NEW DELHI -- During a hearing on Tuesday, the Supreme Court grilled senior advocate Prashant Bhushan on the credentials of his NGO, Centre for Public Interest Litigation, and whether it could be used as a front by someone with "a vested interest or a corporate rival."
CPIL, founded by former Supreme Court judge V.M. Tarkunde in the late 1980s, is run by a committee comprising of Bhushan, his father, Shanti Bhushan, Fali S Nariman, Rajinder Sachar and Anil Divan. Advocate Kamini Jaiswal is authorised to file petitions on behalf of the NGO.
"Prashant Bhushan, you have an image of a crusader. But can you become the centre for public interest litigation? Can the system be taken for a ride in such a manner? We cannot allow this. We must be satisfied that you have a committee which scrutinizes the complaints and allows only genuine ones to be converted into public interest litigations," the apex court said.
A three-judge bench of Chief Justice T.S. Thakur, Justice A.K. Sikri and Justice R. Banumathi raised questions about CPIL while hearing a petition challenging the 4G spectrum auction to Reliance Industries Ltd's Jio.
"Has this matter been examined by the committee? We must have the confidence that when CPIL files a petition, it is not prompted by someone who has a vested interest even though the cause may appear genuine. If a corporate rival gives documents for filing of a PIL, will you do it? Why would that corporate source not come out in the open and pursue the litigation in its own name? Why should CPIL be a front for settling corporate rivalry or personal vendetta? CPIL should not become proxy litigant. It should not become an instrument in the hands of commercial players."
Bar and Bench, a website which carries legal news, reported on the exchange between Thakur and Bhushan.
Why should we hear PILs filed by CPIL? You are a professional litigant. Can you become a “centre” for PIL? Can anyone walk into your office and tell you ‘I want to file a PIL'?
There is a committee which comprises Fali Nariman, Anil Divan, Kamini Jaiswal, my father and myself and all petitions are scrutinised by us."
Do we have that initial confidence that a litigation is not at the instance of a party trying to settle scores with some other party? Does the petition filed by CPIL go through such a process? We would like to go into the question whether petitions filed by CPIL go through such a process and it is a serious PIL.
When you come to us, we take you seriously. But when a commercial competitor comes to us, we might not. This competitor knows this and might send a proxy to you with documents and information which you otherwise don’t have access to. You have to establish a credible mechanism to justify that a particular case is fit to he agitated.
Whenever a commercially interested person comes to us, we look at the information given by him with great suspicion. It is only after the Committee scrutinises the information and is satisfied that aside from the commercial of interest of the informant, there is public interest involved that we decide whether to file a case or not.
So is it just Kamini Jaiswal and you sitting in your chambers and deciding. Our impression is that you have no mechanism to verify the credibility of your information.
So are Your Lordships suggesting that we should have a research wing?
You should have an investigative wing. It will help you and us.
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