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SC glare on frivolous PILs

New Delhi, Nov. 20: Ruling that a third party cannot move court on behalf of a convict sentenced to death, the Supreme Court has dismissed a public interest litigation filed by a man seeking to commute a friend’s death sentence to life imprisonment. Shocked by the deluge of “frivolous” petitions, the court said litigation “is a weapon which has to be used with great care and circumspection”.

Last Friday, Calcutta High Court upheld a death sentence awarded by the Alipore sessions court to Dhananjoy Chatterjee, caretaker-cum-liftman of a south Calcutta highrise, for the rape and murder of a schoolgirl in 1989. With Chatterjee’s lawyers exhausting every legal avenue, one Ashok Kumar Pande filed a PIL, claiming to be a “friend” of the convict.

Pande said Chatterjee’s death sentence “needs to be converted to a life sentence”, but the Supreme Court responded by saying that “unless an aggrieved party is under some disability recognised by law, it would be unsafe and hazardous to allow any third party” to question the decision.

On Tuesday, a division bench of Justices Doraiswamy Raju and Arijit Pasayat passed a judgment saying under Article 32, the petitioner concerned should prove fundamental rights had been violated. In the Chatterjee case, “the petitioner did not seek to enforce any of his fundamental rights” but “sought to enforce the fundamental rights of others”, the judges said.

“Neither under the provisions of the code nor under any other statute is a third party stranger permitted to question the correctness of the conviction and sentence,” Justice Pasayat, who wrote the judgment, said.

He said a third party, although he might be the “next friend” of the convict, “has no locus standi to move the court, unless the aggrieved party is a minor or insane or the one who is suffering from any other disability which the law recognises as sufficient to permit another person to move the court on his behalf”.

The apex court also said courts “must be careful in entertaining public interest litigations” and the “applications of busybodies should be rejected at the threshold itself”.

“The doors of the courts should not be ajar for such vexatious litigants,” the judges said, quoting an earlier judgment of Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer.

“The time has come to weed out the petitions which, though titled as public interest litigations, are in essence something else,” the judges said. “It is shocking to note that courts are flooded with a large number of so-called PILs where even a minuscule percentage can be legitimately be called as PILs,” they added.

“Public interest litigation is a weapon which has to be used with great care and circumspection and the judiciary has to be extremely careful to see that behind the beautiful veil of PIL, ugly private malice, vested interest and/or publicity-seeking is not lurking,” Justices Raju and Pasayat said.

The judges warned: “PIL should not be and become publicity interest litigation or private interest litigation.” They said such litigation wasted valuable judicial time.

The judges also rejected an argument that Chatterjee had “an obsession based on religious belief” and hence suffered “disability” to move the Supreme Court against the death sentence.

They said: “A mere obsession based on religious belief or any other personal philosophy cannot be regarded as a legal disability of the type recognised by the code or any other law which would permit initiation of proceedings by a third party, be he a friend”.

The bench said in Chatterjee’s case, any intervention would result in fresh trial of the co-accused who were acquitted by the trial court and whose acquittal was confirmed by the Supreme Court.

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