High Court Of Allahabad
Kanpur Income Tax Bar Association & Anr. vs. Union Of India & Ors.
Sections ART. 226, 1997FA 62, 1997FA 73, 1997FA 76
R.K. Gulati & M.C. Agarwal, JJ.
Civil Misc. Writ Petn. No. 767 of 1997
11th February, 1998
S.D. Singh & S.P. Gupta, for the Petitioners : Bharatji Agarwal, for the Respondent
M.C. AGARWAL, J. :
This is a petition under Art. 226 of the Constitution of India preferred by the Kanpur Income-tax Bar Association through its Secretary, Naveen Bhargava and Mukesh Srivastava, a chartered accountant. The petitioners claimed to be legal practitioners in taxation laws and they challenge a clarification contained in para 3 of a letter dt. 25th Nov., 1997, issued by Sri A. K. Batabyal, Member (Investigation), CBDT. The following reliefs have been claimed in this writ petition : “(i) issue a writ, direction or order in the nature of certiorari calling for the record of the letter/communication dt. 25th Nov., 1997 (Annexure-2), and the record of the decision of the Government of India, if any, and to quash the same, (ii) issue a writ, direction or order in the nature of mandamus directing the respondents, not to give effect to the third paragraph of the aforesaid communication/letter dt. 25th Nov., 1997 (Annexure-2), (iii) issue a writ, direction or order in the nature of mandamus restraining the CIT, Kanpur (respondent No. 3), from reopening or reviewing the certificates which have already been granted under the provisions of the scheme, (iv) issue a writ, order or direction in the nature of mandamus directing respondent No. 3 to grant certificates in respect of declarations which have already been submitted to him without taking into account the contents of para. 3 of the impugned communication dt. 25th Nov., 1997 (Annexure-2), (v) issue a writ, direction or order in the nature of mandamus directing the respondents to accept the declarations made as clarified by means of D. O. dt. 3rd Oct., 1997, (vi) issue a writ, direction or order in the nature of mandamus extending the last date of submitting the declaration, viz., 31st Dec., 1997, in the event the relief is not granted by this Court on such date and in such time that no time is left to the clients of members of petitioner No. 1 and of petitioner No. 2 to make the declarations under the scheme which they have been inhibited from doing because of the impugned communication dt. 25th Nov., 1997 (Annexure-2).”
When the writ petition came up for admission, a preliminary objection was raised about maintainability of this writ petition for the aforesaid reliefs at the instance of the practitioners. We, therefore, heard learned counsel for the parties on this preliminary question about locus standi of the petitioners. Disturbed by the unabated generation and flow of black money and with a view to bring that money into the main stream of the economy and raise revenue for the Government, the Government of India introduced a Voluntary Disclosure of Income Scheme (VDIS) by enacting ss. 62 to 78 in the Finance Act, 1997. Under the scheme any person could make a declaration of his income for any year and pay tax at the rate of 35 per cent. if it is a company or a firm, and at the rate of 30 per cent. if he is a person other than a company or a firm. The declaration has to be made in the prescribed form and the income declared may represent either cash or an asset in any form whatsoever. For explaining the provisions of the scheme and for clearing doubts raised, the Government issued some circulars. A specific provision has been made in the scheme in s. 73 that the value of the jewellery or bullion declared under the scheme shall be taken to be its market value as on 1st April, 1987, where the disclosure is made in respect of an assessment year earlier than the asst. yr. 1987-88 and for the purposes of this scheme “jewellery” shall have the same meaning assigned to it in Explanation 1 to cl. (viii) of sub-s. (1) of s. 5 of the WT Act, 1957. By a circular dt. 3rd Oct., 1997, it was clarified that disclosure of silver utensils and other articles which are not covered by the definition of jewellery like gold/silver coins, watches can also be made as the law does not prohibit their declaration and that the declaration can be made at the value at which they were acquired. The circular further stated that in all such cases the assessee should be asked to file an affidavit indicating the period of acquisition of those articles and also the number/weight of these articles and on receipt of this affidavit, declaration should be accepted and certificate should be issued as per law. The impugned letter dt. 25th Nov., 1997, copy of which is Annexure “2” to the writ petition makes a change in the aforesaid clarifications and the impugned para 3 of this letter stated as under : “3. The matter has been reconsidered by the Government. It is now decided that in all such cases of unusual declaration of silver articles, utensils, gold or silver coins, watches, etc., it should be treated as if they have been acquired in the current year unless the declarant is able to produce credible and satisfactory evidence about the year of acquisition. A simple affidavit would not suffice. Where such evidence is not produced, the value as on 1st April, 1997, would be treated as value for declaring income under the VDIS-1997. In cases where certificates have already been issued, the CITs concerned should call the declarants and ask them to produce credible and satisfactory evidence of the year of acquisition, failing which the CIT should take steps to review the certificates.”
