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ERRONEOUS USE OF ARTICLE 32-SC SLAMS PIL SEEKING BAN ON COCA-COLA AND THUMBS UP

June 25, 2020

By Priya Adlakha and Isha Tiwari

The scope of Article 32 of the Constitution of India has widened tremendously since the ‘Emergency Era’ in late 1970s, as a medium of voicing the rights of indigent population in the country. Article 32 provides a guaranteed right to move to Supreme Court through appropriate proceedings for enforcement of one’s fundamental rights enshrined under Part III of the Constitution. However, the Indian judiciary is witnessing a spike in misappropriation at the hands of litigants, who erroneously invoke this jurisdiction under Article 32 and thus, add to the mounting pile of pending matters. Recently, the Hon’ble Court came down heavily on the Petitioner for erroneously invoking such jurisdiction in the case of Umedsinh P Chavda vs. Union of India and Ors.[1] and imposed cost of Rs. 5 lakhs upon him.

Brief facts of the case

Umedsinh P Chavda (hereinafter as ‘the Petitioner) claiming himself to a social worker, moved the Hon’ble Supreme Court (hereinafter as ‘the Court’) under Article 32[2] of the Indian Constitution, seeking issuance of a writ of Mandamus, against the Union of India (hereinafter as ‘the Respondent’) to pass necessary orders to prohibit the sale and consumption of soft drinks, Coca-Cola and Thumbs Up, and also issue notification uprising people at large not to consume it, as the same is detrimental to the cause of public health and thus, sparked an interesting question of law as to what constitutes as a bona fide reason to file a PIL?

Apart from the above directions, the Petitioner also sought a directive against the UOI, for a complete analytical report and prior scientific approval for a license of such sale and consumption of liquids like Coca-Cola and Thumbs Up.

Supreme Court- Invocation of jurisdiction under Article 32 amounted to ‘an abuse of the process’

The Hon’ble Court observed that though the Petitioner’s affidavit says that the contents of the petition are true to the knowledge and belief of the Petitioner, however the Petitioner has no technical knowledge on the subject. The source of his assertions has not been established. No explanation was given by the Petitioner’s Counsel for targeting two specific brands i.e. Coca-Cola and Thumbs Up. The Court was of the view that the said petition has been filed for extraneous reasons and the invocation of the jurisdiction under Article 32 amounted to ‘an abuse of the process’.

The Hon’ble Bench comprising of Hon’ble Mr. J. D.Y. Chandrachud, Mr. J. Hemant Gupta and Mr. J. Ajay Rastogi, dismissed the said Public Interest Litigation on grounds of being filed without any bona fide reasons and imposed exemplary costs of Rs. 5 lakhs upon the Petitioner, to be deposited with the Registry within one month, as funds for the Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Association.

Frivolous Petitions under the garb of PIL

A Public Interest Litigation mandates prima facie violation of fundamental rights of the individuals or the destitute, who lack the means to approach the Court. A PIL cannot be filed as a means of personal vendetta or with an objective of political gain or malice, as observed in the present matter wherein, the impending objective being public health, the same failed to showcase for seeking a specific ban on sale of Coca-Cola and Thumbs Up.

On various occasions, the Hon’ble Supreme Court and High Courts have dismissed such frivolous petitions for extraneous considerations, styled as ‘Public Interest Litigation’, with heavy costs, wherein the Petitioner has its own interest. Following the said trend, in 2019, a Division Bench of the Hon’ble Madras High Court in a case titled as Dhakshnamoorthy vs. The Commissioner[3], hearing a PIL for calling the records of tender notice published by the Commissioner, Tiruvallur Municipality, while dismissing the same, even warned the Petitioner not to indulge in filing frivolous PILs.

Another notable observation from the present matter implies that a Petitioner must possess sufficient knowledge or produce substantial evidence before approaching the Court. This Court in Indian Banks Association vs. Devkala Consultancy Service[4] had allowed the writ petition of a Chartered Accountant on the ground that he was sufficiently knowledgeable, being an expert in auditing and accountancy for pointing out the discrepancies in banks’ policies regarding interest payment. Since the power under Article 32 not only grants an injunctive relief against infringement of fundamental rights but also a remedial relief by way of damages, it has been observed to include within its ambit relief against wrongful invocation of Article 32.

Take away

Constitutional remedies such as Article 32 encompass a wide ambit of power and it has been regarded as a weapon to be used with great care and caution. Though the Article upholds a person’s fundamental rights to their highest regards, there is a fine line which prevents it from encroaching upon the constitutional duties of the State. Doing away with the element of locus standi, by which a person substantiates its right to approach the Court, was regarded by Justice Bhagwati as a strategic arm of the legal aid movement, thus breathing life not only into Articles 21 and 32 but also into Article 39A, which obligates the State to secure justice and legal aid for its citizens[5].

However, it must be regarded that there is no misuse of such a power, even if with the bona fide intention of aiding the indigent and destitute. The legal language leaves a wide room for interpretation as to what constitutes proper invocation of Article 32 and the same may even result in filing of extraneous matters from time to time, but the same must been regarded as to outweigh the implications faced by restricting the judicial review power of the apex institution to secure justice in the face of gross injustice. The route of Article 32 shall be regarded as a speedy remedy for bona fide cause and not as a tool to cause unnecessary vexation and delay justice in significant matters when the Supreme Court already faces a backlog of 60,469 matters[6] and physical hearing being suspended to battle the pandemic of COVID-19, the time of Judiciary demands utilisation in the most judicious manner possible.

[1] Writ Petition(s)(Civil) No(s).346/2020; https://main.sci.gov.in/supremecourt/2020/3850/3850_2020_34_21_22517_Order_11-Jun-2020.pdf; accessed on June 23, 2020

[2] Article 32(2) Remedies for enforcement of rights conferred by this Part – “The Supreme Court shall have power to issue directions or orders or writs, including writs in the nature of habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibition, quo warranto and certiorari, whichever may be appropriate, for the enforcement of any of the rights conferred by this Part”; https://www.india.gov.in/sites/upload_files/npi/files/coi_part_full.pdf; accessed on June 16, 2020

[3] W.P.No.5027 of 2019 and W.M.P.Nos.5734 & 5735 of 2019

[4] (2004) 11 SCC 1

[5] Article 39A Equal Justice and free legal aid; The Constitution of India ; https://www.india.gov.in/sites/upload_files/npi/files/coi_part_full.pdf; accessed on June 16, 2020

[6] As on March 10, 2020; https://main.sci.gov.in/statistics; accessed on June 16, 2020

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