Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Activist seeks Criminal Contempt against ITC Ltd & other Tobacco Cos for treating Karnataka HC as their safe haven

This is the text of the impleadment application of Activist Ravi Krishna Reddy as an opposing Respondent in the matter referred to in my recent post titled 

The below impleadment application was recently heard in open court. The application describes how the tobacco lobby, led by ITC Limited, is abusing the judicial process.

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"The case above is part of a batch of cases. This batch is currently being heard by a Bench of this Hon’ble Court. Tobacco companies and tobacco trade groups have questioned the legality and constitutionality of the 85% pictorial warning on tobacco packs – the Cigarettes And Other Tobacco Products (Packaging and Labelling Amendment) Rules, 2014. The case above was filed in the Karnataka High Court itself.

The 85% pictorial warning on tobacco packs alerts about the inherently dangerous, harmful and toxic nature of tobacco to the unsuspecting public. Consequently, the tobacco companies were mortally worried that a well-informed public would shun tobacco products – leading to drastically lower profits and eventually, closure of several tobacco businesses.



This impleading applicant seeks to urgently alert this Hon’ble Court to a massive conspiracy by leading tobacco companies and tobacco trade-interest groups to treat the Karnataka High Court as their safe haven – ITC Limited, the petitioner in the aforesaid case, Godfrey Philips India Ltd, VST Industries Ltd, Ghodawat Industries Pvt. Ltd and the Tobacco Institute of India (‘tobacco companies’). Alarmingly, these bodies have conspired to destroy the carefully earned reputation of this Hon’ble Court. They have publicly, knowingly, deliberately, intentionally and fraudulently invoked the jurisdiction of the Karnataka High Court when in fact, it had none at all.

These tobacco companies are registered outside the State of Karnataka and had no cause of action whatsoever to approach the Karnataka High Court. However, they have conspired with each other to forego their own jurisdictional High Court. They have fraudulently approached this Hon’ble Court, the Karnataka High Court. Thereby, these leading tobacco companies have conveyed to the public that the High Court of Karnataka is their safe haven and protects their profits and economic interests when faced with a national public health legislation. Such a conspiracy is a textbook case of criminal contempt.

The public would lose all faith when an unrelated and unconnected High Court is treated as a safe haven by tobacco companies that are eager to defeat a national public health legislation. The country would be concerned about whatever aspect it is that that motivates the leading tobacco companies situated in different States of India to fraudulently treat Karnataka High Court as their safe haven.

Hence, the impleading applicant seeks invocation of criminal contempt proceedings against ITC Limited (and its conspirators Godfrey Philips India Ltd, VST Industries Ltd, Godawat Industries Private Ltd and Tobacco Institute of India) for conveying to the nation that 1) an unconnected Karnataka High Court is ITC’s shelter and safe haven to question the 85% pictorial warnings and 2) ITC’s jurisdictional Calcutta High Court ought to be shunned in favour of the Karnataka High Court and 3) the Karnataka High Court could be deceived and made to defeat a national public health legislation and 4) of the 24 High Courts in India, the Karnataka High Court is ITC’s choice of Court to sabotage national public health.

Fraudulently, on 11-Apr-2016, ITC Limited filed a petition under Article 226 before the Karnataka High Court. It was numbered as Writ Petition No.103356 of 2016. In its prayer, it had asked the Karnataka High Court to quash the 85% pictorial warning. The cause title to this petition reads as under:

ITC Limited
A Company within the meaning of the Companies Act, 2013
Having its registered office at
37, J.L.Nehru Road
Kolkata 700 071
(Also having its operations at
Munavalli Enterprises
97/2A, Bommapur Village
NH-63 Bellary Road
Hubli 580 029
Karnataka)

The only Respondents were policy respondents in New Delhi – the Central Government. No relief was claimed against any person, officer or authority in Karnataka; there was not even a complaint or grievance against the conduct of any person, authority or officer in Karnataka. The only Respondents were: 1) the Union of India through Cabinet Secretary, 2) Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, 3) Ministry of Agriculture, 4) Ministry of Labour and Employment, 5) Ministry of Commerce and Industry and 6) Ministry of Finance – all of which are situated in New Delhi.