It is stated in the writ petition that the change made through the impugned letter dt. 25th Nov., 1997, is illegal being against the earlier clarification contained in the letter dt. 3rd Oct., 1997, inasmuch as it places an extra burden on the declarant to produce credible and satisfactory evidence about the year of acquisition in place of a simple affidavit that was required earlier and inasmuch as in the absence of such evidence it provides that the value of this type of assets would be taken as on 1st April, 1997. It is further claimed that the direction that even in respect of persons who have made the declarations before the issue of letter dt. 25th Nov., 1997, they should be required to produce credible and satisfactory evidence and the certificate issued earlier should also be reviewed, is illegal.
Regarding the justification for the present petitioners to file this writ petition which patently is not for their personal benefit but is intended to serve the persons who have made disclosure of undisclosed income under the scheme or who intend to make the declarations till the currency of the scheme, it is stated that the CBDT had sent messages to the tax-practitioners all over the country asking them to help disclosure of income under the scheme and sought their co-operation in making the scheme a success. In this connection, a copy of the letter addressed by the aforesaid Sri A. K. Batabyal to the tax practitioners has been annexed as Annexure-“7” to the writ petition. It is stated that it was envisaged under the scheme that the disclosures would be made through the tax-practitioners in general. It is averred that the scheme grants certain immunity to the declarant and on the payment of tax prescribed under the scheme, the CIT has to issue a certificate to the declarant. The declarations are to be treated as confidential and the provisions have been made in the scheme that no Court or any other authority is entitled to require any public servant or the declarant to produce before it any such declaration or part thereof or to give any evidence before it in respect thereof. Under s. 76 of the scheme the Central Government is entitled to make any order not inconsistent with the provisions of the scheme as may be necessary to remove any difficulty in the implementation thereof. It is claimed that many clients of the members of petitioner No. 1 and of petitioner No. 2 have made declarations under s. 64(1) of the scheme and in view of the confidentiality and secrecy which is contemplated under the provisions of the scheme, the members of petitioner No. 1, and petitioner No. 2 are enjoined not to disclose the names of those clients. In para 29 of the writ petition, it is stated that the grievance of such clients, which has necessitated the filing of this writ petition is stated in the following paragraphs. The petition then states that the income disclosed under the scheme represented gold and silver utensils, gold and silver coins, watches and other articles which were not covered by the definition of “jewellery”. The value thereof was disclosed to be the same as was the quantum of the voluntarily disclosed income of the assessment year for which the income was disclosed and the declarant made payment of income-tax at the rate provided therein and submitted proof of payment thereof as required under the scheme. In some of the cases, the CIT granted certificates to all the clients who had made declarations up to 18th Nov., 1997. It is averred that the scheme does not contemplate any enquiry about the disclosed income or the assets or about the assessment year for which the income was disclosed. Reference is made to the clarification dt. 3rd Oct., 1997, copy of which is Annexure-“6” to the writ petition which provided that only an affidavit indicating the period of acquisition may be filed. It is claimed that still a very large number of clients of the petitioners intend to make disclosures under the scheme and they want also to disclose not only the income in the year of assessment to which it relates but also the assets which are represented by that income. Such assets, according to the information given to the petitioners are in the form of gold and silver utensils/coins, watches and other assets which are not covered by the definition of the expression “jewellery”. It is claimed that great difficulty has arisen amongst the aforesaid clients of the members of petitioner No. 1 and petitioner No. 2 because of the communication dt. 25th Nov., 1997, which places additional burden on the declarant and has instructed the CIT even to review cases in which certificates have already been issued. It is claimed that the names of the persons who have already made their declarations as well as the names of persons who are intending to make declaration cannot be disclosed because of the obligation of confidentiality and secrecy. According to the petitioners, the additional conditions prescribed through the letter dt. 25th Nov., 1997, are contrary to and ultra vires the scheme and are wholly arbitrary. It is claimed that since the Government itself requested the tax practitioners to help in the implementation of the scheme, the petitioners are directly interested in the cause of their clients and are entitled to espouse their cause and are under an obligation to do the same (see para 44 of the writ petition). It is claimed that the petitioners are practising on the taxation side and their profession is directly connected with proper and valid enforcement of the taxation laws.
On a perusal of the aforesaid averments made in the writ petition, it is clear that it is a case where the petitioners have no direct personal interest in the matter and they are according to their own showing espousing the cause of their clients. Therefore, the question arose whether the petitioners have the locus standi to do so.
Learned counsel for the petitioners Sri S. P. Gupta, senior advocate, with his usual rhetoric, contended that this writ petition has been filed in public interest and the purpose is to see that the scheme as contained in the provisions of the Finance Act, 1997 is properly implemented and serves its purpose fully of bringing into the main stream the hidden undisclosed income and at the same time raise proper revenue for the State which is to be spent for the benefit of the nation. The writ petition, therefore, is intended to serve a large public interest and, therefore, the petitioners who are practising on the taxation side are deeply concerned and involved in the proper implementation of the scheme. He placed reliance on S. P. Gupta vs. President of India AIR 1982 SC 149, which according to him is the Bible of the law about public interest litigation and about the question of locus standi. That was a case in which Sri S. P. Gupta (who coincidently is also counsel for the present petitioners) and some others challenged, inter alia, a circular letter issued by the then Law Minister to the Chief Ministers requesting them to : “(a) Obtain from all the Additional Judges working in the High Court of your State their consent to be appointed as permanent Judges in any other High Court in the country. They could, in addition, be requested to name three High Courts, in order of preference, to which they would prefer to be appointed as permanent Judges ; and (b) Obtain from persons who have already been or may in the future be proposed by you for initial appointment their consent to be appointed to any other High Court in the country along with a similar preference for three High Courts.”
