Court Can Initiate Suo Motu Proceedings in Respect of Public Interest Issues

0
532
suo motu proceedings

A WRIT PETITION FORMING THE SUBJECT MATTER OF WRIT Petition (Civil) No. 319 of 2015 was registered under the caption “Suo motu cognizance of appointment of Lokayukta and failure to constitute Meghalaya State Human Rights Commission”. By the impugned order dated 14.12.2015, the High Court referred to clause (a) of sub-section (2) of Section 3 of the Meghalaya Lokayukta Act, 2014 (the Act) and proceeded to deal with the same. In that context, it has passed the following order:

The provision providing such eligibility criterion requires judicial scrutiny; for the same eligibility cannot be provided for the Chairperson and for a Member other than the Judicial Member of the Lokayukta. Besides, the Central Lokpal and Lokayukta Act of 2013 does not prescribe any eligibility criteria for Lokayukta and Up-Lokayukta. That apart, other States including State of Karnataka and State of Madhya Pradesh, looking to adjudicatory nature of work, has provided the eligibility criteria like a former Judge of Supreme Court, a Chief Justice of High Court or a Judge of High Court, whereas, the eligibility criteria provided in the Meghalaya Lokayukta Act, 2014, inter alia includes criterion whereby an eligible non-Judicial person can also be appointed as the Chairperson. Hence, issue notice. During the pendency of this writ petition, the portion of clause (a) of sub-section (2) of Section 3, which reads as “….. or an eminent person who fulfills the eligibility specified in clause (b) of sub-section (3)”; and consequently, “Sub-clause (b) of Sub- section (3) of Section 3” insofar as it provides for the offending criterion for the appointment of the Chairperson is hereby stayed.

After passing the said order, the High Court has proceeded to deal with the appointment of the Chairperson and Members of the Meghalaya State Human Rights Commission. Dealing with the said facet, it had directed as follows:

Now, coming to the appointment of the Chairperson and Members of the Meghalaya State Human Rights Commission, Hon’ble the Apex Court has, vide order dated 24.7.2015 in Crl. M.P. No. 16086 of 1997 in Crl. M.P. No. 4201 of 1997 (Shri Dilip KI. Basu v. State of West Bengal and Ors.) has directed various States including the State of Meghalaya to set up the State Human Rights Commission within six months and to fill up the vacancy of Chairperson and Members of State Human Rights Commission within 3 months from the date of order. As towards compliance of the aforesaid directions of Hon’ble the Apex Court, the State of Meghalaya has not initiated the process of appointment of the Chairperson and Members of the State Human Rights Commission, we direct the Chief Secretary, State of Meghalaya, to file affidavit showing the status of processing of the file for the appointment of the Chairperson and other Members of the State Human Rights Commission on the next date of hearing. Besides, we also make it clear, that the State shall specify the name of Hon’ble former Judge of Supreme Court and Hon’ble former Chief Justice of High Court, who have been offered the appointment as Chairperson. The State shall also clearly indicate as to how are the Judges of High Court and other non-Judicial persons who have been offered the appointment as the Chairperson/Members of the Commission. This information is required to maintain transparency in the process of appointment on the posts as aforesaid.

The Govt. of Meghalaya filed special leave petition against the judgement of the Division Bench. The Supreme Court partly allowed the appeal and the direction pertaining to the Stay of the provisions of Meghalaya Lokayukta Act, 2014 was set aside. The Supreme Court directed that State Human Rights Commission shall become functional by the end of June, 2016.

The operative part of the judgement read as under :

There can be no doubt, the court can initiate suo motu proceedings in respect of certain issues which come within the domain of public interest.

************************

Suo motu public interest litigation can be initiated to ameliorate the conditions of a class of persons whose constitutional or otherwise lawful rights are affected or not adequately looked into. The Court has adopted the said tool so that persons in disadvantaged situation because of certain reasons- social, economic or socio-economic-are in a position to have access to the Court. The Court appoints Amicus Curiae to assist the Court and also expects the executive to respond keeping in view the laudable exercise.

************************

Be it noted, the constitutional courts can entertain letter petitions and deal with them as writ petitions. But it will depend upon the nature of the issue sought to be advanced. There cannot be uncontrolled or unguided exercise of epistolary jurisdiction.

************************

In the instant case, as is evident, the High Court has compared the provisions pertaining to appointment of Chairperson and Members under the Act with the provisions of other Acts enacted by different legislatures. The legislature has passed the legislation in its wisdom. There was no challenge to the constitutional validity of the provisions of the Act. The suo motu petition was registered for giving effect to the Act by bringing the institutions into existence. This may be thought of in very rare circumstances depending on the nature of legislation and the collective benefit but in that arena also the Court cannot raise the issue relating to any particular provision and seek explanation in exercise of jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution. In the case at hand, as is manifest, the Division Bench of the High Court has, with an erroneous understanding of fundamental principle of law , scanned the anatomy of the provision and passed an order in relation to it as if it is obnoxious or falls foul of any constitutional provision. The same is clearly impermissible. A person aggrieved or with expanded concept of locus standi someone could have assailed the provisions. But in that event there are certain requirements and need for certain compliances.

************************

This being the position in law, the High Court could not have proceeded as if it was testing the validity of the provision and granted stay. The approach is totally fallacious. Having opined aforesaid, we have no option but to set aside that part of the order which deals with the provisions of the Act. We do not intend to express any opinion with regard to validity of any provision contained in the Act. We also do not think it condign to direct that the establishment under the said Act should become operational within any fixed time. Suffice to say at present that when the State Legislature has introduced the legislation to take steps as regards the institution, it shall be the endeavor of the executive to see that the office of the Lokayukta is in place. We say no more for the present.

************************

In view of the aforesaid analysis, the appeal is partly allowed and the direction pertaining to the stay of the provisions of the Meghalaya Lokayukta Act, 2014 is set aside. It is directed that State Human Rights Commission shall become functional by end of June, 2016. As we have completely dealt with the matter, the writ petition initiated by the High Court shall be deemed to have been disposed of.

************************

Authorities relied upon :AIR 1975 SC 633,AIR 1964 SC 1135.

Reference : Supreme Court. Joint Secretary, Political Department, Government of Meghalaya, Main Secretariat, Shillong v. High Court of Meghalaya through its Registrar, Shillong, civil appeal no. 2987 of 2016.