Common Cause updates

We present here a recapitulation of the activities of Common Cause and the significant developments in its various initiatives since the publication of the last issue of the journal.

Supreme Court 

1. WP(C) 26/1995: Lokpal Act: This writ pertained to enactment of the Lokpal Act and ensuring appointment of Lokayuktas and Up Lokayuktas under the Legal Services Authorities Act. It was submitted by our counsel that in view of the enactment of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013 and another petition seeking inter alia implementation of the said Act pending before the Court, this petition had become infructuous and may be dismissed. In view of this, our petition was dismissed by the Court on April 30, 2015.

2. WP(C) 330/2001: Slaughter house pollution: At the hearing on March 27, 2015, the Court took exception to the counsel for Union of India using the word "shortly" in the context of the next meeting of the `Expert Panel', especially when the previous meeting had taken place as long back as July 2014. Taking a note of the delay caused by the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution for unnecessary adjournments and deferral in the matter, the Court imposed a cost of Rs. 5,000 on the ministry. Similar cost was imposed on Ministry of Urban Development on account of failure on the part of its Secretary, nominated as nodal officer by the Court in this case, in filing the affidavit in terms of the Court's orders dated August 23, 2012 and August 27, 2013. The matter is likely to be listed on July 31, 2015.

3. WP(C) 13/2003: Large scale government advertisements: In a landmark judgment delivered on May 13, 2015, the Supreme Court laid down guidelines for government advertisements at the cost of public money, misused ostensibly to promote political leaders and parties in power. The Apex Court bench comprising of Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice P. C. Ghose prohibited the use of photographs of ministers and other political leaders in government advertisements with the exception of the President of India, the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India. News reports indicate that while Tamil Nadu has already filed a review petition on May 19, 2015, Kerala and Uttar Pradesh are in the process of doing so.

4. WP (C) 122/2008: Judicial reforms: The Apex Court by its order dated December 10, 2014 summarily disposed of the petition, which comprehensively addressed the demand, supply and efficiency issues contributing to the progressive dysfunction of the system of administration of justice in the country. An application for the recall of this unwarranted order was filed by Common Cause on behalf of the petitioners on February 16, 2015. The Recall Application was however dismissed by the Registrar on grounds that the order disposing the writ petition was passed in presence of counsel for the parties and the application for Recall did not disclose a reasonable cause to be entertained.

5. WP(C) 463/2012- Illegal allocation of captive coal blocks: On May 14, 2015 the Supreme Court disposing the IA 13 filed by Common Cause questioned the fairness of the enquiry under the supervision of the then Director CBI Mr. Ranjit Sinha. Holding the meetings in the absence of the investigating officer or team as completely inappropriate the Court found it necessary to look into the question whether any one or more such meetings have had any impact on the investigations and subsequent charge sheet/closure reports filed by the CBI. The apex court has sought the assistance of the Central Vigilance Commission to determine the methodology for conducting such an inquiry. Common Cause had filed IA No. 13 in September 2014 underlining determined efforts by Mr. Ranjit Sinha to subvert the investigation and prosecution of the Coal Scam cases and requesting for a court-monitored investigation by a Special Investigation Teams or by the Ant-corruption Bureau of Delhi Police in the entire matter. The IA also sought recusal of Mr. Sinha from the ongoing investigations and prosecutions related to the coal blocks allocation case.

The perjury case filed by Mr. Sinha as a pressure tactics was dismissed by the Supreme Court in the above mentioned order with the observation that the file notes were self speaking and any interpretation, even an allegedly twisted interpretation said to have been given to them, could not fall within the realm of perjury. The Court said "that under the circumstances it was difficult to hold that there was any intention to mislead the Court in any manner on the part of Mr. Bhushan, Common Cause or Mr. Jaswal".

6. WP(C) 21/2013- Challenging the provisions of the IT Act, 2000: Affirming the value of free speech and expression, the Supreme Court Bench of Justice Rohinton Nariman and Justice Chelameshwar, on March 24, 2015 struck down in its entirety Section 66A of the IT Act as unconstitutional. Referring to the government's argument that the possibility of abuse does not render a law invalid, the Court held that section 66A, which was otherwise invalid could not be saved by the ASG's assurance that the law would be administered flawlessly. "Governments may come, and governments may go, but the law will remain", observed the judges.

The Court, however, upheld the law related to blocking, section 69A, and the connected Rules, in its entirety. As for the Intermediary Rules, the court has upheld section 79 of the IT Act, and the Intermediary Rules subject to reading down both provisions to allow for a requirement whereby a court order is required before an intermediary is required to take down information if it was related to subject matter covered by Article 19(2).

No observation was made on Common Cause's challenge to the constitutional validity of Section 80 under which an arrest can be made on the basis of intention to commit a crime depending on the discretion of the police officer.