The substance of their claim was that it was an attack on the independence of judiciary and as members of the legal profession they were entitled to resist such attempts and were entitled to file various writ petitions. A question was raised about their locus standi to maintain the petition. The Supreme Court on a review of the extensive literature available on the subject observed as follows: “14. The traditional rule in regard to locus standi is that judicial redress is available only to a person who has suffered a legal injury by reason of violation of his legal right or legally protected interest by the impugned action of the State or a public authority or any other person or who is likely to suffer a legal injury by reason of threatened violation of his legal right or legally protected interest by any such action. The basis of entitlement of judicial redress is personal injury to property, body, mind or reputation arising from violation, actual or threatened, of the legal right or legally protected interest of the person seeking such redress. This is a rule of ancient vintage and it arose during an era when private law dominated the legal scene and public law had not yet been born. . . . .
17. It may, therefore, now be taken as well established that where a legal wrong or a legal injury is caused to a person or to a determinate class of persons by reason of violation of any constitutional or legal right or any burden is imposed in contravention of any constitutional or legal provision or without authority of law or any such legal wrong or legal injury or illegal burden is threatened and such person or determinate class of persons is by reason of poverty, helplessness or disability or socially or economically disadvantaged position, unable to approach the Court for relief, any member of the public can maintain an application for an appropriate direction, order or writ in the High Court under Art. 226 and in case of breach of any fundamental right of such person or determinate class of persons, in this Court under Art. 32 seeking judicial redress for the legal wrong or injury caused to such person or determinate class of persons. Where the weaker sections of the community are concerned, such as under-trial prisoners languishing in jails without a trial, inmates of the Protective Home in Agra or Harijan workers engaged in road construction in the Ajmer District, who are living in poverty and destitution, who are barely eking out a miserable existence with their sweat and toil, who are helpless victims of an exploitative society and who do not have easy access to justice, this Court will not insist on a regular writ petition to be filed by the public spirited individual espousing their cause and seeking relief for them. This Court will readily respond even to a letter addressed by such individual acting pro bono publico. It is true that there are rules made by this Court prescribing the procedure for moving this Court for relief under Art. 32 and they require various formalities to be gone through by a person seeking to approach this Court. But it must not be forgotten that procedure is but a handmaiden of justice and the cause of justice can never be allowed to be thwarted by any procedural technicalities. The Court would, therefore, unhesitatingly and without the slightest qualms of conscience cast aside the technical rules of procedure in the exercise of its dispensing power and treat the letter of the public minded individual as a writ petition and act upon it. . . .
We would, therefore, hold that any member of the public having sufficient interest can maintain an action for judicial redress for public injury arising from breach of public duty or from violation of some provision of the Constitution or the law and seek enforcement of such public duty and observance of such constitutional or legal provision. This is absolutely essential for maintaining the rule of law, furthering the cause of justice and accelerating the pace of realisation of the constitutional objective. . . . But we must be careful to see that the member of the public, who approaches the Court in cases of this kind, is acting bona fide and not for personal gain or private profit or political motivation or other oblique consideration. The Court must not allow its process to be abused by politicians and others to delay legitimate administrative action or to gain a political objective.”
