Journey So Far
The name Common Cause was taken from an organization of the same name in USA after receiving a no objection letter from them. There is no affiliation between the two organizations, the one in USA primarily being a lobbying organization founded in 1970.
Through a lawyer and on behalf of about 15,000 retired pensioners, the first writ petition was filed in the Supreme Court, highlighting the problems and hardships faced by about four million retired government civil servants.
Mr Shourie was the founding Director and Mr S Ranganathan, a distinguished civil servant a former Commerce Secretary and a former Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India, as the first President of the Governing Council.
‘No other single case in the world had directly benefitted such a large number of persons through one decision’. This is what the Guinness Book of Records had said about this case. On a petition filed by Common Cause, the Supreme Court held that the pensioners form one class and that no discrimination in benefits can be caused merely on the basis of the date of retirement. The government was directed to apply the revised formula of calculation of pension to all pensioners, irrespective of the date of retirement. This landmark decision of the Supreme Court became applicable to all central government pensioners, civil and defense, and was taken note of by the Guinness Book of Records. This case is now cited everywhere in the country as a critique of arbitrariness embodied in a government decision whereby discriminations are cause among the same class of persons.
Common Cause then took up the cause of widows of pre-1964 pensioners who were denied benefits because the Family Pension Scheme, introduced in 1964, applied only to those persons who retired after January 1st, 1964. A writ petition was filed by Common Cause in the Supreme Court, highlighting the deprivation caused to the widows of pre 1964 pensioners. The Supreme Court agreeing with our prayers directed the government to give pensions to widows of pre-1964 pensioners on the same basis as decided for pensioners retiring after January 1st, 1964 and also to pay them arrears from 1977 when rules relating to family pension had been revised. As a result of this decision hundreds of thousands of old widows, who had never dreamt that they would be made entitled to any pension, started getting pensions and were paid arrears from 1977.
Another decision relating to pensions was secured by Common Cause which benefitted hundreds of thousands of persons all over the country. Commutation rules, in operation for many decades, had decreed that pension will remain cut by the same commuted portion throughout the life of the pensioner. This was felt to be grossly unfair for the pensioners who lived long. The Court decided in favour of the pensioners, laying down that full pension in each case should be restored after 15 years from the date of retirement. This decision restored full pension to hundreds of thousands of central government civil and defense pensioners who had already completed 15 years; and it also applied to pensioners of State Governments and institutions etc.
Mr Govind Narain was formally elected as President of Common Cause in December, 1990. He had been chairing the meetings of the Governing Council since January 1988 during the illness of Mr S. Ranganathan, the first President of Common Cause since its inception. He continued in office till December 11, 2004. One of the last surviving ICS officers, Mr Govind Narain had joined the service in 1939. He achieved fame early in his career. The resourcefulness that he displayed as Collector of Aligarh in the turbulent months following the partition of India saved the Aligarh Muslim University from the wrath of powerful communal forces. Hand-picked in 1951 to serve as adviser to the King of Nepal, he laid the foundations of sound Indo-Nepal bilateral relations.
A very important writ petition was filed by Common Cause in the Supreme Court, on the failure of political parties to comply with the statutory requirement of maintaining accounts, record of all contributions received by them above a prescribed limit, and getting the accounts audited. The mandatory provisions of law are violated by political parties with impunity. Our main contention was that the people of India must know the source of expenditure incurred by political parties and by candidates and that there must be transparency in election funding. The Supreme Court gave a widely acclaimed judgment which has been responsible for maintenance of some decorum in the conduct of elections.
An able administrator, Mr Dave held a number of key positions during his illustrious career. He was the Chief Secretary in Jammu and Kashmir from 1967 to 1971, and Petroleum Secretary till 1976. He then went on to become Advisor to the Governor of Tamil Nadu from 1976 to 1977 and Ambassador to Brussels from 1977 to 1981. Dave served as Lieutenant Governor of Delhi for a period of five years from 1992 to 97. Deeply committed to the public causes, he took on the mantle of CEO of Common Cause through which he worked until the end of his life.
