23 Dec 2009

No PIL on issues of economic policy: High Court

In an emphatic decision, the Bombay High Court declined to interfere on a public interest litigation declaring that no PIL would lie on the issue of economic policy. The petition had prayed for the following reliefs before the High Court;

(a) the issuance of an appropriate writ directing the Reserve Bank to transfer the amount lying with it in the Market Stabilization Scheme Account to the Consolidated Fund of India; (b) a direction to the Comptroller and Auditor General of India to audit the account of the Reserve Bank especially from the accounting year 2004-05 till 2007-08; (c) a direction to the Comptroller and Auditor General to estimate the profit or loss to the country in view of the depletion in the Currency and Gold Revaluation Account of the Reserve Bank and the interest on the Scheme paid over the years and to file a detailed report before this Court and to the President of India for being laid before both the Houses of Parliament.
In regard to the non-maintainability of PILs on such matters, the High Court declared as under;

13. Having examined the grievance that has been urged in the Petition, we have found no reason to grant the reliefs that have been sought before the Court. Before concluding, however, it would be necessary for this Court to define the parameters for judicial intervention in such cases. The parameters which operate in a case such as the present arise both on account of a recourse to legal proceedings being taken in the form of a public interest petition in the first place and the substantive scope of challenge, in the second place, involving as it does a matter which is in the realm of economic policy. The jurisdiction of the Court, when it is invoked in a petition filed in the public interest is exercised with a view to ensuring that there is no dereliction of constitutional or statutory duties by those who are vested with the discharge of such powers. In entertaining such a petition it would be inappropriate for the Court either to supplant the role and functioning of a constitutional authority or to substitute its judgment for the policy making authority or the discretion of a constitutional functionary. Litigation instituted in the public interest is directed towards ensuring governance in accordance with constitutional and statutory mandate. Public interest litigation cannot provide an avenue for substituted governance nor can the Court, in a democratic set up governed by separation of powers assume to itself the task of governance which the Constitution leaves to elected representatives or to expert bodies who are accountable to the collective wisdom of the legislature. The role of the Court is directed towards ensuring that the process of governance accords with the parameters which are laid down by the Constitution and by governing statutory requirements. Once the Court is satisfied that this has been so, there must be an element of deference particularly in matters involving technical expertise or policy making functions, upon which there is a conferment of power to constitutional or statutory authorities. That leads to the second facet of the matter. The consistent thread which underlies our constitutional jurisprudence is that in matters involving economic policy the Court must recognize that there is a wide area of discretion which rests in the executive. Both in the enunciation and in the implementation of economic policy the issues which arise – complex as they may be – are generally not amenable to the application of judicial standards. The law recognizes that there is a large field open for experimentation and for modification of policy in the light of experiences gained and perhaps from the failures reported. Dealing with economic problems cannot be a matter of scientific exactitude. There are successes achieved and, perhaps, failures despite good faith decisions. These in a democratic society are subject to accountability – accountability of the expert functionaries to Government and accountability of Government to Parliament and the people. Judicial learning over the last six decades which defers to the decisions that the Government may take in matters of economic policy is therefore based on a strong foundation. In approaching this case we have borne in mind both of these facets. It has become necessary for the Court to advert to them if only because there is a growing belief that every ill that plagues society can be brought before the Court in the form of a public interest petition. Moreover, rapidly changing economic circumstances and the complex problems of the day are liable to give rise to the belief that the Courts should intervene. The jurisdiction of the Court is exercised where there is a breach of a constitutional or statutory prescription. Absent such a breach the exercise of administration should be left to where it is intended to belong in a democratic set up based on the separation of powers.

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