Common Cause Updates
Challenging the Ad-hocism in the Appointment and Functioning of the CBI Director: Common Cause had filed a petition in the Supreme Court praying for issuance of an appropriate writ directing the Union of India to appoint a regular director of CBI as per procedure established by law and for quashing the appointment of the interim/acting director. The petition pointed out that even though the central government was fully aware that the Director CBI Anil Sinha was demitting office on December 2, 2016, it failed to convene a meeting of the selection committee to appoint the new director. In order to safeguard the independence of the CBI, a detailed procedure has been laid down in Section 4A of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946, as amended by the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013. The central government chose to ignore the mechanism apparently through a series of omissions and commissions.
With the appointment of Mr. Alok Kumar Verma as the new CBI director, post approval by the selection committee meeting which was called subsequently, the Supreme Court closed the petition on January 20, 2017. The bench declined the request of our counsel, Mr. Prashant Bhushan to direct the centre to place before the court, the minutes of meeting of the committee to ensure compliance with law laid down by the apex court.
Bar on News Broadcast by Private Radio Stations: The PIL prays for quashing of the unreasonable provisions in the policy guidelines and grant of permission agreements of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, which prohibits the broadcast of news and current affairs content on FM and community radio stations. The court had previously tagged this petition with our PIL on crime and violence on TV and some other matters relating to the right to freedom of speech and expression which were dismissed separately on January 12, 2017.
On February 14, 2017, the court observed that the Union of India (UoI) counter affidavit highlighted the gradual progress of the policy guidelines in context of news broadcast by private radio channels. The counter affidavit contended that the revised guidelines permitted community and F.M. radio stations to broadcast news and current affairs sourced exclusively from the All India Radio, in its original form or translated into a local language/dialect.
The court, however, felt that the government should consider extending the content of news and current affairs which was already in public domain. The court granted six weeks to the government counsel to obtain instructions. This matter is posted for hearing on April 5, 2017.
Contempt Petition Against Lawyers Strike: Common Cause has filed a contempt petition against the strike of lawyers in Delhi High Court and all district courts of Delhi on the issue of conflict over pecuniary jurisdiction. In WP (C) 821/1990 (Harish Uppal v. Union of India) the Supreme Court had observed that lawyers had no right to go on strike and could not give any call for boycott. The court also held that lawyers refusing to respond to such a call could not be visited with any adverse consequences by the Bar Association or the Bar Council.
The matter was last taken up on January 13, 2017. After hearing the counsels, the court ordered that reply, if any, be filed within six weeks. The matter is likely to be listed on April 17, 2017.
Challenging the Vires of the Appointments Made to the CVC: The IA filed by Common Cause in November 2016, praying for directions for constitution of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to thoroughly investigate the evidence gathered in the raids on the Aditya Birla and the Sahara groups was dismissed on January 11, 2017, by the court on account of lack of evidentiary value, being irrelevant and legally inadmissible. On February 10, 2017, the counsel for the Union of India brought the entire original record to defend the appointment of the Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) and the Vigilance Commissioner (VC). However, the court said that the records would be seen later. The matter is likely to be listed in first week of April.
Preventing the Export of Logs of Red Sandalwood: Pleadings in the matter were completed on August 22, 2016. Despite an undertaking before the Apex Court, the Union of India (Ministry of Environment and Forests) did not file its vakalatnama and counter affidavit. Respondent No.2, Department of Commerce, too failed to do so despite directions from the court in May and August 2016. Declining to grant them further opportunities, the court directed the registry to process the matter for listing as per rules. On November 23, 2016 the matter was taken up by the court and posted for December 15, 2016 as it did not receive the files and hence could not hear the matter. The matter is likely to next be listed on December 15, 2017.
Challenging the Lokpal Search Committee Rules: After admonishing the centre for causing delay in the selection process on the pretext of the absence of the leader of opposition in Parliament, the court on February 13, 2017, directed that our petition along with all connected cases be listed for final disposal on March 28, 2017, and pleadings, if any, may be completed, in the meantime. Judgment in the matter has been reserved on March 28, 2017.
Inquiry against ex-Chairman, NHRC K.G. Balakrishnan: This matter was taken up on February 13, 2017, when the court directed the centre to file its response on our plea seeking a probe into alleged disproportionate assets amassed by Justice Balakrishnan. The direction came during the hearing of the IA filed in 2016 by Common Cause seeking an amendment to its earlier prayer for the removal of Justice Balakrishnan as Chairperson NHRC, as he had already demitted the office, rendering the plea infructuous. The bench, comprising Justices Dipak Misra and R. Banumathi, asked the Solicitor General, to file a reply within six weeks. It is likely to be listed on April 21, 2017.
Coal Block Allocation: On January 23, 2017, the Supreme Court allowed the prayer in the IA (13) filed by Common Cause for the constitution of a Special Investigating Team (SIT) to probe the abuse of authority by Mr. Ranjit Sinha while he was the Director CBI. The Court has entrusted the CBI with the enquiry and decided not to appoint an outside body. The Court clarified that it had not expressed any opinion on the merits of the allegations made in the IA nor made any comment on the contents of the report prepared by Mr. M.L. Sharma and his team, except that a prima facie case had definitely been made out for investigation into the abuse of authority by Mr. Ranjit Sinha in terms of the report.
Holding the matter to be of considerable public importance, the court emphasised that it should be taken up with due earnestness. It directed that a copy of the order be provided to the director, CBI so as to enable him, on the next date of hearing, to indicate the composition of his team and the time required to complete the investigations.
During the hearing on January 30, 2017, the court directed the CBI to complete its investigation and file charge sheets in pending coal scam cases as expeditiously as possible, and in some cases by February 2017. The Bench advised the CBI against unnecessary delays in the filing of charge sheets in cases in which the investigation was already over.
The court refused to entertain Mr. Ranjit Sinha's plea to modify investigation orders against him, restricting its order to calling the probe “an enquiry” and not term it as “an investigation”. Invoking the SC's recent dismissal of documentary material produced in the Sahara-Birla pay-offs case, the former CBI director on
January 30, 2017, sought modification in the court's order of January 27, 2017, order. Mr. Sinha's counsel made a reference to how the Supreme Court refused to even direct the registration of an FIR into the Sahara-Birla pay-offs case in which top politicians, including the prime minister, were accused of receiving kickbacks from Sahara and Birla group of companies for alleged favours.
The Bench, however, refused to entertain his plea as the order had already been passed and a modification could be sought under a separate plea for recall of the order. In the hearing on March 24, 2017, his plea for recall was formally dismissed.
The matter is next listed on April 10, 2017.
Slaughter House Pollution: Pursuant to the court's orders of September and October 2016, a compendium of the Indian Standards governing the slaughtering of animals and management of slaughter houses was prepared along with all relevant material in consultation with stake-holders. The court directed the UoI to print the compendium in sufficient numbers and circulate it to all the state governments and union territories for compliance. The court directed the Union of India to comply with its orders within six weeks from the date of the order.
The court disposed of this case on February 17, 2017, with the observation that the petitioners were entitled to approach the concerned district collector or the judicial authorities, as the case may be, in the event of non-compliance with the Indian Standards, and other rules and regulations.