Common Cause uses democratic instruments available to citizens to try and address civic, environmental and developmental challenges arising out of lack of transparency and accountability in the system. The advocacy efforts of the organization over the years have encompassed a number of important public issues. These have been in the areas of governance, environment and human development, among others. Its work on police, administrative and judicial reforms is acknowledged by experts and administrators alike. The new thrust of initiatives for the Common Cause team are in the areas of education, health, dignity of work, accessibility and availability of generic medicines and regulation of multi-level marketing schemes. We also work on improving the rule of law through dedicated programmes on police and judicial reforms.
Common Cause is especially known for the difference it has made through a large number of PILs filed in the Supreme Court and the High Courts, and quite a few cases have been taken to the National Commission established under the Consumer Protection Act.
The very first case taken up by Common Cause related to the problems of pensioners. Almost four million pensioners benefited from the three important Supreme Court judgments, relating to the extension of liberalisation of pension, restoration of commutation of pension and extension of the scheme of family pension.
In the recent years, Common Cause interventions have resulted in many more landmark judgments impacting the lives of millions of people. These are mentioned below:
Pre-1979 pensioners: D S Nakra (1979)
In 1979, office memorandum issued by MoF liberalizing the forumla for the computation of pensions applicable to those who retired on or after 31/3/79.
Petition filed in 1980 challenging time bound stipulation that the pensioners must have retired on or after 31/3/79 to get the benefit of the order.
Court held that pension is a right and is not a discretionary, ex-gratia payment.
Said that the amount of the pension payable before liberalisation was inadequate
No justification for arbitrary selection of the criteria for eligibility for the benefits of the scheme.
Allowing the petitions, the Court in 1983 stated that all the pensioners would be covered by the revised scheme, commencing on the specified date.
The DS Nakara case is a landmark judgment and the date it was passed (17th December) is observed as Pensioner's Day.
Pension for pensioners’ widows (1981)
Family pension scheme introduced in 1964 but applicable only for those persons who retired after January 1st, 1964.
Decision of the government discriminatory and deprived widows of pre-1964 pensioners of its benefits.
CC petition in 1981 highlighted the deprivation caused to widows of pre 1964 pensioners.
Supreme Court order in 1985. Pensions to be given on the same basis as for those retiring after January 1st, 1964 Arrears to be paid from 1977 when rules relating to family pension had been revised. Decision followed up by all State Governments.
Hundreds of thousands of old widows started getting pensions due arrears.
Pension Commutation (1983)
Retired government servant entitled to seek benefit of commutation of a portion of his pension, equivalent to about ten years’ calculation of the commuted portion of pension.
Commutation rules decreed that pension will remain cut by the same commuted portion throughout the life of the pensioner.
This provision was grossly unfair to pensioners who lived long.
CC filed petition in 1983 challenging the provision.
Court decided in favour of the pensioners, full pension in each case restored after 15 years from the date of retirement, subsequently altered to 15 years from the date of commutation.
Decision in 1986 restored full pension to hundreds of thousands of central government civil and defence pensioners who had already completed 15 years.
Also, applied to pensioners of state governments and institutions etc.
Property Tax assessment: Unit area Method (1985)
Vast difference in the property tax imposed on the contiguous houses and flats receiving the same share of services from municipality.
System of assessment and levy of property tax based on determination of rateable value
CC filed petition in 1985 highlighting distortions in assessments causing grievances, foul play and corruption
Court noted the disparities in the assessments of similar properties, observed that annual rent would depend on factors like size, locality, location and the amenities provided.
Some other factors also to be reviewed in order to determine the ‘rateable value’.
Confusion and harassment of citizens persisted despite these observations.
CC introduced the Unit Area Method (UAM) to eliminate difficulties and raising revenue.
Scheme accepted and implemented in Delhi, giving relief to thousands.
Pending Criminal Cases (1986)
In the 1980s there were about three crore cases pending in the country.
Out of these, about one crore were criminal cases.
Petition by CC in 1986, seeking quashing of MV cases pending for over one year and petty criminal cases where proceedings pending for more than three years, among others.
Judgment in 1990 brought about the termination of hundreds of thousands of cases all over the country.
Persons languishing in prisons for long were released.
Implementation of Consumer Protection Act (1988)
CPA, 1986 made it mandatory for each district to establish a district forum for hearing consumer complaints and giving redressal.
