Monday, 13 March 2017

When court will not permit filing of public interest litigation?

Even otherwise, the petitioner has mentioned various social
activities that it has been conducting. However, it is to be noticed that
this Court has framed the Maintainability of the Public Interest
Litigation Rules, 2010 ('the Rules' - for short). Rule 7 of the Rules
envisages that the Registry is entitled to verify the antecedents of a
person, society or an association that invokes the jurisdiction of this
Court on the cause of public interest. Besides, where the Registry has
any doubt on such antecedents, an office note to that effect is to be put
up, except on the petitions which are received by post. The Registry in
the present case raised objections regarding the maintainability of public
interest litigation, which inter alia records that the writ petition be filed
according to the directions passed by a Division Bench of this Court in
the case of Ajaib Singh v. State of Punjab, CWP No. 15987 of 2013,
decided on 26.07.2013, which was available on the High Court website,
reported in (2013 - 4) PLR 367. In response to the same, the petitioner
merely recorded; 'PIL is maintainable and falls within the Rules'. It is
mentioned that credentials of the petitioner were evident from general
profile (Annexure P2), Constitution of Society (Annexure P3),
appreciation letter (Annexure P4) and registration certificate (Annexure
P1).
In Ajaib Singh's case (supra), a Division Bench of this Court
emphasized that a petitioner has to specifically disclose his credentials
and his direct or indirect personal motive or interest involved in the case,
if any, by way of an affidavit. The expression “specifically disclose his
credentials”, it was held, must naturally, imply that he has to set forth
what he does for his living, what public interest he has been espousing,

the work done by him in that behalf, the particulars of any matter
preferred by him as PIL earlier on which the Court had passed orders,
etc. It could not imply merely writing a sentence that a person is residing
in the State, is 'public-spirited' and is, thus, filing a PIL. A direction was
issued to the Registry to ensure strict compliance with these rules and to
return petitions styled as PIL with objection (s) unless these parameters
were specified. It was held that in fact, there is a mandate on the Registry
as per Clause-7 of the said Rules to verify the antecedents of the persons,
Societies or Associations who invoke jurisdiction on the cause of public
interest and, if they are not satisfied with the antecedents, to return the
petition.
 The petitioner has referred to the registration certificate
(Annexure P1) certifying that the Scientific Awareness and Social
Welfare Forum, Sangrur had been registered under the Societies
Registration Act, 1860 and as amended by the Punjab Amendment Act,
1957. The certificate was issued on 14.05.2004 by the Additional
Registrar-cum-General Manager, District Industries Centre, Malerkotla
(Sangrur). The general profile (Annexure P2) mentions the names of
members, office bearers , executive members and aims of the petitioner;
besides, the other activities that have been conducted. A list of great
donors to the petitioner Forum and the amount given have been
mentioned. The Constitution (Annexure P3) of the petitioner Forum has
been placed on record which also includes its Memorandum. In the
Memorandum, it has been mentioned that the Funds of the Society will
be deposited in any recognized bank and that withdrawal of the funds
cannot be allowed without the signatures of two officer bearers out of

President, Secretary and Finance Secretary. A list of the members who
unanimously passed the resolution on 27.11.2004 relating to the
Memorandum has been given. Letter of appreciation (Annexure P4) has
been issued by one, 'Public Cause Research Foundation' situated at
Gaziabad.
The said documents though mention that the petitioner
Forum is carrying out various public activities; however, there is no
material to substantiate the same. The letter of appreciation (Annexure
P4) is unclear as to what is the standing of the 'Public Cause Research
Foundation', which has issued the letter of appreciation. Besides, there
is a provision for collection of funds and the manner in which it is to be
used, however, it is not disclosed as to in which bank funds are being
maintained.
In Bhartiya Homeopathy College, Bharatpur v. Students'
Council of Homeopathy Medical College, Jaipur and others, (1998) 2
SCC 449, the Supreme Court delineated the points relevant for deciding
the maintainability of a PIL. A union of students had challenged the
action of the Vice-Chancellor by way of a PIL. It was held that such a
union, must disclose: (i) whether it was authorized to file the litigation;
(ii) if so, by whom; (iii) whether it has sufficient funds to indulge in such
litigation; and (iv) the basis of alleging harm to public interest.
Otherwise, it was held that it should not be allowed lightly to litigate in
the name of public interest to cause damage to others.
The petitioner Forum has not shown as to whether it has
been authorized to file the litigation and, if so, by whom. Besides, it has
not been disclosed whether it has sufficient funds to indulge in such a