Mr Vikram Lal, former Chairman of the Eicher Group and a multifaceted personality engaged in numerous philanthropic activities took over as President of Common Cause in December 2004. Apart from his various pursuits, particularly in matters relating to governance, Mr Lal’s keen interest in cartography led to the publication of the first Indian city map of international standard – the Eicher City Map of Delhi – in 1996, and of Chennai, Bangalore, Mumbai, Kolkata, Pune and Chandigarh thereafter. The City Guide for Delhi was followed by a guide to Buddhist pilgrimage places called ‘Walking with the Buddha’, a guide to Gurdwaras called ‘Walking with the Gurus’, and many others, including special editions for the Archaeological Survey of India and for several state governments. Mr Lal is also an internationally licensed and enthusiastic paragliding pilot.
Common Cause filed a petition in Supreme Court on Living Will seeking the enactment of a law on the lines of the Patient Autonomy and Self-determination Act of the USA, which sanctions the practice of executing a ‘living will’ in the nature of an advance directive for refusal of life-prolonging medical procedures in the event of the testator’s incapacitation. We prayed that the autonomy of an individual should be respected and one should be allowed while one is in full possession of one’s faculties to lay down a binding directive applicable to the next of kin as well as to the medical care providers not to put that person under life support, not to undertake any intrusive and extraordinary measure to artificially prolong one’s life in the case of incompetency developing and the patient reaching a state of irreversible vegetative condition or a terminal illness and losing the capacity to determine what is good for him or her.
Mr H.D. Shourie left his crusade and the world on June 28, 2005, having lived a life that impacted and benefitted millions. In his passing away, the Society lost a veteran crusader for common cause, justice and fair play in public governance. But he, along with fellow public spirited citizens, had nurtured Common Cause to become a leading NGO in the country with its field of activities covering various aspect of governance and civic life. His legacy was continued by the successive governing councils of the society which continued to fight democratic battles on behalf of the common citizens.
Former ICS officer, a distinguished citizen activist and a former Lieutenant Governor of Delhi P K Dave died at the age of 83 years on September 19 after a brief illness. Mr Dave continued to shepherd Common Cause until the very end.
Mr Kamal Kant Jaswal, former Secretary, Government of India takes charge as Director and Chief Executive of Common Cause. During his career in the IAS, Mr Kamal Jaswal held a number of important positions in the field as well as the State and Central secretariats. He also served in the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation as Chief Technical Advisor of a major industrial planning project in the Republic of Mali for three years. Mr Jaswal brought decisive changes in the working of Common Cause transforming it into an efficient and system-oriented set up and building bridges with like-minded individuals and civil society organisations.
On a petition filed by Common Cause, Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL), and a number of eminent citizens in 2010 challenging the appointment of Mr. P. J. Thomas as Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) on the ground that he could not be considered as a person of impeccable integrity while there was a charge sheet against him in a case of corruption, SC in a landmark judgment delivered on March 3, 2011, quashed the impugned appointment. It held that the recommendation of the High Powered Committee for the appointment of Mr. Thomas was non est in law and that the joint recommendation of the Prime Minister and the Home Minister without considering the relevant material on Mr. Thomas and disregarding the dissent of the Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha amounted to official arbitrariness.
Mr Govind Narain, who served with great distinction as President of Common Cause for long, breathed his last peacefully at his residence in Chhattarpur in South Delhi on April 3, 2012 at the age of 95 years. He will always be remembered for his exceptional leadership, towering intellect, compassion and courage of conviction. He played a cardinal role in making Common Cause the institution that it has become.
Declaring the allocation of 2G spectrum by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government “illegal” and an example of the arbitrary exercise of power, the Supreme Court cancelled all 122 telecom licences allotted on or after January 10, 2008 to 11 companies during the tenure of the former telecom minister, A. Raja. Common Cause had joined hands with CPIL, eminent citizens and like-minded organizations to file a writ petition seeking cancellation of the entire spectrum allocation and the telecom licenses issued in January 2008.
