HC says it can not give directions to Election Commission

Gujarat High Court today rejected a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking direction to the Election Commission (EC) to fit Electronic Voting Machines with camera and to video-record the voting process.

“High Court doesn’t have powers under Article 226 (of the Constitution) to give direction to the Constitutional authority like Election Commission of India,” division bench of Chief Justice Bhaskar Bhattacharya and Justice J B Pardiwala said. Petitioner Girish Das had questioned “reliability and functionality” of EVMs and sought a direction that these machines be fitted with camera and a clock, so that photograph of each voter can be taken and time of casting of the vote can be recorded.

Petitioner had also sought video-recording inside the polling booths, which he claimed would provide evidence in the event of allegations of fraud during the voting. The division bench said in the order today that High Court could not interfere in these matters.

“This court is not vested with the powers to interfere with the process and policy set in motion by a Constitutional authority like EC.” The judges also said that High Court can not act as `an adviser’ to a Constitutional authority.

Guidelines being framed on health food in schools, court told

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) Wednesday told the Delhi High Court that a consultant had been tasked to frame guidelines on making available quality and safe food in schools.

The FSSAI said this in a status report during the hearing on a public interest litigation that has sought a ban on the sale of junk food near schools.

It said that AC Nielsen QRG-MARG Pvt. Ltd. has been assigned the work of framing guidelines on making available quality and safe food in the schools.

A division bench of Acting Chief Justice A.K. Sikri and Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw accepted the report of the FSSAI and decided to next hear the case March 22, 2013.

The court had earlier asked the FSSAI to frame guidelines within six months on the petition seeking a ban on the sale of junk food and carbonated drinks within 1,500-foot radius of schools.

The petition by Rahul Verma and Rakesh Prabhakar of Uday Foundation said: “It is… time we change the way kids eat in schools. Such a ban will set new standards for healthy food. On the one hand, children are taught in classroom about good nutrition…, on the other, we continue to make junk food available to them.”

Illegal hookah bars to be raided, police tell Court

The Delhi Police on Wednesday informed the Delhi High Court that they have asked all Deputy Commissioners of Police to have illegal hookah bars running in city restaurants raided and ensure their closure to comply with the anti-smoking Act.

Delhi Standing Counsel Najmi Waziri made this submission before a Division Bench of the Court comprising Justice A. K. Sikri and Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw in response to a public interest litigation seeking strict implementation of the anti-smoking law for banning hookah bars at restaurants.

The New Delhi Municipal Council and the three Municipal Corporations of Delhi in their replies informed the Court that they had issued licences to restaurants to serve foods and beverages only.

Petitioner, non-government organisation World Lung Foundation-South Asia, submitted that the municipal bodies should make a provision in the existing licences for running restaurants to ban hookah bars there.

He submitted that the authorities were not effectively implementing the provisions of the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 2003, and the rules framed there under.

He further submitted that the licences issued by erstwhile Municipal Corporation of Delhi to restaurants did not incorporate the necessary terms and conditions making it compulsory for the licencees to comply with the anti-smoking provisions and saying that their breach would entail cancellation or suspension of their licences.

The petition stated that an eating house, which is called a restaurant, is a public place and smoking of tobacco in any form, including cigarettes, cigars, beedis or otherwise with the aid of a pipe, wrapper or any other instruments, is prohibited by under the Act.

Court notice to Delhi University on teachers’ attendance

The Delhi High Court Wednesday issued notice to the Delhi University and the University Grants Commission (UGC) on a plea for introducing biometric attendance system for teachers to ensure punctuality.

A division bench of Acting Chief Justice A.K. Sikri and Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw sought response from the university and the UGC by Sep 19, the next date of hearing.

The public interest litigation (PIL), filed by an organisation called Indian Council of Legal Aid and Advice, said that the biometric system to register the attendance of lecturers and other teaching staff should be introduced.

It said that the system should be introduced to ensure that a teacher “adheres to the teaching hours and days prescribed by the UGC and the university rules”.

Advocate R.K. Saini, appearing for the petitioner, said that the UGC in its regulations in 2010 provided that “universities and colleges must adopt at least 180 working days, that means there should be minimum of 30 weeks” of actual teaching.

He submitted that as per the UGC norms, the workload of teachers should not be less than 40 hours a week for 180 teaching days, apart from being available for at least five hours daily in the college.

“The working hours actually being put in by a lecturer/assistant professor/teacher in Delhi University daily are just about three and half hours,” the petition said.

The plea said it seemed that the university was not implementing the biometric system under pressure from teacher unions.

In December 2009, the university unsuccessfully tried to introduce the biometric system in colleges.

Civil services English paper has experts’ nod, court told

The Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) Wednesday informed the Delhi High Court that it has introduced a new aptitude test paper on English in the civil services exam on the suggestion of its experts’ panel.

A division bench of Acting Chief Justice A.K. Sikri and Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw asked the commission to present the panel’s report by Sep 19, the next date of hearing.

The court’s direction came on a petition challenging the new pattern for English paper in the preliminary examination for civil services.