litigation. The list of donors though has been mentioned, but it has not
been disclosed as to in which bank the funds are being maintained and
whether the funds have been allowed to be withdrawn for filing the
present petition. Besides, it has not been disclosed that the chart by
which the penalty is shown to have been imposed, then as to what harm
has been caused to the public. Therefore, on the basis of material as
placed on record, the petitioner Forum is not liable to be allowed to
litigate lightly in the name of public interest which may cause damage to
the others.
IN THE HIGH COURT OF PUNJAB AND HARYANA AT
 CHANDIGARH
CWP No. 19540 of 2016 (O&M)
Date of decision: 21.09.2016.
Scientific Awareness & Social Welfare Forum through Sham Lal Singla

V
State of Punjab and another

CORAM: HON'BLE MR. JUSTICE S.S. SARON
HON'BLE MRS. JUSTICE LISA GILL
Citation: 2017(1) ALLMR(JOURNAL) 9

The petition has been filed in the nature of a public interest
for directing the respondents, i.e. the State of Punjab and the State
Information Commission, Punjab, Chandigarh to implement the Right to
Information Act, 2005 ('the RTI Act' - for short) in its true spirit so that
the purpose of the same is not defeated/diluted.
During the course of hearing, the petitioner, who is
appearing in person, submits that Section 20 of the RTI Act is not being
implemented. The said Section reads as under:-
“Section 20:- Penalties. -
(1) Where the Central Information Commission or the
State Information Commission, as the case may be, at the
time of deciding any complaint or appeal is of the opinion
that the Central Public Information Officer or the State
Public Information Officer, as the case may be, has, without
any reasonable cause, refused to receive an application for

information or has not furnished information within the time
specified under sub-section (1) of section 7 or malafidely
denied the request for information or knowingly given
incorrect, incomplete or misleading information or
destroyed information which was the subject of the request
or obstructed in any manner in furnishing the information, it
shall impose a penalty of two hundred and fifty rupees each
day till application is received or information is furnished,
so however, the total amount of such penalty shall not
exceed twenty five thousand rupees:
Provided that the Central Public Information Officer
or the State Public Information Officer, as the case may be,
shall be given a reasonable opportunity of being heard
before any penalty is imposed on him:
Provided further that the burden of proving that he
acted reasonably and diligently shall be on the Central
Public Information Officer or the State Public Information
Officer, as the case may be.
(2) Where the Central Information Commission or the
State Information Commission, as the case may be, at the
time of deciding any complaint or appeal is of the opinion
that the Central Public Information Officer or the State
Public Information Officer, as the case may be, has, without
any reasonable cause and persistently, failed to receive an
application for information or has not furnished information
within the time specified under sub-section (1) of section 7

or malafidely denied the request for information or
knowingly given incorrect, incomplete or misleading
information or destroyed information which was the subject
of the request or obstructed in any manner in furnishing the
information, it shall recommend for disciplinary action
against the Central Public Information Officer or the State
Public Information Officer, as the case may be, under the
service rules applicable to him.” (Emphasis added).
A perusal of the above Section 20 (1) shows that it is penal
in nature and lays down the procedure where penalty can be imposed as
also its quantum. The Central Information Commission or the State
Information Commission, as the case may be, at the time of deciding any
complaint or appeal have been authorized to impose penalties where the
Commission is of the opinion that the Central Information Officer or the
State Public Information Officer, as the case may be, have without any
reasonable cause refused to receive an application for information or had
not furnished information within the time specified under sub-section (1)
of Section 7 or malafidely denied the request for information or
knowingly given incorrect, incomplete or misleading information or
destroyed information which was the subject of request or obstructed in
any manner in furnishing, it shall impose a penalty of Rs.250/- each day
till application is received or information is furnished, so however, the
total amount of such penalty is not to exceed Rs.25,000/-. In terms of
Section 20 (2), the Central Information Commission or the State
Information Commission for similar defaults can also recommend
disciplinary action against the Central Public Information Officer or the

