Because of Public Interest Litigation (PIL), judicial activism has grown .
Until the advent of PIL, justice was a far-fetched dream for the socially and
economically disadvantaged. The traditional rule of 'locus standi' (the right to
file a petition in court) was that judicial remedies could only be used in
exceptional circumstances. Only those who have been wronged by the law should
The Supreme Court has loosened the rules, Because the poor masses lack both the
means and the will to approach the government, the rule of locus standi
applies. In court of justice any public-spirited individual or institution can
now move the needle under the new rule. The Court must only be satisfied that the
person or institution is acting in good faith and not for personal gain or
The PIL also gave rise to what is known as 'epistolary jurisdiction,'
which means that the court could recognize even a postcard or a letter. These
written petitions have resulted in judicial action in a variety of cases,
providing justice to the weaker sections and even taking action against
political corruption and unaccountability. The PIL procedure has become an
important part of the country's judicial system. Judicial activism is likely to
continue, forcing the government to act responsibly for the people's welfare.
Basically Public interest Litigation (PIL) means litigation filed in a court,
for the protection of Public Interest
, for example, Pollution, Terrorism, Road
security, Constructional perils and so on Any matter where the interest of
public overall is impacted can be reviewed by recording a Public Interest
Litigation in a courtroom. In simple words, public interest litigation means.
Any public spirited citizen or public welfare interested citizens can approach
the court for the public cause or for the welfare of the public by filing a
petition in the Supreme Court under the Article 32 of the Indian Constitution or
in the High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution or before the Court of
Magistrate under Sec. 133 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.
The seeds of the idea of public interest litigation were at first planted in
India by Justice Krishna Iyer , in 1976 in Mumbai Kamgar Sabha versus Abdul
Thai, also was started in Akhil Bharatiya Shoshit Karmachari Sangh (Railway) v.
Association of India
, wherein an unregistered relationship of laborers was
allowed to establish a writ appeal under Art.32 of the Constitution for the redressal of normal complaints. Justice Krishna lyer , articulated the
explanations behind progression of the standard of Locus Standi in Fertilizer
Corporation Kamgar Union v. Association of India, also the possibility of
'Public Interest Litigation' bloomed in S.P. Gupta and others versus Association
The judiciary plays a vital role in promoting and upholding
the rights of citizens in a country. Judicial activism in simple terms is the
responsibility of the judiciary to guard the rights of the citizens and to
uphold the constitutional and legal system of the country. The Judicial Activism
in India can be seen with the reference under Article 32 of the Indian
Constitution and also Article 226 of the Indian Constitution provides the power
to judicially review the higher judiciary and to declare any executive,
legislative or administrative action void if it is in contravention with the
Indian Constitution .
Statement Of Problem:
The standard of locus standi has been loose as the Indian courts engage the
public interest suit with sprit and the number of cases have been increased
which result in overburden on the courts which directly results in impact on
delay in deciding normal cases. Legislature and the Judiciary are free yet
Judiciary is endowed with execution of the laws made by the legislature.
Also in the case of absence of any laws on a particular issue or a matter,
judiciary issues guidelines and directions for the Legislature to follow, once
those directions are executed it becomes precedents. How far judicial activism
is utilizing by the judiciary under the power of judicial review within the
preview of articles 32,136,226,227 of Indian constitution.
Scope Of Study:
Because of the intricacies of the Indian legal system, it is critical to
investigate how public interest litigation awareness might be increased. Also,
look into how PIL can overcome obstacles and how the courts can get more engaged
while not being overly aggressive, while also taking into account people's
rights to file a PIL in which examples and concerns are covered in this study,
this project might be very beneficial and it is crucial to be concerned.
- Research into the issues that PIL in India is facing
- To investigate the relationship between public interest litigation and
judicial activism, as well as the emergence of public interest litigation in
- Research into the impact of judicial activism on Indian environmental
To investigate the role of PIL in the protection of the environment.
