PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION
By : Vishnu on 01 September 2010 Print this
"Public 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.
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. Although, the main and only focus of such litigation
is only "Public Interest" there are various areas where a PUBLIC
INTEREST LITIGATION can be filed.
Public Interest Litigation, in Indian law, means litigation for the
protection of public interest. It is litigation introduced in a court
of law, not by the aggrieved party but by the court itself or by any
other private party. It is not necessary, for the exercise of the
court's jurisdiction, that the person who is the victim of the
violation of his or her right should personally approach the court.
Public Interest Litigation is the power given to the public by courts
through judicial activism.
Such cases may occur when the victim does not have the necessary
resources to commence litigation or his freedom to move court has been
suppressed or encroached upon. The court can itself take cognizance of
the matter and precede suo motu or cases can commence on the petition
of any public-spirited individual.
WHAT IS PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION
IN BLACK'S LAW DICTIONARY : "Public 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."
Public Interest Litigation's explicit purpose is to alienate the
suffering off all those who have borne the brunt of insensitive
treatment at the hands of fellow human being. Transparency in public
life & fair judicial action are the right answer to check increasing
menace of violation of legal rights. Traditional rule was that the
right to move the Supreme Court is only available to those whose
fundamental rights are infringed.
But this traditional rule was considerably relaxed by the Supreme
Court in its recent rulings:
Peoples Union for Democratic Rights v. Union of India (A.I.R.. 1982, S
C 1473). The 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
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
Shiram Food & Fertilizer case AIR (1986) 2 SCC 176 SC through 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
Parmanand Katara V. Union of India - AIR 1989, SC 2039 :- Supreme
Court held in the Public Interest Litigation filed by a human right
activist fighting for general public interest that it is a paramount
obligation of every member of medical profession to give medical aid
to every injured citizen as soon as possible without waiting for any
Council For Environment Legal Action V. Union Of India - (1996)5 SCC
281: Public Interest Litigation filed by registered voluntary
organisation regarding economic degradation in coastal area. Supreme
Court issued appropriate orders and directions for enforcing the laws
to protect ecology.
A report entitled "Treat Prisoners Equally HC" published in THE
TRIBUNE, Aug 23 Punjab & Haryana High Court quashed the provisions of
jail manual dividing prisoners into A , B & C classes after holding
that there cannot be any classification of convicts on the basis of
their social status, education or habit of living .This is a
remarkable ruling given by High Court by declaring 576-A paragraph of
the manual to be " Unconstitutional".
State V. Union Of India - AIR 1996 Cal 181 at 218: Public Interest
Litigation is a strategic arm of the legal aid movement which intended
to bring justice. 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 abused and misused by the vested interest. In a
recent ruling of Supreme Court on " GROWTH OF SLUMS" in Delhi through
Public Interest Litigation initiated by lawyers Mr. B.L. Wadhera & Mr.
Almitra Patel Court held that large area of public land is covered by
the people living in slum area . Departments despite being giving a
dig on the slum clearance, it has been found that more and more slums
are coming into existence. Instead of "Slum Clearance", there is "Slum
Creation" in Delhi. As slums tended to increase; the Court directed
the departments to take appropriate action to check the growth of
slums and to create an environment worth for living.
During the last few years, Judicial Activism has opened up a new
dimension for the judicial process and has given a new hope to the
millions who starve for their livelihood. There is no reason why the
Court should not adopt activist approach similar to Court in America,
so as to provide remedial amplitude to the citizens of India.
Supreme Court has now realised its proper role in welfare state and it
is using its new strategy for the development of a whole new corpus of
law for effective and purposeful implementation of Public Interest
Litigation. One can simply approach to the Court for the enforcement
of fundamental rights by writing a letter or post card to any Judge.
That particular letters based on true facts and concept will be
converted to writ petition. When Court welcome Public Interest
Litigation, its attempt is to endure observance of social and economic
programs frame for the benefits of have-nots and the handicapped.
Public Interest Litigation has proved a boon for the common men.
Public Interest Litigation has set right a number of wrongs committed
by an individual or by society. By relaxing the scope of Public
Interest Litigation, Court has brought legal aid at the doorsteps of
the teeming millions of Indians; which the executive has not been able
to do despite a lot of money is being spent on new legal aid schemes
operating at the central and state level. Supreme Court's pivotal role
in expanding the scope of Public Interest Litigation as a counter
balance to the lethargy and inefficiency of the executive is
ORIGIN OF PIL
The term "PIL" originated in the United Statesin the mid-1980s. Since
the nineteenth century, various movements in that country had
contributed to public interest law, which was part of the legal aid
movement. The first legal aid office was established in New York in
1876. In the 1960s the PIL movement began to receive financial support
from the office of Economic Opportunity, This encouraged lawyers and
public spirited persons to take up cases of the under-privileged and
fight against dangers to environment and public health and
exploitation of consumers and the weaker sections.