State Public Information Officer, as the case may be, under the service
rules applicable to him.
Therefore, if a Central Public Information Officer or a State
Public Information Officer, in the opinion of the Central Information
Commission or the State Information Commission, fails to perform his
duties under the RTI Act or disregards its provisions or acts in its
contraventions, he is liable for penalties, as prescribed by Section 20 of
the RTI Act. However, it is for the the Central Information Commission
or the State Commission, as the case may be, in the facts and
circumstances of each case to form an opinion and impose the penalty in
case of default and an omnibus direction is not liable to be issued by this
Court to impose penalty in each and every case. Besides, the Central
Information Commission or the State Information Commission exercises
statutory jurisdiction and functions and there being no lis or material
before us from which it can be said that either the Central Information
Commission or the State Information Commission has improperly
exercised its jurisdiction or failed to exercise it in an appropriate case, it
would be difficult to pass any such direction.
The petitioner in his petition has submitted a list of penalty
cases in the State Information Commission, Punjab w.e.f. 01.01.2014 to
30.11.2014. It is submitted that out of the list of 95 cases, the
Commission has imposed penalty only in 39 cases. Insofar as
compensation was concerned, it is submitted that though the same was
awarded in 67 cases, however, the same is not in accordance with the
provisions of the RTI Act. Even the penalty imposed, according to the
petitioner, is not in consonance with the provisions of the RTI Act.

In the absence of the orders by which the penalty has been
imposed and in the absence of the aggrieved persons approaching the
Court, it would be unfair and unreasonable to pass any direction without
examining the matter. In any case, the opinion formed by the State
Information Commission in imposing the penalty in some cases and not
imposing it in the others can only be examined in each particular case by
way of judicial review by a person aggrieved. Besides, as has already
been noticed, the provisions of Section 20 of the RTI Act are penal in
nature and a public interest petition in a case involving criminal
proceedings entailing penal consequences is not maintainable.
In The Janta Dal v. H.S. Chaudhary, JT 1991 (3) SC 497, it
was held that in a criminal case registered against specified accused
persons, a third party in the garb of public interest litigation cannot
challenge the proceedings. The following observations are apposite:-
“Even if there are million questions of law to be
deeply gone into and examined in a criminal case of this
nature registered against specified accused persons, it is for
them and them alone to raise all such questions and
challenge the proceedings initiated against them at the
appropriate time before the proper forum and not for third
parties under the garb of public interest litigants.”
Therefore, it is for the aggrieved persons to assail the orders
wherever there has been improper exercise of jurisdiction by the Central
Information Commission or the State Information Commission showing
that the opinion formed by it is not proper or that there has been an
infraction of Section 20 of the RTI Act.

Even otherwise, the petitioner has mentioned various social
activities that it has been conducting. However, it is to be noticed that
this Court has framed the Maintainability of the Public Interest
Litigation Rules, 2010 ('the Rules' - for short). Rule 7 of the Rules
envisages that the Registry is entitled to verify the antecedents of a
person, society or an association that invokes the jurisdiction of this
Court on the cause of public interest. Besides, where the Registry has
any doubt on such antecedents, an office note to that effect is to be put
up, except on the petitions which are received by post. The Registry in
the present case raised objections regarding the maintainability of public
interest litigation, which inter alia records that the writ petition be filed
according to the directions passed by a Division Bench of this Court in
the case of Ajaib Singh v. State of Punjab, CWP No. 15987 of 2013,
decided on 26.07.2013, which was available on the High Court website,
reported in (2013 - 4) PLR 367. In response to the same, the petitioner
merely recorded; 'PIL is maintainable and falls within the Rules'. It is
mentioned that credentials of the petitioner were evident from general
profile (Annexure P2), Constitution of Society (Annexure P3),
appreciation letter (Annexure P4) and registration certificate (Annexure
P1).
In Ajaib Singh's case (supra), a Division Bench of this Court
emphasized that a petitioner has to specifically disclose his credentials
and his direct or indirect personal motive or interest involved in the case,
if any, by way of an affidavit. The expression “specifically disclose his
credentials”, it was held, must naturally, imply that he has to set forth
what he does for his living, what public interest he has been espousing,

