1. Petition on electrocution by live wires
A petition under article 226 was filed in the Delhi High Court on the issue of recurring deaths due to live wire electrocution, especially during monsoon. Common Cause had earlier made representations to the executive authorities concerned for taking corrective steps well in time and fixing responsibility for electrocution deaths. As there was no response, it was decided to approach the judiciary. Our PIL highlights the sorry state of electric poles and wires as well as the callous attitude of the distribution companies (discoms). The petition seeks to safeguard the Right to Life guaranteed under the Constitution and make the officers of the state agencies and discoms accountable for their failure in taking adequate precaution to save lives.
2. Challenging the vires of the appointments made to the Central Vigilance Commission
Common Cause along with a few renowned and concerned citizens have filed a writ petition in public interest challenging the arbitrary appointments of India’s new Central Vigilance Commissioner and the Vigilance Commissioner. It is argued that a complete non-transparency was followed by the Central Government in making the said appointments and that these were illegal and void as they violated the principles of ‘impeccable integrity’ and ‘institutional integrity’ laid down in the landmark judgments of the Apex Court in Vineet Narain case (1998) and Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) case (2011).
3. Extension of audit jurisdiction of the C & AG of India to NOIDA, G.Noida Authority and Yamuna Expressway Authority
A writ petition has been filed in the Supreme Court on March 10, 2015 seeking the extension of the audit jurisdiction of the Comptroller & Auditor General of India to NOIDA, Greater Noida Authority and Yamuna Expressway Authority. These entities have been established by the State of Uttar Pradesh under the provisions of the U. P. Industrial Area Development Act, 1976. The proposal is actuated by the imperative of improving the standards of financial accountability and probity in these bodies and securing the right to good governance, which forms part of the right to equality and the right to life.
4. PIL to foil the bid of the Govt. of AP to export logs of red sandalwood
Common Cause has sought the intervention of the Supreme Court to foil a determined bid by the Government of Andhra Pradesh to export a huge quantity of confiscated red sandalwood, an endangered species, in the form of round logs fancied by the traders of Hong Kong, China and Singapore. This move of the State Government flies in the face of international conventions, express provisions of the Export-Import Policy and repeated admonitions of the Ministry of Environment & Forests. The lot proposed to be auctioned is far in excess of the annual demand for red sandalwood as estimated by the Government of Andhra Pradesh only 9 months earlier. The contemplated export of logs of red sandalwood runs counter to a commitment implicit in the submission made by the DGTD, Government of India, in the High Court of Madras. The Government of India has now done a complete volte face and actively collaborated with the Government of Andhra Pradesh.
The PIL was taken up by the Forest Bench of the Supreme Court on Nov 21, 2014, which issued notice to the respondents and asked the Attorney General appearing for Union of India and Mr. Nageshwar Rao appearing for the State of Andhra Pradesh to file their counters to the petition.
5. Challenging the Lokpal Search Committee Rules
The process of initial constitution of the Lokpal had become mired in controversy, which could have been avoided had the Union Government framed the rules to give effect to the long awaited Lokpal Act with sincerity and honesty of purpose. The rules notified on January 17, 2014 have undermined the independence of the institution of Lokpal by restricting the field of selection to the hand-picked nominees of the Government and giving undue advantage to senior bureaucrats, most of whom are likely to be members of the IAS, in appointment as non judicial members of Lokpal. This is a blatant abuse of the device of delegated legislation. Since Common Cause, which has been fighting for the establishment of an independent and effective Lokpal since 1995, could not allow the institution to be crippled during its gestation, a PIL challenging the arbitrary Search Committee rules was filed in the Supreme Court on March 5, 2014.
6. PIL on Corruption in the Management of Defence Lands
The Comptroller & Auditor General of India had submitted a number of reports in the last few years, highlighting the rank mismanagement noticed in the audit of defence lands. Common Cause and CPIL have filed a PIL on February 20, 2014 to seek the intervention of the Supreme Court to remedy this situation and protect the national patrimony constituted by the vast tracts of lands under the management of theDefence Ministry from further erosion. The petition seeks systemic reforms in the management of Defence lands, a comprehensive audit and Court-monitored investigation into the irregularities in their administration and resumption of defence lands under commercial exploitation or unauthorized use of private parties.
