COMMON CAUSE UPDATES
Contempt Petition on NonAppointment of Lokpal: The petition for appointment of Lokpal filed by Common Cause (CC) was disposed by the SC in April 2017 maintaining that the Lokpal Act was a perfectly workable piece of legislation. However, the government failed to appoint the Lokpal nine months after the Apex Court verdict. Common Cause filed a contempt petition seeking Court’s directions against the government’s wilful and deliberate failure to fully comply with the aforementioned judgment. The matter was taken up on February 23, 2018 and thereafter in March, April and May, 2018 respectively. The Centre had on May 15, 2018 informed the Court that senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi has been appointed as an eminent jurist in the selection committee for Lokpal appointment. The Supreme Court on July 2, 2018 directed the Centre to apprise it within 10 days about the time frame for Lokpal appointment. A Bench comprising Justices Ranjan Gogoi and R Banumathi asked the government to file an affidavit within 10 days giving details of the steps which are likely to be taken for appointing the Lokpal. The Bench posted the matter for hearing on July 17, 2018, when the Centre informed the SC that the Lokpal selection committee had decided to meet on July 19 for constituting a search panel. This panel would be responsible for recommending names to be considered for Lokpal appointment. As the selection committee was scheduled to meet on July 19, 2018, the Bench fixed the matter for further hearing on July 24, 2018, without passing any orders.
Introduction of Electoral Bonds Challenged: No further hearings have been held in the case filed by Common Cause and the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), challenging the introduction of electoral bonds as part of the Finance Act 2017. However, in another matter, the Supreme Court Bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice AM Khanwilkar and Justice DY Chandrachud on July 2, 2018 issued notices seeking the Central government's response on a plea challenging the amendments to Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act. The petition, filed by ADR and Mr EAS Sarma, a retired IAS Officer and a former Secretary to the Government of India, argued that the amendments were introduced to bail out the BJP and Congress parties after the High Court held them guilty of taking foreign funding. The retrospective amendments changed the definition of what constituted a foreign company in such a way that key beneficiaries would not face legal scrutiny for donations with effect from September 26, 2010. The BJP and Congress had challenged the High Court judgment in the Apex Court only to withdraw it later. Instead, the government undertook legislative steps to circumvent the ruling and legitimise the funding received from abroad.1
Challenging Appointments of CVC and VC: Common Cause, along with a few renowned and concerned citizens, had filed the PIL, challenging the arbitrary appointments of the Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) and the Vigilance Commissioner (VC). It was argued that the Central Government made the said appointments in a non-transparent manner. Therefore, these were illegal and void as they violated the principles of ‘impeccable integrity’ and ‘institutional integrity,’ as laid down in the landmark judgments of the Apex Court in Vineet Narain case (1998) and Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) case (2011). Common Cause later filed an Intervention Application praying that the Union of India (UOI) may be directed to not make any appointments which required the participation of either the CVC or VC, since their own appointments have been challenged by it. On September 7, 2017 the Bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Mohan M Shantanagoudar completed its hearing and reserved the judgment. Upholding the appointments, the petition was disposed on July 2, 2018 with the following observations: “We are nowadays in the scenario that such complaints cannot be taken on face value. Even against very honest persons, allegations can be made. Those days have gone when filing of the complaints was taken as serious aspersions on integrity. Ideally, there should not be any serious complaint as the filing of same raises eyebrows. As in the instant matter, complaints have been looked into and we decline to interfere.
114. Resultantly, we find no grounds to quash the appointment of Respondent No.2 as CVC and respondent No.3 as VC. Writ Petitions are disposed of accordingly.”
Combating the Criminalisation of Politics: The PIL was filed for debarring persons charged with serious criminal offences from contesting elections and expediting the disposal of pending criminal cases involving MPs and MLAs. The constitutional validity of Section 8(4) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, was challenged. A landmark order was obtained in March 2014 for concluding criminal cases against lawmakers within a year of charges being framed. The matter was tagged with two other cases with similar prayers and was referred to a Constitution Bench on March 8, 2016.
Writ for Police Reforms: The battle for police reforms has been going on for the last 22 years. The Supreme Court took 10 years to give a historic judgment in 2006 in the petition filed by Prakash Singh, Common Cause and NK Singh. Since then it has been a struggle to get the Court’s directions implemented. On July 3, 2018, responding to an interlocutory application filed by the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Supreme Court gave a slew of directions to ensure that there are no distortions in the appointment of Director General of Police (DGP) of the state. It laid down that the states shall send their proposals three months prior to the retirement of the incumbent DGP. It also ruled that the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) shall prepare a panel of three officers suitable for elevation to the post of DGP and that the state shall appoint one of the persons from the panel only. Additionally, it pronounced that there would be no appointments of Acting DGP and that a person appointed as DGP should continue to hold the post for a reasonable period “beyond the date of superannuation.” The SC even adjudicated that the UPSC should as far as practicable empanel officers who have got at least two years of service left, giving due weightage to merit and seniority and that “any legislation/rule framed by any of the states or the Central Government running counter to the direction shall remain in abeyance”. The matter has been listed for July 20, 2018.
SIT on Over-invoicing Requested by CPIL and Common Cause: Common Cause and Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL), approached the Delhi High Court in 2017, seeking a direction for a thorough investigation by an SIT into the over-invoicing of imported coal and equipment. In the hearing on December 11, 2017, notices were issued to UOI and the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence. On May1, 2018, the CBI informed the Delhi High Court by way of an affidavit that its preliminary enquiry (PE) was closed in July 2015 against Adani Enterprises Ltd, Maharashtra Eastern Grid Power Transmission Co. Ltd (MEGPTCL) and others, including public sector banks, over allegations of over-invoicing of import of raw material and equipment relating to power projects in India. The investigative agency said it closed the PE because much progress could not be made in the enquiry on jurisdictional issue, since the project was under the Maharashtra government.
The matter was taken up on July 4, 2018, where the Court gave more time for the parties to file additional applications and interventions. The court also noted that the CBI and the DRI have undertaken to file up-to date status report in the form of an affidavit at least three weeks before the next date of hearing. The matter has been listed for October 11, 2018.
National Green Tribunal Common Cause has filed an Original Application (OA) on July 3, 2018, under section 14, 15 and 18 of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010. The petition points out that due to the widening of NH108 as part of the Chardham project, debris and muck were being directly dumped along the slopes into the Bhagirathi river. With the onset of the monsoon, the impact of the muck disposal exercise was dire, raising fears of landslides. Indiscriminate dumping into the river would also result in excessive pollution and lead to the alteration of its course. The main directions sought for the executive include: to establish that the road design conformed to the principle of mass balancing of cut and fill; to bar it from undertaking any further widening work till the stability of the new slope was established; to submit a time-bound muck disposal plan at the earliest and bar it from continuing with construction of road until proper disposal of muck already generated was undertaken.
On July 10, 2018 the Bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel issued notices to the Environment Ministry, Ministry of Road, Transport and Highways and Uttarakhand government. The matter will now come up for hearing on August 26.
1 Rautray, Samanwaya. 2018. “Supreme Court Notices to Centre Over Foreign Funding to BJP, Congress”. The Economic Times, July 03, 2018. https:// economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/ politics-and-nation/supreme-court-noticesto-centre-over-foreign-funding-to-bjpcongress/articleshow/64834436.cms (Accessed July 03, 2018)