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Govt tells SC not to make hard-hitting comments on PILs; the court responds

Press Trust of India/New Delhi 08 Aug 18 | 07:31 PM

The Centre on Wednesday dared to tell the Supreme Court to restrain itself from making hard-hitting observations on Public Interest Litigation (PIL) matters saying these had an impact on several issues plaguing the country.

But the top court shot back to say that the judges were also citizens and knew the problems faced by the country, while making it clear that they "are not criticising the government for everything". It also asked the government "to obey the law of the land".

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The exchanges between the court and the Attorney General occured when the bench was hearing a matter relating to inhuman conditions prevailing in 1,382 prisons across the country.

Attorney General (AG) K K Venugopal told a bench headed by Justice Madan B Lokur that he was not "criticising" the apex court, but the problems facing the country were enormous and, in the past, its orders and judgements have resulted in a situation where people have lost their jobs.

He referred to apex court judgements on PILs relating to the 2G spectrum allocation cases and the order banning sale of liquor within 500 metres of highways across the country, saying these had impacted foreign investment and caused job losses respectively.

The top law officer told the bench, which also comprised Justices S Abdul Nazeer and Deepak Gupta, that the country was facing several problems and the court should also look at the progress made by the government.

But Justice Lokur shot back, "We are trying to solve some of these problems" and referred to the matters relating to the rights of widows, children and prisoners which were being dealt with by the apex court.

"We are also citizens of this country and we know the problems which the country is facing," the judge told Venugopal.

The AG told the court that while dealing with a matter, there are possibilities that the court might not consider the impact it would have on some other aspects.

"With the Supreme Court's intervention, tremendous inroads have been made but problems in India are enormous," he said.

To this, Justice Lokur said, "We are making it clear that we have not and we are not criticising the government for everything".

"Please do not carry the impression that we are criticising the government and preventing them from doing their work. You also look at the positive directions of the court," Justice Lokur said.

During the hearing, Venugopal referred to the issue of budgetary restrictions and said around 200 million people were living below the "hunger line" and the government's priority was to pull such persons out of this.

"The question is how will you manage funds. This requires policy deliberation," he told the court and referred to the apex court's order quashing 122 telecom licences and banning sale of liquor within 500 metre of highways across the country saying several people had lost their jobs due to court orders.

He said if PILs were filed, there should be a separate paragraph in the plea dealing with the impact the issue raised might have on other aspects.

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But the bench expressed its displeasure over the government collecting huge sums of money, running into over Rs one lakh crore, under the orders of the apex court, but these funds were not being used properly.

"Through orders of this court, you have got Rs 1.3 to Rs 1.5 trillion. Do something with that money," the bench said.

Venugopal said these funds were collected for environment purposes.

The bench retorted that in one of the matters related to construction workers, over Rs 300 billion meant for welfare of these workers were used to buy laptops and washing machines.

"There is enough money. They (construction workers) do not have clothes to wear but washing machines were purchased. They are illiterates, but laptops were purchased," it said.

The AG told the bench that India has a population of around 1.3 billion which was increasing exponentially and there were several problems in the country.

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"Day in, day out, I read newspapers and your observations," the AG told the bench.

To this, Justice Lokur said, "Rest assured that Article 21 (protection of life and personal liberty) will remain here and we will uphold it".

When the AG said that PILs should have a paragraph about the fallout of the issue raised on other aspects, the bench said, "tell your law officers to argue on this line also. Tell your government to obey the law of the land".

Venugopal also referred to the past and said there was around 60 per cent poverty and same level of illiteracy in the country and these level have been brought down and it should not be said that the government was not doing anything.

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