The Supreme Court concluded as under : “25. If we apply these principles to determine the question of locus standi in the writ petition of Iqbal Chagla and others in which alone this question has been sharply raised, it will be obvious that the petitioners had clearly and indisputably locus standi to maintain their writ petition. The petitioners are lawyers practising in the High Court of Bombay. The first petitioner is the member of the Bombay Bar Association, petitioners Nos. 2 and 3 are members of the Advocates Association of Western India and petitioner No. 4 is the President of the Incorporated Law Society. There can be no doubt that the petitioners have a vital interest in the independence of the judiciary and if an unconstitutional or illegal action is taken by the State or any public authority which has the effect of impairing the independence of the judiciary, the petitioners would certainly be interested in challenging the constitutionality or legality of such action. The profession of lawyers is an essential and integral part of the judicial system and lawyers may figuratively be described as priests in the temple of justice. They assist the Court in dispensing justice and it can hardly be disputed that without their help, it would be wellnigh impossible for the Court to administer justice. They are really and truly officers of the Court in which they daily sit and practice. They have, therefore, a special interest in preserving the integrity and independence of the judicial system and if the integrity or independence of the judiciary is threatened by any act of the State or any public authority, they would naturally be concerned about it, because they are equal partners with the Judges in the administration of justice. Iqbal Chagla & Ors. cannot be regarded as mere bystanders or meddlesome interlopers in filing the writ petition. The complaint of the petitioners in the writ petition was that the circular letter issued by the Law Minister constituted a serious threat to the independence of the judiciary and it was unconstitutional and void and if this complaint be true, and for the purpose of determining the standing of the petitioners to file the writ petition, we must assume this complaint to be correct the petitioners already had locus standi to maintain the writ petition. The circular letter, on the averments made in the writ petition, did not cause any specific legal injury to an individual or to a determinate class or group of individuals, but it caused public injury by prejudicially affecting the independence of the judiciary. The petitioners being lawyers had sufficient interest to challenge the constitutionality of the circular letter and they were, therefore, entitled to file the writ petition as a public interest litigation. They had a clear concern deeper than that of a busybody and they cannot be told off at the gates. We may point out that this was precisely the principle applied by this Court to uphold the standing of the Fertiliser Corporation Kamgar Union to challenge the sale of a part of the undertaking by the Fertiliser Corporation of India in Fertiliser Corporation Kamgar Union vs. Union of India AIR 1981 SC 344. Justice Krishna Iyer pointed out that if a citizen ‘belongs to an organisation which has special interest in the subject-matter, if he has some concern deeper than that of a busybody, he cannot be told off at the gates, although whether the issue raised by him is justiciable may still remain to be considered’. We must, therefore, hold that Iqbal Chagla and others had locus standi to maintain their writ petition. What we have said in relation to the writ petition of Iqbal Chagla & Ors. must apply equally in relation to the writ petitions of S.P. Gupta and J. C. Kalra & Ors. So far as the writ petition of V. M. Tarkunde is concerned, Mr. Mridul, learned advocate appearing on behalf of the Law Minister, did not contest the maintainability of that writ petition since S. N. Kumar to whom, according to the averments made in the writ petition, a specific legal injury was caused, appeared in the writ petition and claimed relief against the decision of the Central Government to discontinue him as an additional Judge. We must, therefore, reject the preliminary objection raised by Mr. Mridul challenging the locus standi of the petitioners in the first group of writ petitions.”
A perusal of the above observations would show that the petitioners in the aforesaid case who were advocates were held entitled to maintain a writ petition in relation to a matter touching the independence of the judiciary because as lawyers they had a vital interest in the independence of the judiciary and the impugned circular was conceived by the petitioners as unconstitutional or illegal action that had the effect of impairing the independence of the judiciary. It was observed that the profession of lawyers is an essential and integral part of the judicial system and they are really and truly officers of the Court in which they daily sit and practice and, therefore, they have a special interest in preserving the integrity and independence of the judicial system. Sri Gupta, learned counsel for the petitioners, contended that the present case also has a similar characteristic and the petitioners who are tax- practitioners have a special interest in the proper administration of the scheme under consideration and, therefore, they can challenge the impugned instructions which are contrary to the content and tenor of the scheme and are likely to deter an unspecified number of prospective declarants.
Sri Bharat Ji Agarwal, senior advocate, learned counsel for the respondents, on the other hand, contended that this writ petition cannot be equated with public interest litigation and is a writ petition intended to serve the interest of a few unscrupulous citizens, who admittedly have evaded tax in the past and are attempting to take undue advantage of the scheme by asserting that they acquired gold and silver coins, ornaments, etc., in very old days when their value was thirty or more times less than their present value and thereby making a scope for converting such alleged assets into cash by showing that they have sold the assets now and thus achieving the purpose by paying just one or two per cent. tax as against 30 per cent. contemplated by the scheme. He also pointed out that the impugned instruction contained in para 3 of the communication dt. 25th Nov., 1997, is intended to plug the hole in the scheme inasmuch as while gold and silver bullion and jewellery could not be declared at a value prior to 1st April, 1987, in respect of coins and utensils, etc., the scheme did not provide any limitation of time and they could be declared to have been acquired at any time even as far back as 1923. He pointed out that while the instruction does not debar such declarations it only requires satisfactory evidence of the period of acquisition to be furnished so that the scheme is not misused. He placed reliance on a later Supreme Court judgment in Janata Dal vs. H.S. Chowdhary AIR 1993 SC 892, in which again the question of locus standi of a petitioner, who too was an advocate, had come for discussion in a matter that was projected to be public interest litigation. In that case, H.S. Chowdhary who too was a practising advocate moved a petition before the Special Judge, Delhi, who was dealing with the request of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to issue a letter rogatory/request to Switzerland for getting the necessary assistance in the investigation of the infamous Bofors gun case. Sri Chowdhary claimed to be the General Secretary of an organisation named as Rashtriya Jan Parishad purporting to be devoted to uphold the rule of law and fight against injustice in any field and abide by the Constitution and respect ideals and institutions. The petition purported to be under Art. 51A of the Constitution of India and made the following prayers : “In the premises your petitioners humbly request that in order to maintain the dignity, prestige and the fair name of the country and the ideals enshrined in the Constitution no rogatory letter be issued on the formal request of the CBI unless the allegations against named persons are established to the satisfaction of this Court. It is further requested that no request for rogatory or freezing bank account be made to Swiss Government unless the concerned persons are noticed and heard on the subject. It is further requested that the petitioner may be permitted to join during inquiry before this Court in the capacity of public interest litigant.
