Abstract: The article illustrates the various concepts and themes associated with Public Interest Litigation which is a major tool in bringing about a sea of changes in the Indian judicial system. The article mainly focuses on the procedure to be followed in the filing. It also provides with the necessary details to be taken care of while petitioning.… Read More »


The article illustrates the various concepts and themes associated with Public Interest Litigation which is a major tool in bringing about a sea of changes in the Indian judicial system. The article mainly focuses on the procedure to be followed in the filing.

It also provides with the necessary details to be taken care of while petitioning. It also tries to give a brief overview of the processes that went into the introduction of such a unique judicial experiment in the Indian context and also assess the impact it had on public life.

Introduction: What is a PIL?

Public Interest Litigation or PIL is a recent legal innovation by the judiciary which gave a chance to people with a public spirit to contribute to the welfare of society by playing a role in solving social problems.

Though filed in the same manner as a writer petition there is one significant difference between the two. A Writer is the type of petition filed only when it directly affects the petitioner whereas a PIL can be filed by anyone concerned with an issue concerning the whole of society.

The practice of filing a PIL can be seen as an excellent example how the basic provisions of fundamentals of the constitution could be transformed into a useful tool for realizing public interest without the help of any, separate supporting legislation. The origins of PIL can be traced back to that period immediately following 1975.

That excruciating period in the Indian history which for the first time underlined the importance of unfettered access to legal remedies and etched the importance of fundamental rights in the Indian psyche as a result of frequent episodes of grievous violation of the fundamental rights and the apparent inactivity of the courts which characterized those times.

What ensued once after the event was that the judiciary was jolted out of its mindless slumber or in other words the post-emergency India witnessed a particularly vibrant period of judicial activism. In the case of SP Gupta v. union of India(AIR 1982 SC 149 R 188 ), the Supreme COURT gave a clear cut definition of the PIL in consonance with the Indian situation.

When is it Filed?

Although the PIL as its name suggests is intended mainly as a facilitating mechanism for the public good, it is also applicable in a range of other matters. For example, it can also handle cases involving issues such as Human Rights violation of the poor. To avail legal remedy, if there is a violation of the fundamental rights of a group or community.

Nevertheless, it is evident that a PIL is mostly filed when the larger public interest is at stake and individual grievances usually don’t stand as the basis for availing the option of PIL. These general arrays of issues cover areas such as:

  • Industrial pollution that affects the quality of the environment
  • Lack of basic amenities that seriously affect civil life such as the absence of sanitation, provisions for clean drinking water.
  • Complaints can be filed against those activities which disturb public peace and quiet.
  • Against faulty government policies and unfair schemes.
  • Where there has been the denial of the fundamental rights of a significant number of people from the part of the state.

However, there is a certain issue for which a resolution cannot be sought through the filing of PIL that includes:

  • Disputes between landlord and tenants
  • Service matters
  • Matters pertaining to pension and gratuity
  • Complaints against the central and state government departments except on matters which are listed in 1-10 of the guidelines.
  • Disputes regarding admission to medical colleges and other educational institutions.
  • PIL cannot be filed to urge the court for an early hearing of cases pending in High courts or any other subordinate courts.

Who can File a PIL?

Before the 1980s only people who are directly affected by the issue under consideration. Could approach the court for a resolution through PIL. Currently, anyone who is concerned about a particular issue which affects the society as a whole can file the petition. And it is not necessary that the litigant should have a direct stake in the matter.

Thus, for example, any publicly spirited citizen can approach the court to urge the government to clamp down on those establishments which exploit its workers., even if he himself is not employed by them or has any relatives working for them.

Similarly, Government policies which are found to be unfair or anti-constitutional could be questioned in the court by availing this option even if the policy does not indirectly affect the person.

Will all the PIL s be heard in the Court?

Though anyone can file a PIL, the chances of them being actually admitted for court hearing depends on their actual relevance as perceived by the judge who handles the case. In most cases, the Chief Justice of the given court is the concerned authority.

The admission thus largely depends on the discretion of the judge. It is found that the average admission rate ranges anywhere between 60 – 80 per cent of the total cases filed.

Who are the parties in a PIL petition?

An important point to note here that under no circumstances that a PIL could be allowed against a private party. Which means that every PIL petition, as a rule, involves a Government body or public authority. Nevertheless, private parties can be made a respondent in PIL cases.

