1. The three petitioners seek a Writ of Certiorari to quash the order of the State Government in G.O.Ms.No.501, Revenue (UC.II) Department dt. 9.3.1983 granting exemption under S. 20(1)(a) of the Urban Land (Ceiling and Regulation) Act, 1976.
2. Aedla Narayan Reddy, the 3rd respondent herein applied to the Government on 16-4-1981 for grant of exemption in respect of 4 acres 2 1/2 guntas of excess land owned by him situate at Nacharam in the vicinity of Hyderabad so as to enable him to sell it in favour of M/s Ramakrishna Cine Studio, the 2nd respondent herein. In the application it was mentioned that the 3rd respondent intends to develop a Horticulture Studio for out-door shootings. This land is an agricultural land situate adjacent to the land owned by the 3rd respondnet. The Managing Partner of M/s Ramakrishna Cine Studio , Sri N. Harikrishna, the 2nd respondent herein filed an affidavit that the land held by Narayan Reddy is adjacent to the plot of land owned by them, that the land occupied by them is not sufficient to their requirements, that they intend to develop a Horticulture Studio of a novel type useful for outdoor shootings. The application was processed through the department and the Special Officer and Competent Authority under the Urban Land Ceiling Act and the Commissioner of Land Ceilings, Hyderabad recommended for exemption as the land was proposed to be developed as a Horticulture Garden for the purpose of outdoor shootings which would help the Cinema Industry. In the light these reports, the State Government, the first respondent herein passed the impugned G.O. exempting an extent of 4 acres 2 1/2 guntas (16440 square metres) held by Narayan Reddy for sale in favour of the 3rd respondent. It is the validity of this action that is challenged by the three petitioners on several grounds such as colourable exercise of power, that it is not in public interest, that the exemption was for an illegal purpose and that the land was not used for the purpose for which exemption was granted. They say that they brought this action as they are interested in proper implementation of provisions of the Urban Land (Ceiling and Regulation) Act, 1976.
3. The learned Advocate General, who took notice at the stage of admission submitted that the petitioners have no locus standi to maintain the petition as they are not persons aggrieved and they cannot be said to have sufficient interest in the proceedings. He also submitted that no public injury is involved.
4. Since the maintainability of the Writ Petition is challenged, I propose to decide the question first. The question of locus standi i.e., who can move the Court was the subject-matter of determination in several leading cases over the years. It must be accepted that the concept of locus standi had undergone a sea-change and the traditional rule that Courts will listen only a person who has suffered legal injury to property is very much liberalised. To start with, we have ex parte Sidebotham (1880) 14 Ch D 458 in which it was held that a person aggrieved must be a man who has suffered a legal grievance, a man against whom a decision has been pronounced which has deprived him of something. This was approved in In Re Reed Bowen &Co.; (1887) 19 QBD 174 and this school of though prevailed for some time. But Lord Denning added wider dimensions to this rule and accorded judicial redress in case of public injury.
5. In Attorney General v. Independent Broadcasting Authority, (1973) 1 All ER 689 an action brought by Mc Whirter for an injunction against a Broadcasting Authority from showing a film which did not comply with the statutory requirements as held to be maintainable by Lord Denning on the ground that Mc Whirter had a Television Set for which he paid licence fee and his susceptibility will be offended like that of many others who have Television Sets if the film was shown in the form in which it is sought to be shown and therefore had sufficient interest in the matter.
6. The same principle was applied in Reg v. Greater London Council ex parte Blackburn (1976) 3 All ER 184 and Blackburn's petition for prohibiting the Greater London Council from allowing exhibition of pornographic films was entertained on the ground that he has sufficient interest. In this case, it was observed that Blackburn had children who may be harmed by the exhibition of pornographic films.
7. Coming to the cases decided by or own Courts:-
In K.R.Shenoy v. Udipi Municipality, : 1SCR680 the complaint of a resident of the locality against the grant of a Cinema licence was entertained on the ground that he has an individual interest as he resides in the area where a licence is granted for a Cinema Theatre.
In Varadarajan v. Salem Municipality, : AIR1973Mad55 a rate-payer was accorded standing to challenge the misuse of funds by a Municipality on the ground that as a tax-payer his interest is direct and immediate.
In J.M.Desai v. Roshan Kumar, AIR 1976 SC 578, a rival Cinema owner's writ petition was rejected on the ground that he has no locus standi as he does not come under the category of persons having a special interest in the locality as per the Bombay Cinematograph Act and the Rules made thereunder.
