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Public Interest or Personal Grievance: Supreme Court Preserves Judicial Integrity and Dismisses Writ by a Heart Surgeon

Introduction

In the case of K.M. Cherian v. Union of India[i], the Petitioner, a distinguished heart surgeon and founder of Frontier Lifeline Private Limited (‘FLPL’), filed a writ petition (‘WP’) under a. 32 of the Constitution of India, 1950 (‘Constitution’) before the Hon’ble Supreme Court (‘SC’). The Petitioner addressed the impediments faced by FLPL, emphasizing regulatory delays, financial challenges, and mismanagement leading to its closure and liquidation. Despite asserting violations of constitutional rights, including the right to health, and highlighting the unique contributions of his projects, the SC dismissed the WP. The SC’s decision underscores the need to preserve the integrity of legal proceedings and ensure that petitions purportedly filed in the public interest genuinely address broader societal issues rather than serving individual grievances.

Facts

  • The Petitioner had established FLPL in 2003 in Tamil Nadu with a vision to provide advanced medical care and research and bridge gaps in affordable healthcare. The Petitioner sought relief under a. 32 of the Constitution, to address issues related to the impediments faced by FLPL such as regulatory delays, financial challenges, and mismanagement by respondents, leading to the closure and liquidation of FLPL.

  • Additionally, the Petitioner emphasized the need for a committee to examine irregularities in the insolvency proceedings of FLPL, wherein the Petitioner communicated that he established FLPL with a loan of Rs. 90 crores from the respondents.

  • However, the respondents applied real estate project terms on FLPL, leading to undue financial burdens and a liability increase to Rs. 154 crores. The Petitioner further stated that despite complying with a demand for Rs. 1 crore to prevent FLPL from being declared a non-performing asset (‘NPA’), the respondents declared it as NPA in 2013, violating Reserve Bank of India guidelines.

  • Moreover, despite initiating insolvency proceedings, the respondents rejected a one-time settlement offer for Rs. 70 crores. Later, they sold FLPL for Rs. 75 crores. The Petitioner asserted that the resolution professional and the respondents hastened FLPL’s liquidation, misusing Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 (‘IBC’) provisions and ignoring the NITI Aayog’s recommendation to treat medical research loans differently.

  • Simultaneously, the Petitioner filed a special leave petition (‘SLP’), aiming to challenge an order dated 09.02.2019, passed by the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal, which affirmed the National Company Law Tribunal’s order dated 02.08.2018, admitting the financial creditor’s application under s. 7 of the IBC. The SC dismissed this SLP on the same day this judgment was delivered.

Held

  • The SC held that the petition, though ostensibly filed in the public interest, was closely linked to the Petitioner’s specific grievance regarding the insolvency proceedings against FLPL. Consequently, the SC declined to entertain a petition purportedly in the public interest on these grounds, leading to the dismissal of the WP.

  • The dismissal of the WP was grounded in the SC’s determination that it lacked merit due to its specific association with the Petitioner’s personal grievances.

Analysis

The ruling reinforces the principle that public interest litigation (‘PIL’) must not be misused for personal grievances. By dismissing the petition linked to the Petitioner’s personal challenges, the SC upheld the integrity of PILs, emphasizing their purpose to address genuine societal issues rather than individual disputes. This judgment serves as a critical reminder that while the judiciary remains a gateway for redressing violations of fundamental rights, it demands discernment to distinguish between true public welfare and personal interests cloaked as public causes.

The decision highlights the necessity of clear regulatory frameworks in sectors such as healthcare and medical research, reinforcing the necessity for legal frameworks that expedite and simplify processes for the genuine advancement of public health. Further, the SC’s stance is a directive for future litigants to engage with the legal system constructively, ensuring that PILs remain a tool for societal benefit rather than an avenue for personal litigation. This ruling also emphasizes the need for petitioners to adhere to procedural requirements and present their cases with transparency and honesty to avoid dismissal on grounds of misrepresentation or lack of genuine public interest.


End Note:

[i] Writ Petition(s) (Civil) No(s). 37/2024 dated 25.01.2024.


 Authored by Shivam Mishra, Advocate at Metalegal Advocates. The views expressed are personal and do not constitute a legal opinion.

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