Delhi HC Dismisses PIL Challenging Relaxations Prescribed Under MHA's 'Unlock 1.0' With Cost

In a latest and fresh development, the Delhi High Court has just recently on June 12, 2020 in a latest, landmark and extremely laudable judgment titled Arjun Aggarwal Vs Union Of India And Anr in W.P. (C) 3449/2020 & C.M. No. 12224/2020 (stay) dismissed a PIL filed by a petitioner who is a law student. The PIL had challenged the June 30 order of the Ministry of Home Affairs wherein considerable relaxations from lockdown were operationalised under ‘Unlock 1.0' . The Delhi High Court has taken a very stern view of this PIL and termed it as " completely misconceived" and " has been filed only to gain publicity" .

To begin with, this noteworthy judgment authored by Justice Subramonium Prasad for himself and Justice Hima Kohli sets the ball rolling by first and foremost pointing in para 1 that, " The instant Public Interest Litigation (PIL) challenges the order dated 30.05.2020 bearing No. 40-3/2020-DM-1, issued by the Government of India, Ministry of Home Affairs. By the impugned order, in exercise of powers under Section 6 (2) (i) of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, the Government of India has extended the lockdown which had initially been issued by an order bearing the same number, dated 25.03.2020 for containment of COVID-19 in the country up to 30.06.2020, in containment zones and to reopen activities in a phased manner outside containment zones."

To put things in perspective, it is then laid bare in para 8 that, " The writ petitioner has averred that he is a 5th year student of BA LLB (Hons.) course, studying in Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University and has the means to pay, if any cost is imposed by the Hon' ble Court. The instant writ petition challenges the guidelines on the ground that phased reopening will result in rampant spread of COVID-19 in the country. It is contended in the writ petition that the impugned Notification will deprive the citizens of their basic fundamental rights such as life and it ignores the health of its citizens by exposing them to the threat from COVID-19. It is stated in the writ petition that the reopening has been done only keeping in mind economic considerations while endangering its citizens to the extent of succumbing to a contagious disease in the absence of any proven medical cure for it. It is stated that there was no need or justification for reopening the prohibited activities."

As it turned out, the Delhi High Court Bench after hearing Mr Apratim Animesh Thakur who is the learned counsel for the petitioner as pointed out in para 10, it then goes on to state in para 12 that, " A series of orders have been passed starting from the month of March, 2020 to tackle the situation and decisions have been taken by the Government to ensure minimum hardship to the people. Several economic packages have been announced to regenerate the economy. This Court can also take judicial notice of the fact that world over, the trend is now to reduce the restrictions which were imposed due to lockdown and to return to normal life. In order to ensure a proper balance between containing the spread of COVID-19 pandemic and at the same time make certain that people are not forced to starvation the Government has issued the impugned order. The re-opening has been directed in a phased manner and is not a decision that appears to have been taken in haste. The Government is expected to remain cognizant of the situation and evaluate it closely. If it is found that the rate of infection is going up, they can always review their decision and impose curbs, depending upon the situation."

More crucially, while drawing a red line for itself, the Delhi High Court Bench then minces no words to make it clear in para 13 that, " The scope of judicial review of Government policies is well known. Courts do not and cannot act as an appellate authority examining the correctness, suitability and appropriateness of the policy; nor are court advisors to the executive in matters of policy which the executive is entitled to formulate. Courts cannot interfere with the policy either on the ground that it is erroneous or on the ground that a better or a wiser alternative is available. Illegality of the policy and not the wisdom and soundness of the policy is the subject matter of judicial review. (see: Union of India v. J.D. Suryavanshi, (2011) 13 SCC 167 and Directorate of Film Festivals & Anr. vs. Gaurav Ashwin Jain & Ors. (2007) 4 SCC 737.)" .

Most crucially, it is then made pretty clear by the Delhi High Court Bench in para 15 that, " The instant writ petition has been filed by the petitioner who is a law student without looking at the abovementioned position in law. Nothing has been shown as to how the impugned order is so arbitrary or is based on such irrelevant consideration that it deserves to be struck down as being violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of India. The writ petition is completely misconceived and has been filed only to gain publicity. It cannot be said that this instant petition has been filed bonafide. In State of Uttaranchal vs. Balwant Singh Chaufal and Ors., (2010) 3 SCC 402, Supreme Court has given guidelines in order to streamline the growing abuse of public interest litigation which read as under:

"180. In our considered view, now it has become imperative to streamline the P.I.L.

181. We have carefully considered the facts of the present case. We have also examined the law declared by this court and other courts in a number of judgments. In order to preserve the purity and sanctity of the PIL, it has become imperative to issue the following directions:-

(1) The courts must encourage genuine and bona fide PIL and effectively discourage and curb the PIL filed for extraneous considerations.

(2) Instead of every individual judge devising his own procedure for dealing with the public interest litigation, it would be appropriate for each High Court to properly formulate rules for encouraging the genuine PIL and discouraging the PIL filed with oblique motives. Consequently, we request that the High Courts who have not yet framed the rules, should frame the rules within three months. The Registrar General of each High Court is directed to ensure that a copy of the Rules prepared by the High Court is sent to the Secretary General of this court immediately thereafter.

(3) The courts should prima facie verify the credentials of the petitioner before entertaining a P.I.L.

(4) The court should be prima facie satisfied regarding the correctness of the contents of the petition before entertaining a PIL.

(5) The court should be fully satisfied that substantial public interest is involved before entertaining the petition.

(6) The court should ensure that the petition which involves larger public interest, gravity and urgency must be given priority over other petitions.

(7) The courts before entertaining the PIL should ensure that the PIL is aimed at redressal of genuine public harm or public injury. The court should also ensure that there is no personal gain, private motive or oblique motive behind filing the public interest litigation.

(8) The court should also ensure that the petitions filed by busybodies for extraneous and ulterior motives must be discouraged by imposing exemplary costs or by adopting similar novel methods to curb frivolous petitions and the petitions filed for extraneous considerations."

The instant writ petition does not satisfy the dictum of the Guidelines laid by the Supreme Court and this Court."

Equally significant if not more is what is then stated in para 17 while deprecating the petitioner' s careless conduct that," During the counsel hearing, we had informed learned counsel for the petitioner that we are not inclined to entertain the petition as we find that it is an abuse of the process of the law. We had also warned the counsel that if he presses the petition, we would be constrained to dismiss it with costs. We cautioned learned counsel only because the petitioner is a law student. Despite that, counsel for the petitioner upon taking instructions from the petitioner, continued to addressing arguments, wasting valuable judicial time. We deprecate this conduct of the petitioner. He has not cared to read the judgments relating to public interest litigations and the limits on the Court while exercising its power of judicial review on policy matters."

Finally, it is then held in the last para 18 that, " The writ petition is accordingly dismissed along with pending application with costs of Rs. 20,000/- imposed on the petitioner who is directed to deposit the same in the Delhi High Court Bar Association Lawyers' Security and Welfare Fund within a period of two weeks from today, with proof of deposit to be filed with the Registry of this Court."

To sum up, this latest, landmark and extremely laudable judgment by a two Judge Bench of the Delhi High Court is a very loud and strong wake up call to all the litigants that they should not waste the precious time of the court without any firm reason! If they dare to do still then they would have to be ready to pay the costs as we see in this leading case also! Centre took this daring decision after lots of deliberations, discussions and debate with the concerned experts which we all must admire, appreciate and applaud and not instead resort to gimmicks like filing PIL against it as we see in this case!

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