It is further requested that inquiry under s. 340 of the Cr.PC, be held to determine the alleged offence committed by various persons and till then proceedings of rogatory be stopped.”
The learned Special Judge dismissed the application and the matter reached the Supreme Court, which ordered as under : “1. Mr. H.S. Chowdhary has no locus standi (a) to file the petition under Art. 51A as public interest litigant praying that no letter rogatory/request be issued at the request of the CBI and he be permitted to join the inquiry before the special Court which on 5th Feb., 1990, directed issuance of letter rogatory/request to the competent judicial authorities of the confederation of Switzerland ; (b) to invoke the revisional jurisdiction of the High Court under s. 397 r/w s. 401 of the Cr.PC challenging the correctness, legality or propriety of the order dt. 18th Aug., 1990, of the special Judge ; and (c) to invoke the extraordinary jurisdiction of the High Court under s. 482 of the Cr.PC for quashing the FIR dt. 22nd Jan., 1990, and all other proceedings arising therefrom on the plea of preventing the abuse of the process of the Court.
2. In our considered opinion, the initiation of the present proceedings by Mr. H. S. Chowdhary under Art. 51A of the Constitution of India cannot come within the true meaning and scope of public interest litigation.” Sri Agarwal, learned counsel for the respondents, contended that if S.P. Gupta’s case (supra), is the Bible of the law of public interest litigation and locus standi then the case of Janata Dal (supra), is an authoritative commentary on the said Bible. The Supreme Court again on a review of the entire gamut of law on the point observed as under : “62. In contrast, the strict rule of locus standi applicable to private litigation is relaxed and a broad rule is evolved which gives the right of locus standi to any member of the public acting bona fide and having sufficient interest in instituting an action for redressal of public wrong or public injury, but who is not a mere busybody or a meddlesome interloper, since the dominant object of PIL is to ensure observance of the provisions of the Constitution or the law which can be best achieved to advance the cause of community or disadvantaged groups and individuals or public interest by permitting any person, having no personal gain or private motivation or any other oblique consideration but acting bona fide and having sufficient interest in maintaining an action for judicial redress for public injury to put the judicial machinery in motion like actio popularis of roman law whereby any citizen could bring such an action in respect of a public delict. . . . . 102. Sarkaria, J. in Jasbhai Motibhai Desai vs. Roshan Kumar AIR 1976 SC 578, expressed his view that the application of the busybody should be rejected at the threshold in the following terms (para 36): ‘It will be seen that in the context of locus standi to apply for a writ of certiorari, an applicant may ordinarily fall in any of these categories ; (i)”person aggrieved” ; (ii) “stranger” ; (iii) busybody or meddlesome interloper. Persons in the last category are easily distinguishable from those coming
under the first two categories. Such persons interfere in things which do not concern them. They masquerade as crusaders for justice. They pretend to act in the name of pro bono publico, though they have no interest of the public or even of their own to protect. They indulge in the pastime of meddling with the judicial process either by force of habit or from improper motives. Often, they are actuated by a desire to win notoriety or cheap popularity ; while the ulterior intent of some applicants in this category, may be no more than spoking the wheels of administration. The High Court should do well to reject the applications of such busybodies at the threshold.’ . . .
104. In Chhetriya Pardushan Mukti Sangharsh Samiti vs. State of U.P. AIR 1990 SC 2060, Sabyasachi Mukharji C.J. observed (para 8) : ‘While it is the duty of this Court to enforce fundamental rights, it is also the duty of this Court to ensure that this weapon under Art. 32 should not be misused or permitted to be misused creating a bottleneck in the superior Court preventing other genuine violation of fundamental rights being considered by the Court.’
105. In a recent decision of this Court in Union Carbide Corporation vs. Union of India (1991) 4 SCC 584 : AIR
1992 SC 248, Ranganath Mishra C.J., in his separate judgment while concurring with the conclusions of the majority judgment has said thus : ‘I am prepared to assume, nay, concede, that public activists should also be permitted to espouse the cause of the poor citizens but there must be a limit set to such activity and nothing perhaps should be done which would affect the dignity of the Court and bring down the serviceability of the institution to the people at large. Those who are acquainted with jurisprudence and enjoy social privilege as men educated in law owe an obligation to the community of educating it properly and allowing the judicial process to continue unsoiled.’. .
107. It is thus clear that only a person acting bona fide and having sufficient interest in the proceeding of PIL will alone have a locus standi and can approach the Court to wipe out the tears of the poor and needy, suffering from violation of their fundamental rights, but not a person for personal gain or private profit or political motive or any
oblique consideration. Similarly, a vexatious petition under the colour of PIL brought before the Court for vindicating any personal grievance deserves rejection at the threshold. . . .