The court was informed that the new system had been approved by the government.

Petitioner Dina Nath Batra said that the new pattern deprived a vast majority of Indians who had studied in Hindi medium or any Indian language’s medium from fairly competing in the exam.

The public interest litigation (PIL) challenged a new system of the Union Public Service Commission making ‘English Language Comprehension Skills’ a compulsory topic.

Filing its response, the UPSC said: “The new format of civil services (preliminary) examination is evolved through a process of intense review of the examination system by an expert committee and the new system had been approved by the government.”

The UPSC sought the dismissal of the petition and said: “The scope of judicial review in cases where a policy decision is taken pursuant to the recommendations of an expert committee is limited.”

HC asks city govt to decide on plea to ban tobacco products

The city government was asked today by the Delhi High Court to examine and decide in two weeks a plea to ban the sale of tobacco products in Capital.

A bench of Acting Chief Justice A K Sikri and Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw gave the direction to the government, while disposing of a petition by Doctors For You, a registered society, and asking it to approach the Delhi Government’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

Citing a media report of July 31, in which a Delhi minister had said the government should ban sale of tobacco products here, the bench asked the state to consider the plea as representation and decide the same in two weeks.

The Delhi government’s Standing Counsel Najmi Waziri said steps have been taken by the state on the issue and if a representation is made to it, it would consider the same.

Appearing for the Centre, Additional Solicitor General Rajiv Mehra, meanwhile, told the bench that the government has written letters to various states to implement the Food Safety and Standards Act and some states have already banned the sale of tobacco products, invoking it.

The bench was hearing the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) which sought to ban tobacco products in the wake of a spurt in oral and lung cancer in the city.

SC notice to Centre, States on 55,000 missing children

The Supreme Court on Thursday issued notice to the Centre and all the state governments on a PIL seeking its direction to them for tracing 55,000 missing children in the country. Agreeing to hear the public interest litigation (PIL), a bench headed by Justice Aftab Alam sought response from the Centre and States on the issue of the missing children.

The order of the apex court came on a petition filed by an advocate, Sarwa Mitra.

“The State police machinery has failed to trace the missing children resulting in total extinction of life of these children.

Further there is mutilation or amputation of arms, legs or pulling out of eyes or destruction of any other organ of the body of these children which lead them to spend miserable lives and compel them to engage in begging, flesh trade etc,” Mitra said in his petition.

The petitioner also submitted that, “The State police has failed to investigate the cases of kidnapping and had failed to trace the missing children which is a total denial of right to life and liberty of these innocent children.

“Almost all the states have failed to solve the kidnapping of 55,000 children by organised gangs,” Mitra said in his petition, adding that “These unfortunate children are also forced into bootlegging, smuggling, prostitution etc.”

The petition also said, “There is selling and buying of children for illegal acts, sexual exploitation and child trafficking.”

Helmets to be made mandatory for women : Delhi high court

The Delhi high court on Wednesday disposed of a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking to make helmet wearing compulsory for pillion riders irrespective of their gender and religion, after the city government informed it that motor vehicle rules would be amended to make it compulsory for women to wear helmets.

A division bench of Acting Chief Justice AK Sikri and Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw granted two months’ time to the government for making necessary amendments in the Delhi Motor Vehicle Rules 1993.

The Delhi government submitted before the court that although a central law like the Motor Vehicle Act has made it mandatory for women to wear helmets while riding pillion, the Delhi government had made it optional in its Rule in 1993 and now it has decided to consider Rule 115 again and make necessary amendments.

The court was hearing the plea filed by Ulhas, who claimed to be a social film maker. The plea challenged a provision in the Delhi Motor Vehicles Rules which exempts women from wearing helmets when riding pillion.

Challenging the exemption to women, the petitioner said there should be a uniform law for all people, irrespective of their caste, creed, gender and religion.

According to the Motor Vehicle Act and rules, Sikhs wearing turbans and women are exempted from wearing helmets while riding motor-cycles and scooters.

The petitioner submitted that at the intervention of this very court, the city government had framed rules making headgear mandatory for two-wheeler drivers and pillion riders, but Sikh men have been exempted.

“Every year, about 60 to 70 women die due to head injuries sustained in road accidents involving two-wheelers, and the government should make wearing helmets compulsory for all pillion riders as well,” the petition said.



Court dismisses PIL against Tata housing project

The Punjab and Haryana High Court Monday dismissed a public interest litigation (PIL) against construction of a multi-storeyed housing project by the Tata Housing Development Company (THDC) in an ecologically fragile zone in Punjab, north of Chandigarh. Disposing of the PIL the court said

that Tata Housing could go ahead with the project after obtaining necessary permissions according to a company spokesman.

“The court has not put any other stipulations for going ahead with the project except seeking permissions under the relevant statues,” a spokesman of Tata Housing said Monday evening.

