Attorney General KK Venugopal, appearing for the Centre, during Wednesday's hearing on a PIL, asked the Supreme Court to maintain restraint while dealing with Public Interest Litigation (PIL) matters.
The bench, which had made hard-hitting observations about the government and states for not doing enough to protect the environment and disadvantaged sections of society like prisoners and farmers, found itself at the receiving end with the government taking the bench head-on.
The bench, however, remained firm and told the Centre how it had failed to implement the laws laid down by the Parliament.
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A bench comprising Justices Madan B Lokur, Deepak Gupta and S Abdul Nazeer was hearing a matter relating to inhuman conditions prevailing in 1,382 prisons all over the country, when the AG on behalf of the Centre said that the judiciary must exercise restraint while making comments on PILs considering the several issues plaguing the country.
“Day in, day out, I read newspapers and your observations,” the AG told the bench.
Responding to the AG, justice Lokur said,
“Rest assured that Article 21 (protection of life and personal liberty) will remain here and we will uphold it”.
The AG then pointed out that several top courts’ judgments, including scrapping of 2G licences and order of banning liquor sale within 500 metres of highways had impacted foreign investment and led to job losses. The top law officer then continued saying that PILs should not be blindly entertained and the SC must assess its impact on the ground before passing orders.
However, the court expressed its discontentment over the government collecting huge sums of money, estimating to be over Rs One lakh crore, under the orders of the top court, but these funds were not being used properly.
“Through orders of this court, you have got Rs 130,000 to Rs 150,000 crore. Do something with that money,” the bench said.
The top law officer while responding to the bench’s statement said these funds were collected for environment purposes.
To this, the bench retorted that in one of the matters relating to construction workers, over Rs 30,000 crore intended for welfare of the workers were used to purchase laptops and washing machines.
“There is enough money. They (construction workers) do not have clothes to wear, but washing machines were purchased. They are illiterates, but laptops were purchased,” the bench said.
The AG responded by saying that while dealing with one particular issue, there are possibilities that the Court might fail to consider the aspects which are likely to impact other sectors.
“Your Lordships are seized of one particular matter, but the impact of this issue on other factors is not considered. Which is why I want to submit that when a PIL is filed, at least one paragraph should always deal with the impact it might have on other aspects”, the AG said.
The AG also told the bench that India has a population of around 1.3 billion, which was increasing exponentially and there were several problems in the country. The apex court should also observe the progress made by the government, he further added.
Justice Lokur shot back and said,
“We are trying to solve some of these problems like prison conditions, child rights, women rights. Through orders of this Court you (Government) have got over 150 thousand Crore Rupees in cases like Mining, Construction work… What more do we do? Rest assured that Article 21 is here to stay and we will uphold it.”
The judge further said, “We are also citizens of this country and we know the problems which the country is facing.”
Mellowing down after this exchange, the AG called the Court efforts to be “tremendous“.
Following this, Justice Lokur said,
“We have not, and we are not criticising the government for anything. Don’t carry the impression that we are preventing the government from doing anything or criticising you.”
Venugopal, however, stood firm on the question of PILs containing a paragraph on the impact on other sectors to which Justice Lokur said,
“Alright. But tell your (government) officers to follow and implement the laws laid down by the government of India first.”
Following this exchange, the bench moved on to pass an order on the main issue of the case. It ordered the creation of a Committee to be headed by a retired SC Judge, assisted by “two or three other officers”, to inspect the issues of prisons in India.
The bench also said that the Committee will have to submit its report to the Court from time to time.
The bench then listed the matter for next hearing on Friday, August 17.Tagged: AGKKVenugopal Attorney General Justice Madan Lokur PIL Public Interest Litigation Prison Reforms SC