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Public Interest Litigation (PIL)



interest Litigation", in simple words, means, litigation filed in a court
of law, for the protection of "Public Interest", such as pollution,
Terrorism, Road safety, constructional hazards etc.

32 of the Indian Constitution contains the tool which directly joins the public
with the judiciary. Public Interest Litigation is not defined in any statute or
in any act. It has been interpreted by judges to consider the intent of public
at large.

Interest Litigation means a legal action initiated in a court of law for the
enforcement of public interest or general interest in which the public or class
of the community have pecuniary interest or some interest by which their legal
rights or liabilities are affected.

the case of People‟s Union for Democratic Rights v. Union of India, it
was held that “Public Interest Litigation which is a strategic arm of the legal
aid movement and which is intended to bring justice within the reach of the
poor masses, who constitute the low visibility area of humanity, is a totally
different kind of litigation from the ordinary traditional litigation which is
essentially of an adversary character where there is a dispute between two
parties, one making a claim or seeing relief against the other and that other
opposing such claim or relief. Public interest litigation is brought before the
court not for the purpose of enforcing the right of one individual against
another as happens in the case of ordinary litigation, but it is intended to
promote and vindicate public interest which demands that violations of
constitutional or legal rights of large numbers of people who are poor,
ignorant or in a socially or economically disadvantaged position should not go
unnoticed and un-redressed. That would be destructive of the Rule of Law which
forms one of the essential elements of public interest in any democratic form
of government. The Rule of Law does not mean that the protection of the law
must be available only to a fortunate few or that the law should be allowed to
be prostituted by the vested interests for protecting and upholding the status
quo under the guise of enforcement of their civil and political rights. The
poor too have civil and political rights and the Rule of Law is meant for them
also, though today it exists only on paper and not in reality.”

of Public Interest Litigation:

new era of the PIL movement was heralded by Justice P.N. Bhagawati in the case
of S.P. Gupta v. Union of India. In this case it was held that “any member of
the public or social action group acting bonafide” can invoke the Writ
Jurisdiction of the High Courts or the Supreme Court seeking redressal against
violation of a legal or constitutional rights of persons who due to social or
economic or any other disability cannot approach the Court. By this judgment
PIL became a potent weapon for the enforcement of “public duties” where
executed in action or misdeed resulted in public injury. And as a result any
citizen of India or any consumer groups or social action groups can now
approach the apex court of the country seeking legal remedies in all cases
where the interests of general public or a section of public are at stake.

can be evidently seen that the development of public interest litigation has
been extremely significant development in the history of the Indian
jurisprudence. The decisions of the Supreme Court in the 1970's loosened the
strict locus standi requirements to permit filing of petitions on behalf of
marginalized and deprived sections of the society by public spirited
individuals, institutions and/or bodies. The higher Courts exercised wide
powers given to them under Articles 32 and 226 of the Constitution. The sort of
remedies sought from the courts in the public interest litigation goes beyond
award of remedies to the affected individuals and groups. In suitable cases,
the courts have also given guidelines and directions. The courts have monitored
implementation of legislation and even formulated guidelines in absence of

of Public Interest Litigation:

In Public Interest Litigation (PIL) vigilant citizens of the country can find
an inexpensive legal remedy because there is only a nominal fixed court fee
involved in this.

Further, through the so-called PIL, the litigants can focus attention on and
achieve results pertaining to larger public issues, especially in the fields of
human rights, consumer welfare and environment.

of Public Interest Litigation:

The genuine causes and cases of public interest have in fact receded to the
background and irresponsible PIL activists all over the country have started to
play a major but not a constructive role in the arena of litigation. Of late,
many of the PIL activists in the country have found the PIL as a handy tool of
harassment since frivolous cases could be filed without investment of heavy
court fees as required in private civil litigation and deals could then be
negotiated with the victims of stay orders obtained in the so-called PILs.

The framers of Indian constitution did not incorporate a strict doctrine of
separation of powers but envisaged a system of checks and balances. Policy
making and implementation of policy are conventionally regarding as the
exclusive domain of the executive and the legislature. Vishaka v State of
Rajasthan which was a PIL concerning sexual harassment of women at work place.
The court declared that till the legislature enacted a law consistent with the
convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women
which India was a signatory, the guidelines set out by the court would be

The flexibility of procedure that is a character of PIL has given rise to
another set of problems. It gives an opportunity to opposite parties to
ascertain the precise allegation and respond specific issues.

The credibility of PIL process is now adversely affected by the criticism that
the judiciary is overstepping the boundaries pf its jurisdiction and that it is
unable to supervise the effective implementation of its orders. It has also
been increasingly felt that PIL is being misused by the people agitating for
private grievance in the grab of public interest and seeking publicity rather
than espousing public cause.


Peoples Union for Democratic Rights v. Union of India (A.I.R. 1982, S C 1473)-
court now permits Public Interest Litigation or Social Interest Litigation at
the instance of “Public spirited citizens" for the enforcement of
constitutional & legal rights of any person or group of persons who because
of their socially or economically disadvantaged position are unable to approach
court for relief. Public interest litigation is a part of the process of
participate justice and standing in civil litigation of that pattern must have
liberal reception at the judicial door steps.

In the Judges Transfer Case - AIR 1982, SC 149: Court held Public
Interest Litigation can be filed by any member of public having sufficient
interest for public injury arising from violation of legal rights so as to get
judicial redress. This is absolutely necessary for maintaining Rule of law and
accelerating the balance between law and justice. It is a settled law that when
a person approaches the court of equity in exercise of extraordinary
jurisdiction, he should approach the court not only with clean hands but with
clean mind, heart and with clean objectives.

Shiram Food & Fertilizer case AIR (1986) 2 SCC 176 SC: Public
Interest Litigation directed the Co. Manufacturing hazardous & lethal
chemical and gases posing danger to life and health of workmen & to take
all necessary safety measures before re-opening the plant.

In the case of M.C Mehta V. Union of India (1988) 1 SCC 471 – In Public
Interest Litigation brought against Ganga water pollution so as to prevent any
further pollution of Ganga water. Supreme court held that petitioner although
not a riparian owner is entitled to move the court for the enforcement of
statutory provisions, as he is the person interested in protecting the lives of
the people who make use of Ganga water.

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