Former Delhi High Court chief justice A.P. Shah is known for his landmark judgements favouring the aam aadmi. He was denied an opportunity to serve in the Supreme Court by the collegium which decides on promotions of judges. Here, he shares his concerns over the new litigation policy restricting filing of PILs:
Will the national litigation policy prevent people from moving PILs?
The fundamental premise on which PILs are based is access to justice to all constituents of society and how well this is executed. There are, no doubt, excellent suggestions in the policy because in many cases the government is a litigant. But it is not just government inaction that one is concerned about, as mentioned in the policy. What about government high-handedness? There has to be a mechanism for questioning that also. Besides, there are several agencies, organisations, corporates against whom also pils are moved.
Is the policy’s concern about frivolous PILs misplaced?
My personal opinion is that judges are well-equipped to handle frivolous PILs. There is no denying that there are frivolous petitions sometimes motivated by publicity. But there are enough guidelines for the judiciary, drawn out from time to time, to discriminate between frivolous and meritorious cases. It is a matter of judicial discipline and it is the judiciary that should regulate the PILs. Moreover, pendency of cases in several courts cannot be used as a case against PILs. Case backlog running into thousands require an imaginative alternative structure to be judged.
What in your opinion is the contribution of PILs to law?
The immense reach and impact of the PILs cannot be underestimated. It has virtually affected all walks of life—from making education a right to pollution of industries, to environment legislation. They are indicators of a robust development of law and are unique to Indian judiciary. In fact, the Indian example has been followed in countries like South Africa, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka. South Africa has made PILs a fundamental right of its citizens. The most positive contribution is that courts have moved closer to the disadvantaged sections of society.
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