In the words of Bhagwati J. (as he then was) ‘the Courts must be careful in entertaining public interest litigations’ or in the words of Sarkaria J. ‘the applications of the busybodies should be rejected at the threshold itself’ and as Krishna Iyer J., has pointed out, ‘ the doors of the Courts should not be ajar for such vexatious litigants’. . . .
Further, we would like to make it clear that it should not be misunderstood that by the expression of our above view, there is any question of retreating or recoiling from the earlier views expressed by this Court about the philosophy of public interest litigation in many outstanding judgments which we have already referred to ; on the other hand we look back to the vantage point from which we started our journey and proceed on our onward journey in the field of PIL. . .
After deeply and carefully considering the submissions of all the parties, we see much force in the submissions made by the learned Solicitor General, Mr. A. D. Giri and Mr. Jethmalani, senior counsel. A perusal of the petitions filed by H. S. Chowdhary before the special Judge and the High Court clearly unfolds that Mr. Chowdhary appears to be very much concerned with the personal and private interest of the accused in the criminal case and there is absolutely no involvement of public interest. Can it be said that this litigation is in the nature of PIL to vindicate and effectuate the public interest? The emphatic answer would be ‘not even a single ray of the characteristic of public interest litigation is visibly seen. … Indeed, we are surprised to note that in the petition filed before the High Court, Mr. Chowdhary has stated that it is his duty to see that ‘individuals’ get justice from the Indian Courts. From whichever angle we survey and audit the contentions in both the petitions before the Courts below and the petition filed before this Court, there can be no escape except to come to the conclusion that Mr. Chowdhary has no locus standi at all to file these petitions, as found by the Courts below .”
8. From a perusal of the two aforesaid judgments that exhaustively deal with the issue of locus standi in public interest litigation, it would be seen that the following are, broadly the sine qua non of a genuine public interest litigation : (i) there should a public injury arising from the breach of public duty or violation of some provisions of the Constitution ; and (ii) the petitioner who may be any member of the public must be acting bona fide and not for personal gain or private profit or oblique consideration ; and (iii) the purpose must be to advance the cause of community or disadvantaged groups and individuals.
It is on the fulfilment of these conditions that the petitioners who swear to have no personal interest in the matter and claimed to file this petition for the benefit of their clients and prospective clients can be said to have a locus standi to maintain this petition and this petition may fall in the category of a public interest litigation.
9. Explaining the dangers of pseudo public interest litigation, the Supreme Court in Janata Dal (supra), observed as under : “108. It is depressing to note that on account of such trumpery proceedings initiated before the Courts innumerable days are wasted which time otherwise could have been spent for the disposal of cases of the genuine litigants. Though we are second to none in fostering and developing the newly invented concept of PIL and extending our long arm of sympathy to the poor, the ignorant, the oppressed and the needy whose fundamental rights are infringed and violated and whose grievances go unnoticed, unrepresented and unheard; yet we cannot avoid but express our opinion that while genuine litigants with legitimate grievances relating to civil matters involving properties worth hundreds of millions of rupees and criminal cases in which persons sentenced to death facing gallows under untold agony and persons sentenced to life imprisonment and kept in incarceration for long years, persons suffering from the undue delay in service matters, Government or private persons awaiting the disposal of tax cases wherein huge amounts of public revenue or unauthorised collection of tax amounts are locked up, detenus expecting their release from the detention orders, etc., etc.âare all standing in a long serpentine-queue for years with the fond hope of getting into the Courts and having their grievances redressed, the busy bodies, meddlesome interlopers, wayfarers or officious interveners having absolutely no public interest except for personal gain or private profit either for themselves or as proxy of others or for any other extraneous motivation or for the glare of publicity, break the queue muffling their faces by wearing the mask of public interest litigation, and get into the Courts by filing vexatious and frivolous petitions and thus criminally waste the valuable time of the Courts and as a result of which the queue standing outside the doors of the Court never moves which piquant situatiocreates a frustration in the minds of the genuine litigants and resultantly they lose faith in the administration of our judicial system.”
10. Admittedly, the petitioners want to serve the cause of that small group of people who have evaded taxes in the past and who want to convert their black wealth into white by making an effective payment of only one or two per cent. as against 30 per cent. prescribed in the scheme. Such persons or a group thereof cannot in our view be termed as “public” in the sense in which this word is used in public interest litigation. The litigation contemplated in public interest is to relate to a general public injury affecting the people at large and involving a violation of the right to life or other rights like the right to have an independent judiciary. When such a Constitutional right was threatened which would ultimately affect the life of Indian citizens the public spirited advocates were allowed to maintain a writ petition to enforce the independence of the judiciary. As Lord Atkin said “an impartial administration of justice is like oxygen in air, the people know and care nothing about it until it is withdrawn.” The letter of the Law Minister was seen as an attempt to withdraw the oxygen from the air of impartial administration of justice and, therefore, it was perceived as a potential public injury for the prevention of which the advocates had a locus standi to maintain a writ petition in public interest. In the case before us no such public injury is complained of. The injury, if any, is directed to certain individuals who have accumulated untaxed money popularly called black money and want to convert it into white money without producing satisfactory evidence about the period of acquisition of the assets represented by the said money. Such persons or group thereof, in our view cannot be treated as “the public” conceived by public interest litigation nor can the supposed injury be treated to be a public injury arising from the breach of any public duty or violation of some provisions of the Constitution. Further, such persons cannot be treated as a disadvantaged group of individuals on whose behalf a writ petition could be filed and treated as in public interest. They admittedly are persons who have sufficient wealth such as is needed to be disclosed under the scheme and there is no averment that financially or otherwise such persons are disabled from themselves coming forward to contest the matter.
