Monday, September 26, 2022

Personal issues cannot be addressed by a High Court: Manipur HC

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The Manipur High Court has observed that personal issues cannot be addressed by the High Court in exercise of jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution and more so, in a writ petition filed in purported public interest.   

The Division Bench of Chief Justice Sanjay Kumar and Justice M.V. Muralidaran dismissed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by one Gotimayum Kennedy Sharma, a Higher Secondary Lecturer in the Department of Education (S), Government of Manipur, with the following prayers: 

“1. issue a writ, order or direction in the nature of mandamus to all the concerned authorities to ensure payment of appropriate compensation to the victims for their reconstruction and rehabilitation 
2. issue a writ, order or direction to all the concerned authorities to ensure that rioters and culprits who are roaming freely be put behind bars following due process of law. 
3. issue an appropriate writ, order or direction for CBI investigation for thorough investigation into the misuse of power and position by the state police, revenue staffs, the local MLA and Councillors of Kakching Municipality and other persons involved in the aforesaid mob violence, mob justice and mob vigilantism and to register FIRs against them. 
4. issue a writ of order or direction to ensure restoration of dispossession of Hindu Deity’s lands and properties through illegal means by committee members (rioters and mob instigators) belonging to Major Community to the legitimate Brahmin Shebait under the Hindu Law.”

The petitioner, appearing as party-in-person, contended that in 2008, the Brahmin Community in Kakching Constituency, particularly the Shebaits of Shri Shri Narsingh Thakur Mandir, Shri Shri Krishnachandra Temple and Shri Shri Radha Krishna Mandir and their family members were targeted and subjected to various atrocities.

He alleged that the lives of 58 Brahmins, including women and school-going children, were stated adversely affected due to various atrocities and acts of harassment, which allegedly took place in 2010, 2012, 2018 and 2019.

He claimed that the livelihood of Brahmins was severely affected due to their displacement from the homesteads and temples. He furnished details of the sufferings allegedly inflicted upon the Shebaits of Shri Shri Krishnachandra Temple and Shri Shri Radha Krishna Mandir. It is his further  case that the police authorities turned a deaf ear to the entreaties of the Brahmins for justice and no action was initiated against those responsible. Thereby, the Petitioner  broadly espoused the plight allegedly faced by the 58 individuals belonging to Brahmin community. He challenged the dispossession of these Brahmins from temple lands by Committees formed to invalidate the Shebaitship of Hindu temples and assailed the inaction of the State in protecting their lives and personal liberties. 
On the strength of these pleadings, he sought payment of compensation for the rehabilitation of these alleged victims and to punish the culprits responsible for their plight. Lastly, he sought restoration of the possession of Hindu deities’ lands and properties to the legitimate Brahmin Shebaits from the Committee members, apart from seeking penal action against certain State authorities, including the local MLA and Councilors of Kakching Municipality.   

Preliminary objections were raised by the authorities, namely, the Director General of Police, Manipur; the Superintendent of Police, Kakching; and the Officer-in-Charge, Kakching Police Station. Separately, the Deputy Secretary (Home), Government of Manipur, filed preliminary objections on behalf of the State of Manipur, viz., respondent No. 1, on the same lines. Respondents No. 9, 11, 13 & 15, being the office-bearers/representatives of the Committees of Shri Shri Narshing Thakur Mandir and Radha Krishna Mandir, filed an affidavit-in opposition raising similar objections as to the maintainability of the PIL. The Secretary and a representative of Krishnachandra Mandir Seva Committee, respondents No. 10 & 14, also raised identical objections in their affidavit-in opposition. The former MLA, Kakching Constituency, respondent No. 12, who was named by the petitioner as one of those responsible for the plight of Brahmin community in Kakching, also filed a preliminary objections-cum-affidavit-in opposition on the same lines.

The main ground urged by the Counsel for the respondents in support of their contention that this case is not maintainable is that it does not conform to requirements of the High Court of Manipur (Public Interest Litigation) Rules, 2019, framed by the High Court under Article 225 of the Constitution.

