COMMON CAUSE UPDATES
As promised in the last issue of the journal, we are presenting here a recapitulation of the activities of Common Cause and the significant developments in its various initiatives during the period from August 6 to September 16, 2013, as this issue goes to the press.
I. Public interest litigation
a. New interventions
i. News broadcast by private radio stations
We had reported earlier that the Society had addressed a letter to the Minister of Information & Broadcasting on May 31, 2013, highlighting the iniquity of the extant government policy that bars private radio channels from broadcasting news and current affairs programmes. Our case was that this exclusion violates the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression and flies in the face of the ruling of the Supreme Court in Ministry of I & B Vs Cricket Association of Bengal & Anr, which had made it amply clear that airwaves were public property to be used to promote public good and for expressing a plurality of views, opinions and ideas.
As there was no response to our letter, a PIL was filed in the Supreme Court with the prayer to quash the unreasonable and unconstitutional provisions in the relevant policy guidelines and grant of permission agreements.
ii. Undoing the mala fide favours to RIL in KG Basin:
A petition has been filed in the Supreme Court on August 14, 2013, to seek, inter alia, appropriate writs to the UOI to undo the mala fide favours shown to Reliance Industries Limited and its associates in the working of the Production Sharing Contract for KG Basin Gas Block and a thorough court monitored inquiry by a Special Investigation Team into the collusion between the establishment and the said corporate. The petition prays for cancellation of the RIL lease for the KG basin gas block and/or an appropriate penalty because of its failure in adhering to commitments and deliberate underproduction. The petition raises five important issues, viz. hoarding of gas, gold plating of expenditure and non-relinquishment of undeveloped concession areas by RIL,mala fide doubling of gas price and retrospective tax concession given to the company.
When the matter came up before a bench headed by Justice H. L. Dattu on September 9, he recused himself and directed that it should be listed before a bench of which he was not a member.
iii. Removal of Justice Balakrishnan from the chair of NHRC
The follow-up of the decision in our PIL on this issue led resulted to the rejection of the request for a Presidential reference under Section 5(2) of the Protection of Human Rights Act by the UOI. The government took the position that the allegations of misbehaviour pertained to Justice Balakrishnan's tenure as Chief Justice of India and that his current post could not be considered as an elongation of the office of CJI. Rebutting these arguments on points of fact as well as points of law, we urged in our rejoinder dated April 14, 2013 that the Competent Authority should reverse its decision and refer the matter to the Supreme Court for an inquiry against Justice Balakrishnan.
In the absence of a response, we filed a PIL in the Supreme Court on August 2, 2013, seeking a writ of mandamus to the UOI to comply with the letter and spirit of the order of the Supreme Court dated May 10, 2012 by making a reference under Sec 5 (2) of the said Act for holding an inquiry against the Chairman of the NHRC. Our contention is that the UOI is not in a position reasonably to conclude that the allegations of misbehaviour cited by us in the earlier petition were unworthy of any further action. In the hearing on August 26, 2013, the Court has given three weeks time for the government's reply.
b. Developments in earlier PILs
i. Decriminalisation of politics
The matter came up for hearing on August 19, 2013 when the Apex Court pulled up the UOI for not filing its response even after two years of notice and allowed it further time of six weeks. The Court noted that one of our prayers, viz. declaring Section 8(4) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, as ultra vires the Constitution, had already been granted by its decision of July 7, 2013 in Lily Thomas & Lok Prahari. The Court also took note of the affidavit filed by the Election Commission of India in support of our petition. The matter is listed for October 7, 2013.
ii. Reforming the procedure for CAG's appointment
The UOI has filed its response, contending that the untrammelled discretion exercised by the executive in the CAG's appointment is in accordance with the Constitutional scheme. In the hearing on September 9, Shri Shanti Bhushan, counsel for the petitioners, pressed for notice to be issued to the CAG and the UOI. The Delhi High Court, however, insisted on hearing the CAG on September 18 before deciding the issue of maintainability of the petitions.
iii. Intervention application in Ashok Chavan's SLP
The arguments in the matter were heard over four consecutive days. It is now listed for hearing on October, 22, 2013.
iv. Stray cattle hazard on roads
As mentioned earlier, in the hearing held on April 29, 2013, the Society had undertaken to verify the claims made in the status report filed by Chief Secretary, Government of Delhi. A visit of Ghogha Colony in Narela district by a Common Cause team showed that there was a gross misrepresentation of facts in the said status report. The ground reality is that very few dairies owners have shifted to Ghogha due to the unsuitable location of the site and the utter lack of infrastructure facilities. A factual report will be submitted to the Court when the matter comes up for hearing on October 25, 2013.
v. Irregularities in allocation of coal blocks for captive mining
In the hearing on September 12, Shri Prashant Bhushan argued that the entire allocation process was non-transparent, unfair and tainted and had resulted in massive windfall gains to a few private firms. The very basis of the allotment of coal blocks without any competitive bidding was against the doctrine of trusteeship and the Constitutional mandate under Article 14 and needed to be cancelled. The matter has been listed for September 17, 2013.
vi. Strengthening the institution of Lokayukta, Delhi
We have submitted our rejoinder to the joint counter filed by the Government of Delhi and the Lt. Governor. The matter is listed for October 23, 2013.
2. Advocacy initiatives
i. Police reforms
Preparations are afoot for a social media campaign to be launched by Common Cause, Foundation for Restoration of National Values and Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative in concert with other like-minded entities. A moderated brainstorming session was held on September 11, 2013 to resolve the outstanding organizational issues, delineate the objectives, message, strategy and action plan of the campaign with greater clarity, and secure firm commitments from the partner organizations for meeting its resource requirements.
ii. Actionable evidence of corruption in high places
Shri Prashant Bhushan had written to the Central Vigilance Commission and the Central Bureau of Investigation in January 2013, requesting them to act on the unrebutted documentary evidence of corruption against Shri Virbhadra Singh, former Union Minister of Steel and the incumbent Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh. The Society has followed it up with letters to the Chief Vigilance Commissioner and the Director, CBI and urged them to discharge their statutory responsibilities as apex anti-corruption bodies