In Ratlam Municipality v. Vardhi Chand, : 1980CriLJ1075 the writ petition filed by the residents to compel the Municipality to implement the order of the Magistrate was upheld on the ground that they had a right to move the Magistrate under S. 133 of Cr.P.C. as the order was passed at their instance.
8. There is another exception which is recognised by the Courts. Where a person is unable to approach the Court for sufficient reasons, such as poverty or social and economic backwardness or due to some disability to assert his constitutional rights or immunities, some other person can invoke the assistance of the Court.
9. In Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration the complaint of prisoner of the brutal assault by the head warden or another prisoner was accepted.
10. In Dr. Upendra Baxi v. State of U.P. : (1983)2SCC308 an action brought by Dr. Upendra Baxi and Lothika Sarkar, two Delhi Professors, in respect of the inmates of a Protective Home who were living in inhuman and degrading conditions, was entertained as the persons for whose benefit the writ was filed were socially and economically backward and were consequently unable to move the Court for enforcement of the constitutional right guaranteed under Art. 21 of the Constitution.
11. In another case a Journalist's claim for relief against demolition of the huts of pavement dwellers by Bombay Municipal Corporation was entertained by the Supreme Court.
12. In Ramana Dayaram Shetty v. International Airport Authority of India, : (1979)IILLJ217SC even though the transaction was found to be illegal, the petition was dismissed on the ground that the petitioner had no real interest in the result of the litigation and had been set up by others to deprive the respondents of the benefit of the contract secured by him.
13. In Fertilizer Corporation Kamgar Union (Regd), Sindri v. Union of India, AIR 1981 SC 344 certain plant and equipment belonging to the Corporation was sold. The action was questioned by the workmen. The majority judgment held that no fundamental right of the workmen was infringed. The minority judgment which also dismissed the petition which could be described as public interest litigation. The observations in the judgment of Krishna Iyer, J. are as follows:-
'If a citizen is no more than a wayfarer or officious intervener without any interest or concern beyond what belongs to any one of the 660 million people of this country, the door of the Court will not be ajar for him. But he belongs to an organisation which has special interest in the subject matter, if he has some concern deeper than that of busy body, he cannot be told off at the gates, although whether the issue raised by him is justifiable may still remain to be considered. I, therefore, take the view that the present petition would clearly have been permissible under Art. 226'.
14. Now it can be taken as well established that where a legal wrong or injury is caused to a person or to a determinate class of persons by reason of infringment of a statutory or constitutional provision and such person or class of persons is by reason of poverty, helplessness or disability unable to approach the Court, any member of the public can maintain an application under Art. 226. While making this position clear, the Supreme Court on several occasions sounded a word of caution that the Courts must confine this strategic exercise of jurisdiction as a matter of prudence and not as a matter of law and not entertain cases of individual wrong or injury at the instance of a third party.
15. So far I have dealt with cases where some specific legal injury caused to a person or persons for whose benefit the action is brought. Then we have what is called the public interest litigation i.e., where the State or a public authority acts in violation of a statutory obligation or failed to carry out such obligation resulting in injury to public which is popularly termed as public injury. In such occasion the question is can any member of the public apply for judicial redress? The locus classicus on this question is the Judges appointment and transfer case. (S>P.Gupta v. Union of India, AIR 1982 SC 149. The observations of Justice Bhagwati in summing up the law on the point may be usefully extracted:
'The strict rule of standing which insists that only a person who has suffered a specific legal injury can maintain an action for judicial redress is relaxed and a broad rule is evolved which gives standing to any member of the public who is not a mere busy body or a meddlesom interloper but who has sufficient interest in proceedings................................................................................
The Judge who has the correct social perspective and who is on the same wavelength as the Constitution will be able to decide,without any difficulty and in consonance with the constitutional objectives, whether a member of the public moving the Court in a particular case has sufficient interest to initiate the action.'
In para 24 it is further observed that:-
'If the person or specific class or group of persons who are primarily injured as a result of such act or omission, do not wish to claim any relief and accept such act or omission willingly and without protest, the member of the public who complains of a secondary public injury cannot maintain the action.'
Applying these principles, the writ petitions, filed by some lawyers held to be maintainable as they had sufficient interest in the matter relating to transfer and appointment of Judges. It was observed that the action complained related to the independence of judiciary and as such the lawyers had sufficient interest in the matter.
