Whether anonymous letter sent in the name of a Judge can be entertained as Public Interest Litigation?

It is well settled that a public interest litigation can be entertained by the Constitutional Courts only at the instance of a bona fide litigant. The author of the letter in this case is anonymous, there is no way to verify his bona fides and in fact no effort was made by the Court to verify about the authenticity, truth or otherwise of the contents of the petition. It is not the case of the appellant that no Writ Petition under Article 226 of the Constitution of India can be entertained on the strength of a letter addressed by a bona fide litigant to the High Court. This Court in Sunil Batra (II) Vs. Delhi Administration (1980) 3 SCC 488.has accepted a letter written to the Supreme Court by one Sunil Batra, a prisoner from Tihar Jail, Delhi complaining of inhuman torture in the jail. In Dr. Upendra Baxi (I) v. State of U.P. (1983) 2 SCC 308., this Court entertained letter sent by the two Professors of Delhi University seeking enforcement of the constitutional right of the inmates in a Protective Home, at Agra who were living in inhuman and degrading conditions. In Miss Veena Sethi V. State of Bihar (1982) 2 SCC 583., this Court treated letter addressed to a Judge of this Court by the Free Legal Aid Committee at Hazaribagh, Bihar as a writ petition. In Citizens for Democracy through its President Vs. State of Assam and ors.(1995) 3 SCC 743.upon which reliance has been placed by Shri P.P. Rao, this Court entertained a letter addressed by Shri Kuldip Nayar, an eminent journalist, in his capacity as President of “Citizens for Democracy” to one of the judges of this Court complaining of human rights violations of TADA detenues and the same was treated as a petition under Article 32 of the Constitution of the India. But in none of these cases, the Court entertained anonymous petition and converted the same into a Public Interest Litigation. We do not propose to burden this judgment with various authoritative pronouncements of this Court laying down the parameters of Public Interest Litigation. Suffice it to recapitulate that this Court uniformly and consistently held that the individual who moves the court for judicial redress in cases of Public Interest Litigation must be acting bone fide with a view to vindicating the cause of justice and not for any personal gain or private profit or of the political motivation or other oblique consideration. The Court should not allow itself to be activised at the instance of such person and must reject his application at the threshold, whether it be in the form of a letter addressed to the court or even in the form of a regular petition filed in Court. In S.P. Gupta and Ors. Vs. President of India and Ors. AIR 1982SC 149., this Court in clear and unequivocal terms observed that it would be prudent for the constitutional courts to “confine this strategic exercise of jurisdiction to cases where legal wrong or legal injury is caused to a determinate class or group of persons or the constitutional or legal right of such determinate class or group of persons is violated and as far as possible, not entertain cases of individual wrong or injury at the instance of a third party, where there is an effective legal-aid organization which can take care of such cases.”

50. The law in this regard is summarized in Janata Dal Vs. H.S. Chowdhary AIR 1993 SC 892 thus :

“It is thus clear that only a person acting bona fide and having sufficient interest in the proceeding of PIL will alone have a locus standi and can approach the Court to wipe out the tears of the poor and needy, suffering from violation of their fundamental rights, but not a person for personal gain or private profit or political motive or any oblique consideration. Similarly, a vexatious petition under the colour of PIL brought before the Court for vindicating any personal grievance, deserves rejection at the threshold.”

51. In Dattaraj Nathuji Thaware Vs. State of Maharashtra and ors. (2005) 1 SCC 590 this Court observed :

“The attractive brand name of public interest litigation should not be used for suspicious products of mischief. It should be aimed at redressal of genuine public wrong or public injury and not be publicity-oriented or founded on personal vendetta. As indicated above, court must be careful to see that a body of persons or member of the public, who approaches the court is acting bona fide and not for personal gain or private motive or political motivation or other oblique considerations. The Court must not allow its process to be abused for oblique considerations by masked phantoms who monitor at times from behind. Some persons with vested interest indulge in the pastime of meddling with judicial process either by force of habit or from improper motives, and try to bargain for a good deal as well as to enrich themselves. Often they are actuated by a desire to win notoriety or cheap popularity. The petitions of such busybodies deserve to be thrown out by rejection at the threshold, and in appropriate cases with exemplary costs.”

