A stay order issued in public interest by a court must outweigh the public interest of completing a project in time
justices Sujata V Manohar and B N Kirpal of the Supreme Court ( sc ) have in a major ruling -- which aims to check the abuse of public interest litigation ( pil ) -- stated that the public must be compensated if a project meant to benefit is delayed by an interim order of a court. The judges ruled that the public must be compensated both for the delay in implementation of the project and the escalation in cost resulting from such a delay. The judges were setting aside a Mumbai High Court order through which the execution of the Khaperkheda Thermal Power Station Project was delayed.
The judgement came in response to a plea filed against a ruling of the Bombay high court by a private company. The company had been given the contract for supply, manufacture, design, erection and commissioning of the power plant.
A rival company had lost the bid and moved the high court, which stayed the operation of the Maharashtra government's letter of intent in favour of Raunaq International Ltd. The judges noted that there was no overwhelming public interest in stopping the project and that stalling the project was a "major detriment to the public" because construction of the two power stations was held up on account of this dispute.
Saying that the high court had seriously erred in granting the stay, sc cautioned courts against entertaining pil s, which could result in delays and are detrimental to public interest. The judges went further: the party at whose instance the interim orders were obtained must be held accountable for their consequences. They must provide for the reimbursement of costs to the public in case the litigation started by such an individual or body fails. The public interest of holding up a project must outweigh the public interest of completing it on time.
This leads to another question. How does this ruling affect legal actions initiated by environmental activists all over the country? How do we decide that they outweigh the public interest of completing those projects in time? The court must clarify this in detail otherwise vested interests will start advocating a ban on pil s from environmental activists. And at the moment it is only the courts that are listening to them.
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