A DIVISION bench of the Punjab and Haryana High Court on Monday refused to entertain a public interest litigation in the stalking and attempted abduction case of Varnika Kundu. Citing a 1991 apex court judgment, the division bench of Acting Chief Justice S S Saron and Justice Avneesh Jhingan made it clear that the court would have no difficulty taking up the case if Varnika herself approached the High Court.
The High Court bench was hearing a PIL filed by human rights lawyer Ranjan Lakhanpal seeking judicial supervision of the probe into the incident. The petitioner has also sought a CBI probe into the incident, though he did not press for it during the hearing.
“In a criminal case, only the aggrieved persons have a right to file the PIL,” observed the division bench while citing the landmark 1991 judgment on maintainability of a PIL in which the Supreme Court had ruled that “even if there are million questions of law to be deeply gone into and examined in a criminal case… it is for them [aggrieved parties] and them alone to raise all such questions and challenge the proceedings initiated against them at the appropriate time before the proper forum and not for third parties under the garb of public interest litigants”.
The division bench, however, asked the counsel representing the Chandigarh Administration to remain present in the courtroom in the post-lunch hearing of the case. UT’s senior standing counsel R S Rai later appeared before the division bench and said he would seek instructions, and Chandigarh Administration can submit a status report on the ongoing probe into the case in a sealed cover before the division bench. Lakhanpal was asked to hand over a copy of the petition to Rai. The case was adjourned for Tuesday after the oral submission.
Earlier, the division bench observed, “In the present case, FIR is already registered. High Court cannot interfere into the investigation. Let the victim come. In case the victim is aggrieved, let her come. If the victim comes, we have no difficulty,” the division bench observed and told Lakhanpal, “you tell the aggrieved person to come.”
The division bench said it could consider the PIL in the case if it is confined to the condition of CCTVs in the city. “The way they (police) have acted in the case, it requires judicial intervention. I am also aggrieved. The whole country is aggrieved. We are not safe on roads,” argued Lakhanpal. “How come the CCTVs were not working on the night the incident took place?”
Lakhanpal suggested that the court should take suo moto cognisance of the incident if there is a question of PIL maintainability. Making an intervention, senior advocate Puneet Bali, who was present in the court for an unrelated litigation, said the case primarily is related to lack of policing and infrastructure in the city. “It is very shocking as a Chandigarh resident that women are not safe on roads,” Bali said.
The division bench observed that although the court agrees with the contentions raised before it in the case but what would happen if tomorrow another set of lawyers through a PIL said the statements of the girl were false. “It is in this context that we are saying that only the person who is aggrieved should come,” remarked the bench.