Justice without force is impotent;
force without justice is tyranny - Pascal in Pensees.
There are times when even justice brings harm with it - Sophocles in Electra.
Public Interest Litigation (PIL) is the use of the law to advance human rights
and equality, or raise issues of broad public concern. It helps advance the
cause of minority or disadvantaged groups or individuals. Public interest cases
may arise from both public and private law matters. Public law concerns the
various rules and regulations that govern the exercise of power by public
bodies. Private law concerns those cases in which a public body is not
involved, and can be found in areas such as employment law or family law.
Public interest litigation is most commonly used to challenge the decisions of
public authorities by judicial review.
The expression ‘Public Interest Litigation’ has been borrowed from American
jurisprudence, where it was designed to provide legal representation to
previously unrepresented groups like the poor, the racial minorities,
unorganised consumers, citizens who were passionate about the environmental
issues, etc. Public interest Litigation (PIL) means litigation filed in a court
of law, for the protection of “Public Interest”, such as Pollution, Terrorism,
Road safety, Constructional hazards etc. Any matter where the interest of public
at large is affected can be redressed by filing a Public Interest Litigation in
a court of law.
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. Public interest litigation is the power given to the public by courts
through judicial activism. However, the person filing the petition must prove to
the satisfaction of the court that the petition is being filed for a public
interest and not just as a frivolous litigation by a busy body. The court can
itself take cognizance of the matter and proceed suo motu or cases can commence
on the petition of any Public – Spirited individual.
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 court’s jurisdiction, that the person who is the victim of the violation of
his or her rights 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
Public Interest Litigation refers to litigation undertaken to secure public
interest and demonstrates the availability of Justice to socially disadvantaged
parties and was introduced by Justice P.N. Bhagwati (17th Chief Justice of
India). PIL deals with cases which means that even people who are directly
involved in the case may bring matters of Public Interest to the court. It is
the court privilege to entertain the application.
The concept of PIL is suited to the Principles enshrined in Article 39 A of the
Constitution of India to protect and deliver prompt Social Justice with the help
In Case: S P Gupta vs. Union of India the Supreme Court of India defined the
term “Public Interest Litigation” in the Indian Context.
Justice P.N. Bhagwati and Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer were among the first judges
to admit PILs in Court. Filling of PIL is not as difficult as a usual legal case
it was even noticed that the Letters and Telegrams addressed to the court and
have been heard as PILs. PIL is a rule of law declared by the court of record.
However the person who files the petition must prove to the satisfaction of the
court that the petition serves the Public Interest and is not as a Frivolous
Lawsuit brought for monetary gain.
The 38th Chief Justice of India, Justice S.H. Kapadia stated that the
would be imposed on Litigants who files such types of
Petitions which don’t have any serious purpose or valued PILs. (Frivolous PIL)
The bench of the High Court had also expressed concern over the misuse of PILs.
The Bench issued a set of guidelines it wanted all courts in the country to
observe when entertaining PILs.
As there was high increase in the Frivolous (with less interest/ not having any
serious purpose or value at large or in public) PILs which was even expressed by
then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh by showing concern over the misuse of PILs.
And it was even decided by the committee to form certain tool and guidelines
against Frivolous PILs.
Further with this issue the judgment was passed by
stating that “this court wants to make clear that the action at law is not a
game of Chess”. A Litigant who approaches the Court must come with clean hands.
He cannot speak or escape the point and matter of discussion throughout the
Though he needs to be consistent throughout the proceeding:
Brief Overview to Public Interest Litigation (PIL) with Judgments
- The parameters under which the PILs can be entertained was cited such as:
- The credentials, the motive and the objective of the Petitioner have to
be apparently and patently aboveboard
- Otherwise the Petition is Liable to be dismissed at the Threshold.
- For large numbers of PILs the bench spoke for the Supreme Court by stating
that the Judiciary has to be extremely careful to see that behind the Beautiful
Veil of Public Interest an Ugly Private Malice, Vested Interest or Publicity
seeking is not Lurking.
