Advocate Manohar Lal Sharma, who is notorious for filling frivolous Public Interest Litigations (PIL) and earning court’s wrath and had to pay fines several times, has come out with yet another petition. This time he has approached the Supreme Court with a PIL against the recent Home Ministry specifying which agencies can intercept electronic devices on people under surveillance for security reasons.
Advocate ML Sharma files PIL in the Supreme Court against the MHA notification allowing 10 agencies to conduct surveillance. pic.twitter.com/FIff7yEfq5
— ANI (@ANI) December 24, 2018
On December 20, the ministry of home affairs had issued a gazette order under the Information Technology Act, 2000 and Information Technology Rules 2009, which specified 10 investigating agencies which are authorized to monitor and intercept messages in computer devices. After the notification, opposition parties made a huge and cry alleging that the government has allowed the agencies to snoop on common citizens. But a careful reading of the order made it clear that the agencies are authorized to ‘snoop’ only on select cases of threat to integrity and security of the country, a threat to law and order and incitement to any cognizable offence.
The IT Rules 2009, specified that any agency of the government can be authorized to monitor and collect data, it did not name any agency. This had meant any agency could intercept and collect data, and to correct that situation, the government had specified only 10 agencies to do. The government did not make any new rule or did not change any law, they just specified the names of 10 agencies that are authorized to act as per the Information Technology Act and Rules.
On December 21, the home ministry had released a statement clarifying these points in detail. It said that no new power has been given to any agency, and each case of monitoring has to be approved by Union Home Secretary according to prevalent phone tapping laws.
Advocate M L Sharma was fined ₹50,000 by the Supreme Court earlier this month while quashing a petition by the advocate against finance minister Arun Jaitley. He had alleged plundering of RBI reserves by the government to waive loans of some companies. Reprimanding Sharma for the petition, Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi had said that the day has come to ban him from filing PILs. The court was making such remark due to the history of Sharma’s petitions. Before this, he was fined ₹50,000 and ₹25,000 by the court on two occasions in 2014 for wasting the court’s time with frivolous petitions.
On 14th this month, ML Sharma had lost another high profile petition, when the apex court rejected the plea for a court-monitored probe in the Rafale deal. Sharma was first to file a petition against the deal, who was later joined by other including Prashant Bhushan and Arun Shourie with similar petitions the supreme court.
Sharma had also angered the Supreme Court for filing a PIL in the Unnao rape case. The court had asked if some relative of Sharma has been raped, as he was not connected with the case. Court had dismissed the petition saying PIL can’t be filed in a criminal case, questioning the locus of Sharma in the case.
ML Sharm has filed petitions in a range of issues like opposing Pratibha Patil’s candidature as president, against Ranbaxy, seeking curb powers of ministers, against the movie Padmaavat, to know the detail on the disappearance of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose etc, all of which were dismissed by courts.
Apart from petitions, ML Sharma remains in news for his comments also. In 2013, he had told the apex court that a ‘lady never speak the truth, hence their statements can’t be trusted’. Filing a petition against a law intern who made allegations of sexual harassment against a judge, Sharm had written that he has learnt from ancient books that women never speak the truth, and women can go up to any extent for revenge.
Advocate Manohar Lal Sharma also defended one of the persons accused in the Nirbhaya gang rape and murder case. During the case, he had made several bizarre comments as a defence lawyer. He had said that the entire incident was planned by a politician, and the male friend of Nirbhaya who was with her on a fateful day was an accomplice. He had argued that no man can have sex with another woman unless he gets excited. And without the cooperation of the woman, he can’t get excited, essentially saying that all rape charges are fake.
In the past, the courts have threatened to ban Sharma from filing PILs, but every time he has been let off with fines or reprimands. It will be interesting to see the response of the court to this petition, given the fact that CJI Gogoi has already expressed his displeasure with frivolous petitions.