Hours after senior lawyer Fali S Nariman countered advocate Prashant Bhushan's claim that his NGO Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) filed PILs after a committee of five eminent legal luminaries, including Nariman, scrutinised the genuineness of the complaint and its contents, Bhushan has written a letter claiming that the mention of Fali Nariman in this context has been "misreported" by Firstpost. What Bhushan claims has been "misreported" in Firstpost has been published in dozens of other mainline dailies and online news channels.
Earlier this week, a Supreme Court bench of Chief Justice T S Thakur and Justices A K Sikri and R Banumathi grilled "crusader" Prashant Bhushan on the credentials of his Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL), which has challenged the allocation of 4G spectrum to Reliance Industries Ltd's Jio on the ground that it was given at cheaper rate for internet use and was later converted into voice telephony. The bench questioned Bhushan on whether his laundry list of PILs can be allowed to take the "system for a ride".
"Prashant Bhushan, you have an image of a crusader. But can you become the centre for public interest litigation? Can the system be taken for a ride in such a manner? We cannot allow this. We must be satisfied that you have a committee which scrutinizes the complaints and allows only genuine ones to be converted into public interest litigations," the Bench told Bhushan, which has been reported by news wires and many English and regional language newspapers across the country.
The report in question which Bhushan claims has "misreported" on the court hearing appeared in Firstpost in the early hours of 13 January. Bhushan's reaction comes two days later and only after Fali Nariman's letter to the Supreme Court. Multiple broadsheets and online newspapers on 13 January and later have carried exactly the same details that Bhushan claims have been "misreported".
Bhushan said CPIL was set up by ex-SC judge V M Tarkunde in the late 1980s when the concept of public interest, similar to the class action suit in the US, was taking root in India. Bhushan said a committee comprising senior counsel Fali Nariman, Anil Divan, Kamini Jaiswal, Shanti Bhushan and himself scrutinizes any PIL before it is filed, report Bar and Bench and Daily Mail.
In his letter to Editor, Firstpost, Bhushan says: "Your paper has misreported the court proceedings and has stated that Mr. Nariman is part of the committee which decides on filing of PILs. That is not what I had said and it not (sic) correct. The Governing Council of CPIL of which Mr. Nariman is a member has authorized the sub-committee to decide on the PILs to be filed," Bhushan wrote in a letter dated 15 January.
Below is the full text of Prashant Bhushan's letter:
In the report published on your website on 12.01.2016, you have reported the observations made by the Chief Justice of India made during the hearing of petition filed by Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) against the grant of voice telephony to Reliance on 4G spectrum at 2001 price. I was the advocate for CPIL in the said petition wherein CJI raised certain queries regarding the functioning of CPIL. In response to the said queries, I had explained the mechanism and system followed by CPIL for deciding on the PILs that are to be filed in court. I had stated that there is a sub-committee of 5 advocates: Mr. Anil Divan, Mr. Shanti Bhushan, Mr. Colin Gonsalves, Ms. Kamini Jaiswal and myself who decides on the PILs to be filed by the society. I had also mentioned the names of certain senior advocates like Mr. Fali S Nariman who are the founding members of CPIL and are also part of its governing body. Your paper has misreported the court proceedings and has stated that Mr. Nariman is part of the committee which decides on filing of PILs. That is not what I had said and it not correct. The Governing Council of CPIL of which Mr. Nariman is a member has authorized the sub-committee to decide on the PILs to be filed. In the meeting dated 4/1/13 attended and signed by 11 members of the governing Council including Mr. Nariman, it was resolved:
That we hereby resolve that in accordance with Rule 4 (b) (1) of the Rules and Regulations of the Society, we continue and appoint the same Sub-Committee of the following members which was appointed on 4/5/03 to decide the petitions that will be filed on behalf of the Society in any court of the country.
1. Mr. Anil Divan
2. Mr. Shanti Bhushan
3. Mr. Colin Gonsalves
4. Ms. Kamini Jaiswal
5. Mr. Prashant Bhushan
We also reaffirm and continue the appointment of Ms. Kamini Jaiswal as Secretary of the Society who is authorized to sign the Vakalatnama and affidavits on behalf of the Society. She can act to file cases after consulting the aforesaid subcommittee either telephonically or by emails. We further confirm and resolve to authorize Kamini Jaiswal and Prashant Bhushan to decide whom to engage for appearing in and arguing cases before the courts, in consultation with the President, Mr. Anil Divan. We confirm and ratify all acts done by them in filing and pursuit of PILs filed by them on behalf of the society.”
Mr Nariman has not been a member of the sub-committee and therefore he had not scrutinized the petition filed against Reliance. Moreover, I had never stated that he had done so. However your incorrect reporting has caused serious confusion and damage to the reputation of CPIL and myself.
Kindly carry this clarification on your website as prominently as your news report.
Below is the full text of Fali Nariman's letter to the Supreme Court.
Bhushan says Fali Nariman is not on the committee, but only on the governing body but Nariman, in his letter to SC, says he is on the ‘committee’. What Bhushan claims has been "misreported" by Firstpost, in effect, is what the entire media has (mis)reported.
Editor’s note: The Firstpost report referred to by Mr Bhushan was sourced from wire agencies IANS, PTI, Bar and Bench, Daily Mail, Times of India. The specific sentence that Mr Bhushan claims has been misreported in Firstpost (Bhushan said a committee comprising senior counsel Fali Nariman, Anil Divan, Kamini Jaiswal, Shanti Bhushan and himself scrutinizes any PIL before it is filed) has been reported by many other news organizations notably India Today, Daily Mail, Times of India and Bar and Bench exactly in those terms.
(Disclosure: Firstpost is part of Network18 Media & Investment Limited which is owned by Reliance Industries Limited.)