The article 'Genesis and Growth of Public Interest Litigation in India' by Ananya Kukreti is a detailed analysis of the evolution of Public Interest Litigation along with landmark judgments.

The article 'Genesis and Growth of Public Interest Litigation in India' is a detailed analysis of the evolution of Public Interest Litigation along with landmark judgments.

In the civil justice system, public interest litigation (PIL) is essential because it can accomplish difficult or impossible goals through conventional private litigation. PIL, for instance, gives the underprivileged in society a path to justice, gives a way to enforce or collect rights, and empowers civil society to raise awareness of human rights and participate in governmental decision-making. PIL might improve governance by holding the government responsible.

In India, Public interest litigation has long been a cutting-edge legal method for advancing underprivileged and marginalised groups' social and economic rights. But in recent years, a number of objections to public interest litigation have surfaced, including issues with the balance of power, the ability of the judiciary, and inequity. The article further highlights Public Interest Litigation.


Public interest litigation, according to Indian law, refers to legal action taken to safeguard the public interest. It is a legal action brought before a court of law by a third party other than the party who feels wronged, such as the court itself. The person who has had his or her rights violated does not have to come before the court in person in order for the court to exercise its jurisdiction. The ability granted to the public by courts through judicial activism is known as public interest litigation. The petitioner, however, must demonstrate to the court's satisfaction that the petition is being submitted in the public interest and not just as pointless litigation by a busybody.

PIL is currently recognised as a potent tool to resist governmental lawlessness and social oppression and has gained extraordinary legitimacy and binding authority. The judicial messages sent forth through PIL lawsuits offer legal means to start struggles against hegemony and power abuses. The political history of State repression has shaped the growth of the Indian PIL. It developed to use the judiciary to hold the administration accountable for its promises. PIL is a distinctive phenomenon in Indian constitutional law that is unmatched worldwide.

This method focuses on defending the rights of a class or group of people who are either victims of governmental lawlessness, oppression, or social oppression, or who have had their constitutional or legal rights violated, and who are unable to seek redress in court due to a lack of resources, ignorance, or their precarious social and economic circumstances. When the other two arms of government were experiencing a crisis of legitimacy, the Indian Supreme Court started to position itself as an institution of last resort. Justice Krishna Iyer first introduced the idea of public interest litigation in India in Mumbai Kamagar Sabha v. Abdul Thai in 1976.[1]

The Origin and Growth of Public Interest Litigation in India

In India, litigation was still in its infancy until the 1960s and 1970s, and it was still viewed as a personal endeavour to protect individual entrenched interests. In those days, litigation largely involved some action started and pursued by specific persons, typically resolving their own complaints or issues. Therefore, the wounded party or aggrieved party had the right to bring a lawsuit and keep it going. Even this was severely constrained by the tools that people had at their disposal. There were hardly any concerted efforts or attempts to address larger concerns that affected different consumer groups or the entire public. However, the Supreme Court of India pioneered the notion of Public Interest Litigation in the 1980s, which completely altered the situation (PIL).

The Supreme Court of India facilitated access to the law for all citizens as well as newly established consumer groups or social action organisations. They also integrated a broad public interest viewpoint into their work.

In the middle of the 1980s, the word PIL was first used in the United States. Public interest law, a component of the legal aid movement, had developed in that nation since the eighteenth century as a result of numerous campaigns. In New York, the first legal assistance agency was founded in 1876. The PIL movement started receiving funding from the Office of Economic Opportunity in the 1960s, which inspired lawyers and other good Samaritans to take on issues of the underprivileged and defend the environment.

PIL and the Locus Standi

Locus Standi is the legal right to file a lawsuit or make court appearances. The parties that come before the courts under both the inquisitorial and adversarial systems must have been wronged or denied their rights. Locus standi must therefore exist for any legal proceeding to proceed. PIL is distinct from the traditional legal process. With traditional litigation, locus standi is required, but in a PIL, a sincere interest in or righteous concern for the issues of the general public will suffice.

As a result, locus standi refers to the position of the party who has the right to bring a lawsuit. Thus, any offended party may seek redress in court in accordance with the locus standi concept. In Public Interest Litigation, the locus standi is eased and made flexible in order to broaden the litigation's focus to include the rights and concerns of the downtrodden and poor.

Landmark Judgments of PIL

Union of India v. People's Union for Democratic Rights [2]

In this case, a group working to protect rights filed a writ petition under Article 32 alleging that labour regulations were broken while building stadiums for the Asiad project. According to Justice P.N. Bhagwati, a PIL is filed to vindicate the rights of a group of people whose basic rights have been violated, as opposed to regular litigation, which solely takes into account the rights of an individual.

The scope of PIL has grown recently and is continually growing. PIL is currently a tool for tackling social issues as well as the problems of the impoverished and disenfranchised. However, questions and matters of public interest were not actionable in a court of law under the conventional understanding of locus standi.