State Govts. had not taken adequate steps to set up such forums. Only 30 out of 455 districts had regularly functioning forums.
Common Cause filed a writ in SC in 1988, seeking direction to fulfill this essential requirement of the statute.
In August 1991, SC issued orders for setting up District Forums within 2 months, outlining the procedure to be adopted.
After tardy progress and an overall unsatisfactory position in the States, the court issued orders in October 1991.
Showcause notice issued to Secretaries of Civil Supplies Departments of 8 State Governments for default in compliance.
CC initiative generated considerable traction for grievance redressal of consumers.
Operation of Blood Banks (1992)
Complaints about unsatisfactory operation of blood banks.
Petition in 1992, highlighting that inadequacy of action for improvement of blood banks is violative of Article 21.
SC judgment on January 4, 1996, gave six months to gov. to implement directions embodied in it.
Govt. submitted a comprehensive note to SC with detailed steps for revamping operation of blood banks and removing the deficiencies.
Blood banking operations all over the country improved.
Professional donors of blood got practically eliminated, encouraging the spread of the concept of voluntary donation of blood.
Establishment of Lokpal institutions (1995)
Petition sought the enactment of the Lok Pal Act and appointment of Lokayuktas and Up Lokayuktas under the Legal Services Authorities Act.
A mass movement led by Anna Hazare.
A highly contested Lokpal & Lokayuktas Bill, 2011 introduced.
The Select Committee of the Rajya Sabha tabled its report on the Bill in November 2012.
Petition was dismissed on April 30, 2015 for having become infructuous in view of the enactment of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013.
Significant outcomes of our petition, including unprecedented imposition of a penalty of Rs. 50 lakh on the former Petroleum Minister, Capt. Satish Sharma, for the abuse of his discretionary powers.
The 2008 additional affidavit filed by CC at insistence of the Bench delineating essential features of the institutions of Lokpal and Lokayukta was the blueprint for the Jan Lokpal Bill.
Financial accountability of political parties (1995)
Political parties not complying with statutory requirements of maintaining accounts, keeping contribution records & getting accounts audited
Petition in 1995 to bring transparency in election funding.
Widely acclaimed judgment in 1996
Court noted that Political parties remiss in performance of their statutory duties, authorities have failed to take appropriate action against the defaulter political parties.
SC ordered an investigation/inquiry conducted against each of the defaulter political parties, enquiry body appointed to investigate why IT provisions not enforced.
Held that political party not compliant with statutory provisions cannot claim exemption of ‘authorized expenditure’ under Exp 1 to Sect 77 of the RP Act.
Appointment of CAG challenged (1996)
Procedure of appointment of CAG arbitrary and unfair over the years, no policy laid down by UoI for minimum qualification/requirements.
First three incumbents from IA&AS, but since 1978, practice of selecting an officer from the IAS nearing superannuation.
CC in 1996 approached SC requesting directions in the matter of appointment of CAG, including the minimum technical qualifications in Audit & Accounts.
Another petition filed in 2007 on arbitrary manner and procedure in making appointment of the CAG in violation of the Constitutional mandate, prayed that the executive should not be given exclusive power to appoint the CAG.
Both petitions dismissed.
Appointment of Incumbent Defence Secretary as CAG challenged again in 2013 on the ground of a serious conflict of interest.
Apex Court asked the petitioners to approach the Delhi High Court for relief.
Subsequently, petition filed in the Delhi High Court.
High Court held the appointment of Mr. S. K. Sharma to be neither in violation of the principle of institutional integrity, nor arbitrary.
Court refused to undertake merit review of the appointment, as opposed to a judicial review.
Also refrained from issuing any directions to for framing objective criteria for future appointments.
SLP filed in 2014 to secure the desired reliefs, urging for adoption of a transparent and objective procedure for appointment of CAG.
SLP disposed of in 2015.
CC has been consistently raising these issues before authorities, still to see efforts bear fruit.
NPAs of public sector banks (1998)
Reports of large-scale misutilization of funds of banks for advancing loans, loans remained unrefunded and categorized as NPAs
Petition filed in 1998, detailed remedial measures suggested.
Government enacted the Securitization and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Enforcement of Security Interest Act, 2002. Claimed that NPAs had come down after effective enforcement of its provisions.
In Jan 2005, a sum of Rs.6,376 crore was recovered by public sector banks.
