Common Cause Updates
We are presenting here a recapitulation of the activities of Common Cause and the significant developments in its various initiatives since December 2013.
Public interest litigation
a. New interventions:
i. WP(C) 1096/2013: Allotment of Plots to VIPs in Odisha and Gujarat
Common Cause joined hands with Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) to challenge the discretionary allotment of prime residential plots to influential persons in Odisha and Gujarat. The petition came up before the Supreme Court on January 24, 2014. Justice A K Patnaik recused himself and the matter was listed before a bench that did not include him. The petition was dismissed on February 21, 2014 with liberty to the petitioners to approach the respective High Courts despite our counsel's pleadings that the matter should be heard by the Supreme Court in the interest of justice as many of the High Court judges were the beneficiaries of discretionary allotment. It was also pointed out that Justice Patnaik had refused to hear the matter just because he was acquainted with some of the beneficiaries in Odisha. The Court, however, did not heed this argument.
ii. WP(C) 114/2014: Illegal Mining in the State of Odisha
In the context of the Union Government's inaction on the first report of the Justice M. B. Shah Commission of Inquiry on the mining of iron and manganese ores in Odisha, a writ petition was filed in the Supreme Court, seeking urgent action to stop the reckless plunder of precious natural resources of the state by vested interests. The Court vide order dated February 17, 2014 tagged our petition along with interlocutory applications concerning the M B Shah Commission in WP(C) No. 202 of 1995, T N Godavaram Thirumalpad Vs Union of India & Others. The matter is listed for March 24, 2014.
iii. WP(C) 245/2014: Corruption in the Management of Defence Lands
The Comptroller & Auditor General of India had submitted a number of reports in the last few years, highlighting the rank mismanagement noticed in the audit of defence lands. Common Cause and CPIL have filed a PIL on February 20, 2014 to seek the intervention of the Supreme Court to remedy this situation and protect the national patrimony constituted by the vast tracts of lands under the management of the Defence Ministry from further erosion. The petition seeks systemic reforms in the management of Defence lands, a comprehensive audit and Court-monitored investigation into the irregularities in their administration and resumption of defence lands under commercial exploitation or unauthorized use of private parties. The petition is listed for preliminary hearing on March 24, 2014.
iv. WP(C) 245/2014: Challenging the Lokpal Search Committee Rules
The process of initial constitution of the Lokpal had become mired in controversy, which could have been avoided had the Union Government framed the rules to give effect to the long awaited Lokpal Act with sincerity and honesty of purpose. The rules notified on January 17, 2014 have undermined the independence of the institution of Lokpal by restricting the field of selection to the hand-picked nominees of the Government and giving undue advantage to senior bureaucrats, most of whom are likely to be members of the IAS, in appointment as non judicial members of Lokpal. This is a blatant abuse of the device of delegated legislation.
Since Common Cause, which has been fighting for the establishment of an independent and effective Lokpal since 1995, could not allow the institution to be crippled during its gestation, a PIL challenging the arbitrary Search Committee rules was filed in the Supreme Court on March 5, 2014. The petition is listed for preliminary hearing on March 31, 2014.
b. Developments in earlier interventions
i. WP(C) 215/2005: Living Will
The matter has been disposed of on February 25, 2014. Without pronouncing any order on the specific prayer made in our petition, the Court has invited a Constitution Bench to resolve the inconsistencies between the Division Bench judgment in Aruna Shanbaug (2011), which allowed passive euthanasia under certain safeguards, and the Constitution Bench judgment in Gian Kaur (1996), which held that the right to life does not include the right to die.
ii. WP(C) 387/2000: Crime and Violence on TV
The Court has tagged this long-pending petition with our PIL on Internet Freedom and some other matters relating to the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression on January 15, 2014.
iii. WP(C) 330/2001: Slaughter House Pollution
This matter was last taken up in January 2014 when the Court requested the High Courts to nominate retired District Judges to act as conveners of the state level committees constituted to monitor the implementation of the Court orders as well as the regulatory framework prepared by the Ministry of Environment & Forests. The Committees would submit quarterly reports to the Court.
