The Supreme Court, while coming down heavily on frivolous public interest litigation petitions for personal or extraneous reasons, has laid down guidelines to be followed by courts in entertaining PIL.

The filing of indiscriminate petitions “creates unnecessary strain on the judicial system and consequently leads to inordinate delay in disposal of genuine and bona fide cases,” said a Bench consisting of Justices Dalveer Bhandari and Mukundakam Sharma.

Tracing the origin and development of PIL in various countries, Justice Bhandari, writing the judgment, said: “The courts’ contribution in helping the poorer sections by giving a new definition to life and liberty and in protecting ecology, environment and forests is extremely significant.”

However, the Bench said, “unfortunately, of late, such an important jurisdiction, which has been carefully carved out, created and nurtured with great care and caution by the courts, is being blatantly abused by filing some petitions with oblique motives.”

The judges said: “We have to protect and preserve this important jurisdiction in the larger interest of the people but we must take effective steps to prevent and cure its abuse on the basis of monetary and non-monetary directions by the courts.”

Instead of every individual judge devising his own procedure for dealing with PIL, it would be appropriate for each High Court to properly formulate rules for encouraging genuine PIL and discouraging petitions filed with oblique motives.

The courts should prima facie verify the credentials of the petitioner before entertaining PIL.

The courts should prima facie be satisfied about the correctness of the contents of the petition before entertaining it.

They should be fully satisfied that substantial public interest is involved before entertaining the petition.

The courts should ensure that a petition which involves a larger public interest, gravity and urgency is given priority over others.

The courts, before entertaining PIL, should ensure that it is aimed at redressing genuine public harm or public injury, and that there is no personal gain, private motive or oblique motive behind the filing of the petition.

The petitions filed by busybodies for extraneous and ulterior motives must be discouraged by imposing exemplary costs or by adopting similar novel methods to curb frivolous petitions and the petitions filed for extraneous considerations.

The Bench requested the High Courts, which have not framed the rules, to do so within three months. The Registrars-General of the respective courts are directed to file their reports.

In the instant case, a PIL petition was filed by Balwant Singh Chaufal and others challenging the appointment of L.P. Nathani as Advocate-General of the Uttarakhand High Court as he had already crossed the age of 62. On the High Court asking the State government to take a decision in 15 days, it preferred a special leave petition and the Supreme Court stayed the High Court orders passed on July 12, 2001 and August 1, 2001.

Disposing of the appeal, the Bench held that the PIL petition amounted to misuse of the provision and had been filed for extraneous considerations. The Bench directed the respondents (petitioners before the High court) to pay Rs. 1 lakh in costs in two months. The payment should be made in favour of the Registrar-General of the High Court.

It should aim at redressing public harm; there should be no personal gain or private motive

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