Thursday, July 1, 2010

New policy gets tough on PILs against projects

NEW DELHI: Petitioners contemplating PILs against ongoing projects on environment grounds might want to do a rethink. The government's new litigation policy calls for petitioners to be slapped with costs for stoppage of projects that are in public interest.

This approach is a prominent part of the National Litigation Policy (NLP) announced recently by law minister Veerappa Moily and is a response to PILs that lack merit. Though a majority of PILs challenging projects are ultimately dismissed, they succeed in delaying work.

The NLP drafted by attorney-general G E Vahanvati says, "PILs challenging public contract must be seriously defended. If interim orders are passed stopping such projects, then appropriate condition must be insisted upon for petitioners to pay compensation if the PIL is ultimately rejected."

The policy, the government argues, is meant for those petitioners who rush to courts with PILs to merely get publicity immediately after a controversy over a social, political or legislative issue. Critics, however, are likely to argue that the policy will curb public spirited actions.

"It must be recognized that several PILs are filed for collateral reasons, including publicity, and at the instance of third parties. Such litigation must be exposed as being not bonafide," the NLP stressed.

However, NLP does not envisage all PILs as ill-intentioned or bad in law and talks about the need for government to adopt a balanced approach. "On the one hand, PILs should not be taken as a matter of convenience to let the courts do what government finds inconvenient," it said.

A good example of the government turning to the courts to bail it out was the reference on the Ayodhya issue sent by the President to the Supreme Court, immediately after the December 6, 1992 demolition of the disputed shrine. The reference sought an opinion on whether a Ram temple pre-existed the Babri mosque.
The SC had returned the reference without offering an opinion.

The NLP recognizes that an increase in the number of PILs in high courts and the Supreme Court stemmed from a perception that the government was not doing what it was supposed to do or due to a lethargic bureaucracy. "This perception must be changed," it says. The proposal to link costs with dismissal of PILs is, however, bound to be controversial.

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