52. In State of West Bengal and Ors. Vs. Sampat Lal and Ors. (1985) 1 SCC 317., this Court administered a caution stating when communications complaining of violation of rights of the deprived and vulnerable sections of the community are sent to the court, care and caution should be adopted to ensure that the process of the court is not abused or misused. The Court should be prima facie satisfied that the information laid before it is of such a nature that it calls for examination and this prima facie satisfaction may be derived from the credentials of the informant, namely, what is the character or standing of the informant or from the nature of the information given by him, namely, whether it is vague and indefinite or contains specific allegations as a result of survey or investigation or from the gravity or seriousness of the complaint set out in the information or from any other circumstance or circumstances appearing from the communication addressed to the court or to a Judge of the court on behalf of the court.

53. How to verify the credentials, character or standing of the informant who does not disclose his identity ? In the instant case, there is no whisper in the order passed by the High Court about any attempts made to verify the credentials, character or standing of the informant. Obviously, the High Court could not have verified the same since the petition received by it is an unsigned one.

54. In Bandhua Mukti Morcha Vs. Union of India and Ors. (supra), this Court visualized grave danger inherent in a practice where a mere letter is entertained as a petition from a person whose antecedents and status are unknown or so uncertain that no sense of responsibility can, without anything more, be attributed to the communication. It has been observed that the document petitioning the court for relief should be supported by satisfactory verification. This requirement is all the greater where petitions are received by the Court through the post. It is never beyond the bound of possibility that an unverified communication received through the post by the Court may in fact have been employed mala fide, as an instrument of coercion or blackmail or other oblique motive against a person named therein who holds a position of honour and respect in society. The Court must be ever vigilant against the abuse of its process. It cannot do that better in the matter than insisting at the earliest stage, and before issuing notice to the respondent, that an appropriate verification of the allegations be supplied.

55. In our view, the Public Interest Litigant must disclose his identity so as to enable the court to decide that the informant is not a wayfarer or officious intervener without any interest or concern.

56. In such view of the matter the suo motu action initiated cannot be treated as the one in public interest litigation.

58. This Court in more than one case expressed its reservation about individual judges entertaining the communications and petitions addressed to them to pass orders on judicial side. In Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India and Ors. (1984) 3 SCC 161., the Court in clear and unequivocal terms declared that communications and petitions addressed to a particular judge are improper and violate the institutional personality of the court. They also embarrass the Judge to whom they are personally addressed. The fundamental conception of the Court must be respected, that it is a single indivisible institution, of united purpose and existing solely for the high constitutional functions for which it has been created. The conception of the Court as a loose aggregate of individual Judges, to one or more of whom Judicial access may be particularly had, undermines its very existence and endangers its proper and effective functioning.”

59. In our view, the learned judge ought not to have entertained the anonymous petition, contents of which remain unverified and made it basis for setting the law in motion as against the appellant as he was not entrusted with the Judicial duty of disposing of PIL matters.

60. Institutions own reputation is a priceless treasure. History teaches us that the independence of the judiciary is jeopardized when courts become embroiled in the passions of the day and assume primary responsibility to resolve the issues which are otherwise not entrusted to it by adopting procedures which are otherwise not known.

61. There is heavy duty cast upon the constitutional courts to protect themselves from the onslaught unleashed by unscrupulous litigants masquerading as Public Interest Litigants. The individual judges ought not to entertain communications and letters personally addressed to them and initiate action on the judicial side based on such communication so as to avoid embarrassment; that all communications and petitions invoking the jurisdiction of the court must be addressed to the entire Court, that is to say, the Chief Justice and his companion Judges. The individual letters, if any, addressed to a particular judge are required to be placed before the Chief Justice for consideration as to the proposed action on such petitions. Each Judge cannot decide for himself as to what communication should be entertained for setting the law in motion be it in PIL or in any jurisdiction. [AIR 2008 SC 1614 : (2008) 4 SCR 701 : (2008) 3 SCC 542 : JT 2008 (3) SC 353 : (2008) 3 SCALE 532 : (2008) CriLJ SC 1891 Divine Retreat Centre Versus State of Kerala and OTHERS ]