Respondent directed to file an additional affidavit enumerating the steps taken to improve the performance of the banking sector. UOI reiterated their earlier contentions and gave a misleading picture of the reduction in NPAs.
Rejoinder by CC contested UOI’s claim, suggested emphasis on a greater accountability of bank officials and also on the personal liability of the promoters enforced through a mandatory personal guarantee.
Matter disposed of on August 18, 2010; Court hoped for effective legislative or administrative measures, to prevent future bank frauds and minimum NPAs.
Large scale political advertisements (2003)
Judgment of May 13, 2015. Guidelines laid down for publicly funded ads-no political functionary in government ads except the President, PM and CJI.
Order blatantly disregarded by UP, TN and Delhi.
Contempt filed by CC in August, 2015 against these states.
Review of judgment sought by TN, Karnataka and UoI.
Judgment delivered on Reviews on March 18, 2016, Order modified-now photos of Governors, CMs & Cabinet Ministers can also feature in ads.
Contempt petition disposed on April 24, 2016.
Living Will (2005)
Petition seeks recognition of ‘Living will’.
‘Living will’ is an advance directive for refusal of life-prolonging medical procedures in event of testator’s incapacitation; on the lines of the Patient Autonomy and Self-determination Act of USA.
Court sought authoritative opinion of Constitution bench on passive euthanasia in Feb 2014.
Constitution Bench issued notice in July 2014 to states and UTs for response, particularly on ‘right to die with dignity' as a fundamental right.
After more than a year, case heard by Constitution Bench in January 2016, Centre’s response sought.
In Feb 2016, Govt. informed of ongoing consultations on euthanasia; Court refused to pass an order on the issue before Parliament, being the “people’s court”, deliberated on it.
Draft Bill by govt. on Euthanasia in June 2016, Living Will explicitly prohibited under Section 11.
CC Comments submitted on the Bill.
No further orders of listing.
Speedy justice (Janhit Manch) (2008)
Petition sought speedy dispensation of justice, comprehensively addressing demand, supply and efficiency issues contributing to progressive dysfunction of judicial system.
Sporadic hearings over 6 years.
Summary disposal on specious grounds (Dec 2014), stating that issues in the writ already under consideration in pending Criminal Appeal nos. 254-262/2012 Imtiyaz Ahmad Vs. State of U.P. & Ors.
SC also of opinion that most of the issues raised already considered independently and finally by Judiciary.
Recall application moved by Petitioners but dismissed in Feb 2015-on grounds that disposal order was passed in presence of both parties, no reasonable cause for recall made out.
Exploitation of CWG 2010 workers (2010)
Abysmal work/living condition of the constructions workers employed in CWG projects.
High incidence of fatality of construction workers.
Violations of labour welfare legislations and neglect of safety norms
Petition in 2010 to enforce accountability, secure amelioration and ensure compliance of the relevant welfare legislations.
Case disposed of in 2012.
Final order takes stock of the compliance of Court’s directions recommendations on measures to implement labour welfare schemes.
Removal of CVC (2010)
Petition challenged appointment of Mr. P. J. Thomas as CVC- as he could not be of ‘impeccable integrity’ while there was a charge sheet against him in a corruption case.
Landmark SC judgment delivered on March 3, 2011, impugned appointment quashed.
SC held recommendation of HPC for this appointment non est in law.
Also held that joint recommendations of PM and Home Minister, in disregard of incriminatory material on Mr. Thomas and dissent of LOP, amounted to arbitrariness.
Landmark case-ushered in the new jurisprudence of ‘institutional integrity’.
Cancellation of 2G spectrum allocations (2010)
CC with CPIL and ors. challenged spectrum allocation and telecom licenses issued in Jan 2008, exposing the Rs 1.76 lakh crore scam of arbitrary allocation.
Landmark decision on Feb 2, 2012, SC cancelled all 122 telecom licences allotted on or after Jan 10, 2008 to 11 companies.
Judgment firmly established that government policy cannot shield arbitrary executive decisions from judicial review.
Telecom minister strongly castigated by Apex Court for arbitrary and motivated allocation of spectrum.
A Presidential Reference was filed by the Govt. seeking clarity on whether the SC could interfere in policy decisions.
SC made a landmark observation-that State was the custodian of natural resources on behalf of its people and empowered to distribute them. However, State bound to follow principles of equality and public trust and act in public interest in this process; constitutionalism must be reflected at every stage of distribution of natural resources.”
