In a significant judgment delivered today, Supreme Court on 18th March 2016 came down heavily on a Meghalaya High Court verdict staying certain provisions of the eligibility criteria for Meghalaya Lokayukta after taking suo motu cognizance of the matter, saying it was a “sad, sad scenario” which is “impermissible and unacceptable” in law. A bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra partly set aside the High Court order pertaining to the stay of some provisions of the Meghalaya Lokayukta Act, 2014. The Supreme Court also held that a High Court cannot exercise suo moto jurisdiction and stay the operation of a statutory provision unless a person aggrieved has assailed such a provision.
A Division Bench of Justices Dipak Misra and Shiva Kirti Singh delivered this judgment today in an appeal against an order passed by the Meghalaya High Court. They termed as “clearly impermissible” the suo motu cognizance taken by the High Court on the issue pertaining to the appointment of Lokayukta and constitutional validity of certain provisions of the Lokayukta Act. Quoting several cases and writings, the bench said “the necessity has arisen again for reiteration of the fundamental principle to be adhered to by a Judge. It is because the order impugned herein presents a sad, sad scenario, definitely and absolutely an impermissible and unacceptable one.” The apex court also said the High Court, with an “erroneous understanding of fundamental principle of law”, scanned the legal provisions which is “clearly impermissible”.
The case began as a suo moto writ petition registered by the Meghalaya High Court under the caption “Suo motu cognizance of appointment of Lokayukta and failure to constitute Meghalaya State Human Rights Commission”.
By an order dated December 14, 2015, a Division Bench of the High Court comprising Justice Uma Nath Singh and T Nandakumar Singh had referred to clause (a) of sub-section (2) of Section 3 of the Meghalaya Lokayukta Act, 2014 which provides for appointment of a non-judicial member as Chairperson of State Lokayukta. It then proceeded to stay the said provision. The High Court had also passed some directions regarding appointment of Chairperson and members to the Meghalaya State Human Rights Commission.
In the judgment delivered today, the court took objection to the High Court exercising suo moto jurisdiction to raise an objection with respect to a particular provision. It said that suo moto Public interest Litigation can be initiated to ameliorate the conditions of a class of persons whose constitutional or other lawful rights are affected or not adequately looked into.
“The Court has adopted the said tool so that persons in disadvantaged situation because of certain reasons – social, economic or socio-economic – are in a position to have access to the Court. The Court appoints Amicus Curiae to assist the Court and also expects the executive to respond keeping in view the laudable exercise….
Be it noted, the constitutional courts can entertain letter petitions and deal with them as writ petitions. But it will depend upon the nature of the issue sought to be advanced. There cannot be uncontrolled or unguided exercise of epistolary jurisdiction.”
Regarding the exercise of suo moto jurisdiction in the instant case, the Court said that there was no challenge to the provisions of the statute and in such a scenario, the court cannot raise an issue relating to any particular provision.
“…..the High Court has compared the provisions pertaining to appointment of Chairperson and Members under the Act with the provisions of other Acts enacted by different legislatures. The legislature has passed the legislation in its wisdom. There was no challenge to the constitutional validity of the provisions of the Act. The suo motu petition was registered for giving effect to the Act by bringing the institutions into existence. This may be thought of in very rare circumstances depending on the nature of legislation and the collective benefit but in that arena also the Court cannot raise the issue relating to any particular provision and seek explanation in exercise of jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution.
In the case at hand, as is manifest, the Division Bench of the High Court has, with an erroneous understanding of fundamental principle of law, scanned the anatomy of the provision and passed an order in relation to it as if it is obnoxious or falls foul of any constitutional provision. The same is clearly impermissible. A person aggrieved or with expanded concept of locus standi someone could have assailed the provisions. But in that event there are certain requirements and need for certain compliances.”
The Supreme Court, therefore struck down that part of the order of the High Court by which it had stayed the operation of Section 3(2)(a) of Meghalaya Lok Ayukta Act, 2014.
It is worth remembering that Thma U Rangli Juki (TUR) was the only voice which had openly criticised Meghalaya High Court’s order. Meghalaya High Court has also been criticised for its judicial overreach in various recent judgements, including one calling for imposition AFSPA in Garo Hills