applicable to PIL cases. By way of illustration, it may be stated that under Order XXXII of the CPC, any person acting as the next friend of a minor may bring an action in his name for judicial redress. So. also any other person other than the person under detention may file an application for issue of a writ of habeas corpus challenging the legality of the detention of the detenu. Similarly, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council approved the exception to the strict rule of standing in Durayappah v. Fernando [1967] 2 All ER 152 (PC) : [1967] 2 AC 337. In United States of America also, though the exception has been recognised and the strict rule of standing has been liberalised in the interest of justice, it has been attenuated later on in some of the cases vide (1) Data Processing Service v. Camp 367 US 150 : 25 L Ed. 2d 184; (2) Flast v. Cotton 392 US 83 : 20 L Ed. 2d 947 (1968); (3) Office of Communication of the United Church of Christ v. FCC US App DC 328; (4) U.S. v. Richardson 418 US 166; and (5) Worth v. Seldin 422 US 490.


77. This Court in Sunil Batra (II) v. Delhi Administration has accepted a letter written to the Supreme Court by one Sunil Batra, a prisoner from Tihar Jail, Delhi complaining that the Jail Warder had subjected another prisoner serving life term in the same jail to inhuman torture. This Court treated that latter as a writ petition and by an elaborate judgment allowed the petition and issued certain directions inclusive of one for taking suitable action against the erring official to the Ministry of Home Affairs and all State Governments on the ground that Prison Justice has pervasive relevance, thereby enlarging the scope of habeas corpus by making it available to a prisoner not only for seeking his liberty but also for the enforcement of a constitutional right to which he was entitled to even while in confinement.


78. This Court in Dr. Upendra Baxi v. State of U.P. entertained a letter sent by the two Professors of Delhi University seeking enforcement of the constitutional right of the inmates in a Protective Home at Agra who were living in inhuman and degrading conditions in blatant violation of Article 21 of the Constitution. The said letter was treated as a writ petition and the two Professors were permitted to maintain an action for an appropriate writ.


79. Again in Miss Veena Sethi v. State of Bihar and Ors. this Court treated a letter addressed to a Judge of this Court by the Free Legal Aid Committee at Hazaribagh, Bihar as a writ petition.


80. In People's Union for Democratic Rights v. Union of India (supra), letter addressed by the petitioner-Organization seeking a direction against the respondents for ensuring observance of the provision of various labour laws in relation to workmen employed in the construction work of projects connected with the Asian Games, was entertained by relaxing the traditional rule of standing.


81. Treating a letter sent by an organisation demanding the release of bonded labourers as a Writ Petition this Court in Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India and Ors. issued several directions to the Central Government and State of Haryana not only for the release of the bonded labourers but also for their future improvement and betterment. Though R.S. Pathak (the Chief Justice as he then was) and A.N. Sen, J. have delivered separate Judgments, in general they agreed with the directions issued by Bhagwati, J. in his separate leading judgment.


82. A number of Writ Petitions were filed by two journalists along with the Peoples Union for Civil Liberties Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights and two other pavement dwellers under Article 32 of the Constitution of India challenging the correctness and legality of the decision of the Bombay Municipal Corporation to demolish the dwellings of the slum hutments on several grounds, one of which being violation of Article 21 of the Constitution. These Writ Petitions were heard by a Constitution Bench of this Court in Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corporation . The respondent challenged the very maintainability of the Writ Petitions. Chandrachud, CJ. speaking for the Constitution Bench rejecting the challenge of the respondent therein entertained those petitions and held that the right to life conferred by Article 21 is of wide sweep and far reaching and one of the facets of such right is the right to livelihood.


83. In Ramsharan Autyanuprasi v. Union of India [1989] Supp. 1 SCC 251 a writ petition was registered under Article 32 of the Constitution on the basis of a petition addressed by the writ petitioners to one of the learned Judges of this Court as a Public Interest Litigation but Mukherji, J. (the learned CJ. as he then was) speaking for the Bench dismissed the Writ Petition holding:


...the allegations are too vague, too indirect and too tenuous to threaten the quality of life of people at large or any section of the people. The acts complained of resulting in the threats alleged are too remote and, in our opinion, to be amenable under Article 32 of the Constitution. The petitioners further assert that there has been violation of Article 51-A(f) of the Constitution as a duty has been cast on every citizen to value and preserve the rich heritage of our composite culture. Indeed, it is our duty but the enforcement of that duty by means of a writ under Article 32 of the Constitution....


