Public Interest Litigation (PIL) generally means litigation or a petition for the protection of public interest. It is not established in the court of law, by the aggrieved party himself but by the court itself or any other private party. PIL is the power given to the public by the court through judicial activism. However, the person filing the petition must prove to the satisfaction of the court that the PIL is being filed for a public interest, not for any personal or political vendetta.
Such cases where the victim cannot approach the court himself due to lack of required resources or is being been suppressed upon, the court can itself take the cognizance of the matter and commence on the petition.
Public Interest Litigation has been defined in the Black’s Law Dictionary (6th Edition) as:
“Public Interest – Something in which the public, the community at large, has some pecuniary interest, or some interest by which their legal rights or liabilities are affected. It does not mean anything so narrow as a mere curiosity, or as the interests of the particular localities, which may be affected by the matters in question. Interest shared by citizens generally in affairs of local, state or national government….”
The Supreme Court of India in People’s Union for Democratic Rights & Others v. Union of India & Others [AIR (1982) 3 SCC 235] defined PIL as, “….is a cooperative or collaborative effort by the petitioner, the State of public authority and the judiciary to secure observance of constitutional or basic human rights, benefits and privileges upon poor, downtrodden and vulnerable sections of the society”.
Origin and History of PIL
The term “PIL” first originated in the United States in the mid-1980s. The Indian PIL is an improved version of the US PIL. Prior to 1980s, only the aggrieved party has the locus standi to file a case and seek remedy for his grievance the non-affected persons had no locus standi to do so. As a result of this, there was hardly any link between the rights given by the Constitution, laws laid down by the legislature and the vast majority of illiterate citizens of the nation.
This scenario gradually changed during the post-emergency period. As the Supreme Court tackled the problems of justice by bringing radical changes made in the requirements of locus standi to file a petition. The magnificent efforts of Justice P N Bhagwati and Justice V R Krishna Iyer were instrumental in this juristic revolution of the eighties to change over the Apex Court of India into a Supreme Court for all Indians. Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer and P. N. Bhagwati perceived the likelihood of giving access to equity to poor people and the abused individuals by unwinding the guidelines of standing.
In the post-emergency period when the political circumstances had changed, investigative journalism started to uncover shocking scenes of governmental lawlessness, repression, custodial violence, drawing the attention of lawyers, judges, and social activists. PIL rose because of an informal nexus of professional dynamic judges, media persons and social activists.
The primary reported case of PIL in 1979 concentrated on the inhuman conditions of prisons and under trial prisoners. In Hussainara Khatoon v. Province of Bihar [AIR (1979) SC 1369], the PIL was filed by an advocate based on the news item published in the Indian Express, featuring the situation of thousands of under trial prisoners grieving in different prisons in Bihar. These proceedings prompted 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 era of PIL movement was started by Justice P. N. Bhagawati in the case of S.P. Gupta v. Union of India [AIR (1982) SC 149], it was held that “any member of the public or social action group acting bona fide” can invoke the Writ Jurisdiction of the High Courts or the Supreme Court looking for remedy against infringement of a legal or constitutional rights of people who because of social or economic or some other incapacity cannot approach the Court. By this judgment PIL turned into a potent weapon for the requirement of “public duties” were executed in action or misdeed resulted in public injury.
When can a PIL be Filed
PIL can be filed only where any “public interest” is affected at large. Because if just a single individual is affected then that is not a ground for filing PIL.
These are a portion of the conceivable areas where a PIL can be filed.
- Where a manufacturing plant/industry is causing air pollution and individuals nearby are getting affected.
- Where, in an area/road there are no street lights, causing inconvenience to people
- Where some “Banquet Hall” plays a boisterous music, in night causing noise pollution.
- Where some development organization construction organization is chopping down trees, causing environmental pollution.
- Where poor individuals, are influenced, in light of government’s arbitrary decision to impose heavy “tax”.
- For guiding the police/Jail authorities to take suitable choices concerning jail reforms, for example, isolation of convicts, delay in the trial, production of under trial before the court.
- For abolishing child labor, and reinforced labor.
- Where privileges and rights of working ladies are affected by sexual harassment.
- For keeping a check of corruption and wrongdoing including a high political officer.
- For maintaining Roads, Sewer and so on in great conditions.
- For expulsion of Big Hoarding and billboard from the busy street to reduce traffic.
Who can file a PIL?
Any person can file Public Interest Litigation the only necessary condition is that the petition must be filed in public interest. There is no need for the traditional necessity that only the aggrieved party must who is directly affected must file his case in a court of law. PIL is the special power given to the court to protect the public interest at large.
Essentials for the person who can file a PIL
- He is a member of the public acting bona fide in the interest of public and having sufficient interest in instituting an action for compensating the public wrong.
- He is merely a meddlesome busybody.
- His action is not motivated by any personal gain.
