End PIL elitism

BY PRABHAKAR KULKARNI| IN Opinion | 18/09/2016
With district newspapers exposing wrong doing and highlighting important issues, why are PILs not allowed in district courts?
PRABHAKAR KULKARNI argues it is time for an amendment


The newspaper network in the country is now so widespread that almost every district has its own newspaper and that too equipped with new modern machinery and expertise which means they almost compete  with regional and national newspapers.

Most of the national newspapers are published in English or Hindi while regional newspapers are published in the respective regional language. Even the national and regional newspapers have been publishing their regional and district editions and cover various issues with in-depth analysis and investigative penetration.

These district editions are almost equal to the state capital-based dailies and are now gaining the same status which they have in state capitals. Even the original district newspapers in regional languages have geared up to a better standard in order to compete with the new editions of the state-based dailies. 

These district newspapers and editions are concentrating on major issues which are in the public interest: delays and corruption in administration, injustice, economic crimes which harass people and dupe them, irregularities in the nationalized and co-operative banking sector, farmers’ problems, hoarding of essential commodities by middlemen, and the failure of the decentralized Panchayat Raj system due to the non-cooperative attitude of the bureaucracy are just some of the subjects periodically covered by the district newspapers

Important public issues and injustices are taken up by the judicial system and vigilant judges in Public Interest Litigation (PIL). But at present, a PIL can be filed only in the High Court or the Supreme Court. The PIL is a right given to a socially conscious member of society or a public-spirited NGO to espouse a public cause by seeking judicial means for redressal. It may concern a breach of public duty or a violation of some provision of the Constitution.

The PIL is the device by which public participation in the judicial review of administrative action is assured. It has the effect of making the judicial process a little more democratic. In almost in all Indian states, lethargy, inefficiency and corruption in government departments have become a bane for large numbers of people and no state government has so far been able to eradicate them.  

The rule by which, under the Constitution,  a PIL can only be heard at the High Court or Supreme Court level needs to change. A PIL should be allowed in district courts. For this, a constitutional amendment is necessary so that even district courts are allowed to conduct cases under the PIL.

When the constitutional provision was initially made, most national newspapers were based in state capitals and it was quite reasonable that the High Courts were expected to consider cases for PIL litigation only on the basis of news reports published in these newspapers. But now, as most national newspapers are spread over regions and districts, more public grievances are being reported by way of news and investigative newsletters. It is, therefore, necessary that the district courts should be empowered to initiate Public Interest Litigation for the sake of the public good otherwise the grievances and injustices reported in newspapers at this level go neglected.  

The district courts are competent enough to hear PIL cases. District advocates also possess sufficient legal acumen and knowledge to  be able to conduct the argumentative aspect of such cases with ease.

Nor is it unusual to demand a constitutional amendment. From time to time – to meet changing public needs – amendments are made. Both the Union government and state governments should take the lead and MLAs and MPs of all political parties should support such a move.

State Assemblies may demand amendment by resolution while Parliament will respond to the demand and pass the amendment unanimously. This is because this amendment will not be based on any controversial issue but is purely in the public interest.

Once the district courts are empowered to hear PIL cases, it will create an atmosphere conducive to legal remedies for the frustrations and grievances that are brought to light in district newspapers. In fact, some exposes that have become national issues have originated in the district editions of newspapers.

If district courts are given the power to proceed with PIL litigation against corrupt officials and practices, ‘PIL justice’ will become available to people in small cities and the adjacent rural areas in our vast country.

Prabhakar Kulkarni is a senior journalist in Kolhapur in southern Maharashtra.



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