PILs back with first bench, ‘but not all’

If every encroachment matter becomes a PIL, we will be doing nothing else, says Chief Justice.
PILs back with first bench, ‘but not all’


Notwithstanding the revival of the tradition of the first bench hearing Public Interest Litigations (PILs) after Chief Justice (CJ) Sanjib Banerjee’s takeover at the Madras High Court, the CJ has expressed shock at the whole array of PILs flooding at the court’s door mainly based on private interest and other fundamental issues which the executive alone is capable of performing. 
“There is a proliferation of PILs that calls upon the judiciary to undertake fundamental works only capable of being performed by the executive,” Chief Justice Banerjee observed while disposing of a PIL relating to a bridge in a village and its misuse. Making similar observations while disposing of a whole range of PILs, the CJ also categorically held that even if the PIL is on behalf of an association, it is personal interest as they are directly involved and cannot construe public interest. Also disposing of a string of PILs on encroachments, the CJ, while decrying the need for authorities to remove such encroachment in revenue and public land, said: “As a matter of policy unless large tracts are involved or a general issue covering the entire State is brought to the notice of the court, individual cases of encroachment ought not to be entertained by way of PIL.” 
The CJ stressed that the petitioner ought to air his grievances before the local authorities, follow up the matter and work out remedies, but not in the form of a PIL. “If there is any private dispute, the appropriate forum would be a civil court,” the CJ added making it clear that PILs devoid of larger public interest or with political flavour would be summarily disposed of. However, the CJ, who has an eye on quick disposals, has not feigned from taking up issues of larger public interest like groundwater recharge and even caving in of roads near the Central Railway Station. Though reminding itself that a court is no expert on environmental issues, the bench sought the State government to form an expert committee to address the issue of replenishing the groundwater without wasting the rainwater. Most advocates welcome CJ’s strict adherence to PIL jurisdiction stating weeding out frivolous PILs meant more time for genuine cases, taken pro bono.
The tradition of PILs being handled by the Chief Justice in the High Courts across the country as well as at the Supreme Court had suffered a jolt at the Madras High Court after Justice VK Tahilramani took over as CJ. She distributed PILs to other benches. Though the CJ is the master of the roster and it is his/her prerogative to handle PILs or not, not many were enthused by the move as the scattering of PILs was bound to dilute matters and cause a dent in speedy disposals. It was pointed out that the hearing of PILs by the bench comprising the CJ adds more weight since all PILs are mostly against the government and hence when a PIL is decided, hundreds of litigations would be decided without them approaching the court.

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