Won’t hear ‘professional public interest litigants’ if they don’t pay fine: Supreme Court

In 2017 court imposed costs of ₹5 lakh each on two persons for filing a ‘motivated’ plea challenging then CJI appointment

The Supreme Court on Friday said it would not hear any “professional public interest litigants” unless they deposited the fines imposed on them by the court.

The top court was hearing an application filed by two persons on whom the apex court had in August 2017 imposed a costs of ₹5 lakh each for filing a “motivated” petition challenging the appointment of then Chief Justice Dipak Misra.

They had also questioned the practise of recommending to the President, the name of successor by the incumbent Chief Justice of India.

The top court was informed that one of them, Swami Om, had expired during the first COVID-19 wave last year while Mukesh Jain has been in Balasore jail for the past one year.

A Bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and M.R. Shah told advocate A.P. Singh, appearing for Jain, that it had already rejected the application for waiver of fine and had issued a contempt notice to him.

The Bench said, “We will not hear any professional public interest litigants unless they pay the fine imposed on them. He [Jain] has to pay the fine or we will sentence him”.

The top court told Mr. Singh to ask Jain to pay the fine or on the next date of hearing the court would pass orders that he could not file any petition before the Supreme Court unless he paid the fine.

Freed on bail

Mr. Singh said Jain had been released on bail from the jail in Odisha and he would appear before the court during the next hearing.

The top court adjourned the matter for further hearing after three weeks.

On August 24, 2017, the top court had said, imposition of exemplary costs on Swami Om and Mukesh Jain was needed to send across a message to similarly placed people to deter them from filing such pleas.

Swami Om and Jain have not alleged anything in their plea against then CJI designate (Justice Dipak Misra) and had referred to the constitutional scheme on the appointment of CJI and the Chief Justices of the High Courts and said the process of recommending the name of successor by the incumbent CJI is against the spirit of Constitution.

The top court had then noted in its order that Article 124A, amended by the National Judicial Appointments Commission Act, has already been set aside by a Constitution Bench. Article 124 of the Constitution deals with the appointment of judges to the Supreme Court, while Article 124A provides for the composition of the National Judicial Appointments Commission.

The top court had then asked Swami Om and Jain to deposit the fine within one month and said the amount should be sent to the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund.

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