“We welcome the decision by the court which has been taken in the best interest of society at large. We assure that the manner in which the project has been planned will make it another architectural marvel. The project is conceptualized as a Green Development – to be in total harmony with the environment. The project will proceed further after securing necessary permissions from the appropriate authorities,” the spokesman said.

The land belonging to a number of politicians and other influential people in Punjab was sold in big chunks to the THDC in recent years. The PIL had alleged that all clearances were obtained by the THDC from the Punjab government since influential people were benefitting from selling land to the project and getting money and flats in return.

The THDC had launched its Camelot project north of Chandigarh comprising of multi-tower high rise apartments. The floors of some of the towers were to go up to 23 floors – a thing unheard of for any building in and around Chandigarh.

The THDC had offered luxury flats and penthouses to the politicians from the Akali Dal, Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party and other parties in Punjab in the towers that are to be built.

The project is located in Punjab’s Mohali district. Once completed it was to have 18 high-rise buildings with luxury flats costing a minimum of whopping 30 million.

The project was opposed by lawyers and conservationists saying that it violated the very spirit of Chandigarh.

The controversial project is coming up in an area north of Chandigarh and is located close to the Sukhna lake wildlife sanctuary.

There were allegations that the Punjab government bent rules to give a go-ahead to the project since it had 102 Punjab politicians on board.

The highest building in Chandigarh, the Punjab and Haryana secretariat complex in Sector 1, has 10 floors. It was designed by the city’s founder-architect Le Corbusier in the 1950s.

Chandigarh city conceptualized by the first Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru as a symbol of emerging modern India was designed by French architect Le Corbusier and his team.

Making strict rules of construction in and around the city in its Master Plan no construction activity was allowed by the planners under law in an area of 16 km around the city.

Chandigarh a union territory is the joint capital of Punjab and Haryana.



Supreme Court to hear PIL against Cairn-Vedanta deal

The Supreme Court will hear March 2 a suit that wants the acquisition of Cairn India, the nation’s biggest onshore oil deposit, by Anil Agarwal-promoted Vedanta Resources declared invalid.

A public interest litigation (PIL) was filed in the apex court Monday seeking invalidation of the government approval for the Cairn Energy-Vedanta deal under which Vedanta acquired 41 percent stake of Cairn India in the Rajasthan oil block.

Lawyer Prashant Bhushan filed the petition on behalf of Arun Kumar Agrawal, a Bangalore-based financial expert. It wants the court to order an investigation into why the state-run Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC) did not buy the shares. It also urges the court to order ONGC to buy controlling stake in Cairn India.

“Declare the Cairn Energy-Vedanta deal wherein Vedanta acquired shares of Cairn India and the Government’s approval of the said deal on 24.01.2012 as void ab initio,” the PIL said.

Vedanta completed the purchase of Cairn India in December after the government approved the deal in June.

Seeking the invalidation of the deal, the PIL said: “The government of India has allowed the transfer of the oil resources of the country worth lakhs of crores of rupees to a private company by giving up its own legal rights in complete violation of the public trust doctrine.”

The PIL urged the court to direct the ONGC “to exercise its right of preemption over the sale of shares of Cairns India on the same terms without causing any loss or profit to Cairns Energy.”

The petition said that if ONGC had exercised its preemption right then 41 percent of Cairn India’s shares added to its existing 30 percent share holding would have made the public sector company the majority stake holder in the Rajasthan oil block.

The PIL sought direction to “CBI to investigate the reasons for ONGC and the government in not asserting and exercising their legal rights under the ROFR and giving clearance of the Cairn-Vedanta deal on the basis of the existing right to share the royalty and cess on pro rata basis”.

The petitioner has also sought directions for CBI to investigate the abuse of authority by the petroleum ministry and ONGC by which ONGC (instead of Cairn) was made liable to pay the entire royalty at the rate of 20 percent and cess on the entire production instead of only on its 30 percent share of production on oil resources in the Rajasthan block.

The petition also sought direction to the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) and the government to calculate the losses from the payment of 100 percent royalty and cess by the ONGC before the Cairn-Vedanta deal and direct the ONGC/government to recover excess royalty paid by the ONGC from Cairn India.

The PIL has also sought direction to the CBI to investigate the considerations involved in the illegal extension of time given to Cairn Energy by the petroleum ministry for exploration of oil when it was fully aware that the area had billions of dollars of oil as was already highlighted in the report of the CAG.

The CAG had in its report pointed to unwarranted and irregular extensions given to Cairn Energy U.K. in Rajasthan block by the government for exploring oil when it was known that large quantities were discovered in adjacent area of blocks on which extension was sought.

According to the latest balance-sheet of Cairn India, the petition said the Rajasthan block has 6.5 billion barrel of oil in place capable of producing 1.4 billion barrels of oil. “The operating cost of extraction is mere $3.5/barrel while the sale price is over $100/barrel.”

The petition said a similar quantity of crude purchased by the country’s oil marketing companies in the international market would cost Rs.120 crore a day or Rs.44,000 crore a year with additional transport costs.

The petition said the vast oil reserve would represent 30 percent of the total crude oil production of the county.