On the morning of 21 July, a virtual courtroom drama played out. In the video conference dock was 32-year-old Abhijit Mishra, a former IT consultant, and self-anointed “financial economist” whose barrage of Public Interest Litigations (PILs) have created a stir in recent times. PILs that question the intent of various institutions, from the Reserve Bank of India, and the National Housing Bank, to digital payments services such as Google Pay, PayPal, and payments banks like Paytm Payments Bank*.

This time, the shoe was on the other foot. Mishra’s intentions were under scrutiny.

Mishra averages one PIL a month—filing over 20 since late 2018. These range from alleging illegal lending, to asking for the formulation of welfare schemes for the unorganised workers in Delhi, and the inclusion of advocates under professions that can avail benefits under the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Act, 2006.

The PILs give the impression that Mishra is on a mission to clean up institutions like RBI and the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) for being arbitrary and not taking swift action. But the Delhi High Court, which has been knee-deep in PILs, especially during the lockdown, wasn’t impressed. In fact, it doubted his motivations.

In 2019, the court asked asked Times of India What's behind your chronic PILs, asks Delhi HC Read more Mishra how he could spend so much time on PILs and be in court almost every day. It even asked him if his employer at the time, IT services major Wipro, was encouraging him to file these PILs. “In my two decades I have not seen this kind of litigant; it is very unusual,” said Sanjay Ghose, a senior counsel, who was directed by the court to investigate Mishra.

Eventually, the police issued him a notice asking for more details on 15 July. They wanted to verify the personal information he had provided in an affidavit submitted to the court as proof of character. Mishra, however, labelled it as harassment and, in turn, filed more litigation a day later. This time, a criminal complaint against the Delhi government on 16 July.

His complaint stated that the Delhi Police, at the behest of the state government, has been “harassing, arm twisting and threatening” him to submit and “kneel before its illegal demands”. At the 21 July hearing, Mishra pleaded with the court to stop the investigations against him. The matter will next be heard on 31 August.

While Ghose denies any harassment, Mishra is in no mood to relent. He has taken on all comers, including his former employer, Wipro. In a complaint filed on 22 May in the Punjab and Haryana High Court, Mishra said that Wipro was threatening him and exerting psychological pressure. The company was concerned about the reputational damage his PILs were causing.

AUTHOR

Arundhati Ramanathan

Arundhati is Bengaluru-based. She is interested in how people use money in the digital age and how new economies will take shape based on that interaction. She has spent over 10 years reporting and writing on various subjects. Previous stints were at Mint, Outlook Business and Reuters.

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