11. Sri S. P. Gupta, learned counsel for the petitioners, contended that the High Court Judges for whose defence the writ petitions were filed challenging the letter of the Law Minister were also not poor or disadvantaged people and if the aforesaid writ petitions can be maintained by lawyers on their behalf the present petition could also be similarly maintained. In our view there is a misconception in this argument. The petitions were not for the defence of the Judges. In fact and in law they were filed to protect the independence of the judiciary and not to protect the Judges individually. In fact, in so far as the two individual Judges, namely, S. N. Kumar and K.B. N. Singh JJ., were concerned the objection of locus standi was sustained but since the two had themselves put in appearance as petitioners the contention of locus standi in relation to them became redundant and was not pressed. In the present case, as discussed above, the injury complained of is not of the nature of injuries projected in S.P. Gupta’s case (supra), or in other cases on the subject. It is an injury that is supposed to adversely affect a small affluent class of people and is not resulting from the violation of fundamental rights or some provisions of the Constitution of India. The petitioners when they challenged the impugned instruction cannot be said to be acting in public interest only. They have an oblique interest in the matter because it is they who must have advised their clients who either on their own or on the advice of the petitioners were able to find a hole in the scheme which, funnily enough, placed a restriction on the disclosure of the value of the jewellery and bullion on 1st April, 1987, or afterwards, but left the field free in relation to other assets. Tax evaders are not a disadvantaged group when it comes to tax evasion or tax avoidance. They are quite ingenious and try to find escape routes anywhere and everywhere. Since, as averred by the petitioners, the declarants have to avail of the services of the tax-practitioner to make the declaration, it cannot be said that this writ petition is not for personal gain or for an oblique consideration, i.e., an attempt to ensure that the advice given by them is legally sustainable and to put the seal of the Court on such advice. Further, in order that a petition may be treated to be in public interest, there should be no doubt that it serves a general public interest. A petition which serves the interest of only a small section of the public, but the relief claimed, if granted, renders or is likely to render disservice to the public at large, such litigation cannot be treated as public interest litigation. In the present case, there is a debate as to whether the clarification by the CBDT in placing an extra burden of proof on the declarants would harm the small number of declarants or allowing the unscrupulous tax evaders to make unrestricted declarations and making a mockery of the scheme would cause greater harm to the general public interest. The debate raised and the apprehension expressed from the side of the Revenue are real. Consequently, it cannot be said unhesitatingly that this petition is intended to serve a public interest. We, therefore, hold that the present writ petition is not a public interest petition and the petitioners who have no direct persona interest in the matter cannot maintain this writ petition for the benefit of their clients or prospective clients. It was also contended that the declarants have been granted confidentiality and the IT authorities are statutorily debarred from disclosing the identity of the declarants or the details of the income declared to anyone else so much so that even a Court of law cannot compel them to disclose anything about the declaration. In case an individual declarant is required to challenge the impugned communication then his confidentiality and anonymity will be breached. It is for this reason, contended Sri Gupta, that the class of declarants has to be treated as a group or a class of persons suffering from a disability. We are unable to accept this contention. The obligation of secrecy is on the Revenue authorities and the individual declarant is not debarred from saying that he has made a declaration under the scheme. Further, for filing a writ petition of this nature, it is not necessary to give details of the income declared and of the assets which represent that income. It could be sufficient to state that a certain quantity of income represented by assets like gold and silver utensils or coins has been declared. Therefore, the declarants cannot be held to be a disabled group of persons. There is yet another reason why such a writ petition by the legal practitioners should not be entertained. As observed by the Supreme Court in S.P. Gupta (supra) : “the profession of lawyers is an essential and integral part of the judicial system . . . They assist the Court in dispensing justice and . . . without their help, it would be well-nigh impossible for the Court to administer justice. They are really and truly officers of the Court”.
In State of U.P. vs. U.P. State Law Officers Association AIR 1994 SC 1654, the Supreme Court explained the role of a lawyer in the following words : “The relationship between the lawyer and his client is one of trust and confidence. The client engages a lawyer for personal reasons and is at liberty to leave him also, for the same reasons. He is under no obligation to give reasons for withdrawing his brief from his lawyer. The lawyer in turn is not an agent of his client but his dignified, responsible spokesman. He is not bound to tell the Court every fact or urge every proposition of law which his client wants him to do, however irrelevant it may be. He is essentially an advisor to his client and is rightly called a counsel in some jurisdictions. Once acquainted with the facts of the case, it is the lawyer’s discretion to choose the facts and the points of law which he would advance. Being a responsible officer of the Court and an important adjunct of the administration of justice, the lawyer also owes a duty to the Court as well as to the opposite side. He has to be fair to ensure that justice is done. He demeans himself if he acts merely as a mouth-piece of his client.”