Also noted that means other than those competitive and profit maximizing when allotting natural resources may be arbitrary and violative of Art 14.
Historical judgment on fair and transparent allocation of natural resources.
Post retirement activities of Supreme Court judges (2010)
Petition filed in DHC in 2010, highlighting violation of Article 124(7) in letter and spirit by certain post-retirement activities of the former SC judges.
Article 124(7) forbids former SC Judges from pleading or acting in any court or before any authority.
Significant outcomes secured during pendency of the petition-Registry instructed to reject petitions where opinions of retired judges annexed in line with our prayer.
Govt. also introduced Tribunals, Appellate Tribunals and other Authorities (Conditions of Service) Bill, 2014; pending before the Standing Committee.
Petition disposed on December 11, 2015; direction to UOI to give special attention to the issue and to ensure that appropriate legislation was made at the earliest.
Criminalisation of politics (2011)
PIL for debarring persons charged with serious criminal offences from contesting elections, expediting the disposal of pending criminal cases involving MPs and MLs.
Constitutional validity of Sec. 8(4) of the RPA 1951 challenged. Section allowed a convicted sitting MP to stay in office if the conviction was appealed within 3 months.
Sec. 8(4) ultimately held unconstitutional by SC in Lily Thomas on July 10, 2013.
Landmark order in March 2014 for concluding criminal cases against lawmakers within a year of framing charges.
Referred to Constitution Bench on March 8, 2016, no further orders of listing.
IA filed in November 2016 seeking compliance of the landmark order of March 2014.
IA seeks specific time-bound directions for closer monitoring of all such cases.
Vires of Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act (2011)
Constitutional validity of the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act (CLNDA), 2010 challenged, safety reassessment, and a comprehensive analysis of the long-term cost-benefits, of Indian nuclear plants sought.
Petition also sought establishment of an independent atomic energy regulatory body.
After protracted deliberations, PIL partly admitted-to the extent of vires of the CLNDA.
Tagged with CC PIL to bring nuzclear suppliers of Kudankulam nuclear plant under ‘polluter pays’ and ‘absolute liability’ principles.
Judgment has been reserved since September 2012, almost 5 years!
Coal block allocation scam (2012)
PIL filed in 2012 seeking cancellation of arbitrarily allocations of captive coal blocks from 1993 onwards and probe by SIT.
Landmark judgment in 2G scam relied upon to argue for fair allocation of natural resources.
In landmark judgment in August 2014, Court ruled that neither the Coal Mines (Nationalisation) Act, nor MMDRA empowered central gov to allocate coal blocks.
Judicial review of entire coal block allocation process undertaken. Allocation through Screening Committee Route and Govt. Dispensation Route held arbitrary and illegal, those allocated through competitive bidding excluded.
214 of the 218 allocations made in favour of private entities and JVs between 1993-2000 cancelled by judgment in September 2014.
Proceedings also brought in spotlight the autonomy of CBI and raised questions integrity of the then CBI Director leading the investigation.
Recently, CBI on court’s direction filed FIR against Ranjit Sinha for criminal misconduct and abuse of office.
Historical judgment, earnings of over 2 lakh crore (including proceeds from e-auction, royalty and the upfront payment) to the public exchequer.
Transparent and competitive process, e-auction method for systematic allocation.
Far-reaching changes in the ways in which India’s natural resources are allocated.
Removal of NHRC Chairman (2012)
PIL for inquiry against and removal of Shri K. G. Balakrishnan, the then Chairman, NHRC for transgressions while holding the public office.
Prayer for removal became infructuous as he demitted office in May 2015, application filed to amend the prayer.
In Feb 2017, Centre directed to file response to our plea seeking probe into alleged disproportionate assets amassed by KGB.
Likely to be listed on July 21, 2017.
This PIL highlights serious concerns regarding accountability of judiciary in the court.
Unconstitutional provisions of I T Act (2013)
Petition challenged constitutional validity of Sections 66A, 69A and 80 of the amended IT Act, 2000.
Landmark decision in March 2015, Section 66A struck down by SC (Shreya Singhal v UOI).
Far reaching consequences on freedom of expression, especially in the digital space.