Investigate the issues surrounding the use of public interest litigation (PIL)
to engage in judicial activism
Judicial Activism In India:
- What role does public interest litigation play in making government
agencies more accountable and transparent?
- What role does public interest litigation and judicial activism play in
promoting social justice?
- What role does judicial activism play in loosening the locus standi rule in
- To what extent is the judiciary involved in promoting public justice?
Montesquieu, a French jurist, proposed the doctrine of separation of powers. It
has also been adopted in India, where the President has executive powers, the
Parliament and State Legislative Assemblies have legislative powers, and the
Supreme Court has judicial powers.
There are two types of courts: the supreme court and the subordinate courts.
However, in India, this principle is only partially implemented. This is because,
while the Legislature and the Judiciary are both independent, the Judiciary is
the most powerful and entrusted with putting the legislature's laws into effect
In the event of, on the other hand, In the absence of specific legislation, the
judiciary issues guidelines and directives to the legislature to be followed
while appointing Supreme Court judges, the executive also encroaches on judicial
Relation Between Public Interest Litigation And Judicial Activism And The Emergence Of PIL In India
Public interest or social interest litigation has become increasingly important
in recent years, attracting the attention of all parties involved. The Supreme
Court recently relaxed the traditional rule of "Locus Standi," which allows a
person whose right has been infringed alone to file a petition. The court now
allows public interest litigation to be brought at the request of the so-called
Public-Spirited Citizens" (Public-Spirited Citizens) (Public-Spirited)
protect and enforce constitutional and legal rights.
Now, any public-spirited citizen can petition the court for a public cause (in
the public's best interests) (public or public welfare) by submitting a petition
to the following authorities:
- In Supreme Court, under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution;
- In Supreme Court, under Article 226 of the Indian Constitution
- In the Fertilizer Corporation Kamgar Union case, Justice Krishna Iyer
enumerated the following reasons for the liberalisation of the rule of locus
standi in a court of magistrate under Section 133 of the Code of Criminal
- When the government uses its power to fight corruption, it may interfere with
- Liberal judicial review administrative action is incompatible with
- Strict standing rules are the polar opposite of an efficient
- For participatory public justice, activism is necessary.
As a result, a concerned citizen must be given the chance to petition the court
on behalf of the public good. Justice Bhagwati , a Supreme Court judge who is
known for being pro-poor and activist, In the Judges Transfer Case
, also known
as S.P. Gupta vs. Union of India
, firmly established the validity of public
interest litigation. A large number of public interest litigation petitions have
been filed since then.
It is important to note that PIL is not the same as class action or group
litigation, at least as it has evolved in India. The PIL is concerned with
providing access to justice to all societal constituents, whereas the latter is
driven primarily by efficiency considerations. PIL has been a huge success in
India. It is not a civil case, but rather a constitutional case. As a result, in
order to fully appreciate the and to understand the evolution of PIL in India,
it is necessary to have a basic understanding of the Indian Constitution and the
Indian judicial system and its framework. On August 11th, the country declared
independence from British rule and In November 1949, the people of India adopted
a Constitution in the hopes of establishing a democratic government, a
self-declared "sovereign socialist secular democratic republic".
The Constitution, among other things, aims to secure to all its citizens justice
(social, economic and political), liberty (of thought, expression, belief, faith
and worship) and equality (of status and of opportunity). The founding fathers
wanted to bring about a social revolution through the Constitution, so these
goals were not merely aspirational. The provisions on were the main tools used
to bring about such social change.
Austin differentiated between fundamental rights (FRs) and directive principles
of state policy (DPs). The Constitution's conscience
, he says.The founding
fathers took a number of steps to ensure that FRs were not just empty
declarations. Constitutional provisions establishing an independent judiciary As
you'll see in the following paragraphs.
Together, the provisions concerning FRs, DPs, and an independent judiciary
provided a solid constitutional foundation. PIL's evolution in India has a strong
foundation. The Constitution's Part III establishes various FRs and It also lays
out the conditions under which these rights can be restricted.