16. The same principles were reiterated in People's Union for Democratic Rights v. Union of India, AIR 1982 SC 1472 (Asiad Case). The petition filed by People's Union for Democratic Rights for enforcement of certain provisions of the Labour Laws which are enacted for the welfare of the workmen was held to be maintainable on the ground that the judicial redress was in respect of class of persons who by reason of poverty and economically disadvantageous position are unable to approach the Court and that the cause was taken up by an organisation formed for protecting democratic rights.
17. The principles enunciated in the cases referred to (supra) clearly show that the rule of locus standi had assumed wider dimensions, in the day to day expanding horizons of socio economic justice and welfare of the State. Even then, it is not without any limitation. The persons approaching the Court must have sufficient interest in the subject matter and what is sufficient interest is again a matter to be decided on the facts of each case. The Courts will not interfere at the instance of a busy body interfering in things which do not concern him, but certainly when there is a point which affects the interest and liberties of all the citizens and public at large he would be heard. The three considerations which are emphasised in the matter of public litigation are that the persons moving the Court must have sufficient interest, there must be a public injury and the action must be bona fide. Where the persons primarily injured do not protest the member of the public who complains of a secondary public injury cannot maintain the action.
18. In the light of these principles, let me turn to the facts of this case. The petitioners are three in number. They claim to be social workers. We have no details. The 2nd petitioner I am told is an Advocate whom I never had the occasion to hear. They also claim to be Legislators, not now, but once upon a time. All that they say is that they are interested in proper implementation of the Urban Land Ceiling Act. Now the question for consideration is whether they can be said as persons having sufficient interest in the matter. Indisputably they have no direct or personal interest. Their individual rights are not affected. They have no special interest as they do not come under any category of persons for whom lands belonging to the Government can be assigned or distributed. In fact, they do not say any such thing in the affidavit. All that they say that they are interested in the proper implementation of the Urban Land Ceiling Act. Their concern is nor more that the '660 million people of this country.' By no stretch of imagination they are entitled to any inch of this land. If these persons can be said to be persons having sufficient interest, I do not think any other citizen of this country can be shut out. Surely, something more is necessary to say that the petitioners have sufficient interest in the matter. But I would hasten to mention that where there is a public injury, any member of the public is entitled to move the Court for redress. For instance, if the State as a matter of policy indiscriminately grants exemptions in large number of cases or grant exemptions in respect of large chunks of land leading to frustrating or defeating the provisions of the Act, in such a case any public spirited person can move the Court and he will be heard. The Urban Land Ceiling Act no doubt provides for taking possession of excess land for equitable distribution to subserve the common good. The Act also provides for exemption in given cases taking note of individual hardships and in public interest. But if this provision is resorted to in a large number of cases indiscriminately it can be said that the object of the Act is defeated. But if an exemption is granted in few individual cases it cannot be said that the object of the Act is defeated so as to enable any member of the public to challenge the action. Here I must clarify that I am not deciding the merits of the case. Whether the grant of exemption in this particular case is right or not is not the matter which I am deciding now. This is only in the contest of maintainability of the petition. It must also be said that if large chunks of land are sought to be exempted from the provisions of the Act, the purpose of the Act may be defeated. It is therefore a matter to be decided on the facts of each case and the Courts must confine the strategic exercise s of power as a rule of purdence and not as a matter of law as observed by the Supreme Court in the 'Judges Appointment and Transfer Case' and other cases. Now can it be said that exemption of 4 1'2 acres of land defeats the purpose of the Act. What would have happened if this exemption is not granted. Narayan Reddy would have surrendered the land and the Government would have had 4 1/2 acres more for distribution. Can it be said that the object of the Act is defeated by exempting 4 1/2 acres of land resulting in such public injury so as to entitle any citizen to bring an action? I do not think so. As observed by the Delhi High Court in S.S.Sobti v. Union of India, AIR 1982 Delhi 51 if we entertain petitions of this type to challenge the transactions on whatever grounds they may be placed at the instance of the public at large, the Courts may be flooded with such petitions. But where there is a real grievance of a public injury the Courts should not hesitate to intervene and give the necessary redress and persons 'could not be told off at the gates'. It is the discretion of the Court whom and when to hear. On the facts of this case, I hold there is no public injury of the nature which can justify the petitioners to invoke this Court. The cannot be said to have 'sufficient interest' in the matter.
19. The writ Petition is accordingly rejected and not maintainable. The remedy under Art. 226 is a discretionary remedy and in the circumstances, it is not a case for exercising that discretion.
20. No costs.
21. Petition dismissed.