HISTORY OF PIL IN INDIA
PIL had begun in India towards the end of 1970s and came into full
bloom in the 80s. Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer and Justice PM. Bhagwati,
honourable Judges of the Supreme Court of India. They delivered some
landmark judgements which opened up new vistas in PIL.
OBJECTIVES OF PIL
According to Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer, PIL is a process, of obtaining
justice for the people, of voicing people's grievances through the
legal process. The aim of PIL
is to give to the common people of this country access to the courts
to obtain legal redress.
NATURE OF PIL
According to Justice Bhagwati "PIL is not in the nature of adversary
litigation but it is a challenge and an opportunity to the Government
and its officers to make basic human rights meaningful to the deprived
and vulnerable sections of the community and to assure them social and
economic justice which is the significant tune of our Constitution.
The government and its officers must welcome PIL because it would
provide them an accession to examine whether the poor and the
downtrodden are getting their social and entitlements or whether they
are continuing to remain victims of deception and exploitation at the
hands of strong and powerful sections of the community... when the
court entertains PIL, it does not do so in a cavilling spirit or in a
confrontational mood or with a view to tilting at executive authority
or seeking to usurp it, but its attempt is only to ensure observance
of social and economic rescue programmes, legislative as well as
executive, framed for the benefit of the have-nots and the handicapped
and to protect them against violation of their basic human rights,
which is also the constitutional obligation of the executive. The
court is thus merely assisting in the realization of the
constitutional objective," (AIR 1984 SC 802)
The new and liberal interpretation of the fundamental rights found in
Part III and the Directive Principles of State Policy in Part IV of
the Constitution of India. They are drawn from the revolutionary
documents like the American Bill of Rights and the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights.
Articles 32 and 228 of the Constitution that give power to any citizen
to move the
Supreme Court or High Courts wherever there is an infringement of a
ISSUES RELATED TO PIL
Issues relating to the following matters can be taken in to PIL
1. Basic amenities such as roads, water, medicines, electricity,
primary school, primary health centre, bus service, etc,
2. Rehabilitation of displaced persons.
3. Identification and rehabilitation of bonded and child labourers.
4. Illegal detention of arrested persons.
5. Torture of persons in police custody.
6, Custodial deaths.
7, Protection of prisoner's rights.
8. Jail reform.
9. Speedy trials of under trials.
10. Ragging in colleges.
11. Atrocities by police.
12. Atrocities against SCs/STs.
13. Neglect of inmates of government welfare homes,
14. Children in custody.
15. Adoption of children.
18, Corruption charges against public servants.
17. Maintenance of law and order,
18. Payment of minimum wages.
10. Legal aid to the poor.
20. Starvation deaths.
21. Indecent television programmes.
23. Environmental pollution.
24. Unauthorised eviction,
25. Protection of pavement and slum dwellers.
28. Dowry deaths.
27. Implementation of welfare laws.
28. Reform of illegal social customs such as sati, child marriage,
devdasi system, etc.
29. Violation of fundamental rights of the weaker sections.
A PIL CAN BE FILED WHEN THE FOLLOWING CONDITIONS ARE FULFILLED:
o There must be a public injury and public wrong caused by the
wrongful act or omission of the state or public authority.
o It is for the enforcement of basic human rights of weaker
sections of the community who are downtrodden, ignorant and whose
fundamental and constitutional rights have been infringed.
o It must not be frivolous litigation by persons having vested
WHO MAY FILE A PIL?
The Supreme Court (SC), through its successive judgements has relaxed
the strict rule of 'locus standi' applicable to private litigation.
ANY PERSON CAN FILE A PIL PROVIDED:
He is a member of the public acting bona fide and having sufficient
interest in instituting an action for redressal of public wrong or
He is not a mere busy body or a meddlesome interloper.
His action is not motivated by personal gain or any other oblique
HOW TO FILE A PIL:
A PIL may be filed like a write petition. However, in the past the SC
has treated even letters addressed to the court as PIL. In People’s
Democratic union v Union of India, a letter addressed by the
petitioner organization seeking a direction against the respondents
for ensuring observance of the provisions of famous labour laws in
relation to workmen employed in the construction work of projects
connected with the Asian games was entertained as a PIL.