- With regards to this Supreme Court of India must not allow its process
to be abused for oblique consideration by masked phantoms who monitor at
times from behind.
- The seeds of the concept of public interest litigation were initially
sown in India by Justice Krishna Iyer, in 1976 in Mumbai Kamagar Sabha vs.
- The First reported case of PIL was Case: Hussainara Khatoon vs. State of
Bihar 1979 that focused on the Inhuman Condition of Prisoners and under Trial
Prisoners that led to the release of more than 40,000 under Trial Prisoners.
Right to speedy justice emerged as a basic fundamental right which had been
denied to these prisoners. The same set pattern was adopted in subsequent cases.
- A new era of the PIL movement was heralded by Justice P.N. Bhagawati in the
case of S.P. Gupta vs. 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
(under article 226) or the Supreme Court (under Article 32) seeking redressal
against violation of 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 executive 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 the public are at stake.
- Justice Bhagwati did a lot to ensure that the concept of PILs was clearly
enunciated. He did not insist on the observance of procedural technicalities and
even treated ordinary letters from public-minded individuals as writ petitions.
The Supreme Court in Indian Banks’ Association, Bombay & Ors. vs. M/s Devkala
Consultancy Service and Ors
it was noted that: “In an appropriate case, where
the petitioner might have moved a court in her private interest and for redressal of the personal grievance, the court in furtherance of Public Interest
may treat it a necessity to enquire into the state of affairs of the subject of
litigation in the interest of justice.” Thus, a private interest case can also
be treated as public interest case.
M.C Mehta vs. Union of India:
In a 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.
Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan:
The judgement of the case recognized sexual
harassment as a violation of the fundamental constitutional rights of Article
14, Article 15 and Article 21. The guidelines also directed for the Sexual
Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act,
PIL- A Boon
- Public Interest Litigation gives wider description to the right of
Equality, Life and Personality which is guaranteed under Part III of the
Constitution of India
- It also functions as an effective instrument for changes in the society
or social welfare.
- Through PIL any Public or Community at Large or Organization or any such
type of Public Group can take Legal Remedy or Seek on Behalf of the Oppressed
- In Public Interest Litigation Rule of Locus Standi is followed:
Rule of Locus Standi:
It is the ability of a party to demonstrate to the court
sufficient connection to and harm from the law or action challenged to support
that party’s participation in the case.
It refers to a right of a party to appear and be heard before a court of Law or
to Institute a Suit or an Action before the Court.
An individual cannot bring a complaint challenging the constitutionality of law
unless he/she can show that they have been harmed or affected by the law.
Otherwise the court would conclude that the complainant “lacke standi” to file
that complaint and will reject the lawsuit without even taking into
- In PIL though a person is not aggrieved but socially and spiritually
motivated can file Petition.
- The Court Stamp Fee Act is not applicable to PIL.
- The decision given by the court on PIL is having general application.
- In PIL the person who appears or approaches the court for redressal or
public wrong or public injury has sufficient interest in the proceeding and is
acting in bonafide and not for personal gain or private profit or political
- 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.
Parties against whom Public Interest Litigation (PIL) can be filled
- State Government
- Central Government
- Municipal Authority
- Any local or other authorities within the delimitations of India and
Controlled directly/indirectly by the government
- Parliament of India, Legislative Assemblies/Councils of all States and
- Other authorities
These all authorities and departments for filling PIL come under Article 12 of
the Indian Constitution. The definition of State is the same as given under
Article 12 of the Constitution and this includes the Governmental and Parliament
of India and the Government and the Legislature of each of the States and all
local or other authorities within the territory of India or under the control of
the Government of India.
Before filling of PIL against certain authorities one
should give prior information or complain regarding certain issues to the
certain department and should provide a certain time period to the concert
department, council, authorities to do the needful and to solve the issue by
taking it into consideration and also in favor of a large amount of public, for
the benefit and for the interest on the side of public or non profitable
But the PIL can’t be filled against any such particular or individual Private
Party, though Private Person can be included in PIL as Respondent after
concerned of State Authority.
