A day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the judiciary should be wary of delivering verdicts driven by the perception of “five-star activists,” legal experts and activists felt the comment was extremely insulting .
They said the comment cast aspersions on the judiciary’s three-decade-old public interest litigation (PIL) legacy, which is based on the ideal that the able ones come forward to fight for the poor and the voiceless.
The Prime Minister made the comment while addressing a joint conference of Chief Ministers and Chief Justices on Sunday. In attendance were the Chief Justice of India H.L. Dattu, Chief Justices of 24 High Courts and sitting judges of the Supreme Court.
A former Chief Justice of India, who refused to be named, said Mr. Modi’s comment was his “perception”.
Senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan said the comment was a criticism of the court itself and ‘five-star activist’ is a “complete misnomer.”
“PILs are an important part of the Supreme Court jurisdiction. There is nothing to suggest that the Supreme Court has ever entertained PILs which are not bonafide or where the cause is not just. Supreme Court is not misled in the PIL cases it hears. Eventually this becomes a criticism of the court with a gun being fired from mythical five-star activists,” Mr. Dhavan said on Monday.
“To say this before the higher judiciary — Supreme Court judges and High Court chief justices were sitting there — that they would pass orders based on public opinion rather than on constitutional arguments is extremely insulting,” human rights lawyer Vrinda Grover said.
“PIL jurisdiction was started in the Supreme Court in the 1980s to ensure that others would come forward and fight for the rights of the marginalised . Maligning these others as ‘five-star activists’ is against the letter and spirit of the Constitution,” she said.
Incidentally, the Supreme Court has, since December 12, 2014, set up a Social Justice Bench’ entirely devoted to hearing PILs filed by NGOs and activists on a range of social issues related to the downtrodden and socially-marginalised groups.An official statement from the Supreme Court had introduced the Bench as Chief Justice Dattu’s brainchild to give a specialised approach to PILs pending for years.