7. Illegal Mining in the state of Odisha
In the context of a public outcry over massive mining scandals in various parts of the country, the Government of India had set up the Justice M. B. Shah Commission of Inquiry in November 2010 for Illegal Mining of Iron Ore and Manganese. The Commission’s reports on mining in Goa, submitted during March-April 2012, brought to light massive illegalities in the extraction of iron and manganese ores. A PIL on the substantive issues highlighted in the Orissa reports has been filed before the apex Court to force the hand of the UOI and to seek urgent judicial intervention in the matter.
8. PIL to challenge discretionary allotment of plots of land to VIPs in the States of Odisha & Gujarat
Common Cause has filed a petition on December 11, 2013, to challenge the allotment of premium residential plots to influential members of the executive, the judiciary and the legislature in the states of Odisha and Gujarat. It has been highlighted in the petition that such unconstitutional distribution of State largesse to all three organs of State will have adverse ramifications on the Rule of Law, independence of judiciary and separation of powers, which are components of the basic structure of our Constitution.
9. Writ against Shri Virbhadra Singh for a Court supervised investigation in view of documented allegations of corruption and amassing of assets disproportionate to known sources of income.
Common Cause had in August 2013 written letters to the Chief Vigilance Commissioner and the Director, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and urged them to discharge their statutory responsibilities as apex anti-corruption bodies by acting on the unrebutted documentary evidence of corruption against Shri Virbhadra Singh, former Union Minister of Steel and the incumbent Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh. The letters addressed by the Society only elicited a formal response from the CVC to the effect that the matter had been referred to the CVO of the Ministry of Steel. The CBI did not respond to the any of the above mentioned complaints.
As there was sufficient material to seek judicial intervention owing to inaction by these agencies, Common Cause filed this writ petition in the Delhi High Court in November 2013, seeking a court supervised probe by the CBI/Director General, Income Tax (Investigations), against Shri Virbhadra Singh in view of documented allegations of corruption and amassing of assets disproportionate to known sources of income.
When the PIL came up for hearing on November 27, 2013, the CBI told the HC that they were investigating the matter. HC then asked the CBI to file a status report by February, 2014. Subsequent to the said hearing, new facts of corruption involving Shri Virbhadra Singh have come to light. The acts in question relate to his current term of office. Some of the allegations have also been made by Mr. Arun Jaitley. Under the circumstance, Common Cause has filed an interim application seeking a thorough, independent investigation in regard to these charges.
10. Investigation into the veracity of the sting operation by Headlines Today on Muzaffarnagar riots
Common Cause has filed an intervention application in the apex court on Sep 23, 2013, seeking an investigation into the veracity of the tapes/sting operation, conducted by a news channel, Headlines Today in connection with Muzaffarnagar riots and a full probe into the events and matters referred to in the said tapes.
11. News broadcast by private radio stations
The Society had addressed a letter to the Minister of Information & Broadcasting on May 31, 2013, highlighting the iniquity of the extant government policy that bars private F M radio channels and community radio stations from broadcasting news and current affairs programmes. Our premise was that this exclusion violates the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression and flies in the face of the ruling of the Supreme Court in Ministry of I & B Vs Cricket Association of Bengal & Anr, which had made it amply clear that airwaves were public property to be used to promote public good and for expressing a plurality of views, opinions and ideas.
As there was no response to our letter, a PIL has been filed in the Supreme Court with the prayer to quash the unreasonable and unconstitutional provisions in the relevant policy guidelines and grant of permission agreements
12. Undoing the mala fide favours to RIL in KG Basin
A petition has been filed in the Supreme Court on August 14, 2013, to seek, inter alia, appropriate writs to the UOI to undo the mala fide favours shown to Reliance Industries Limited and its associates in the working of the Production Sharing Contract for KG Basin Gas Block and a thorough court monitored inquiry by a Special Investigation Team into the collusion between the establishment and the said corporate
13. Reforming the procedure for CAG’s appointment
Common Cause has been campaigning since 1995 for a transparent, broad-based and objective procedure for appointment to the Constitutional office of the CAG. A well-researched and comprehensive memorandum on the subject was addressed to the Chairman of the Public accounts Committee of Parliament in November 2012, when the term of Mr. Vinod Rai was drawing to a close.