Illustration: If there is any Private Company and is creating some disturbance
in society then PIL can be filled against State Government, Board or Committee
of State under whom this Act comes and also in PIL include the Private Factory.
Abuse of PIL:
However, the development of PIL has also uncovered its pitfalls and drawbacks.
As a result, the apex court itself has been compelled to lay down certain
guidelines to govern the management and disposal of PILs. And the abuse of PIL
is also increasing alongwith its extended and multifaceted use.
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.
Just as a weapon meant for defence can be used equally effectively for offence,
the lowering of the locus standi requirement has permitted privately motivated
interests to pose as public interests.
The abuse of PIL has become more rampant than its use and genuine causes either
receded to the background or began to be viewed with the suspicion generated by
spurious causes mooted by privately motivated interests in the disguise of the
so-called public interests.
Factors Responsible for the Growth of PIL in India
Public Interest is a Very Unruly Horse – Kapil Sibal
- The character of the Indian Constitution. 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
- India has some of the most progressive social legislations 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.
- 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 letters received.
- 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
- Judicial innovations to help the poor and marginalised: For instance, in
the Bandhua Mukti Morcha, 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.
- 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 bench.
Wherefore for the Public Interest and benefits of Human Society it is requisite
that the highest obligations possible should be laid upon the consciences of men
– Isaac Barrow
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere - Martin Luther King,Jr.
Under what Public Interest Litigation (PIL) can be filled:
Procedure for filing Public Interest Litigation (PIL
- Article 32 of Indian Constitution, in the Supreme Court of India
- Article 226 of Indian Constitution, in the High Court
- Section 133 of Criminal Procedure Code, in a Magistrate’s Court
- Public Interest Litigation (PIL) is filled in the same manner as a Writ
Petition is filled either in Supreme Court or High Court
- If PIL is filled in High Court then Two Copies (2) of the Petition have to
be filed and if in Supreme Court then Five Sets/Copes (4+1) of the Petition is
to be filled.
- Advance copy of Petition should be served to Respondent/Opposite Party
by giving it an utmost importance as its necessity.
- Proof of serving a copy of the petition to the respondent should also be
affixed with the Petition which can be either in a form of Postal or Courier
- A Court Fee of Rs. 50 for Respondent has to be affixed to the Petition.
Supreme Court has laid down or has issued a set of PIL Guidelines under which
the following matters will not be allowed as PILs
- Landlord – Tenant matters
- Service matters
- Matters pertaining to Pension and Gratuity
- Complaints against State or Central Government, Department and Local
Bodies except those relating to items 1 to 10 mentioned in the list of
- Admission to Medical and other educational Institutions
- Petitions for Early hearing of Cases pending in High Court or
- Any such case which has been brought as a PIL for self benefit or self
interest or any such for Business Profit or Revenge
Here are the few laid down issues on which PIL can be filled and it has been
accepted from a last frequent period of times
Significance of PIL
- Bonded labour matters
- Matters of neglected children
- Exploitation of casual labourers and non-payment of wages to them (except
in individual cases)
- Matters of harassment or torture of persons belonging to Scheduled
Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Economically Backward Classes, either by
co-villagers or by police
- Matters relating to environmental pollution, disturbance of ecological
balance, drugs, food adulteration, maintenance of heritage and culture,
antiques, forests and wild life,
- Petitions from riot victims
- Petitions against atrocities on women, in particular harassment of
bride, bride-burning, rape, murder, kidnapping etc
- Food adulteration
- Maintenance of heritage and culture
- Petitions against police for refusing to register a case, harassment by
police, death in police custody.
- Other matters of public importance
Certain Weaknesses of PIL
- The aim of PIL is to give to the common people access to the courts to
obtain legal redress
- PIL is an important instrument of social change and for maintaining the Rule
of law and accelerating the balance between law and justice.
- The original purpose of PILs have been to make justice accessible to the poor
and the marginalised.
- It is an important tool to make human rights reach those who have been
- It democratises the access of justice to all. Any citizen or organisation who
is capable can file petitions on behalf of those who cannot or do not have the
means to do so.
