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Issue #6: How PILs Can Turn Judges Into Kings

India Ink
Issue #6: How PILs Can Turn Judges Into Kings
By India Ink Team • Issue #6 • View online
Hello, everyone.
This week, we do something different. Based on Anuj Bhuwania’s The Case That Felled A City, we bring you a two part series about PILs or Public Interest Litigations. Over these two articles, we’ll summarize Bhuwania’s epic tale of how one PIL allowed a judge to essentially transform Delhi completely. And when we say an epic tale, we mean an epic tale. It’s got twists and turns and twists again. If you live in Delhi, you might’ve lived through the whole thing. But for people elsewhere, it’s a real eye-opener.
The thing you need to know about PILs is that they specifically allow people who aren’t directly affected by an issue to bring it to Court. Like the name suggests, it just need to be a case that is vaguely for the “public interest”. Lots of environmental issues have been brought to court through PILs. And in many of these instances, judges have been instrumental in enforcing the law and preserving vital natural resources. But PILs have also led to some asbolutely arbitrary decisions and terrible conclusions. Read Part 1 to find out more!
On the site, we also have another look behind the curtain into our processes. We write about what we’ve learned about making videos after 2 months and a lot of mishaps and mistakes. We’re still learning and hopefully this helps other learn with us!
India Ink Team
PS. Our breakdown in scheduling is hopefully over now. We’ll be coming to you every Tuesday afternoon from next week.

PILs promised justice for the powerless. They turned judges into kings instead.
  1. In the 1980s, a lawyer named MC Mehta filed a number of Public Interest Litigation (PIL) cases in the Supreme Court of India. Unlike other cases, PILs can go on indefinitely, focusing on new concerns as they go on. Four of Mehta’s PILs are still in progress today – more than 35 years later. As cases that have turned the city of Delhi upside down multiple times over the years, they are great examples of why PILs are unlike anything else in Indian law.
  2. Justice Kuldip Singh, who was trying to build a reputation as a “green judge” in the 1990s, took charge of these cases. Various legal professionals have described the discussions around these PILs to be like a medieval royal durbar where the judge, unconstrained by rules of procedure, dispenses his personal wisdom as justice. Unlike other cases, PILs can be defined by the judge in charge, who has great power of the scope and boundary of the issues being discussed.
  3. In Part One of this article, we look at one of those PILs, the Delhi Vehicular Pollution case. After over a decade of hearings, this case took a sudden turn that shot it into public focus when in 1998, Justice Kuldip Singh suddenly ordered that each and every public transport vehicle in the state of Delhi should switch to CNG, even though CNG’s sustainability was still being debated at the time.
  4. The order was disastrous for transport workers. Buses stopped running and their operators lost their jobs. Auto drivers who couldn’t afford new CNG engines had to take loans or sell their autos. Thus, PILs effectively pushed so many of Delhi’s auto drivers into poverty, converting them from vehicle owners into daily wage workers.
  5. And though the case was seemingly being conducted in the public interest, the auto drivers whose livelihoods were being ruined were not heard in court.
  6. The court had justified the order based on a report submitted by a fact-finding team. However, it acted on the recommendations of the report in a selective manner: the court was quick to impose changes on bus and auto drivers, but ignored the same report’s suggestion of limiting private vehicles, especially highly-polluting diesel ones. Private vehicles started increasing in number rapidly and ultimately became the primary cause of Delhi’s pollution crisis.
  7. This case shows how PILs can be made into disastrous policies for the public because of the free reign they allow to judges – and to their upper class bias. One judge’s biased understanding of public interest led to the overhaul of the entire transport system of Delhi. While the working class bore the cost of this in the name of the environment, the worst polluters — owners of private cars — were left untouched.
(Read the full article on our website. Part 2 is coming up next week.)
PILs promised justice for the powerless. They turned judges into kings instead. - India Ink
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India Ink Team

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