"As a right without a remedy does not have much governance of the country and it
shall be the duty of the state to apply these principles in making laws".
deviation, the Supreme Court accepted that FRs are not superior to DPs on
account of the latter being non-justiciable: rather FRs and DPs are
complementary and the former are a means to achieve the goals indicated in the
latter. The issue was put beyond any controversy in Minerva Mills Ltd v Union of
where the Court held that the:
Harmony and balance between fundamental
rights and directive principles is an essential feature of the basic structure
of the Constitution.
Since then the judiciary has employed DPs to derive the
contents of various FRs . The founding fathers envisaged the judiciary as a
bastion of rights and justice
. An independent judiciary armed with the power
of judicial review was the constitutional device chosen to achieve this
objective. The power to enforce the FRs was conferred on both the Supreme Court
and the High Courts ,the courts that have entertained all the PIL cases.
judiciary can test not only the validity of laws and executive actions but also
of constitutional amendments. It has the final say on the interpretation of the
Constitution and its orders, supported with the power to punish for contempt,
can reach everyone throughout the territory of the country. Since its inception,
the Supreme Court has delivered judgments of far-reaching importance involving
not only adjudication of disputes but also determination of public policies and
establishment of rule of law and constitutionalism.
From the mid-1970s to the early 1980s, two Indian Supreme Court judges (Bhagwati
and Iyer JJ) laid the groundwork for the emergence of PIL in India. This
included making changes to the traditional method. requirements of locus standi,
easing the filing of writ petitions, and establishing or expanding FRs,
overcoming evidentiary issues, and developing novel solutions. Revisions to the
traditional requirement of standing was a pre-requisite for the development of
PIL and any public institution, participation in the administration of justice.
In a country like India, the need was even greater. The vast majority of people
were either unaware of their rights or too poor to seek assistance. Recognizing
the need, the Court ruled that any member of the public who is acting in good
faith and has sufficient curiosity to approach the court for redressal of a
legal wrong, especially when the actual plaintiff suffers from some disability
or the violation of collective diffused rights is at stake.
Later on, merging
representative standing and citizen standing, the Supreme Court in Judges
Transfer case held:
Where a legal wrong or a legal injury is caused to a person or to a determinate
class of persons by reason of violation of any constitutional or legal right ...
and such person or determinate class of persons is by reasons of poverty,
helplessness, or disability or socially or economically disadvantaged position,
unable to approach the Court for any relief, any member of the public can
maintain an application for an appropriate direction, order or writ.
The court justified such extension of standing in order to enforce rule of law
and provide justice to disadvantaged sections of society. Furthermore, the
Supreme Court observed that the term"appropriate proceedings" in Art.32 of the
Constitution does not refer to the form but to the purpose of proceeding: so
long as the purpose of the proceeding is to enforce a FR, any form will do.
This interpretation allowed the Court to develop epistolary jurisdiction, which
allowed the Court to accept letters or telegrams as writ petitions39. Following
the removal of the obstacles posed by locus standi and the procedure for filing
writ petitions, the judiciary concentrated on providing a fair and impartial
system. A solid foundation for pursuing a variety of PIL issues This was
accomplished through the use of existing data and the interpretation of new
data. FRs on a large scale, as well as by inventing new FRs. "No one shall be
deprived of his or her life or liberty," according to Article 21,personal
liberty unless it is exercised in accordance with legal procedures"-has proven
to be the most effective.
refers to more than just physical
survival; it also refers to the right to coexist with humans and everything that
comes with it".The fact that Art.21 has an ever-expanding horizon exemplifies
this.The Court has read into Art.21, among other things, the right to health,
livelihood, free and compulsory education up to the age of 14, unpolluted
environment, shelter, clean drinking water, privacy, legal aid, speedy trial,
and various rights of association.