84. Krishna Iyer, J. speaking for the Bench in Akhil Bharatiya Soshit Karamchari Sangh (Railway) represented by its Assistant General Secretary on behalf of the Association etc. v. Union of India over-ruling the plea that a Writ Petition filed by an unrecognised association cannot be sustained observed that "we have no hesitation in holding that the narrow concept of 'cause of action' and 'person aggrieved' and individual litigation is becoming obsolescent in some jurisdictions.


85. In Fertilizer Corporation Union v. Union of India (supra), Chandrachud, CJ. speaking for himself and on behalf of Fazal Ali and Kaushal, JJ. observed that the violation of a fundamental right is the sine qua non of the exercise of the right conferred by Article 32 and dismissed the writ petition as not maintainable having regard to the facts of the case. Krishna Iyer, J. speaking for himself and Bhagwati, J. (as he then was) in a separate judgment though concurred with the conclusion of the majority held that if a person belonging to an organisation which has special interest in the subject-matter has some concern deeper than that of a busy body, he cannot be told off at the gates, although whether the issue raised by him is justiciable may still remain to be considered and pointed out:


Public interest litigation is part of the process of participate justice and 'standing' in civil litigation of that pattern must have liberal reception at the judicial doorsteps.


88. In passing, it may be stated that in A.R. Antulay v. Ramdas Sriniwas Nayak this Court observed the "Locus standi of the complainant is a concept foreign to criminal jurisprudence save and except that where the statute creating an offence provides for the eligibility of the complainant, by necessary implication the general principle gets excluded by such statutory provision.


89. From the above pronouncements, it emerges that this summit Court has widely enlarged the scope of PIL by relaxing and liberalising the rule of standing by treating letters or petitions sent by any person or association complaining violation of any fundamental rights and also entertaining Writ Petitions filed under Article 32 of the Constitution by public spirited and policy oriented activist persons or journalists or of any organisation rejecting serious challenges made with regard to the maintainability of such petitions rendered many virtuos pronouncements and issued manifold directions to the Central and the State Governments, all local and other authorities within the territory of India or under the control of the Government of India for the betterment of the public at large in many fields in conformity with constitutional prescriptions of what constitutes the good life in a socially just democracy. The newly invented proposition of law laid down by many learned Judges of this Court in the arena of PIL irrefutably and manifestly establish that our dynamic activism in the field of PIL is by no means less than those of other activist judicial systems in other part of the world.


90. It may not be out of place of mention here that there may be numerous circumstances justifying the entertaining of Public Interest Litigation but we cannot obviously enumerate an exhaustive list of all such situations.


91. Bhagwati, J in S.P. Gupta's case (popularly known as Judges' Appointment and Transfer case) which was heard by a Bench of seven learned Judges, has clearly defined 'what PIL means and is' and expressed his views in meticulous detail in the following terms:


It may therefore now be taken as well established that where a legal wrong or a legal injury is caused to a person or to a determinate class of persons by reason of violation of any constitutional or legal right or any burden is imposed in contravention of any constitutional or legal provision or without authority of law or any such legal wrong or legal injury or illegal burden is threatened and such person or determinate class of persons is by reason of poverty, helplessness or disability or socially or economically disadvantaged position, unable to approach the court for relief, any member of the public can maintain an application for an appropriate directions, order or writ in the High Court under Article 226 and in case of breach of any fundamental light of such person or determinate class of persons, in this Court under Article 32 seeking judicial redress for the legal wrong or injury caused to such person or determinate class of persons.... This Court will readily respond even to a letter addressed by such individual acting pro bona publico. It is true that there are rules made by this Court prescribing the procedure for moving this Court for relief under Article 32 and they require various formalities to be gone through by a person seeking to approach this Court. But it must not be forgotten that procedure is but a handmaiden of justice and the cause of justice can never be allowed to be thwarted by any procedural technicalities. The court would therefore unhesitatingly and without the slightest qualms of conscience cast aside the technical rules of procedure in the exercise of its dispensing power and treat the letter of public-minded individual as a writ petition and act upon it.... But we must hasten to make it clear that the individual who moves the court for judicial redress in cases of this kind must be acting bona fide with a view to vindicating the cause of justice and if he is acting for personal gain or private profit or out of political motivation or other oblique consideration, the court should not allow itself to be activised at the instance of such person and must reject his application at the threshold, whether it be in the form of a letter addressed to the court or even in the form of a regular writ petition filed in court. We may also point out that as a matter of prudence and not as a rule of law, the court may confine this strategic exercise of jurisdiction to cases where legal wrong or legal injury is caused to a determinate class or group of persons or the contitutional or legal right of such determinate class or group of persons is violated and as far as possible, not entertain cases of individual wrong or injury at the instance of a third party, where there is an effective legal-aid organisation which can take care of such cases.