The duty of the lawyer to be loyal to his client and his cause is one thing and to identify himself with his client or his cause is another. A lawyer should avoid the second course. Dr. Radha Binod Pal in his speech reported in AIR
1959 Journal 105, 115 said : “To fall in with the client’s mood may indeed be profitable and may even afford opportunities for large professional distinction. Indeed the fundamental principle of professional service must be loyalty to the client and his cause. This, however, need not identify a lawyer with the mere successful exploitation of private interests as against common weal. Maintenance of best professional standards need not yield to the pursuit of gain as a guiding principle even for the aspirants of the highest success at the Bar. A lawyer may sometimes have to look beyond gratification of the client’s vanity or a revengeful spirit”. Lord Denning M.R., in his celebrated book The Discipline of Law pp. 248, 249 said, “as an advocate he is a minister of justice equally with the Judge. He has a monopoly of audience in the higher Courts. No one save him can address the Judge, unless it be a litigant in person. A barrister cannot pick and choose his clients. He is bound to accept a brief for any man who comes before the Courts. No matter how great a rascal the man may be. No matter how given to complaint. No matter how undeserving or unpopular his cause. The barrister must defend him to the end. Provided only that he is paid a proper fee or in the case of a dock-brief a nominal fee. He must accept the brief and do all he honourably can on behalf of his client. I say “all he honourably can” because his duty is not only to his client. He has a duty to the Court which is paramount. It is a mistake to suppose that he is a mouth piece of his client to say what he wants ; or his tool to do what he directs. He is none of these things. He owes allegiance to a higher cause. It is the cause of truth and justice. He must not consciously mis-state the facts. He must not knowingly conceal the truth. He must not unjustly make a charge of fraud that is without evidence to support it. He must produce all the relevant authorities, even those that are against him. He must see that his client discloses, if ordered, the relevant documents even those that are fatal to his case. He must disregard the most specific instructions of his client if they conflict with his duties to the Court. The code which requires a barrister to do all this is not a code of law. It is a code of honour. If he breaks it he is offending against the rules of the profession and is subject to its discipline . . . Such being his duty to the Court, the barrister must be able to do it fearlessly. He has time and time again to choosebetween his duties to his client and duties to the Court. This is a conflict often difficult to resolve ; and he should not be under pressure to decide it wrongly . . .”
In Bar Council of Maharashtra vs. M.V. Dabholkar AIR 1976 SC 242, the Supreme Court held that canons of ethics and propriety for the legal profession totally taboo conduct by way of soliciting, advertising, scrambling and other obnoxious practices, subtle or clumsy for betterment of legal business.
The Bar and the Bench are joint guardians of the rule of law. A Judge is obliged to be fair, fearless and impartial. To achieve fairness and impartiality a Judge must be totally free from bias and should be totally detached and dispassionate. As an officer of the Court attempting to assist the Court in rendering fair and impartial justice, the lawyer too must possess detachment and objectivity. This attitude of detachment and objectivity suffers a serious set back when a lawyer or the bar association as such gives up the role of a counsel and steps into the shoes of a client/clientele and becomes a litigant himself/itself. A lawyer’s office is badge of honour and a patent of trustworthiness derived from his position as an officer of the Court. The Court is entitled to expect the highest rectitude and caution on the part of a lawyer. Therefore, we have not been able to appreciate the action of the petitioners to file this petition for the avowed object of protecting the interests of their clients. It would be highly or rather dangerously injurious to the health of our judicial system if lawyers keep their clients in the background and themselves become litigants. It is our considered view that such a thing should not be allowed to happen and the Bench too has a bounden duty to restrain a lawyer from deviating from the path of rectitude and detachment. Therefore, the petitioners cannot be allowed to maintain this writ petition.
Sri Bharat Ji Agarwal, learned counsel for the respondents, referred to a recent judgment of this Court in Pooran Chandra Shukla vs. Union of India [Writ Petition No. 653 of 1997 decided on 29th Sept., 1997]. In that case a person who had not made a declaration under the same scheme, but wanted to make one, challenged some clarification given in the form of questions and answers by the CBDT. A Division Bench of this Court took the view that the petitioner having not made any declaration cannot be said to be an aggrieved person and the writ petition filed by him was not maintainable. Sri Gupta from the other side contended that this ratio would not apply to the present case because some of the clients, for whose benefit, inter alia, this petition has been filed, have already made declarations depending upon the clarification dt. 3rd Oct., 1997. Since the petition must fail for other reasons, we do not think it necessary to deal with this controversy.
In the result, the writ petition is dismissed in limine. No order as to costs.
[Citation : 236 ITR 848]