Court bypasses public interest litigations

Suliman Niloy Dhaka, July 10, 2012

The High Court has ruled on thousands of public interest litigations (PILs) since such writs began in 1994, but very few of those rulings have been executed properly.

To begin with, the Supreme Court has itself ignored one such directive which asked that a monitoring cell be formed to oversee the implementation of writs of public interest.

In February 2001, the High Court ruled for a writ that challenged the failure of concerned parties in keeping the pedestrian walks of Dhaka manoeuvrable.

Asking the authorities to take care of the matter, the bench of justices Abu Sayem Mohammad and Khademul Islam Chowdhury also directed that the court form a monitoring cell to see whether the ruling was being implemented.

Current Supreme Court Registrar AKM Shamsul Islam says he has no idea of that directive.

The Public Works Secretary, Dhaka Mayor, Dhaka Deputy Commissioner, Inspector General of Police and all the Officers-in-Charge of Dhaka’s police stations were named as defendants in that writ. The verdict on the writ, filed by Barrister Omar Sadat, said that despite ‘clear and effective’ laws on keeping Dhaka’s pavements ‘free and open’ for pedestrians, the defendants had failed to ensure them.

The bench observed in that verdict that after scrutinising the relevant legal structure, the court had found that ‘without a doubt the arm of the defendants is quite long in taking actions against illegal occupants and litterers of pavements’.

Apart from these scathing remarks, the bench also urged the Chief Justice that he order the Supreme Court Registrar to form a monitoring cell to supervise the implementation of verdicts and rules of the High Court.

“In India, a cell has been formed to supervise public interest litigations. Though there is a need for such supervision, there is no such device in our country,” the verdict said.

Omar Sadat, who had filed the writ, told “There was no appeal against that verdict, so it has become a binding on the defendants. It was a landmark verdict. But unfortunately, 11 years after the rule it is yet to be realised.”

Supreme Court Registrar A K M Shamsul Islam told “I don’t know about any verdict like that. I must know what it is before making a remark.”

He added that he did not know of any attempt to form a cell to supervise public interest litigations.

The first ruling in a public interest litigation was on a writ by Banglaedsh Environmental Lawyers’ Association (BELA).

BELA lawyer Iqbal Kabir Liton told “The court has ruled that hill-cutting is illegal without the Environment Department’s permission. But the practice continues. This year many people died in hill-slides.”

“We are thinking of filing a contempt of court charge because the verdict has not been implemented,” he added.

He agreed that a monitoring cell would help yield results in implementing rulings.

“In several other rulings the court has recommended forming a monitoring cell,” he said.

Advocate Manzill Murshid, a lawyer well-known for his public interest litigations, told many writs such as protection of historical landmarks, food quality concerns and creation of a central slaughterhouse they have received favourable rulings from the court but there has been no implementation whatsoever.

“I think instead of the Supreme Court monitoring these matters, the petitioners should themselves monitor the situation and bring a contempt of court charge in case the ruling isn’t realised,” he remarked.

Former Chief Justice Mostafa Kamal told the number of public interest litigations was growing in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka as well.

“There are many cases like this when the administration is inefficient. But the judiciary cannot execute, they can only order the administration,” he added.

Only 10 percent of public interest litigations ruled by Indian courts had been carried out, he said.

“Indian Supreme Court has formed a cell to monitor the writs – it is an additional duty that the justices are shouldering,” he said.

“But how much has been achieved from that is a matter of research,” he added.

The former Chief Justice thinks without political goodwill and forceful motivation of the administration to carry out the rulings, no effort would be fruitful.