- It helps in judicial monitoring of state institutions like prisons,
asylums, protective homes, etc.
- It is an important tool for implementing the concept of judicial review.
- Enhanced public participation in judicial review of administrative
action is assured by the inception of PILs.
Few Landmark PILs filled in India
- PIL actions may sometimes give rise to the problem of competing rights.
For instance, when a court orders the closure of a polluting industry, the
interests of the workmen and their families who are deprived of their
livelihood may not be taken into account by the court
- It could lead to overburdening of courts with frivolous PILs by parties with
vested interests. PILs today has been appropriated for corporate, political and
personal gains. Today the PIL is no more limited to problems of the poor and the
- Cases of Judicial Overreach by the Judiciary in the process of solving
socio-economic or environmental problems can take place through the PILs.
- PIL matters concerning the exploited and disadvantaged groups are pending for
many years. Inordinate delays in the disposal of PIL cases may render many
leading judgments merely of academic value.
Many more such PILs were filled which really changed the Justice and many more I
would like to submit
Cases explaining Locus Standi of PILs
- Vishaka vs. State of Rajasthan
- M. C. Mehta vs. Union of India
- Hussainara Khatoon vs. State of Bihar
- SP Gupta vs. Union of India
- Kalyaneshwari vs. Union of India: The Honourable Court considered it as
Writ Petition and stated that, thus it was litigation initiated with ulterior
motive of causing industrial imbalance and financial loss to the industry of
asbestos through the process of court”. The court stated that it was its duty in
such circumstances to punish the petitioners under the Contempt of Courts Act;
it must “ensure that such unscrupulous and undesirable public interest
litigation be not instituted in courts of law so as to waste the valuable time
of the courts as well as preserve the faith of the public in the justice
- Indian Banks’ Association, Bombay & Ors. vs. M/s Devkala Consultancy
Service and Ors: Thus in this case Supreme Court by considering the matter
stated that ” Thus, a private interest case can also be treated as public
- Javed vs. State of Haryana
- Parmanand Katara vs. Union of India
- Bandhua Mukti Morcha vs. Union of India and Others AIR 1984 SC
- Sunil Batra vs. Delhi Administration and Others AIR 1978 SC
- Centre for Public Interest Litigation vs. Union of India and Another AIR
- Indian Council for Enviro-Legal Action vs. Union of India and Others (1996)
- State of M.P. vs. Narmada Bachao Andolan (2011)
- Manohar Lal Sharma vs. the Principal Secretary (2014)
- Mohd. Haroon vs. Union of India (2013)
- Ajay Bansal vs. Union of India (2013)
- Bar Council of Maharashtra vs. M. V. Dabholkar and Others 1976 SCR 306
- Mumbai Kamgar Sabha, Bombay vs. Abdulbhai Faizullabhai & Others AIR 1976
- S.P. Anand vs. H.D. Deve Gowda and Others AIR 1997 SC 272,
- D.C.Wadhwa vs. State of Bihar 1987 SCR (1) 798
- Fertilizer Corporation Kamgar vs. Union of India AIR 1981 SC 149
- Hussainara Khatoon & Others vs. Home Secretary, State of Bihar, Patna AIR
1979 SC 1369
Public Interest Litigation means Litigation filled in a Court of Law for the
Protection of Public Interest. It consists of any matter where the interest of
Public at Large is affected and can be redressed by filing a PIL in a Court of
PIL is a use of litigation, or legal action, which seeks to advance the cause of
a minority or disadvantaged groups or individuals, or which raises issues of
broad public concern. It is a way of using the law strategically to effect
Public Interest Litigation is a petition that an individual or a non-government
organisation or citizen groups, can file in the court seeking justice in an
issue that has a larger public interest. It aims at giving common people an
access to the judiciary to obtain legal redress for a greater cause.
PIL is something in which the public, the community at large has something
pecuniary interest, or some interest by which their legal rights or liabilities
are affected. It does not mean anything so narrow as mere curiosity, or as the
interest of the particular localities, which may be affected by the matters in
question. Interest shared by the citizens generally in affair of local, State or