Favours to RIL in KG Basin contract (2013)
Petition to undo mala fide favours shown to RIL and NIKO in the working of the Production Sharing Contract(PSC) for KG Basin Gas Block, also sought court monitored SIT inquiry and cancellation of the RIL lease among others.
Tagged with a petition by Shri GurudasDasgupta.
At final hearing on March 4, 2014, implementation of the government’s decision on the revision of natural gas prices made subject to Court orders.
Reports that Ministry of P&NG had moved a draft note for seeking the approval of CCEA for amending PSC with RIL in its favour. IA filed to foil this move.
In Jan2015, another IA filed for taking on record final CAG report on operation of PSC between gov and RIL.UOI filed its latest gas pricing guidelines.
In March 2015, time granted to RIL to respond to CAG report and UOI to file a status report on proceedings pursuant to CAG report.
Case not been listed since, no further orders of listing.
Corruption by Virbhadra Singh (2013)
Petition filed seeking court-supervised probe by CBI/ Income Tax Dept(Investigations) into allegations of corruption against VBS, previously raised by CC’s counsel and CC before CBI and CVC.
Maintainability of PIL challenged by VBS alleging lack of bona fide.
On January 29, 2015, CC discharged as petitioner without adjudication on bona fides of the petitioner, two amicus curiae appointed to assist Court in assessing whether there was any public interest in the petition.
Case, now in Court’s own motion, disposed on December 10, 2015 stating that that issue was already under CBI and income tax investigation.
CBI and Income Tax Authorities directed to submit within four weeks status reports on the action taken in the matter.
Corruption in management of Defence lands (2014)
PIL seeks systemic reforms and Court-monitored CBI investigation into illegalities & irregularities in management of defense lands. Filed in the wake of CAG reports highlighting mismanagement noticed in audit of defense lands.
Additional affidavit filed by UOI, rejoinder filed by CC refuting the contentions in August 2015.
Listed to be heard on July 11, 2017.
Odisha mining (2014)
Petition to curb rampant illegal mining in Odisha, operation of 26 illegal mines stayed in May 2014.
On April 4, 2016, directions for states to consider applications of miners filed before January 2015 or 12 months before expiry of lease.
SC noted that new MMDR Act to address miners’ hardship and grievance redressal of pending renewal applications.
Held mining leases to not lapse automatically unless state govs. hear the companies and pass orders to that effect.
Judgment reserved on May 8, 2017.
Lokpal Search Committee Rules (2014)
PIL challenged arbitrary Search Committee Rules.
IA filed in March 2016- to direct govt. to appoint Lokpal as per the amended rules under the Lokpal and Lokayukt Act, 2013.
On November 23, 2016, govt. admonished for causing undue delay in selection process on the pretext of absence of LoP in the Parliament.
On April 27, 2017, case disposed, Court strongly pushed for appointment of Lokpal. SC said existing Lokpal Act is a workable piece of legislation, no justification to keep its operation pending.
No time limit set by Court for appointment of Lokpal.
Audit of NOIDA/ Greater Noida Authority (2015)
Petition in Allahabad HC for getting NOIDA, Greater Noida Authority and Yamuna Expressway Authority audited by CAG.
Notice issued, counters filed on behalf of all respondents. CAG’s counter substantially supports contentions raised by CC.
Matter taken up a few times, multiple extensions granted to State. In Jan 2016, Court, noting that sufficient time was granted in the previous order, granted last and final opportunity to State to file counter.
Last heard in Sept 2016, no further orders of listing.
Representations made to Sree Ram Naik, Governor, UP.
Recent commendable initiative of UP Govt. to extend CAG audit to development authorities in the state.
The UP Government has also written to the Accountant General to start conducting the CAG audit of Noida, G. Noida and Yamuna Expressway Authority immediately, as reported in the media.
CVC appointment: Birla Sahara diaries (2015)
IA filed in November 2016, seeking court-monitored SIT for investigating documents recovered in Birla/Sahara raids.
IA filed in petition challenging appointment of CVC and VC- on grounds of institutional integrity.
IA unceremoniously dismissed on January 11, 2017 as lacking evidentiary value.
Irregular appointment of CBI Director (2016)
PIL challenged arbitrary appointment of interim CBI Director, in violation of established process.
Notice issued on December 12, 2016.
Meeting of Selection Committee held on January 16, 2017.
New Director appointed, writ disposed on January 20, 2017.
Our request for Select Committee Minutes denied.