Public Interest Litigation (PIL)
What is PIL?
According to Indian law, public interest
litigation means litigation (Legal actions) for the protection of the public
In simple words, 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.
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.
Who can file a PIL ?
In normal cases, it is seen that the aggrieved party i.e. the victim,
who is affected has to file his case in a court of law. That person
should have an interest in the dispute. But in filing of Public Interest
the only condition being that the same has to be filed In Public
Litigation there is no such condition. Any person can file a Public
Public Interest Litigation 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 to
protect interest of public at large.
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 or cases can commence on
the petition of any public-spirited individual.
ORIGIN OF PIL :
The term “PIL” originated in the United States in the mid-1980s.
The first legal aid office was established in New York in 1876. In the
Since the nineteenth century, various movements in that country
had contributed to public interest law, which was part of the legal
In 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.
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,
honorable Judges of the Supreme Court of India delivered landmark
judgements which opened up new vistas in PIL.
For the exercise of the court’s jurisdiction, it is not necessary for the
victim of the violation of his or her rights to personally approach the
In a PIL, the right to file suit is given to a member of the public by
the courts through judicial activism. The member of the public may
be a non-governmental organization (NGO), an institution or an
The Supreme Court of India, rejecting the criticism of judicial
activism, has stated that the judiciary has stepped in to give
direction because due to executive inaction, the laws enacted by
Parliament and the state legislatures for the poor since
independence have not been properly implemented.
Subodh Markandeya well known Senior Advocate of Supreme court
of India and Judicial activist believes that public interest litigation is
the principal legal remedy For a common man and it is main
weapon of judicial activist.
Advantages of PIL :
1. 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.
2. 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.
Disadvantages of PIL :
1. 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
2. The framers of Indian constitution did not incorporate a strict
doctrine of separation of powers but envisaged a system of checks
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 enforceable.
3. 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
4. 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
NECESSARY STEPS to be taken for PIL :
With the view to regulate the abuse of PIL the apex court itself has
framed certain guidelines (to govern the management and disposal
of PILs.) The court must be careful to see that the petitioner who
approaches it is acting bona fide and not for personal gain, private
profit or political or other oblique considerations.
The court should not allow its process to be abused by politicians
and others to delay legitimate administrative action or to gain
There may be cases where the PIL may affect the right of persons
not before the court, and therefore in shaping the relief the court
must invariably take into account its impact on those interests and
the court must exercise greatest caution and adopt procedure
ensuring sufficient notice to all interests likely to be affected.
At present, the court can treat a letter as a writ
petition and take action upon it. But, it is not every letter which may be
treated as a writ petition by the court.
The court would be justified in treating the letter as a writ petition only in
the following cases-
(i) It is only where the letter is addressed by an aggrieved person or
(ii) a public spirited individual or
(iii) a social action group for enforcement of the constitutional or the
legal rights of a person in custody or of a class or group of persons
who by reason of poverty, disability or socially or economically
disadvantaged position find it difficult to approach the court for
Even though it is very much essential to curb the
misuse and abuse of PIL, any move by the government to regulate the PIL
results in widespread protests from those who are not aware of its abuse
and equate any form of regulation with erosion of their fundamental rights.
Under these circumstances the Supreme Court Of India is required to step in
by incorporating safe guards provided by the civil procedure code in matters
of stay orders /injunctions in the arena of PIL.
Public Interest Litigants, all over the country, have not taken very
kindly to such court decisions. They do fear that this will sound the
death-knell of the people friendly concept of PIL. However, bona
fide litigants of India have nothing to fear. Only those PIL activists
who prefer to file frivolous complaints will have to pay
compensation to then opposite parties.
It is actually a welcome move because no one in the country can
deny that even PIL activists should be responsible and accountable.
In any way, PIL now does require a complete rethink and
Overuse and abuse of PIL can only make it stale and ineffective.
Since it is an extraordinary remedy available at a cheaper cost to all
citizens of the country, it ought not to be used by all litigants as a
substitute for ordinary ones or as a means to file frivolous