The Union Government has validated the worst apprehensions of civil society by naming the incumbent Defence Secretary as the CAG. This appointment was challenged, inter alia, on the ground of a serious conflict of interest in a PIL filed in the Supreme Court on June 3, 2013. Dr. B. P. Mathur, former Deputy CAG & member of the Governing Council of Common Cause, and Kamal Kant Jaswal, Director, of the Society, put their names to the writ petition along with several former senior public servants. Mr. Fali Nariman, Senior Advocate, put in appearance on behalf of the petitioners. Declining to entertain the petition, the Apex Court asked the petitioners to approach the High Court concerned for relief. A petition on the same grounds was accordingly filed in the Delhi High Court.
14. Intervention application in Ashok Chavan’s SLP
The SLP filed by Mr. Ashok Chavan, former Chief Minister of Maharashtra, against the order of the Delhi High Court upholding the Election Commission's power to inquire into the correctness of the account of election expenses filed by a candidate is under the consideration of the Supreme Court. In this matter, the UOI has filed a counter affidavit claiming that in terms of Section 10A of the Representation of the People Act and Rule 89 of the Conduct of Election Rules, the power of the Commission to disqualify a person arises only in the event of failure to lodge an account of election expenses and not for any other reasons, including the correctness or otherwise of such account.
The Society has taken the initiative to file an intervention application, in concert with other like-minded civil society organisations and eminent citizens, including two former Chief Election Commissioners, to defeat the nefarious designs of the government aimed at undermining the capacity of the Election Commission to curb the influence of money power and ensure the purity of elections.
15. Strengthening the institution of Lokayukta, Delhi
The Society filed a PIL in the Delhi High Court to highlight the disregard by the competent authority of the considered recommendations made by the Lokayukta in various cases involving egregious acts of corruption by elected public functionaries. Specifically, the orders of the Lt. Governor on the Lokayukta’s recommendations for action against eight former Municipal Councillors, who were caught in a sting operation in the act of negotiating the modalities of facilitating unauthorized construction, were challenged.
The petition contends that the Lt. Governor deviated from the procedure prescribed in the relevant statute by conducting de novo inquiries into the matter and taking into account extraneous circumstances to arrive at his decisions. It urges the High Court to set aside the orders of the Lt. Governor and direct that the entire record pertaining to the cases of the ex Municipal Councillors be forwarded to the Commissioner of Police for consideration, evaluation and further action in accordance with law.
16. Removal of Justice Balakrishnan from the chair of NHRC
Common Cause had filed a petition under Article 32 of the Constitution seeking a writ of mandamus to the Union of India to make a reference to the Supreme Court under Section 5 (2) of the Human Rights Act, 1993 for holding an inquiry against Justice K. G. Balakrishnan, Chairman, National Human Rights Commission. Disposing of the PIL, the Supreme Court in its order dated May 10, 2012 requested the competent authority to take a decision on the complaint dated April 4, 2011 addressed by the Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms to the President of India. The Court directed that if in the aforesaid determination the allegations were found to be unworthy of any further action, the petitioner should be informed accordingly. Alternatively, the President of India, based on the advice of the Council of Ministers, may proceed with the matter in accordance with the mandate of Section 5(2) of the 1993 Act.
We moved an IA with the prayer that the competent authority be directed to decide on the complaint of Centre for Judicial Accountability and Reforms within 30 days and inform us of the outcome.
The move succeeded in eliciting a response from the Ministry of Home Affairs. The Ministry rejected the request for a Presidential reference on the ground that the allegations of misbehavior pertained to Justice Balakrishnan’s tenure as Chief Justice of India and that his current post could not be considered as an elongation of the office of CJI. We have rebutted these arguments on points of fact as well as law vide our counsel’s reply dated April 14, 2013.
In the absence of a response, we filed a petition in the Supreme Court on August 2, 2013, seeking a writ of mandamus to the UOI to comply with the letter and spirit of the order of the Supreme Court dated May 10, 2012 by making a reference under Sec 5 (2) of the said Act for holding an inquiry against the Chairman of the NHRC. Our contention is that the UOI is not in a position reasonably to conclude that the allegations of misbehaviour cited by us in the earlier petition were unworthy of any further action.
