Grounds for entertaining Public Interest Litigation

It is necessary to bear in mind that a public interest litigation is usually entertained by a court for the purpose of redressing public injury, enforcing public duty, protecting social rights and vindicating public interest. The real purpose of entertaining such application is the vindication of the rule of law, effective access to justice to the economically weaker class and meaningful realisation of the fundamental rights. The directions and commands issued by the courts of law in a public interest litigation are for the betterment of the society at large and not for benefiting any individual. But if the Court finds that in the garb of a public interest litigation actually an individual’s interest is sought to be carried out or protected, it would be bounden duty of the court not to entertain such petition as otherwise the very purpose of innovation of public interest litigation will be frustrated. It is in fact a litigation in which a person is not aggrieved personally but brings an action on behalf of downtrodden mass for the redressal of their grievance. In the case of Sachidanand Pandey v. State of West Bengal (1987) 2 SCC 295 , when the State of West Bengal had allowed the construction of a five star hotel in the vicinity of a zoological garden and a part of the land belonging to the zoo had been leased out to the said company, a petition had been filed in the Calcutta High Court and the High Court having dismissed the same, the matter had been carried to this Court and this Court also had upheld the decision of the High Court, after coming to the conclusion that it is impossible to hold that the Government of West Bengal did not act with probity in not inviting tenders or in not holding a public auction but negotiating straightway at arm’s length with the Taj Group of Hotels. In the said Judgment Justice Khalid has added a few paragraphs indicating as to how a public interest litigation pose a threat to courts and public alike. The learned Judge had sounded a word of caution that if courts do not restrict the free flow of case in the name of public interest litigation, “the traditional litigation will suffer and the courts of law, instead of dispensing justice will have to take upon themselves administrative and executive functions.” It was also stated by the learned Judge – “it is only when the courts are apprised of gross violation of fundamental rights by a group or a class action or when basic human rights are invaded or when there are complaints of such acts as shock the judicial conscience that the courts, especially this court, should leave aside procedural shackles and hear such petitions and extend its jurisdiction under all available provisions for remedying the hardships and miseries of the needy, the underdog and the neglected.”

In the case of Ramsharan Autyanuprasi v. Union of India, (1989) 1 Suppl. SCC 251 , a writ petition had been filed in this Court under Article 32 alleging mismanagement of a public trust and this court ultimately held that the petition does not seek to advance any public right and innovation of the jurisdiction of this Court as a public interest litigation, in the back-ground of the allegations made in the petition and in the context of the case was wholly unjustified. This court has further indicated that the public interest litigation does not mean settling disputes between individual parties and when there is no breach of fundamental rights and the matter is amenable to proceedings under Sections 37 and 38 of the Rajasthan Public Trust Act to entertain a petition styling into which a public interest litigation is the abuse of the process of court. The object of noting the aforesaid caution indicated in two Judgments of this court is to emphasise how in the case in hand this has proved to be true and how the respondent in the name of a tax payer of the municipality has protracted a public interest litigation which ultimately has resulted gross injustice to the Indore Development Authority and also the appellant and in fact really, interest of public is not at all involved and it is further to be noticed that the High Court has been swayed away to entertain a petition and not only has set aside a public auction held at large but also quashed an award of a competent arbitrator in respect of the dispute referred to him between the parties and application concerning the said award is pending before a competent civil court, thereby frustrating the provisions of the Arbitration Act fully.

At the same time if any informal forum is chosen by the parties for expeditious decision of their disputes, it would not be safe for a court of law to come to a conclusion that such decision has been taken for any extraneous consideration without any supporting materials in that regard.