For example, a case against the faulty construction of a public utility, the case has to be made against: the concerned state government, PWD (Public Works Department), and the concerned Contract company and not against the company alone even If the fault clearly lay with the company.

The Procedure

Once a decision is made to file a PIL it is advised to conduct thorough research before petitioning. If the issue under consideration affects many stakeholders a thorough enquiry has to be conducted among the respondents, additionally, it is better to seek the opinion of the affected individuals to understand the depth and nature of the problem. It will also help us gauge the different sensitivities and undercurrents involved in the matter which will come helpful in the actual hearing.

The next step is to collect all the relevant documents, evidence, supporting statements to strengthen your position. The case can be argued in person or the petitioner can hire the service of a professional lawyer.

In any case, it is advised to seek professional advice before filing the case. In case the litigant is opting for arguing the case in person then he/ she must be prepared to explain the details of the case as may require once the hiring commences.

  • It also advised serving a legal notice to the concerned parties in which must be clearly stated the reasons and demands.
  • The next step is the preparation of the petition which is similar to a writ petition.
  • If the petition is to be filed in the high court then the number of copies to be prepared is two. While if the petition is filed before the Supreme Court then the number of copies required is 5. Also, the litigant must make sure that one such copy also reaches the respondent if the petition is filed in the high court. Whereas in case of filing before SC the respondent is served copy only when the notice is issued.
  • Once the case is admitted and the hearing will begin which is similar to my other court cases. However, the judge to find necessary can appoint a commissioner to inquire into the complaints.
  • After the filing of replies by the respondents and the submission of a rejoinder by the litigant final hearing will take place in the court which will be concluded after the pronouncement of the final judgment


The PIL is can be called the least costly of all litigation procedure as it requires only a meagre figure RS 50 charged as court fee for each number of the opposite party. As mentioned earlier the PIL is not different from. A Writ petition there are instances where the court had actually admitted letters written in plain paper as formal petitions in cases of utmost urgency and gravity.

The problem with PILs

It is well known that the Judiciary in its current state is overloaded with a large corpus of cases yet to be dispensed with. A share of this blame is to be affixed with the indiscriminate filing of PIL petitions for everything and anything.

Taking note of the seriousness of the situation the Supreme Court came down heavily on such practices and put forward a series of guideline illustrating the do’s and don’t s related to PIL. Accordingly, the court published the set of subjects which could be dealt with in the jurisprudence of the PIL.

The court reasoned that such senseless petitioning not only overburdens the system but it also results in inordinate delays in the closure of genuine cases leading to an unacceptable denial of justice. There is also accusation that under the guise of the legal reforms the judiciary was actually breaching the delicately structured balance of power that was envisaged by the constitution by encroaching into law-making which is the exclusive business of the legislature. There have also been instances when it was used as a tool for political vendetta and mudslinging.


To conclude the introduction of PIL was one of the most important reforms that happened in the Indian judicial system which opened the doors of the mighty courtrooms to the deprived and marginalized. It also brought in and strengthened judicial activism through which a large variety of public issue was solved or settled.

Another major impact that the PILs had that the previously disadvantaged sections of the society which were largely removed from the judiciary due to apparent illiteracy and lack of knowledge as well as due to the intimidating Costs involved in litigation could now approach the courts on their own with little or no external help.

It has also enabled concerned citizens to involve themselves in cases where they a serious violation of rights and the victims are unable to approach the court or their own. Hence, it is not unfair to say that though suffering from several shortcomings PIL has largely been a success in terms of serving its original purpose which was the democratization of judiciary.

Moreover, several landmark judgments were made while hearing these PIL petitions which enlarged the scope of the constitution by bringing the new and progressive interpretation of its original text. The sole substance of PIL was thus aptly expressed in the judiciary’s own words ;

“Every responsible citizen has AN INTEREST IN SEEING THAT THE LAW IS ENFORCED….and that is sufficient interest in itself to warrant his applying for litigation or mandamus to see that is enforced”


  1. Public Interest Litigation, PIL: A brief Overview by Dr Anand Kalse
  2. Public Interest Litigation by S. K Sarkar, Third Edition
  3. Administrative Law -Introduction by Prof. Upendra Baxi.

  1. Public Interest Litigation(Opens in a new browser tab)
Updated On 18 March 2020 2:12 AM GMT
Arsha Sabu

Arsha Sabu

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