President Ram Nath Kovind on Friday said the judiciary is guarding against attempts by people with vested interests to misuse public interest litigations (PILs) so as to obstruct legitimate decision making.
He also expressed concern over “frequent adjournments often sought only to delay cases” which causes inconvenience in form of “justice tax on poor and less well of litigants”.
Speaking at the release of a Festschrift “Law, Justice and Judicial Power: Justice P N Bhagwati’s Approach”, Kovind said PIL tradition is an Indian contribution to the practice of law and process of justice delivery and for this “we owe Justice Bhagwati a degree of gratitude”.
He said it is not without reason that Justice Bhagwati, who was the chief justice of India from July 12, 1985 to December 20, 1986, is called the father of public interest litigation in India.
The President said the idealism and simplicity of the highest court in the country responding to even a petition filed on a postcard is worthy of appreciation.
“This practice had far-reaching implications. It unshackled the courts from the narrow definition of locus standi and allowed a friend of affected person or any other concerned individual or institution to approach the court on behalf of citizen who has been denied justice,” he said.
Though Kovind expressed concern over the misuse of PIL by people of vested interests, he said attempts have been guarded by the judiciary.
“There are occasions when PIL professionals may misuse such provisions for their vested ends or to obstruct legitimate decision making. I am happy that the judiciary is guarding against such attempts,” he said.
He said that Justice Bhagwati strived to expand the concept of justice and make justice that much more accessible to common people and belonged to a generation of eminent jurists who reconceived and reimagined the role of the judiciary in a developing democracy such as India.
Kovind spoke after Attorney General K K Venugopal also expressed concern over misuse of PILs and said “public interest litigation was brought as a weapon for the poor for unfortunately today it is being used by the rich and powerful and also often they set up who are proxy for the purpose of getting benefits.”
Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi said Justice Bhagwati was a legal stalwart who utilised his long tenure in the Supreme Court into an opportunity to give shape to the aspirations of the Indian constitution.
“Justice Bhagwati was one of the harbingers of environmental jurisprudence in the country. It was his compassionate legal mind that made possible reading of environmental rights as an integral part of human rights.
“He, a true judicial statesman, could envisage the necessity of a specialised environment court in the case. it led to the establishment of the National Green Tribunal almost two decades later… For Justice Bhagwati judging was more about justice and access to justice than being about legal theatrics,” Gogoi said.
The President further said that Justice Bhagwati was a part of an exciting phase in the judiciary.
“In the aftermath of lessons learnt during the Emergency, judiciary focused attention on the upholding of human rights and civil liberties as enshrined in our Constitution.
Justice Bhagwati was a part of the bench which in ADM Jabalpur case delivered a majority verdict holding that fundamental right to life and liberty can be curtailed during the emergency.
Kovind said as democracy has deepened in our society, the infrastructure of and approach to justice must continue to keep pace.
“The ever stronger urgings of democracy, equal-access and egalitarianism among our people must find reflection in the institutions of state,” he said.
“In its representation, our judiciary must strive to reflect the diversity of our nation and the depth of our society. This will take forward the work and philosophy of Justice Bhagwati and his generation of jurists,” Kovind said.