Those who are awaiting trial, those who have
been convicted, and those who have been imprisoned, It's worth noting that the
judiciary is involved in the vast majority of cases.For such an extension, DPs
were used. The judiciary has also used Art. 21 to issue orders.
issues that affect the general public's lives, or to overturn state actions, or
to grant compensation for non-compliance with the FRs. The Indian judiciary's
final challenge was to overcome PIL plaintiffs' evidentiary issues must be
resolved, and appropriate remedies must be found. The judiciary also emphasized
that PIL is not an adversarial but a collaborative and cooperative project in
which all concerned parties should work together to realize the human rights of
disadvantaged sections of society.
Problems Faced By PIL In India:
However, PIL, like any other law or statute, has issues with implementation.
There are certain issues that turn this instrument into a weapon and disrupt
societal harmony.The name PIL and its publicity had been a major factor in
upsetting public order. The Court has dismissed many search PILs, claiming that
they are merely a publicity stunt. Another issue that arises when dealing with a
PIL is judicial adventurism. It interferes with the Executive and Legislative
branches of government, thereby violating the principle of separation of powers.
The Supreme Court, for example, banned the sale of liquor along state and
national highways in a PIL relating to road safety. While hearing a plea, it
went beyond its authority.. Because of the flexibility and simplicity of filing
a PIL, there has been a significant increase in litigation. It puts a lot of
strain on the judicial system and increases the number of cases that are
PIL frequently reflects a symbolic justice system established by the judiciary.
When a PIL's direction is not followed, the credibility of the judiciary is
called into question. For example, the Supreme Court issues orders in cases of
sexual harassment and the arrest procedure, but it is unable to properly monitor
compliance and execution.
Role Of Public Interest Litigation In Environmental Protection:
In many cases, the Indian judiciary used the technique of public interest
litigation to promote environmental protection. The Supreme Court and the High
Courts removed the barriers to strangers presenting petitions on behalf of the
poor and ignorant. The basic ideology behind the adoption of PIL is that the
poor should not be denied access to justice, a lack of knowledge or financial
resources PIL allows a public-spirited individual or organisation to continue to
exist petition on behalf of the poor and uneducated. In the area of environmental
protection, PIL has proved to be an effective tool.
In Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra vs. State of U.P. the Supreme Court
prohibited continuance of mining operations terming it to be adversely affecting
the environment. In Indian Council for Enviro-Legal Action vs. Union of India
the Supreme Court cautioned the industries discharging inherently dangerous Oleum and H acid. The court held that such type of pollution infringes right to
wholesome environment and ultimately right to life.
In another case M.C. Mehta vs. Union of India the Supreme Court held that air
pollution in Delhi caused by vehicular emissions violates right to life under
Art. 21 and directed all commercial vehicles operating in Delhi to switch to CNG
fuel mode for safeguarding health of the people.
In Church of God (Full Gospel )in India vs. KKR Majestic Colony Welfare
48 the Supreme Court observed that noise pollution amounts to
violation of Art.21 of the Constitution.
In landmark case Vellore Citizens' Welfare Forum vs. Union of India
Court allowed standing to a public spirited social organization for protecting
the health of residents of Vellore. In this case the tanneries situated around
river Palar in Vellore (T.N.) were found discharging toxic chemicals in the
river, thereby jeopardizing the health of the residents. The Court asked the
tanneries to close their business. In this manner, our judiciary has used the
tool of PIL quite effectively for the cause of environmental protection.
judiciary has shown wisdom in denying false petitions seeking to advance private
interests through PIL as evident from the decision of the Supreme Court in
Subhash Kumar vs. State of Bihar. Hence, PIL has proved to be a great weapon in
the hands of higher courts for protection of environment & our judiciary has
certainly utilized this weapon of PIL in best possible manner.
Problems Regarding The Exercise Of Judicial Activism Through Public Interest Litigation
It seems that the misuse of PIL in India, which started in the 1990s, has
reached to such a stage where it has started undermining the very purpose for
which PIL was introduced. In other words, the dark side is slowly moving to
overshadow the bright side of the PIL project.