17. Irregularities in allocation of coal blocks for captive mining
Common Cause and five eminent citizens had moved the Supreme Court for quashing the allocations of coal blocks made in favour of private companies since 1993 together with the joint venture agreements between private companies and public sector allottees. The PIL was taken up on January 24, 2013. The respondents have filed their counter affidavits. The matter was listed for March 12, 2013 for filing of rejoinders.
Meanwhile, in the context of reports of government interference in the CBI investigation and alteration of the agency’s status report to the Supreme Court, the Society filed an Application for Directions seeking a thorough probe into the unlawful interference by the Government in the ongoing investigation by the CBI and the dilution of the status report filed by that organization.
This initiative set in motion developments of far-reaching consequence. The Union Law Minister, at whose behest the status report was altered, had to resign. The Apex Court issued a stern warning to the Union of India to refrain from disturbing the CBI investigation team and directed it to come up with a legal framework for ensuring the functional autonomy of the CBI.
In a landmark judgment delivered on August 25, 2014, the Supreme Court ruled that neither the Coal Mines (Nationalisation) Act, 1973, nor the Mines & Minerals (Development & Regulation) Act, 1957, empowers the Central government to allocate coal blocks. The Court also undertook a judicial review of the entire process of allocation and concluded that the allocations made on the recommendations of the Screening Committee as well as the allocations made through the Government Dispensation Route between 1993 and 2009 were arbitrary and illegal.
Coal blocks, where competitive bidding was held for the lowest power tariff for Ultra Mega Power Projects (UMPPs), were excluded from the purview of the verdict. However, the Court, at the instance of our counsel, directed that no diversion of coal for commercial exploitation will be permitted from the blocks allocated for UMPPs commercial exploitation.
The Court held further hearing on September 1, 2014 to determine the consequences flowing from its verdict. The Attorney General, who appeared for the UOI, accepted the inevitability of auctions for the blocks held to be illegally allocated, but sought an exemption for 40 blocks, where mining leases have already been granted by the state governments, and 6 others, where the plants which are to utilise the output of the captive mines are nearing completion.
Meanwhile, it transpired that Mr. Ranjit Sinha, Director, CBI, had met at his residence a number of persons who are the accused in various high profile cases being investigated by the CBI, such as the Telecom scam and the Coal block allocation cases. In this context, the Society has filed an application for directions, seeking the recusal of Mr. Sinha from the ongoing investigations and prosecutions related to the coal blocks allocation case.
In a major development, pursuant to its verdict of August 25, 2014, holding the allocations of coal blocks for captive mining made during the period from 1993 to 2010 as illegal, the CJI’s bench on September 24, 2014, has cancelled 214 of the 218 allocations in question declaring these allocations as " illegal and arbitrary."
18. Internet Freedom
Against the background of an alarming increase in the incidence of high-handed police action against individuals for the views expressed by them on social media, Common Cause and Another filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court on January 9, 2013, challenging the constitutional validity of sections 66A, 69A and 80 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 (as amended in 2008).
19. Decriminalisation of politics
The Election Commission of India (ECI) eventually filed its reply in February 2013, broadly supporting the prayers made in our PIL pending in the Supreme Court since November 2011. The ECI reiterated its longstanding recommendations for debarring persons charged with serious criminal offences from contesting elections to Parliament and State legislatures and endorsed our prayer for declaring Section 8(4) of the Representation of the People Act (RPA), which allows convicted legislators to avoid disqualification merely by filing an appeal or revision petition, as ultra vires the Constitution.
Meanwhile, in a significant judgment in the PILs filed by Lily Thomas and Lok Prahari, which had not been clubbed with our petition, the Supreme Court has held Section 8(4) of the RPA as ultra vires the Constitution. The Court has also disqualified persons detained in custody from contesting elections to Parliament and state legislatures.
The matter came up for hearing on August 19, 2013 when the Apex Court pulled up the UOI for not filing its response even after two years of notice and allowed it further time of six weeks. The Court noted that one of our prayers, viz. declaring Section 8(4) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, as ultra vires the Constitution, had already been granted by its decision of July 7, 2013 in Lily Thomas & Lok Prahari. The Court also took note of the affidavit filed by the Election Commission of India in support of our petition.