92. After having elaborately explained the concept of PIL, the learned Judges held that:


...any member of the public having sufficient Interest can maintain an action for judicial redress for public injury arising from breach of public duty or from violation of some provision of the Constitution or the law and seek enforcement of such public duty and observance of such constitutional or legal provision. This is absolutely essential for maintaining the rule of law, furthering the cause of justice and accelerating the pace of realisation of the constitutional objectives.


93. However, the learned Judge has sounded a note of caution to the Courts to be observed while entertaining a Public Interest Litigation as follows:


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.


94. The other learned Judges - namely, Gupta, Tulzapurkar, Fazal Ali, Desai and Pathak, JJ - who were parties to the above judgment have all agreed in general with the view expressed by Bhagwati, J. on the question of locus standi. However, Desai, J. added a note saying "that the contention about locus standi is now of academic interest and I do not propose to deal with it. However, I am in full agreement with learned Bhagwati, J.


95. However, Venkataramiah, J. (as the learned Chief Justice then was) in his separate judgment with regard to the question of locus standi of lawyers in filing petitions in respect of matters concerning judges, courts and administration of justice has registered his opinion thus:


It has, however, to be made clear that it cannot be said that lawyers only because they have a right to practise in a court have 'locus standi' to file petitions in respect of every matter concerning judges, courts and administration of justice. There are many such matters in which have no 'locus standi' to ask for relief. By way of illustration, lawyers cannot question the establishment of a new court on the ground that their professional prospects would be affected thereby. Even in these cases on the question of non-appointment of Mr. S.N. Kumar and on the question of transfer of Mr. K.B.N. Singh, the lawyer-petitioners may have no voice. But for the active participation of these tow persons, the petitions regarding reliefs concerning them individually would have probably become liable to be dismissed on the ground that the lawyers have no 'locus standi' to make these prayers.


But, since as already stated, Mr. S.N. Kumar and Mr. K.B.N. Singh have requested the Court to consider and if thought fit to grant relief in their favour and the learned Attorney- General has fairly stated that he would not raise the objection that the petitioners have no locus standi in view of the importance of the questions debated in these cases, we hold that the petitions cannot be rejected merely on the ground that the petitioners who are lawyers have no locus standi to file these petitions. Before leaving this topic, it has to be observed that other question of locus standi in the field of administrative law is still in a fluid state and it is not possible to lay down in any one case the principles which can govern all situations.


96. On an assiduous analysis and scrupulous study of the major landmark decision of Gupta's case which serves as a charter of PIL, we unreservedly hold that the said decision describes the broad definition of the expression 'PIL', explores the conceptual problems, outlines the evolution of legal strategies, discusses the institutionalisation of the PIL movement and concludes with innovative methods and devices for increasing citizens' participation to promote reforms of the legal system in order to ensure real access to the justice delivery system, and to encourage the continuation and expansion of public interest representation. Above all, it has opened wide the doors of the Court to millions of the poor, ignorant and socially or economically disadvantaged to articulate their grievances and seek justice which otherwise would have been denied to them.


97. In short, the decision in Gupta's case is a golden master key which has provided access to the Courts for the poor and down-trodden.


Vexatious and frivolous litigations


98. 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 busybody 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.


99. In Gupta's case (supra) Bhagwati, J 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;


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....


100. In State of H.P. v. Parent of a Student it has been said that public interest litigation is a weapon which has to be used with great care and circumspection.


101. Khalid, J. in his separate supplementing judgment in Sachidanand Pandey v. State of West Bengal [1987] SCC 295 and 331 said:


Today public spirited litigants rush to courts to file cases in profusion under this attractive name. They must inspire confidence in courts and among the public. They must be above suspicion.... Public interest litigation has now come to stay. But one is led to think that it poses a threat to courts and public alike. Such cases are now filed without any rhyme or reason. It is, therefore, necessary to lay down clear guidelines and to outline the correct parameters for entertainment of such petitions. If courts do not restrict the free flow of such cases in the name of public interest litigations, the traditional litigation will suffer and the courts of law, instead of dispensing justice, will have to taken upon themselves administrative and executive functions.... I will be second to none in extending held when such help is required. But this does not mean that the doors of this Court are always open for anyone to walk in. It is necessary to have some self-imposed restraint on public interest litigants.


102. Sabyasachi Mukharji, J. (as he then was) speaking for the Bench in Ramsharan Autyanuprasi v. Union of India (supra) was in full agreement with the view expressed by Khalid, J. in Sachidanand Pandey's case and added that 'public interest litigation' is an instrument of the administration of justice to be used properly in proper cases.