- Ulterior purpose:
Public in PIL stands substituted by private or publicity. One major rationale why the
courts supported PIL was its usefulness in serving the public interest. It is
doubtful, however, if PIL is still wedded to that goal. As we have seen above,
almost any issue is presented to the courts in the guise of public interest
because of the allurements that the PIL jurisprudence offers (e.g. inexpensive,
quick response, and high impact).
Of course, it is not always easy to
differentiate public interest from private interest, but it is arguable
that courts have not rigorously enforced the requirement of PILs being aimed at
espousing some public interest. Desai and Muralidhar confirm the perception
PIL is being misused by people agitating for private grievances in the
grab of public interest and seeking publicity rather than espousing public
It is critical that courts do not allow public in PIL to be
substituted by "private" or "publicity" by doing more vigilant gate-keeping.
- Inefficient use of limited judicial resources:
If properly managed, the PIL
has the potential to contribute to an efficient disposal of people's grievances.
But considering that the number of per capita judges in India is much lower than
many other countries and given that the Indian Supreme Court as well as High
Courts is facing a huge backlog of cases, it is puzzling why the courts have not
done enough to stop non-genuine PIL cases. In fact, by allowing frivolous PIL
plaintiffs to waste the time and energy of the courts, the judiciary might be
violating the right to speedy trial of those who are waiting for the vindication
of their private interests through conventional adversarial litigation. A
related problem is that the courts are taking unduly long time in finally
disposing of even PIL cases. This might render "many leading judgments merely
of an academic value". The fact that courts need years to settle cases might
also suggest that probably courts were not the most appropriate forum to deal
with the issues in hand as PIL.
- Judicial populism:
Judges are human beings, but it would be unfortunate if
they admit PIL cases on account of raising an issue that is (or might become)
popular in the society. Conversely, the desire to become people's judges in a
democracy should not hinder admitting PIL cases which involve an important
public interest but are potentially unpopular.
The fear of judicial populism is
not merely academic and this is clear from the observation of Dwivedi J. in
Kesavananda Bharati v State of Kerala:
The court is not chosen by the people
and is not responsible to them in the sense in which the House of People is.
However, it will win for itself a permanent place in the hearts of the people
and augment its moral authority if it can shift the focus of judicial review
from the numerical concept of minority protection to the humanitarian concept of
the protection of the weaker section of the people.
It is submitted that courts
should refrain from perceiving themselves as crusaders constitutionally obliged
to redress all failures of democracy. Neither they have this authority nor could
they achieve this goal.
Symbolic justice: Another major problem with the PIL project in India has been
of PIL cases often doing only symbolic justice. Two facets of this problem could
be noted here. First, judiciary is often unable to ensure that its guidelines or
directions in PIL cases are complied with, for instance, regarding sexual
harassment at workplace (Vishaka case
) or the procedure of arrest by police (D.K.
Basu case). No doubt, more empirical research is needed to investigate the
extent of compliance and the difference made by the Supreme Court's guidelines.
But it seems that the Disturbing the constitutional balance of power: Although
the Indian Constitution does not follow any strict separation of powers, it
still embodies the doctrine of checks and balances, which even the judiciary
should respect. However, the judiciary on several occasions did not exercise selfrestraint and moved on to legislate, settle policy questions, take over
governance, or monitor executive agencies.
Prof. M. P. Jain cautions against
PIL is a weapon which must be used with great care and
circumspection; the courts need to keep in view that under the guise of
redressing a public grievance PIL does not encroach upon the sphere reserved by
the Constitution to the executive and the legislature.
Moreover, there has
been a lack of consistency as well in that in some cases, the Supreme Court did
not hesitate to intrude on policy questions but in other cases it hid behind the
shield of policy questions. Just to illustrate, the judiciary intervened to
tackle sexual harassment as well as custodial torture and to regulate the
adoption of children by foreigners, but it did not intervene to introduce a
uniform civil code, to combat ragging in educational institutions, to adjust the
height of the Narmada dam and to provide a humane face to
No clear or sound theoretical basis for
such selective intervention is discernable from judicial decisions. It is also
suspect if the judiciary has been (or would be) able to enhance the
accountability of the other two wings of the government through PIL. In fact,
the reverse might be true: the judicial usurpation of executive and legislative
functions might make these institutions more unaccountable, for they know that
judiciary is always there to step in should they fail to act.
