PIL- creating wider access to courts or creating “ad-hoc-ism”? Summary of the panel discussion hosted at BIC.

August 8, 2017
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On 28th July 2017, BIC hosted a panel discussion on the book Courting the People: Public Interest Litigation in Post Emergency India authored by Mr. Anuj Bhuwania. Ms.Jayna Kothari, Executive Director of Centre for Law and Policy Research, Mr.Sridhar Pabbisetty, Chief Executive Officer of Namma Bengaluru Foundation, and Mr.Anuj Bhuwania were on the panel. The session was moderated by Mr.T. M. Veera Raghav, Resident Editor, The Hindu.

Ms.Kothari posited that the expansion of locus standi gave marginalised groups wider access to courts. She agreed with Mr. Bhuwania that with the enlargement of the role of amicus curiae, the procedural norms of fair hearing were put at risk. Thus the expanded powers of the Supreme Court were a product of “ad-hoc-ism” under Articles 32 and 226. While acknowledging the informal nature of the PIL process Ms. Kothari was positive that the courts could play a role in social transformation through Social Action Litigation (SAL). Mr.Bhuwania in response declared that the citizenry had a “schizophrenic view” of the judiciary, wherein the Supreme Court and High Courts in India were viewed as the ultimate solvers of issues while the lower courts were only expected to solve petty issues. He stressed the fact that the blurred division between representative standing and citizen standing led to PILs being filed on inconsequential grounds.

Mr. Pabbisetty’s perspective was that we live in a random “Brownian Motion” where the economically weaker sections of the society were unaware of the workings of the judiciary and the executive, and were therefore negatively impacted by the rules that were enforced without prior notice. In such circumstances, PIL could be viewed as an effective tool to use in redressing the situation. In the Q&A session that followed, the audience raised the question, “In a country that has a dysfunctional executive, where else do we go to if not to the judiciary?” Mr.Bhuwania responded by saying that there was a need to revisit the evidentiary standards that were being followed and his view was that PIL did not necessarily adhere to these standards but instead worked by bypassing them.

The general consensus among the panellists was that PIL was an informal process that could be used outside of the current judicial framework. But the panellists diverged in their view on the effectiveness of PIL with Ms. Kothari and Mr. Pabbisetty maintaining that PIL was a means by which disenfranchised sections of society could bring attention to issues that have a significant impact on their lives.