Homework Must, Can’t Ask For Everything”: Supreme Court On Public Interest Pleas

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The Supreme Court today said those filing public interest litigations (PILs) must do their homework and bear in mind that they cannot just ask for everything under the sun.

The burden is on the PIL petitioner to show any shortcoming in a matter of policy and it should be backed with some data and examples, the top court said.

A bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and B V Nagarathna refused to entertain a PIL seeking direction for implementation of the National Health Policy 2017, besides other prayers including livelihood for the dependents of COVID-19 victims, and asked the petitioner to file a fresh pleas backed by data and examples.

At the outset, the bench said, “You see, the problem with these kinds of petitions is that you have too many prayers. If you seek just one prayer, we may deal with it, but you claim to seek everything under the sun.”

The petitioner cannot just leave everything to the court or the State and has to point out specific examples or data showing the shortcomings in the implementation of policy, the bench added.

Advocate Shravan Kumar, appearing for petitioner C Anji Reddy, said that he has given the example of one Ramesh from Andhra Pradesh who has, due to non-availability of free and affordable health facilities to the poor and middle class people, spent lakhs of rupees for hospitalisation during COVID-19 pandemic.

The bench said, “You must come with proper petition and proper prayers before the court. We are willing to issue notice in the matter and not dismissing it but you should show something with some data. We cannot issue an all India direction on the basis of one Ramesh Kumar of Andhra Pradesh. What is the source of information about him?”

Mr Shravan said he has attached some data which shows that due to non-filling of vacancies of doctors in government hospitals, people are forced to move to private hospitals.

The bench said that besides a report of National Health Mission giving data, there is nothing in the petition and the petitioner must do some more homework.

“You cannot just annex a report and expect the court to take charge. These are policy matters. You cannot just say implement the health policy. You cannot just simply say implement the budget of 2021. You have to specify the shortfall and indicate how there has been failure in compliance. You are not bereft of the burden of pleadings just because this is a PIL,” it said.

It further told Shravan Kumar that the petitioner has to do his homework, give the specific examples, collect the data and indicate the critical areas as per him, so that the court can issue notice to the concerned authority or government.

The counsel said it would be difficult to procure the data for the petitioner.

“If it is difficult, then tell your client to rest in peace. Obviously, it is difficult and why should it not be difficult? This is not a case of a prisoner writing his individual grievance on a postcard, where we would intervene immediately. You are raising a policy issue which may have nationwide ramification, so have to bear the burden,” the bench said.

The top court allowed the petitioner to withdraw the petition and granted liberty to file another petition with specific data and examples.

The PIL sought implementation of directions passed by court in a 1996 verdict on providing adequate medical facilities, implementation of the National Health Policy-2017, livelihood for the dependents of COVID-19 victims/people who died due to lack of medical support and direction to the insurance authorities to process insurance claim and reimburse medical expenses to the policyholders under Ayushman Bharath-PMJAY.

C Anji Reddy, who is a lorry association president based in Hyderabad, said that the primary motive of National Health Policy is to improve health facilities in the country and also avoid “out of pocket spending” for the treatment by the citizens.

“The COVID-19 pandemic showcased the catastrophic effects of non-implementation of National Health Policy and the Judgment passed by this Court. Due to non-availability of adequate free/affordable health care facilities, people of the country are compelled to spend their life time savings, sell the properties, and jewellery for getting treatment in private hospitals which is contrary to the mandate of National Health Policy”.

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