In the case of M.C.Mehta v. Union of India [AIR (1987) 4 SCC 463], Shriram Food and Fertilizers Industry a subsidiary of Delhi Cloth Mills Limited was producing caustic and chlorine. On December fourth and sixth 1985, a major spillage of oleum gas occurred from one of the units of Shriram Food and Fertilizers Limited in the core of the capital city of Delhi which brought about the demise of a few people.
The spillage was caused by a series of mechanical and human errors. This spillage happened because of the blasting of the tank containing oleum gas because of the collapse of the structure on which it was mounted. Within two days, another spillage, however this time a minor one occurred because of the escape of oleum gas from the joints of a pipe.
On sixth December, 1985 by the District Magistrate, Delhi under Section 133(1) of Cr.P.C, directed Shriram that inside two days Shriram should stop carrying on the manufacturing of dangerous and deadly chemicals and gases and so on at their establishment in Delhi and within 7 days to remove such chemicals and gases from Delhi. At this point, M.C. Mehta moved to the Supreme Court to guarantee compensation by filing a PIL for the misfortunes caused and argued that the shut foundation should not be permitted to restart. So this was one of the instances of PIL.
Indian Council for Enviro-legal Action v. Union of India [AIR (2011) 8 SCC 161] chemical industry were causing an issue of contamination, infringing the right to life, NGO filed a petition to for the benefit of the oppressed individuals.
Procedure to file a PIL
PILs can be filed either in High Courts or the Supreme Court of India. One needs to do intensive research before filing a PIL. If there should be an occurrence of filing a PIL concerning several people, it is important and the best course for the petitioner to consult all affected groups.
When one chooses to file a PIL, he must gather all relevant data and documents to back his case. One can argue in person or appoint an advocate to fight the case.
If a person wants to file PIL in a High Court he can file under Article 226 of the Indian Constitution and if any person wants to file PIL in Supreme Court he can do it under Article 32 of Indian Constitution yet Article 226 is something recognized from Article 32 of Indian Constitution. Under Article 32 that individual can go to Supreme Court whose only fundamental rights are infringed. One can also approach Supreme Court for infringement of a constitutional right and also the court can take up a petition based on the “nature of the case”. Thus both the courts have the power to take up a PIL.
A Public Interest Litigation is filed in the same way as a Writ Petition.
- In High Court:
In High Court, two copies of the petition must be filed. Also, an advance copy must be served to each respondent and the proof of such service must be affixed to the petition.
- In Supreme Court:
In Supreme Court, five copies of the petition must be filed. The respondent is served a copy of petition only when the notice is issued.
- Court Fees:
A court fee of Rs.50, per respondent, must be affixed with the petition.
- The proceedings for a PIL commence and carry on similar to any other case.
- Between the proceedings, if the judge deems fit he may appoint a commissioner to investigate the allegation.
- After filing of the reply by the respondent and rejoinder by the petitioner, the final hearing takes place and gives his final judgment on the matter.
Against Whom can a PIL be Filed?
A Public Interest Litigation cannot be filed against any private party per se. It can be only filed against a State Government or Central Government, Municipal Authorities. However, a private party can be included as one of the respondents in a PIL.
A PIL cannot be filed solely against a private party without making the concerned Government or Authority a party to it.
For Example: if there is a Private Factory in Bengaluru, which is causing pollution, any person can file a PIL against,
- Government of Karnataka
- State Pollution Control Board
- Private Factory
Protection of Human Rights through PIL
It is through the component of Public Interest Litigation, the courts seek to protect human rights in the following ways:
- By creating a new domain of Human Rights: by enhancing the significance of the fundamental right to equity, life, and personal liberty. In this procedure, the right to speedy trial, free legal aid, dignity, means and livelihood, education, housing, medical care, sanitization, right against torture, sexual harassment, solitary confinement etc. develop as human rights.
- By Democratization of access of Justice: by reducing the traditional rules of locus standi. Any public person can approach the court on behalf of the aggrieved class.
- By tailoring new Kinds of Reliefs: in PIL cases court can provide any relief to the victims under its writ jurisdiction.
- By supervising the state institutions: through invigilation on the institutions like jails, juvenile homes etc, the court could bring gradual improvement in their administration. This has been characterized as creeping jurisdiction.
- By fashioning new techniques of truth-finding: the court can take help of socio-legal commissions of inquiry or National Human Rights Commission or even CBI to inquire the human rights violations. This is called as investigative litigation.
Thus from the above words, it can be concluded that Public Interest Litigation is a procedure to put any public problem in the eyes of law. However, as it is said that nothing can be perfect hence there are some pros and cons. A person can misuse the right to file a PIL by filing petitions on another party over a personal vendetta. It is the most important job of the court to bifurcate such petitions from the true PILs which are acting as a voice of the aggrieved classes. Public Interest Litigation is the power given to the public by courts through judicial activism.
In the present time, PIL does require a complete rethink and restructuring. Overuse or abuse of PIL can only make it ineffective. Since PIL is an extraordinary remedy available at a reasonable cost to all citizens of the country, it ought to be used as a substitute for ordinary cases or as a means to provide justice to the problems faced by the public.
– Medha P M
Content Writer @ Legal Bites