Aren't Political Parties Allowed to Move India's Courts?

The Supreme Court recently admonished the CPI(M) for bringing a case against evictions in Shaheen Bagh, even after they argued that it was a PIL.

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court last week refused to entertain the public interest litigation (PIL) petition filed by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) challenging the South Delhi Municipal Corporation’s planned anti-encroachment drives, reported Bar and Bench.

A division bench of Justice L. Nageswara Rao and Justice B.R. Gavai dismissed the petition and asked the petitioner to move the Delhi high court.

“You will be advised better to approach the high court. Do not make this such a platform and come on behalf of a political party,” the court said.

The court also noted that none of the aggrieved parties were arrayed in the petition. On asking the advocate for the petitioner, he answered that it was a PIL.

The plea was filed stating that the demolition of allegedly irregular properties would be an illegal and inhumane action in total violation of the principles of natural justice and the Constitution of India. It was claimed that the occupants were not encroachers or unauthorised occupants as alleged by the respondent authorities.

The plea stated that on May 4 the authorities demolished buildings with bulldozers in Sangham Vihar area and they were planning to do the same in Shaheen Bagh and other areas on May 9 and May 13.

The court said that it cannot interfere at the instance of a political party.

“We have not given license to anybody to come here to say my house cannot be demolished even if it is unauthorised. You cannot take shelter of that order. We cannot interfere…that too at the instance of political parties,” Livelaw reported.

Also read: ‘Not at Behest of Political Parties’: SC Turns Down CPI(M)’s Plea Against Shaheen Bagh Drive

The petition was, therefore, withdrawn.

This is not the first instance when a political party has moved court, as earlier members of different political parties have approached the court with PILs. In fact, in the past decade, there has been a spurt in the number of PILs filed by members of political parties. Some of them have been entertained as they involve important and serious issues, and some have been dismissed for being frivolous/publicity stunts.

Does this mean politicians can’t file PILs?

While some petitions were dismissed by courts for being politically motivated or for being a publicity stunt, courts have also entertained some petitions filed by political leaders as they had substantial questions of law involved.

Interestingly, at the beginning of this year, the Supreme Court had issued notice on a PIL filed by BJP advocate Ashwini Upadhyay. He had sought directions to Election Commission of India to seize election symbol and deregister political parties, which promise/distribute freebies using public funds before elections.

A three-judge bench of Chief Justice N.V. Ramana, Justice A.S. Bopanna and Justice Hima Kohli had observed that the petition raised a serious issue. The bench had also noted that the petitioner had named parties and states in the petition

“You have named only two in the affidavit,” the CJI had said. “You have been selective in your approach,” Justice Kohli had remarked.

The court had then proceeded to issue a notice in view of the legal issue raised in the plea.

In fact, last year, a Supreme Court bench led by Justice Indira Banerjee had observed that judges need not get into political motives or prejudice of a PIL petition merely because the person who filed it is a politician.

The court had said that persons with political affiliations were just as entitled to file PILs as any other citizen of the country.

“While it is true that the court is required to examine whether a litigation is really in the public interest or to advance some other interest in the garb of public interest, at the same time, a Public Interest Litigation [PIL] cannot be thrown out only because the petitioner belongs to a rival political party. Persons with political affiliations are as much entitled to file a PIL as any other person. Whether the litigation is bona fide or not is a different issue which has to be examined by the court on a case-to-case basis, having regard to the nature of the complaint before it,” the court had remarked.

These observations were made while staying Calcutta high court’s order to re-institute criminal cases against West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s election agent, S.K. Supian, in connection with the Nandigram protests against land acquisition.