SC pulls up Centre for asking court to show restraint (Lead)

New Delhi : The Supreme Court on Wednesday pulled up the government for advising the court to show "restraint" while making adverse remarks against governance.

The apex court said that it was at least "solving problems" and was in no way criticising the government.

Appearing for the Centre, Attorney General K.K. Venugopal told a bench headed by Justice Madan B. Lokur that the top court was passing orders on public interest litigations (PILs) filed by individuals, without realising the financial impact.

Venugopal pointed out newspaper headlines based on oral observations made by the court while hearing PILs.

Venugopal said the cancellation of the 2G licences by the court virtually wiped out huge foreign investments, while another order for the removal of liquor vends on highways led to financial loss and loss of jobs.

"There is a question of budgetary allocations... the government's 80-90 welfare programmes are going on simultaneously... the court deals with one issue and passes order, but from where will the funds come?" Venugopal pleaded.

"Judges may not know all aspects of every problem when they choose to make adverse comments against the government," he added.

Justice Lokur shot back, saying it was because of the court's order that the government has collected around Rs 150,000 crore in the form of environment cess on illegal mining.

The court wanted to know why that amount has not been spent.

The bench, which also included Justice Abdul Nazeer and Justice Deepak Gupta, said: "Let us make it clear that we have not, and we are not, criticising the government for everything.

"We are also citizens of this country. Do not give the impression that we are criticising the government and preventing it from working. We are only enforcing the rights of people. We cannot wish away Article 21."

Many developments have happened only because of the orders of the court, the bench said, adding: "You should only ask your officers to follow the laws made by Parliament."

The court pointed out that a fund of Rs 29,000 crore, collected for the welfare of construction workers, was misused for the purchase of washing machines and laptops and less than 10 per cent was utilised for the actual purpose.

"Money has not been given to them (construction workers). This money was spent on purchasing washing machines, they (workers) don't have money to buy and wear clothes but machines are bought. Laptops are bought," an anguished bench told Venugopal.

The CAG report had earlier revealed that the statutory cess levied on real estate firms for the welfare of construction workers was not being utilised, and expenditure was instead incurred on purchase of laptops and washing machines for construction workers.

The bench of Justice Lokur has been hearing and passing orders on PILs relating to pollution, environment, garbage, overcrowding of prisons -- conditions of women and children there -- shelter homes for children, rehabilitation of widows, illegal mining and other matters.

Venugopal said that with a population of 1.3 billion which is increasing exponentially, the country was facing several problems. Every order passed on PILs had its effect on other sectors, budgeting and rights of others. So, every order has to be balanced and well thought out.

The Attorney General said that he has conveyed his views to the court about dealing with the PILs and the court should consider these without taking offence.

The court was hearing a PIL relating to inhuman condition prevailing in 1,382 prisons across the country which are overcrowded.

The Attorney General agreed to the court's suggestion for setting up a one-member committee of a retired apex court Judge to recommend steps for prison reform to deal with overcrowding, women prisoners and other problems.

It said the committee would be assisted by two-three government officials and will file periodical reports to the apex court.

Posting the matter for August 17, the bench asked the Centre to file details of the proposed committee.

The bench was concerned that there were no provision to address the issue of children (staying with their imprisoned mothers) who have to be released from jail on attaining the age of six.

It was worried as to how such minors would be looked after following their release from the prison, if they had no father or relatives.

The court said that many prisoners have been languishing in jail even after bail as they could not afford the surety amount.