7. WP 728/2013: Undoing the mala fide favours to RIL in KG Basin: During the hearing on March 30, 2015 the apex Court granted time to RIL to file their response to the CAG report filed earlier by Common Cause. The solicitor general requested for time to study the report of the PAC on the recommendations of the CAG report. The Court granted time to the UOI to file a status report regarding the proceedings, if any taken pursuant to the said C.A.G. report. There are no further orders of listing.

8. WP(C) 114/2014- Illegal mining in the state of Odisha: This matter was taken up by the apex Court on March 25, 2015 to consider the IA filed by Sarda Mine pleading permission to resume mining operations. Sarda Mine's mining operations had been suspended since April 2014 pursuant to the PIL filed by Common Cause against alleged illegal mining in Odisha. The Court directed the petitioners to file a rejoinder within a week, which has since been filed. This matter is likely to be taken up on July 7, 2015.

9. WP(C) 221/2015- NOIDA writ: The CAG has been requesting the Government of U.P. to entrust the audit of NOIDA and Greater Noida Industrial Development Authority to it as the extant audit by Examiner Local Fund Accounts has proved to be totally inadequate. These requests have been turned down by the Government of U.P., taking shelter behind the provisions of the Uttar Pradesh Industrial Area Development Act. Against the backdrop of recurrent reports of massive land scams in these authorities and scathing comments by the higher courts, on March 10, 2015 a PIL has been filed in the Supreme Court to seek the extension of the CAG's audit jurisdiction to NOIDA, Greater Noida Industrial Development Authority and Yamuna Expressway Industrial Development Authority.

The PIL was however dismissed as withdrawn on February 27, 2015. The Court has granted liberty to the petitioners to approach the High Court of Allahabad. The Petitioners are keen on pursuing the case before the Hon'ble High Court post vacations.

Delhi High Court

WP(C) 866/2010- Post-retirement activities of judges: The Tribunals, Appellate Tribunals and other Authorities (Conditions of Service) Bill, 2014, prohibiting members of a tribunal/statutory body from acting as arbitrator, stands referred for consideration by the Standing Committee. Judgment has been reserved on the matter on February 25, 2015.

Orissa High Court

WP (C) 9095/2014- Discretionary allotments of plots in Odisha: As reported earlier, our counsel had lodged a strong protest with the Registrar (Judicial) against the inexplicable deletions of our PIL from the cause list on August 14, 2014. The PIL was eventually taken up on September 8, 2014 and the counsel was asked to file the background of the order passed by the Supreme Court in the original petition by the next hearing after the Pooja vacation. The matter was not listed thereafter and suddenly, an order was passed on January  19, 2015 noting that since none had appeared on behalf of the petitioners, the matter be listed after four weeks in the interest of justice. It was also made clear that if the petitioner remained unrepresented on the next date, the petition would be dismissed for non-prosecution. However, the counsel for the Petitioners could not appear on the next date of listing on February 24, 2015 for the want of prior information and the petition was dismissed for non-prosecution.

Other Developments:

The Director attended the convention jointly hosted by Society for FastJustice, Bhubaneshwar and the Society for Fast Justice, Odisha at Bhubaneswar on March 14-15. The programme was focussed on judicial reforms based on the theme of SAVE JUDICIARY-SAVE NATION.

On its part, Common Cause, which has been an active combatant in the crusade for judicial reforms, has undertaken to mount an advocacy initiative for a time- bound implementation of the Gram Nyayalaya Act and, if need be, seek the intervention of the Apex Court, as it had done way back in 1988 in order to secure the operationalisation of the Consumer Protection Act through the establishment of District Consumer Forums.

Multi-level Marketing & Ponzi Schemes:

Common Cause has been pursuing the issue of pyramid scheme companies functioning under the garb of Multi-Level Marketing. In this process, correspondence had been initiated with the authorities concerned. Under the Prize Chits and Money Circulation Schemes (Banning) Act, 1978, the practice of camouflaging money circulation schemes as direct-selling schemes for distribution of goods and services has become firmly established. It had been decided to file a writ in the Supreme Court in this regard, when it was learnt that the Government under the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution has already established an inter-ministerial committee to examine the issues in consultation with all stakeholders and the global best-practices. Common Cause has filed RTI application seeking a copy of the Report. It has been decided to follow up the matter and take action on need basis. Regarding ponzi schemes, it is learnt that in a recent meeting chaired by Union minister of state for finance it has been decided to set up a Permanent Central Coordination Mechanism which would act against money deposit and collection frauds. It was stated that this setup would devise a coordinated and comprehensive strategy to deal with the illegal activity besides quantifying the scale and scope, and that it would also point out the systematic risks posed to the country's financial system by such frauds.

April June, 2015