The SC has encouraged the filing of PIL for tackling issues related to
environment, human rights etc.
DIFFERENT WAYS TO FILE A PIL
The different ways PIL can be filed in the Supreme Court and High
1. Sending letter petitions with relevant facts and documents to
the Chief Justice of the concerned court. The matter must be sent by
2. By directly filing the PIL in the court through the Free Legal
Service Committee of the court.
3. Directly filing the case with the help of any PIL lawyer.
4. Filing the case through NGOs or PIL firms.
POINTS TO BE FOLLOWED WHEN FILING PIL
1. Discuss the legal issue with the affected people thoroughly.
2. Find out whether the matter infringes on the fundamental rights of
the people or not. It is also important to specify which fundamental
rights have been violated.
3. Help the people to decide whether legal action must be taken in the
court to enforce their rights or to prevent the violation of their
4. Write out a petition with all the facts and details, dates, etc,
5. Specify in the petition the type of relief wanted by the people.
8. Get the signatures of all the affected people, if possible.
7, Collect all the available documents, paper clippings, photographs,
investigation reports, certificates and affidavits related to the
issue and attach them to the main petition as annexure.
8. If possible, consult a socially conscious lawyer or the members of
the local legal aid society before sending the petition.
9, Send the registered petition to the Chairman of the High Court
Legal Services Committee of the respective High Court or to the
Chairman of the Supreme Court Legal Services Committee, New Delhi-110
MERITS OF PIL
ü The character of the Indian Constitution. Unlike Britain, India has
a written constitution which through Part III (Fundamental Rights) and
Part IV (Directive Principles of State Policy) provides a framework
for regulating relations between the state and its citizens and
between citizens inter-se.
ü India has some of the most progressive social legislation to be
found anywhere in the world whether it be relating to bonded labor,
minimum wages, land ceiling, environmental protection, etc. This has
made it easier for the courts to haul up the executive when it is not
performing its duties in ensuring the rights of the poor as per the
law of the land.
ü The liberal interpretation of locus standi where any person can
apply to the court on behalf of those who are economically or
physically unable to come before it has helped. Judges themselves have
in some cases initiated suo moto action based on newspaper articles or
ü Although social and economic rights given in the Indian
Constitution under Part IV are not legally enforceable; courts have
creatively read these into fundamental rights thereby making them
judicially enforceable. For instance the "right to life" in Article 21
has been expanded to include right to free legal aid, right to live
with dignity, right to education, right to work, freedom from torture,
bar fetters and hand cuffing in prisons, etc.
ü Sensitive judges have constantly innovated on the side of the
poor. for instance, in the Bandhua Mukti Morcha case in 1983, the
Supreme Court put the burden of proof on the respondent stating it
would treat every case of forced labor as a case of bonded labor
unless proven otherwise by the employer. Similarly in the Asiad
workers judgment case, Justice P.N. Bhagwati held that anyone getting
less than the minimum wage can approach the Supreme Court directly
without going through the labor commissioner and lower courts.
ü In PIL cases where the petitioner is not in a position to provide
all the necessary evidence, either because it is voluminous or because
the parties are weak socially or economically, courts have appointed
commissions to collect information on facts and present it before the
PIL represents the first attempt by a developing common law country to
break away from legal imperialism perpetuated for centuries. It
contests the assumption that the most western the law, the better it
must work for economic and social development such law produced in
developing states, including India, was the development of under
develop men. The shift from legal centralism to legal pluralism was
prompted by the disillusionment with formal legal system. In India,
however instead of seeking to evolve justice- dispensing mechanism
ousted the formal legal system itself through PIL. The change as we
have seen, are both substantial and structural. It has radically
altered the traditional judicial role so as to enable the court to
bring justice within the reach of the common man. Further, it is
humbly submitted that PIL is still is in experimental stage. Many
deficiencies in handling the kind of litigation are likely to come on
the front. But these deficiencies can be removed by innovating better
techniques. In essence, the PIL develops a new jurisprudence of the
accountability of the state for constitutional and legal violations
adversely affecting the interests of the weaker elements in the
community. We may end with the hope once expressed by Justice Krishna
Iyer, “The judicial activism gets its highest bonus when its orders
wipe some tears from some eyes”.
4. Ahuja - People, Law and Justice: Casebook on Public Interest
Litigation, Orient Blackswan, 1997.
5. V.N Shukla - Constitution of India, Eastern Book Company.
6. Madhusudan Saharay - Public interest litigation and human
rights in India, Premier Pub. Co., 2000
Source : ,LAWYERS CLUB OF INDIA