iv. WP(C) 13/2003: Large Scale Advertisements
The application for interim directions filed by us in November 2012 with a compilation of self-congratulatory advertisements of Tamil Nadu government and other state governments has had the effect of reviving this petition. Reprimanded in the hearing on January 15, 2014, the Union of India finally filed its counter affidavit. The matter has been listed for final hearing on March 25, 2014.
v. WP(C) 61/2003: HIV-AIDS
The matter was disposed of on December 2, 2013 as the petitioners were satisfied with the measures taken by the Government.
vi. IA in WP(Cr) 158/2013: Investigation into Headlines Today's sting operation on Muzaffarnagar riots
Judgment in the matter was reserved on February 20, 2014.
vii. WP(C) 536/2011: Decriminalisation of politics
At the hearing in December 2013 the Court had posed two questions to the Law Commission: first, whether, in addition to conviction, filing of a charge-sheet with allegations of commission of a serious offence should result in disqualification; second, whether filing of a false affidavit by a candidate under Section 125 A of the Representation of the People Act should be a ground for disqualification. During the hearing on March 10, 2014 the Supreme Court passed an interim order to the effect that trials in criminal cases against lawmakers must be concluded within a year of the charges being framed. The Court also directed that trials must be conducted on a day-to-day basis, and if a lower court is unable to complete the trial within a year, it will have to submit an explanation to the Chief Justice of the High Court concerned and seek an extension of the trial. The matter has been listed for September 19, 2014.
viii. WP(C) 463/2012: Allocation of coal blocks for captive mining
Judgment in the matter was reserved on January 16, 2014. Subsequently, the Court directed the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate to share information on money laundering and FEMA violations and listed the matter for March 28, 2014 to consider the scope of the Central Vigilance Commission's superintendence of the functioning of the CBI.
ix. WP(C) 194/2011: Obstructive RTI Rules of the Allahabad High Court
Lok Prahari, an NGO from Lucknow, has moved for transfer of its PIL in the Allahabad High Court on the same issue to the Supreme Court. The matter has been listed for April 15, 2014.
x. IA in Ashok Chavan's SLP (C) 29882/2012
Judgment in the matter was reserved on January 15, 2014.
xi. WP(C) 728/2013: Mala Fide Favours to RIL in K-G Basin Contract
We filed an application for stay of the government decision to increase the gas prices during the pendency of its petition on March 7, 2014. Among other grounds, it was contended that the Production Sharing Contract does not permit a revision in the price of natural gas once the field has been declared "commercial", and this field was declared "commercial" at $4.2 per MMBTU. The matter was partly heard on March 12, 2014.
xii. WP(C) 866/2010: Post-retirement activities of judges
The petition came up on February 26, 2014. The Court noted that a Bill to prohibit a member of a tribunal or a statutory body from acting as arbitrator has been introduced in the Rajya Sabha and posted the matter for July, 2014.
xiii. WP(C) 7240/2013: Actionable evidence of corruption by Virbhadra Singh
We have filed fresh evidence of acts of corruption relating to Shri Virbhadra Singh's current term of office as Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh. The matter has been listed for March 13, 2014.
xiv. IA in WP(C) 3791/2000: Animal Hazard on Roads
The matter was disposed of on February 12, 2014. Our counsel was requested to segregate applications requiring further directions of the Court. The matter has been renotified for May 21, 2014.
c. Other developments
Initiative for making the Right to Education a reality
Common Cause and Good Earth Education Foundation organized a brainstorming session on February 18, 2014 with Pratham and others having expertise in the domain of universal education to explore the advocacy options available to civil society for improving the abysmal learning outcomes in the government school system as highlighted in Annual Status of Education Reports brought out by Pratham and other independent assessments. The feasibility of seeking judicial intervention for effectuating the right to free and compulsory elementary education was also considered. An appropriate strategy for securing the desired improvement in the outcomes will be evolved after a wider consultation.
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