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SC on ‘Proxy PILs’ used as instruments of intimidation

January 25, 2016

We have been repeatedly exposing the unscrupulous and malicious ploys adopted by anti-Ashram elements like Raman Reddy, Sraddhalu Ranade, R.Y. Deshpande and others, who have been deliberately abusing the process of Law by exploiting the weaknesses of the judicial system, not to seek justice of course, but as a weapon for negotiation, intimidation, reputation destruction and other personal gains.

Approaching the Courts was just one of a multi-pronged strategy for these anti-Ashram elements, with which they hoped that they could intimidate and destroy the reputation of the Trustees of the Ashram as well as to buy some time and space for publicity of their campaigns and actions. These anti-Ashram elements know very well that the weakest point of the overstretched Indian judicial system is that it takes time, more often than not a very long time for justice to be rendered. And time is exactly what these anti-Ashram elements wanted to have, because getting justice was never going to be in their interest, as the real victims were from the onset the Ashram, some of its members and Trustees (c.f. 1 & 2).

With time time in their hand, since the year 2008 when the first court case was filed, we have all been witness to how this was exploited to try to sabotage, weaken and even destroy the Ashram. We may recollect how a systematic campaign was unleashed against the Ashram and its trustees. There were nation-wide misinformation and slander campaigns spearheaded by Sraddhalu Ranade, where he visited numerous groups of devotees (c.f., 3), the majority of which were affiliated to centers of the Sri Aurobindo Society, to seek support from those groups which he even got. Agitations in the form of Dharnas were also planned and executed. When initial attempts to build momentum from within the Ashram quickly fizzled out and failed, politicians and goons were roped in (c.f., 4). Even the Members of Parliament were not spared by them and unnecessarily dragged into this controversy (c.f., 5)

It is therefore heartening to at last find that the Editor of the online publication Firstpost has also shared the same concerns and exposed the malicious games that are played by vested interests through the misuse of legal instruments. Of particular interest to us is the study and analysis conducted by Firstpost on the proxy Public Interest Litigation (PIL) that was filed against the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust.

We reproduce in whole the article published further below here, and draw attention to the following statement which deserves to be highlighted:

“The Sri Aurobindo Ashram is not alone in being a victim of power play. Across the country, clever litigants are tying the hands of institutions in inaction and inertia, emerging from which takes money and invaluable time that could be better utilised… the apex court said.”



SC has shown great foresight in striking against proxy PILs as instruments of intimidation

by The Editor Jan 14, 2016 18:45 IST

In the space of seven days, two benches of the Supreme Court have, in their own way, signalled that the era of frivolous cases and using the courts as a tool for personal and petty ends is coming to an end. They highlight the underbelly of how litigants abuse the process of law. While the judgements under analysis pertain to trusts and non-governmental organisations, the spirit of the order in one case and comments in the other can easily be transplanted on to any type of case anywhere in the country, where smart operators use judicial processes not to seek justice but as a weapon for negotiation, intimidation, reputation destruction and other personal gains.

The two cases under analysis are against the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust (SAAT) and Reliance Jio.

“If the persons in management of the trusts are subjected to multiplicity of legal proceedings, funds which are to be used for charitable or religious purposes would be wasted on litigation,” the apex court in the SAAT versus R Ramanathan case noted in their January 5, 2016 order. “It is time for all of us, litigants, lawyers and judges to introspect and decide whether a litigation being pursued is really worth the while.”

The case is simple: because SAAT did not expel scholar and writer Peter Heehs from the ashram for writing a book that a handful found to be “sacrilegious”, the latter wanted the trustees to be removed. While the case of the book is currently in the Orissa High Court, the excerpt based on which the dissolution is being sought, is to any mind, anything but sacrilegious; on the contrary, it is deeply reverential, as the following paragraph reads.

“Early in the afternoon the Mother rejoined him, and they walked together to the small outer room where they sat together on a sofa, the Mother on Sri Aurobindo’s right. Here they remained for the next few hours as ashramites and visitors – more than three thousand by the end of the 1940s – passed before them one by one, “There is no suggestion of a vulgar jostle anywhere in the moving procession,” a visitor noted. “The mystic sits bare-bodied except for a part of his dhoti thrown around his shoulders, a kindly light plays in his eyes,” Sri Aurobindo looked directly at each person for a moment “the moving visitor is conscious of a particular contact with these [eyes] as he bends down to do his obeisance. They leave upon him a mysterious ‘feel’ that baffles description. The contact, almost physical, instils a faint sense of a fragrance into his heart and he has a perception of a glow akin to that spreading in every fibre of his being.” Most visitors had similarly positive experiences. But some, particularly those from the West, were distracted by the theatricality of the setting and the religiosity of the pageantry.” [SIC.]

If such is the basis on which the Odisha government has found Heehs’ book, The Lives of Sri Aurobindo, deserves to be banned and “its copies, reprints, translations or other documents containing extracts taken therefrom be forfeited to the Government”, it clearly shows that reason is fighting for life in the state. We hope the Orissa High Court, to which the Supreme Court has left the matter of the ban, brings reason back.

The Sri Aurobindo Ashram is not alone in being a victim of power play. Across the country, clever litigants are tying the hands of institutions in inaction and inertia, emerging from which takes money and invaluable time that could be better utilised. All institutions are entitled to a wide discretion in the administration of a trust, the apex court said.

“A disagreement with the exercise of the discretion (however passionate the disagreement might be) does not necessarily lead to a conclusion of maladministration, unless the exercise of discretion is perverse,” Justices Madan B Lokur and SA Bobde concluded. An important point they have made is that not expelling a historian simply because he has written a book that some consider sacrilegious is not reason enough to remove the trustees.

The judiciary is not unaware of the blatant misuse of the process of law. But now, it seems to be moving towards ending it. That all participants in this institution of justice – litigants, lawyers and judges – need to introspect can’t be overstated. In the battle to control frivolous litigation, the SAAT judgement and the comments on Prashant Bhushan’s serial PILs are two strong wins… But these are small victories in a long and looming war, winning which would mean fighting several such battles.



– Well-wishers of Sri Aurobindo Ashram –

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