Common Cause updates

We present here a recapitulation of the activities of Common Cause and the significant developments in its various initiatives during the period since March 12, 2014.

- Editor


New Interventions:

WP (C)9095/2014: Challenging the discretionary allotments of plots to influential persons by authorities in Odisha:

Common Cause, CPIL and Mrs. Jayanti Das had approached the Supreme Court to challenge the discretionary allotment of prime residential plots to influential persons in Odisha and Gujarat. The petition was dismissed on February 21, 2014 with leave to the petitioners to approach the High Courts concerned, disregarding our counsel's plea that the matter should be heard by the Supreme Court since many serving judges of the two High Courts had benefited from discretionary allotments.

Mr. Sunil Mathews, a public-spirited lawyer who practises in the Supreme Court as well as the High Court of Orissa, came forward to help agitate the issue in the Orissa High Court. A PIL was eventually filed jointly with Mrs. Jayanti Das. The matter is likely to be taken up shortly.

Developments in earlier Interventions:

WP(C) 114/2014: Illegal mining in the State of Odisha

Our petition seeking the immediate intervention of the Supreme Court to stop the large-scale illegal mining in Odisha as highlighted by the Court-appointed Central Empowered Committee and the Justice Shah Commission was taken up on April 21, 2014. A bench of Justices A.K. Patnaik, S.S. Nijjar and FMI Kalifullah issued notice returnable in 4 weeks to the respondents. The Court also directed the CEC to submit a report on our petition and provide a list of mines involved in illegal mining. At the next hearing on April 28, 2014, having perused the CEC's interim report on the status of the mining leases and approvals in Odisha, the Court reserved its interim order. At the hearing on May 16, the Court granted an interim stay on the operation of 26 mines, which were being worked on the basis of second and subsequent deemed renewals of lease, and directed the State Government to dispose of all renewal applications as per the law within six months.

WP(C) 204/2014: Corruption in the management of Defence lands

The CJI's bench took up our petition on the mismanagement of defence lands on March 24, 2014 and issued notice to the UOI and other respondents. It is now posted for August 19, 2014.

WP(C) 245/2014: Challenging the Lokpal Search Committee Rules

The petition was taken up by the Supreme Court on March 31, 2014. A bench of justices RM Lodha and Kurian Joseph issued notice to the Centre and asked them to justify the impugned rules within four weeks of the issue of notice. The matter was posted for hearing on May 5, 2014.

Meanwhile, in a bid to appoint its chosen persons to the crucial institution of the Lokpal, the Central government decided to call a meeting of the Selection Committee during April 24-28, 2014, even though the Search Committee had not properly been constituted and the vires of the rules for selection of the chairperson and members of the Lokpal were under challenge. Hence, we moved an application for interim directions to put the entire selection process for appointment of Chairperson and Members of the Lokpal in abeyance.

Our IA effectively put paid to the government's plans. At the hearing on April 24, 2014, the Court was informed that the Central government would not take any immediate decision to constitute the Lokpal. When the matter came up for hearing on May 5, 2014, the Solicitor General conceded that the impugned rules had to be amended before the process of selection of the chairperson and members of the Lokpal could be engaged. The matter has now been posted for August 22, 2014.

WP(C) 13/2003: Large scale government advertisements

Our PIL on large scale government advertisements had fallen off the radar of the Supreme Court and had not been listed for years after being tagged with a similar PIL filed by CPIL in 2004. In November 2012, we managed to highlight the magnitude of the waste of public resources for the glorification of political personalities and for electoral gains through an application for directions along with a compilation of self-congratulatory advertisements by various governments. Our submission was taken on record in April 2013.

This initiative infused a new life in the matter which was thereafter heard on priority. The Court gave its judgment on April 24, 2014, rejecting the contention that within the budgetary grants voted by the legislature, the government was free to issue advertisements in accordance with the established policy. The Court also constituted a three-member panel to draw up objective guidelines for regulating government advertisements. Common Cause has submitted its proposition of model guidelines to the expert panel in response to a public notice. Hopefully, the guidelines issued by the Court will prevent wasteful public expenditure on government advertisements of a political nature.

WP(C) 463/2012: Allocation of coal blocks for captive mining 

At the hearing on March 28, 2014, the Supreme Court deliberated on the scope of the Central Vigilance Commission's superintendence over the functioning of the CBI and requested the Commission to assist it in effectively monitoring the investigation being conducted by the CBI. The matter has been posted for July 8, 2014.

WP(C) 728/2013: Mala fide favours to RIL in K-G Basin contract

In the context of the reports that the Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas had moved a draft note on March 31, 2014 for seeking the approval of the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs for amending the Production Sharing Contract with Reliance Industries with a view to allowing it to retain certain oil and gas fields which it was obliged to relinquish, we filed an application for interim directions on April 21, 2014 to foil this move., The IA sought a direction to the Union of India not to amend the PSCs with Reliance as proposed in the draft CCEA note and a further direction to the contractor to relinquish the oil and gas fields that it ought to have surrendered in terms of the relevant PSCs. The matter is in the final stage of arguments.

IA in Mr. Ashok Chavan's SLP (C) 29882/2011

The Supreme Court pronounced its verdict on May 5, 2014, holding that the Election Commission was well within its jurisdiction to inquire into the correctness of expenditure accounts and order disqualification if a candidate was found to have lodged incorrect accounts. This order should go a long way in bringing about transparency in election accounts and curbing  the phenomenon of paid news.

WP(C) 7240/2013: Evidence of corruption by Mr. Virbhadra Singh

At the hearing on April 2, 2014, the Court directed the CBI to expedite its preliminary enquiry and renotified the matter for August 6, 2014.

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April June 2014