PIL should not be the first step in
redressing all kinds of grievances even if they involve public interest. In
order to remain effective, PIL should not be allowed to become a routine affair
which is not taken seriously by the Bench, the Bar, and most importantly by the
The overuse of PIL for every conceivable public interest might dilute the
original commitment to use this remedy only for enforcing human rights of the
victimized and the disadvantaged groups.
If civil society and disadvantaged groups lose faith in the efficacy of PIL,
that would sound a death knell for it. Based on the above problems, certain
solutions need to be devised and implemented by the Judiciary to ensure that the
sanctity of Judicial Activism in the country is kept intact and at the same time
interests of all classes of stakeholders are addressed in a proper and judicious
The judicial activism manifested in the strategy of PIL paves the way for the
participation of public spirited and enlightened people in India's development
process and displays the potentiality of the legal system to offer justice to
the poor and the oppressed. The strategy has brought to light many a medieval
practices still prevalent in India such as relief to prisoners, plight of women
in protective homes, victims of the flesh trade and children of juvenile
institutions and exploitation of the bonded and migrant labourers, untouchables,
The attempt has been made to show how in taking up such cases, the Supreme Court
is emerging as the guardian of the rights and liberties of the victims of
repression, cruelty and torture. Hence the Supreme Court of India in its
activist role vis-a-vis PIL has taken a goal-oriented approach in the interest
of justice by simplifying highest technical and anachronistic procedures. By
enlarging the scope of Article 32 and by accelerating the process of
socio-economic revolution, it has brought justice to the doorstep of the weak,
the unprivileged and exploitative section of society and therefore, has
revolutionized constitutional jurisprudence in the 1980's.
PIL has an important role to play in the civil justice system in that it affords
a ladder to justice to disadvantaged sections of society, some of which might
not even be well-informed about their rights. Furthermore, it provides an avenue
to enforce diffused rights for which either it is difficult to identify an
aggrieved person or where aggrieved persons have no incentives to knock at the
doors of the courts. PIL could also contribute to good governance by keeping the
Last but not least, PIL enables civil society to play an active role in
spreading social awareness about human rights, in providing voice to the
marginalized sections of society, and in allowing their participation in
government decision making. As I have tried to show, with reference to the
Indian experience, that PIL could achieve all or many of these important policy
objectives. However, the Indian PIL experience also shows us that it is critical
to ensure that PIL does not become a back-door to enter the temple of justice to
fulfil private interests, settle political scores or simply to gain easy
Courts should also not use PIL as a device to run the country on a day-to-day
basis or enter the legitimate domain of the executive and legislature. The way
forward, therefore, for India as well as for other jurisdictions is to strike a
balance in allowing legitimate PIL cases and discouraging frivolous ones. One
way to achieve this objective could be to confine PIL primarily to those cases
where access to justice is undermined by some kind of disability. The other
useful device could be to offer economic disincentives to those who are found to
employ PIL for ulterior purposes.
At the same time, it is worth considering if some kind of economic incentives
e.g. protected cost order, legal aid, pro bono litigation, funding for PIL civil
society, and amicus curie briefs should be offered for not discouraging
legitimate PIL cases. This is important because given the original underlying
rationale for PIL, it is likely that potential plaintiffs would not always be
- Public interest litigation- Malaika
- Judicial review- Diganth Raj sehgal
- Doctrine of judicial review in India- Fayaz ahmed bhat
- Role of PIL in Environmental protection- Pinky Dass
- Role of PIL in Environment Protection- Aishwarya Sandeep
- Judicial Activism to PIL- Ayush verma
Written By: Monish J
- Public interest litigation by Dr Sampat Jain 2002
- Constitution of India- V.N. Shukla
(3rd year law student Christ university Lavasa,