the work done by him in that behalf, the particulars of any matter
preferred by him as PIL earlier on which the Court had passed orders,
etc. It could not imply merely writing a sentence that a person is residing
in the State, is 'public-spirited' and is, thus, filing a PIL. A direction was
issued to the Registry to ensure strict compliance with these rules and to
return petitions styled as PIL with objection (s) unless these parameters
were specified. It was held that in fact, there is a mandate on the Registry
as per Clause-7 of the said Rules to verify the antecedents of the persons,
Societies or Associations who invoke jurisdiction on the cause of public
interest and, if they are not satisfied with the antecedents, to return the
petition.
 The petitioner has referred to the registration certificate
(Annexure P1) certifying that the Scientific Awareness and Social
Welfare Forum, Sangrur had been registered under the Societies
Registration Act, 1860 and as amended by the Punjab Amendment Act,
1957. The certificate was issued on 14.05.2004 by the Additional
Registrar-cum-General Manager, District Industries Centre, Malerkotla
(Sangrur). The general profile (Annexure P2) mentions the names of
members, office bearers , executive members and aims of the petitioner;
besides, the other activities that have been conducted. A list of great
donors to the petitioner Forum and the amount given have been
mentioned. The Constitution (Annexure P3) of the petitioner Forum has
been placed on record which also includes its Memorandum. In the
Memorandum, it has been mentioned that the Funds of the Society will
be deposited in any recognized bank and that withdrawal of the funds
cannot be allowed without the signatures of two officer bearers out of

President, Secretary and Finance Secretary. A list of the members who
unanimously passed the resolution on 27.11.2004 relating to the
Memorandum has been given. Letter of appreciation (Annexure P4) has
been issued by one, 'Public Cause Research Foundation' situated at
Gaziabad.
The said documents though mention that the petitioner
Forum is carrying out various public activities; however, there is no
material to substantiate the same. The letter of appreciation (Annexure
P4) is unclear as to what is the standing of the 'Public Cause Research
Foundation', which has issued the letter of appreciation. Besides, there
is a provision for collection of funds and the manner in which it is to be
used, however, it is not disclosed as to in which bank funds are being
maintained.
In Bhartiya Homeopathy College, Bharatpur v. Students'
Council of Homeopathy Medical College, Jaipur and others, (1998) 2
SCC 449, the Supreme Court delineated the points relevant for deciding
the maintainability of a PIL. A union of students had challenged the
action of the Vice-Chancellor by way of a PIL. It was held that such a
union, must disclose: (i) whether it was authorized to file the litigation;
(ii) if so, by whom; (iii) whether it has sufficient funds to indulge in such
litigation; and (iv) the basis of alleging harm to public interest.
Otherwise, it was held that it should not be allowed lightly to litigate in
the name of public interest to cause damage to others.
The petitioner Forum has not shown as to whether it has
been authorized to file the litigation and, if so, by whom. Besides, it has
not been disclosed whether it has sufficient funds to indulge in such a

litigation. The list of donors though has been mentioned, but it has not
been disclosed as to in which bank the funds are being maintained and
whether the funds have been allowed to be withdrawn for filing the
present petition. Besides, it has not been disclosed that the chart by
which the penalty is shown to have been imposed, then as to what harm
has been caused to the public. Therefore, on the basis of material as
placed on record, the petitioner Forum is not liable to be allowed to
litigate lightly in the name of public interest which may cause damage to
the others. On the basis of material as placed on record, the question of
its locus standi to file the petition is liable to be kept open.
In the circumstances, we find no merit in the petition. The
same is accordingly dismissed. The question of locus standi of the
petitioner Forum to file the petition is kept open.
 (S.S. SARON)
 JUDGE
 (LISA GILL)
 JUDGE
21.09.2016

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