Except to state in bland terms that: “1… One of the locations where the petitioner carries on its business and stores the duty paid cigarettes in warehouses from where cigarettes are sold is situated at Munavalli Enterprises….Hubli-580029, Karnataka in respect of which, the petitioner has entered into a contract with M/s.Nutan Rajumani Transport Pvt. Ltd who is a warehouse service provider. The said warehouse is situated within the territorial jurisdiction of this Hon’ble Court.”, there is absolutely no averment in ITC’s Writ Petition to support a filing to this Hon’ble Court.

If only such a bland and a frivolous averment as in the above would confer jurisdiction to this Hon’ble Court, ITC could then file identical petitions in each of the 24 High Courts of India as it would have some or the other business in each of the States of India. That is, ITC Limited has offered no reason whatsoever to claim territorial jurisdiction of the Karnataka High Court.

Also, ITC Limited should have known and would know that merely having a warehouse in Karnataka does not give it any territorial jurisdiction to question a central legislation in the Karnataka High Court – any more than having such warehouses across India would give it a territorial jurisdiction in each of the States where it has such warehouses. In fact, such an absurd, bogus and a wholly frivolous theory can never be accepted by the judiciary. After all, if a mere presence of a warehouse would give ITC, the jurisdiction to invoke the High Court where such a warehouse is situated, the similar presence of different warehouses in different States would also confer to ITC, similar jurisdiction to also file in each of the other States – a thorough absurdity. Going further, in each High Court, ITC Limited could also file hundreds of more petitions – one for each shop, godown, warehouse or factory. No country of the world even entertains a discussion of such a bogus ‘forum conveniens’ doctrine, let alone, ever permitting it on its soil.

Still, ITC Limited elected the Karnataka High Court when it fully knew that Karnataka High Court had no jurisdiction whatsoever to entertain its petition. More damagingly, ITC Limited conspired with other leading tobacco companies to ensure similar petitions to the Karnataka High Court – by Godfrey Philips India Ltd, VST Industries Ltd, Ghodawat Industries Pvt. Ltd and Tobacco Institute of India, a tobacco trade group. Godfrey Philips India Ltd is a Company registered in Mumbai, Maharashtra, VST Industries Ltd is a company registered in Hyderabad, Telangana, Godawat Industries Pvt. Ltd is a Company registered in Kolhapur, Maharashtra and Tobacco Institute of India is a trade body registered in New Delhi. None of these tobacco companies had any locus whatsoever to invoke the jurisdiction of the Karnataka High Court and also, the respondents in each of these five cases are merely, the policy Respondents in New Delhi – the Central Government.

The fact that the leading tobacco companies situated in States other than Karnataka have knowingly, intentionally, deliberately and fraudulently overlooked their own jurisdictional High Courts to file a petition to the Karnataka High Court has plainly conveyed to any reasonable person that Karnataka High Court is treated by the leading tobacco companies as their safe haven. Reasonable minds that notice such filing are forced to form an impression that the Karnataka High Court has held out an unlawful attraction to these tobacco companies. Had only one or two leading tobacco companies inadvertently come to the Karnataka High Court, the situation would have been different. However, when leading tobacco companies that compete with each other still conspire with each other to overlook their own jurisdictional High Court to choose a wholly unconnected Karnataka High Court, no reasonable mind would take it to be a mere coincidence or mere inadvertence but a deliberate design by the leading tobacco companies to treat Karnataka High Court as their safe haven when faced with a national public health legislation. Such perception in a reasonable mind and the real possibility of even the lay public coming to the same conclusion renders these filings as a brazen act of criminal contempt.

This impleading applicant seeks impleadment for the purpose of seeking 1) a dismissal of each of the five petitions immediately as a brazen attempt to bring the Karnataka High Court into a real and immediate criminal contempt, 2) imposition of exemplary, unprecedented and unheard of costs upon each one of these five tobacco companies with a view to neutralize the public perception that the Karnataka High Court had held no manner of unlawful attraction to these leading tobacco companies whatsoever and 3) initiate criminal contempt proceedings forthwith against the management of each of these five tobacco companies and 4) to take such other measures as may be deemed expedient or necessary by this Hon’ble Court to protect its sanctity in the circumstances of this case.

Date: 25-Feb-2017

Place: Bangalore

ADVOCATE FOR IMPLEADING APPLICANT

ADV. SUDARSHAN SURESH
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Also read:

Letter to Pranab-babu: Smoking Kills… But ITC Ltd is Champion of Sustainability?!

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