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Centre for Public Interest Litigation must verify credibility of its PILs before approaching SC: CJI Thakur bench

The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked NGO Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL), that raises many public interest matters before the apex court and Delhi high court, to create a mechanism that inspires confidence that the suits filed by it were really in public interest centric and not a proxy for others.

“We gave PIL, you created Centre for Public Interest Litigation. Now we must move to next stage of credibility. There must be some inbuilt mechanism. A lot of (court’s) time goes into it (hearing the PILs). How much hours of court’s time goes into it. There must be an inbuilt mechanism,” a bench of Chief Justice TSThakur, Justice AK Sikri and Justice R Banumathi told counsel Prashant Bhushan for CPIL

The court said this at the outset of the hearing of the PIL by which CPIL had sought the quashing of the decision permitting Reliance Jio to enter the voice telephony services using 4G spectrum.

In an obvious expression of its misgivings on the possibility of commercial dimensions being agitated by CPIL citing public interest, Chief Justice Thakur asked: “Why should we hear PILs filed by CPIL You are a professional litigant. Can you become a ‘centre’ for PIL Can anyone walk into your office and tell you ‘I want to file a PIL’.”

Addressing the apprehensions of the court, Bhushan said the CPIL was founded by well-known jurist of yesteryears VM Tarkunde and there was a committee comprising senior counsel Fali Nariman, Anil Divan, Kamini Jaiswal, Shanti Bhushan and himself that scrutinises the PIL before it is filed.

The court had asked Bhushan whether it could have the confidence that the PIL moved by CPIL was not rooted in corporate rivalry indicating that its impression is that the NGO had no mechanism to ascertain that the information being passed on to it was not coloured by any vested interests.

It said that it would like to examine the question whether petitions filed by CPIL go through such a process and it was a serious PIL centering around public interest only.

Telling Bhushan that CPIL should have a mechanism by which every PIL before coming to the court should be scrutinised by a group of credible lawyers so that the court may not have any misgivings, Chief Justice Thakur said that the NGO should have a system of ascertain the facts and investigating them before taking them to court.

“When you come to us, we take you seriously. But when a commercial competitor comes to us, we might not. This competitor knows this (distinction) and might send a proxy to you with documents and information which you otherwise don’t have access to. You have to establish a credible mechanism to justify that a particular case is fit to be agitated,” he said.

As Bhushan tried to impress upon the court that every PIL moved by the CPIL before coming to the court is scrutinised by lawyers and named counsel Kamini Jaiswal as one of them, Chief Justice Thakur observed that it was he (Bhushan) and Jaiswal sitting in their respective chambers and deciding.

At this, Bhushan said: “Ultimately it is the court that applies its mind on the issues raised in the PILs by the NGO ”

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