103. See also separate judgment by Pathak, J. (as he then was) in Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India (supra),


104. Sarkaria, J. in Jasbhai Desai v. Roshan Kumar [1976] 30 SCR 58 expressed his view that the application of the busybody should be rejected at the threshold in the followed terms:


It will be seen that in the context of locus standi to apply for a writ of certiorari, an applicant may ordinarily fall in any of these categories: (i) 'person aggrieved'; (ii) 'stranger'; (iii) busybody or meddlesome interloper. Persons in the last category are easily distinguishable from those coming under the first two categories. Such persons interfere in things which do not concern them. They masquerade as crusaders for 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. They indulge in the pastime of meddling with the judicial process either by force of habit or from improper motives. Often, they are actuated by a desire to win notoriety or cheap popularity; while the ulterior intent of some applicants in this category, may be no more than spooking the wheels of adminstration. The High Court should do well to reject the applications of such busybodies at the threshold.


105. Krishna Iyer, J in Fertilizer Corporation v. Union of India (supra) in stronger term stated:


If a citizen is no more than a wayfarer or officious intervener without any interest or concern beyond what belongs to any one of the 660 million people of this country, the door of the court will not be ajar for him.


106. In Chhetriya Pardushan Mukti Sangharsh Samiti v. State of U.P. Sabyasachi Mukharji, C.J. observed:


While it is the duty of this Court to enforce fundamental rights, it is also the duty of this Court to ensure that this weapon under Article 32 should not be misused or per milled to be misused creating a bottleneck in the Superior Court preventing other genuine violation of fundamental rights being considered by the Court.


107. In a recent decision of this Court in Union Carbide Corporation and Ors. v. Union of India and Ors. Ranganath Mishra, C.J, in his separate judgment while concurring with the conclusions of the majority judgment has said thus:


I am prepared to assume, nay, concede, that public activists should also be permitted to espouse the cause of the poor citizens but there must be a limit set to such activity and nothing perhaps should be done which would affect the dignity of the Court and bring down the serviceability of the institution to the people at large. Those who are acquainted with jurisprudence and enjoy social privilege as men educated in law owe an obligation to the community of educating it properly and allowing the judicial process to continue unsoiled.


108. K.N. Singh, J. speaking for the Bench in Subhash Kumar v. State of Bihar and Ors. has ex-pressed his opinion in the following words:


Public interest litigation cannot be invoked by a person or body of persons to satisfy his or its personal grudge and enmity. If such petitions under Article 32, are entertained it would amount to abuse of process of the Court, preventing speedy remedy to other genuine petitioners from this Court. Personal interest cannot be enforced through the process of this Court under Article 32 of the Constitution in the garb of a public interest litigation. Public interest litigation contemplates legal proceedings for vindication or enforcement of fundamental rights of a group of persons or community which are not able to enforce their fundamental rights on account of their incapacity, poverty or ignorance of law. A person invoking the jurisdiction of this Court under Article 32 must approach this Court for the vindication of the fundamental rights of affected persons and not for the purpose of vindication of his personal grudge or enmity. It is duty of this Court to discourage such petitions and to ensure that the course of justice is not obstructed or polluted by unscrupulous litigants by invoking the extraordinary jurisdiction of this Court for personal matters under the garb of the public interest litigation.


109. It is thus clear that only a person acting bona fide and having sufficient interest in the proceeding of PIL will alone have a 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.


110. 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 are second to none in fostering and developing the newly invented concept of PIL and extending our long arm sympathy to the poor, the ignorant, the oppressed and the needy whose fundamental rights are infringed and violated and whose grievances go unnoticed, unrepresented 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 the undue delay in service matters, Government or private persons awaiting the disposal of tax cases wherein huge amounts of public revenue or unauthorised collection of tax amounts are locked up, detenus 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 for themselves or as proxy of others or for any other extraneous motivation or for glare of publicity break the queue muffling 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 Courts and as result of which the queue standing outside the doors of the Court never moves which piquant situation creates a frustration in the minds of the genuine litigants and resultantly they loose faith in the administration of our judicial system.


111. In the words of Bhagwati, J. (as he then was) "the Courts must be careful in entertaining public interest litigations" or in the words of Sarkaria, J. "the application of busy bodies should be rejected at the threshold itself and as Krishna Iyer, J. has pointed out, "the doors of the Courts should not be ajar for such vexatious litigants".


112. Further, we would like to make it clear that it should not be misunderstood that by the expression of our above view, there is any question of retreating or recoiling from the earlier views expressed by this Court about the philosophy of public interest litigation in many outstanding judgments which we have already referred to; on the other hand we look back to the vantage point from which we started our journey and proceed on our onward journey in the field of PIL.


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