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Exemplary costs slapped for motivated PIL

J. Venkatesan

New Delhi: In a stern warning against misuse of the Public Interest Litigation to settle personal scores, the Supreme Court on Thursday slapped exemplary costs of Rs. 1 lakh on a contemner, B.K. Sharma, secretary of a society, and awarded him simple imprisonment till the rising of the court.

A Bench of Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia and Justices K.S. Radhakrishnan and Swatanter Kumar also slapped a fine of Rs. 2,000 on the contemners, payable within one week.

The Bench directed the Registrar of Societies, Government of NCT of Delhi, to take action against the contemnor-society, Kalyaneshwari, in accordance with law and submit its action taken report, interim or final, to the court within six weeks.

“Lacks bona fide”

Writing the judgment, Justice Swatanter Kumar said: “The PIL [writ petition by the contemnor] lacks bona fide and, in fact, was instituted at the behest of a rival industrial group which was interested in banning mining and manufacturing of asbestos and its products by obtaining certain orders and directions from this court.”

The Bench said: “A definite attempt was made by the contemners to secure a ban on these activities with the ultimate intention of increasing the demand for cast and ductile iron products as it has come on record that they are some of the suitable substitutes for asbestos. Thus, it was litigation initiated with the ulterior motive of causing an industrial imbalance and financial loss to the industry of asbestos through the process of court.”

“Incorrect facts”

The Bench said: “The contemner has also filed petitions and affidavits either with incorrect facts or with facts which even to the knowledge of the contemner were not true. Even if we were to take a somewhat liberal view, still it is the duty of this court to ensure that such unscrupulous and undesirable PIL be not instituted” in a bid to waste the valuable time of the courts, as well as to preserve the faith of the public in the justice delivery system.

“Institutional tolerance which the judiciary possesses, keeping in mind the larger interest of the public and administration of justice, should not be misunderstood as a weakness of the system. Maintaining the magnanimity of law is the linchpin of the wheels of justice. Therefore, in certain cases, it would be inevitable for the court to take recourse to rigours of the statute. It is the seriousness of the irresponsible acts of the contemners and the degree of harm caused to the institution and administration of justice which would decisively determine the course which the court should adopt, i.e. either drop the contempt proceedings or continue proceedings against the contemner in accordance with law.”

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