It was unfortunate that on a day when the nation was paying homage to former Chief Justice of India, P N Bhagwati, the High Court of Kerala dismissed two writ petitions doubting the locus standi of the petitioners. Bhagwati, the 17th CJI, was the architect of a new concept which he, along with Krishna Iyer, made famous as public interest litigation. Hailed as an innovative instrument for dispensing justice to the voiceless poor, it is akin to the class action suit in the US. In PIL the rigour of locus standi is dispensed with, permitting a third person to approach the Supreme Court or high courts on behalf of the voiceless poor.
On a day when Bhagwati’s body was lying in state in New Delhi awaiting funeral with state honours, a judge in the High Court of Kerala dismissed two writ petitions filed by two documentary filmmakers, doubting their locus standi to approach the court.
The petitioners were directly aggrieved by the denial of permission on the part of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry to screen their films in the International Documentary and Short Film Festival, organised by the Kerala Chalachitra Academy in Thiruvananthapuram.
Permission was denied to the Academy and as such it is the Academy and not the makers who are aggrieved. This was the position taken by the judge. The petitioners could not approach the court as public interest litigants because they were directly affected by the denial of permission. They approached the court as bona fide petitioners. But the judge refused to deal with the contentions raised by the petitioners as he found the petitions not maintainable.
Such hyper technicalities on the part of the judges will result in denial of timely justice.
Justice P B Suresh Kumar could not effectively interfere in the cow slaughter notification case earlier because of this hyperbolic rigour.
Whether it is beef or film, the court should have the willingness to interfere when violation of fundamental rights are involved.
Every judge will have shades of grey or black in their career. Bhagwati had such a black patch in his early career as a judge when he joined the four judges in the infamous Habeas Corpus case in 1976 that upheld the government decision to suspend fundamental rights, including the right to life, during emergency. PIL was his subsequent penitence.
When freedom of expression is stifled, it is unfair on the part of a judge to raise obstructionist questions relating to the obsolete rule of locus standi. We all have locus standi when freedom is in peril. That is the reason for over 150 filmmakers and artistes to write a letter to Union Minister Venkaiah Naidu urging him to allow screening of the four forbidden films.