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Patna High Court Ruling Clarifies Locus Standi in Writ Petitions

Introduction

In a recent ruling by the Patna High Court (‘HC’) in the case of Amit Pandey v. Union of India[i], the parameters guiding the maintainability of petitions under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, 1949 (‘Constitution’) were analysed, emphasizing the essential criteria of enforceable rights and statutory duties. The HC dismissed the writ petition (‘WP’) filed by a lawyer, challenging certain provisions of the Constitution (101st Amendment) Act, 2016 (‘Act’) as violative of the basic structure of the Constitution. The HC held that the petitioner did not have any locus standi in the case and could not prove any prejudice caused to him.

Brief Facts

  • The WP was filed by a lawyer challenging ss. 2, 9, 12, and 18 of the Act, alleging that these provisions violate the basic structure of the Constitution.

  • The petitioner contended that the establishment of the Goods and Services Tax (‘GST’) Council as per the Act represents an abdication of legislative functions.

  • In response to the WP, the Central Government (‘CG’) submitted a detailed counter affidavit, emphasizing the extensive process involved in transitioning to the GST regime.

  • The CG contented that the GST Council, with representation from both Union and state governments, addresses both national and state-specific issues, ensuring a comprehensive approach. It was further asserted that while the GST Council provides recommendations, the ultimate authority lies with the Union Parliament to enact laws, thus negating claims of abdication of legislative functions.

  • The HC expressed initial concerns regarding the petitioner’s locus standi, given their status as a lawyer practising in the court. Despite the petitioner’s assertion of acting in the public interest and conducting thorough research, the HC found insufficient grounds to establish the petitioner’s locus for entertaining the public interest litigation (‘PIL’).

Held

  • The HC dismissed the WP, referring to the precedent set in Ayaaubkhan Noorkhan Pathan v. State of Maharashtra & Ors[ii]., which emphasized that only an aggrieved party may participate in legal proceedings.

  • In this case, the petitioner lacked any locus as they had not suffered any legal injury resulting from the Act, particularly given their non-involvement in commercial activities and absence of registration under GST enactments. Moreover, they failed to demonstrate any prejudice stemming from the mechanism of reverse charge under the GST regime.

  • According to the HC’s interpretation of a. 226 of the Constitution, a WP is maintainable solely for enforcing a statutory or legal right or addressing a breach of statutory duty by authorities.

  • Given the petitioner’s lack of a recognized judicially enforceable right concerning the Act and their failure to assert personal prejudice, the HC found no grounds for entertaining the WP.

  • Furthermore, despite refraining from imposing costs due to what it perceived as misguided enthusiasm, the HC cautioned the petitioner against similar actions in the future.

Our Analysis

The HC’s emphasis on the petitioner’s locus standi reflects the importance of the petitioner being aggrieved to have moved the HC under writ jurisdiction. It underscores the settled principle that only aggrieved parties should be allowed to challenge legislative actions. The same principle has been applied to dismiss various WPs by various High Courts.

In addition to the settled principle, some courts have also referred to the test laid down in the Union of India and Ors. vs. Associations of Class I (Group 'A') Officer and Ors[iii] to distinguish an aggrieved person from a stranger, which includes:

1. Whether the applicant’s legal right has been infringed, and if they have suffered a legal wrong or injury recognized by law due to the act or omission of the authority in question.

2. Whether the applicant has a special and substantial grievance beyond common grievances suffered by the public.

3. Whether the applicant was entitled to object and be heard by the authority before the impugned action was taken, and if they were prejudicially affected in exercising that right.

4. Whether the statute under consideration deals with the private rights of individuals.

These criteria serve to evaluate whether an individual has a direct and significant interest in the matter at hand, beyond a general interest shared by the public. The petitioner, being a lawyer practising in the HC in the present case could not assert themselves under the category of an aggrieved person.

Further, the HC reiterated the purpose of a WP under a. 226 of the Constitution, which is to enforce statutory or legal rights or address breaches of statutory duty. Since the petitioner failed to establish any such right or breach, the HC found no grounds for entertaining the petition.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              


End Notes

[i] [2024] 161 taxmann.com 314 [01.04.2024].

[ii] [2013] 4 SCC 465

[iii] (1976) 1 SCC 671.





Authored by Shreya Manchanda, Intern at Metalegal Advocates. The views expressed are personal and do not constitute legal opinion.

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