The momentous verdict also castigated A. Raja for his egregious transgressions and pulled up the telecom regulator for the ambivalence of its recommendation of August 2007, which were selectively adopted by the Minister to serve his ends. The Supreme Court had also been generous in acknowledging the role of the petitioners in exposing the scandal in the allocation of 2 G spectrum. (Also See Our Impact)
In a far reaching judgment delivered on September 24, 2014, the Apex Court cancelled 214 of the 218 coal block allocations made in favour of private entities and joint ventures during the period 1993 to 2010.The Apex Court had pronounced its verdict on a Common Cause petition praying for cancellation of the allocation of captive coal blocks from 1993 onwards and a direction for a probe by a special investigation team. The PIL highlighted the arbitrary manner in which the Central Government alienated a scarce natural resource in favour of a few select private companies to the detriment of the public exchequer and deferred the introduction of competitive bidding. (Also see Our Impact)
Our petition on Living Will was taken up by a Constitution Bench to which the Supreme Court had referred the matter for an authoritative opinion. Notices were issued to all States and Union Territories in view of the prayers made in the writ petition, particularly, the prayer to declare 'right to die with dignity' as a fundamental right within the fold of right to live with dignity under Article 21 of the Constitution.
The decision of the Supreme Court on our petition on Living will to hear out the views of each state on the legalisation of passive euthanasia was welcomed by doctors across the country. They said that they were relieved that the apex court had accepted the notion, at least in principle and hoped that the states and Union Territories would come out with positive responses. This decision of the Supreme Court rekindled the debate on the pros and cons of euthanasia, both active and passive.
Common Cause had filed a PIL for debarring persons charged with serious criminal offences from contesting elections and expediting the disposal of pending criminal cases involving members of Parliament and state legislatures.
The court passed an interim order on March 10, 2014 to the effect that trials in criminal cases against lawmakers must be concluded within a year of the charges being framed. The court also directed that trials must be conducted on a day-to-day basis, and if a lower court was unable to complete the trial within a year, it would have to submit an explanation to the Chief Justice of the High Court concerned and seek an extension of the time limit.
Common Cause filed a petition, challenging the constitutional validity of various provisions including Sections 66A, 69A and 80 of the amended Information Technology Act, 2000, as being violative of Articles 14, 19 & 21 of the Constitution of India. Our plea was accepted by Supreme Court which struck down Section 66A as unconstitutional. This landmark judgment upholds the freedom of expression and will surely have far reaching consequences and a direct bearing on the citizens’ right to free speech enshrined in the Constitution.
The Supreme Court dealt a body blow to the practice of misusing public money for laudatory political advertisements and photographs of Ministers & politicians in government ads (except the President, the PM & the CJI). In a landmark judgment on a petition filed by Common C ause, it laid down guidelines for government issued advertisements. The Union Government filed its objections about some of the items in the guidelines, but the court accepted only a couple of them rejecting the others. It is hoped that this decision of the Supreme Court will be an important step in the direction of building accountability in the expenditure of the tax payers’ money. Common Cause has already filed a contempt petition against the Statew which seem to have violated the Apex Court’s order.
Marking a continuity in change, Mr Kamal Kant Jaswal took over as the President of Common Cause while Dr Vipul Mudgal was appointed as Director and Chief Executive in March 2015. A distinguished former civil servant, a citizen-activist and a qualified lawyer, Mr Jaswal continues his dedication to public causes leaving the organisation’s stewardship to Dr Mudgal who continues to head the Inclusive Media for Change project at CSDS where he earlier worked as a Visiting Senior Fellow and the founding Director of the Publics and Policies Programme.
On a petition filed by Common Cause, the apex court prohibited the use of photographs of ministers and other political leaders in government advertisements with the exception of the President of India, the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India.
The Election Commission has recently issued an order with the direction that no political party should use or allow the use of public funds, public place or government machinery for promoting itself or the symbol allotted to it. This directive came on a “request” of the Delhi High Court asking it to issue norms to restrain political parties from misusing public funds to publicize their poll symbol. This High Court Order had been issued on a petition filed by Common Cause.
Common Cause had filed a PIL in the Supreme Court praying for the appointment of a regular Director of CBI as per procedure established by law as laid down in Section 4A of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946, and for quashing the appointment of Interim/Acting Director.
With the appointment of Mr. Alok Kumar Verma as the new CBI Director, post approval by the selection committee, the Supreme Court on January 20, 2017, closed the petition.
In a filed by Common Cause in 2014, the Supreme Court passed an order pushing for the appointment of a Lokpal and said that the legislation passed to appoint an anti-corruption ombudsman – a Lokpal – was a workable one and that there was no need for the Centre to keep its implementation pending.