More specifically, they would point out that Rule 10(i)(b) therein mandates that a writ petition intended to be a public interest litigation should contain a specific averment in petition to the effect that the petitioner has no personal interest in the litigation and that the petition is not guided by self-gain or for gain of any other person/institution/body and that there is no motive other than of public interest in filing the writ petition.

It is also pointed out that the format of the affidavit to be filed in a public interest litigation case, as prescribed in these Rules, has not been adopted by the petitioner.

In this regard, the Court noted that the petitioner himself stated that he was one of the displaced victims who knew the facts and circumstances of the case through his personal experience, having gone through the pain and suffering of mob violence. He stated that on August 13, 2008, his younger brother was dragged away from his house by a mob instigated by the committee.

His prayer for payment of compensation includes such a claim on behalf of his mother also. It is therefore clear that the petitioner has a personal interest in the case.

Further, the High Court observed that though the petitioner made allegations against certain named Councilors of Kakching Municipality, he did not choose to implead them in this case. This is in clear violation of Rule 10(i)(e) of the Rules of 2019 which requires the petitioner in a public interest litigation writ petition to specifically aver that all the persons/bodies/institutions likely to be affected by the order(s) sought in the writ petition are impleaded as respondents. 

That apart, the petitioner already filed a complaint before the National Human Rights Commission about the alleged mob violence and violation of the rights of Brahmins at Kakching and it is conceded by him that upon a report submitted by the Superintendent of Police, Kakching, the National Human Rights Commission closed the complaint.

The petitioner admittedly did not choose to challenge the closure of the case by the Commission till date. Needless to state, the petitioner cannot initiate multiple proceedings on the same cause of action parallelly before different fora. Having already knocked on the doors of the Commission and having suffered an adverse order, he cannot ignore the same.  

The petitioner, on the other hand, contended that the Rules of 2019 are merely procedural, being a handmaid of justice, and cannot be an obstacle to the entertainment of this case.

He asserted the the Court should look to the substance of the grievance and not to the form in which it has been presented. He argued that when fundamental rights of the Brahmins at Kakching were brutally violated, this Court should not view the matter on technicalities and that substantive justice should be done.

He further contended that there is no bar to a petitioner being one of the victims and in coming forward to espouse his own cause and the cause of others similarly situated, who are not in a position to approach the Court.

Having given due consideration to the issue in its totality, the Court opined that it is not open to a litigant knocking on the doors of a Court to ignore the Rules framed by the said Court. More so, for presentation of public interest litigation cases. 

“Be it noted that the Rules of 2019 were framed in exercise of Constitutional power and lay down the norms to be followed while instituting cases before this Court in purported public interest. These Rules were framed in keeping with the directions of the Supreme Court in State of Uttaranchal Vs. Shri Balwant Singh Chaufal and others [(2010) 3 SCC 402], owing to widespread misuse of the tool of public interest litigation. Therefore, the petitioner cannot ask this Court to ignore the prescription of procedure under the Rules of 2019 and consider his case independent thereof.  “

Viewed thus, when the Rules specifically stipulate that the petitioner in a writ petition filed in public interest should not have personal interest in the matter, it is not open to the petitioner to state that even if he does have personal interest, he should be allowed to espouse the cause of others along with the cause of himself and his family members. Permitting him to do so would be in clear violation of the mandate of the Rules of 2019 framed by this Court , held the Court.

That apart, the issues raised by the petitioner in relation to incidents spread over several years involve questions of fact which cannot be addressed by the  Court in summary writ proceedings. Without determination of such disputed factual aspects, the High Court would not be in a position to examine the prayer of the petitioner for award of compensation. If the petitioner has a grievance with  regard to the police authorities not taking appropriate action as per law, sufficient remedies have been provided to him under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. As regards his other prayers and more particularly, the prayer relating to Shebaitship of temples and temple properties, the Bench noted that civil litigation seems to have been initiated on that very issue and the  Court is informed that it is pending as on date. In any event, the dispute as to Shebaitship of the temples in question is a civil dispute and those asserting such rights would necessarily have to seek relief from the competent Civil Court. Such triable personal issues cannot be addressed by this Court in exercise of jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution and more so, in a writ petition filed in purported public interest. “In fact, there is no element of public interest as Shebaitship of a temple would be purely personal to those claiming such rights.”

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