Public Interest Litigation (PIL)
What is Public Interest Litigation?
Refers to litigation undertaken for protection of public interest.
Not necessarily introduced by the aggrieved party but by any private party or even by the Court suo motu.
Power to approach courts given to the general public through judicial activism.
Not a creation of statute, but judicial interpretation of rights of citizens.
PIL in the Indian context was defined by Supreme Court in the case of SP Gupta v. Union of India (1981) [First Judges Case] heralded by
Justice P. N. Bhagwati and Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer pioneered in admitting PILs in courts in the 1980s.
Writ with specification that the matter is related to the general well-being of the public instead of a particular litigant.
How can a PIL be initiated?
Any citizen can file a public case by filing a petition:
Under Art. 32 of the Indian Constitution, in the Supreme Court.
Under Art. 226 of the Indian Constitution, in the High Court
Under S. 133 of the Criminal Procedure Code, in the Court of Magistrate.
The Court must be satisfied that the writ petition fulfills some basic needs for PIL.
Further, the Court can treat even a letter as a writ petition and take action upon it so long as:
the letter is addressed by an aggrieved person; or
a public spirited individual; or
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 redress.
A PIL can be filed against public bodies and authorities, but not against private parties.
Subject matters entertained in PILs include:
Bonded Labour matters;
Exploitation of casual workers;
Non-payment of minimum wages;
Atrocities towards women;
Environmental pollution and disturbance of ecological balance;
Maintenance of heritage and culture.
Advantages of PIL
Accessible legal redressal for all, especially poor and marginalised, balance of law and justice.
Allows access to justice for economically challenged sections, and provides a platform for them to advocate for their rights.
Implements judicial review concept.
Ensures judicial monitoring of state institutions (transparency, inter se checks and balances between wings of the government).
Democratizes justice; protects human rights.
Raises awareness on important issues.
Allows judicial monitoring of state institutions
Disadvantages of PIL
Problem of competing rights, wherein the recognition or grant of rights to one section of the society leads to disadvantage to another section of marginalized population (E.g. shutting down of polluting industries leads to loss of employment for daily wagers dependent on that industry).
Frivolous cases can be filed by parties with vested interest without heavy court fees, leading to the time and attention of the Court being diverted from genuine and crucial matters.
Potential for judicial overreach, which violates the doctrine of separation of powers.
Inordinate delays in the disposal of PIL cases.
Landmark PIL cases
Hussainara Khatoon v. State of Bihar (Considered first PIL case in India - focused on the inhuman conditions of prisons and under trial prisoners).
M.C. Mehta v. Union of India (Several cases for environment preservation were initiated by way of PILs).
Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan (The Supreme Court laid down guidelines for prevention of sexual harassment of women at the workplace, which was followed for nearly 16 years before the enactment of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013).
Parmanand Katara v. Union of India (The Supreme Court held in this case 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 procedural formalities).
Current Affairs - PIL moved to quash the PM CARES fund during period of COVID-19 pandemic (dismissed on grounds of being ‘misconceived’).