Will clog parliament”: Supreme Court on PIL to allow citizens to directly petition parliament to discuss important issues

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday took an unfavourable view of a public interest litigation (PIL) petition seeking a declaration that citizens have a fundamental right to directly petition the parliament and invite deliberation on important issues of public interest [Karan Garg vs Union of India and ors].

A bench of Justices KM Joseph and BV Nagarathna on Friday expressed its reservations regarding the prayers raised in the plea, saying that allowing the same could impede the functioning of the parliament.

“There are two aspects to it. India’s population is more [than other countries that have such systems]. What will possibly happen if we were to recognise? You want it to to be declared as part of Article 19(1)a. It will completely clog the working of Parliament,” Justice Joseph remarked.

The judges also wondered if the plea was maintainable, keeping in view that the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, rather than their Secretaries-General were made parties.

Nevertheless, the bench directed that a copy of the petition be served on the standing counsel for the Central government, but declined to issue formal notice to the government.

The matter will be heard next on February 17, 2023.

Advocate Rohan J Alva, assisted by advocate Aby P Verghese, appeared for the petitioner during today’s hearing. The counsel submitted that the petition raises substantial questions of constitutional law.

He added that the two houses of parliament were impleaded out of abundant caution, and given that they could implement the prayers sought through some administrative measures.

“We have an engaged electorate that is attentive to issues. But there is no avenue to engage with the lawmakers after they have been elected. This is there in House of Commons, we are based on Westminster model. These practices are in vogue abroad,” he further submitted.

The petition, filed through advocate Joby P Verghese, called for the creation of a system, rules and regulatory framework that would empower citizens to petition the Parliament of India to have debates, discussions and deliberations on issues and concerns raised by citizens.

The petitioner urged the Supreme Court to declare that citizens have a fundamental right to do so under Articles 14, 19(1)(a), and 21 of the Constitution.

“The said framework will usher in an era of constitutional dialogue by which citizens can seek the initiation of debate and discussion on important national matters. Further, the said framework if implemented will ensure that the grievances of the people of India can be addressed in a proper manner by Parliament … The current system does not fully allow citizens to initiate discussions in Parliament by moving appropriate petitions,” the petition stated.

Explaining how the proposed system could work, the petitioner suggested the following process:

If enough number of signatures are gathered, then the a petition will be converted into a Public Petition, which then would be published on a platform and become visible to the public.

At this stage, after the Public Petition gets higher support in the form of more signatures from the public, a written response from the respective government department/ ministry would be mandated.

If the signatures on the petition cross a higher threshold requirement with respect to the number of signatures that are to be obtained, after being converted into a Public Petition, then it would be identified as an Extraordinary Petition involving an issue concerning a high number of citizens, which would immediately mandate that the issue be formally taken up for discussion in Parliament.

The petitioner submitted further that he had already filed representations before the government for introduction of such a system, but to no avail.

” … the creation of such a system law-makers will enjoy direct access with the citizens. It would be a platform that could transform and evolve the current system into a more efficient tool for all the stakeholders in the Indian parliamentary system. There is an urgent need to improve the level engagement of the citizens with the government and the democratic system,” the petition highlighted.

The petitioner also stressed that there is no justifiable reason to exclude citizens from fully realising the promise of participative and direct democracy by engaging with the parliament on issues of larger public interest.