PIL currently addresses a wide range of concerns, including administrative issues impacting society, socio-economic difficulties, authority abuse, labour rights, and environmental issues. Although a PIL's purpose is to address public problems, some people utilise it as a front to further their own selfish interests. The petitioner must operate in good faith, putting the interests of the general public before his or her own political, economic, or personal goals. The Supreme Court has cautioned that PIL should be used carefully and sparingly on numerous occasions.

Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan [3]

As part of a government campaign against child marriage, Bhanwari Devi sought to stop the marriage of a one-year-old girl in rural Rajasthan. First, the neighbourhood threatened Bhanwari Devi and her family in retaliation. later they also subjected them to a socioeconomic boycott. Later, on September 22, 1992, Bhanwari Devi was raped by five men. Bhanwari Devi encountered several challenges in her quest for justice. An attorney who had witnessed Bhanwari Devi's criminal trial, Naina Kapur, grew dissatisfied with the criminal justice system's inability to provide the victim with tangible relief or restore her dignity and she decided to oppose workplace sexual harassment by bringing a PIL case action before the Supreme Court.

The Vishaka writ petition was submitted in 1992 by five NGOs and was directed at the State of Rajasthan, its Department of Women and Child Welfare, its Department of Social Welfare, and the Union of India. The essential constitutional rights to equality, non-discrimination, life, and liberty as well as the right to pursue any profession are now all "clearly violated" by sexual harassment, according to the Vishaka judgement.

Employers were given guidelines on how to prevent harassment, The complaint procedures that required to be "strictly observed in all workplaces" are also described. The protection and enforcement of the right to gender equality should be the goal. It has encouraged greater adherence to international law and the upholding of women's rights at the highest judicial level.

Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India

An organisation that was committed to the release of bonded labour brought a case involving the release of bonded labour before the Supreme Court. Public interest litigation, according to the Court, "is not in the nature of adversary litigation but is a challenge and an opportunity to the Government and its officers to make basic human rights meaningful to the deprived and vulnerable sections of the community and to assure them social and economic justice which is the signature tune of our Constitution,” The Court emphasised that any member of the public acting in good faith may approach the court for relief under Article 32 in cases where a person or a class of people's Fundamental Rights have been violated, resulting in any legal injury, and such a person is unable to approach the court due to poverty or being in a socially or economically disadvantaged position.

Therefore, courts amply demonstrated through these judgements that fundamental rights apply to all people, not just the wealthy and well-off who can access the courts, as well as the larger ordinary masses who are poor, illiterate, underprivileged, and marginalised and are unable to access the courts due to a lack of awareness and resources. But throughout the years, the purpose of public interest litigation has expanded and is now not just limited to resolving the complaints of the poor and disadvantaged people. Instead of being utilised to address a specific person's complaints, it is being used to address the problems that affect the general public and society as a whole. Such public grievances could not be brought before the Court by anyone under the more archaic and traditional locus standi norm.

Challenges of PIL and initiatives taken by the Court

PIL's progress has also shown its flaws and shortcomings. Because of this, the supreme court has been forced to establish rules for the handling and dismissal of PILs. Along with its extensive and varied use, PIL misuse is rising as well.

Recent years have seen a rise in the number of PIL activists across the nation who use the PIL as a convenient tool of harassment because it allows for the filing of frivolous cases without the need to pay high court costs, as is necessary for private civil litigation. Deals can then be negotiated with the parties affected by stay orders obtained in the so-called PILs.

Currently, the court has the authority to act on a letter as a writ petition. However, the court may not consider every letter to be a writ petition. The court would be justified in treating the letter as a writ petition only in the following circumstances:

(i) It is only when an irrationally resentful person addresses the letter,

(ii) a public-spirited person, or

(iii) a social action group for enforcement of the legal or constitutional rights of a person in custody or of a class or group of persons who, due to poverty, a disability, or a position of social or economic disadvantage, find


Astonishing outcomes from public interest litigation that were unimaginable thirty years ago. Through judicial intervention, degraded bond labourers, tortured defendants and women prisoners, humiliated residents of protected women's homes, blinded prisoners, exploited children, beggars, and many more people have received relief.

The biggest benefit of PIL has been to increase government accountability for the poor people's human rights. It establishes new legal precedents about the state's liability for constitutional and legal violations that harm the interests of the community's weakest members. To avoid judicial overreach and other violations of the principle of separation of powers, the judiciary should apply PILs with sufficient caution. Additionally, in order to keep its workload manageable, frivolous PILs with vested interests must be discouraged.


[1] 1976 AIR 1455, 1976 SCR (3) 591

[2] 1982 AIR 1473, 1983 SCR (1) 456

[3] AIR 1997 SC 3011

[4] 1984 AIR 802, 1984 SCR (2) 67

Important Links

Law Library: Notes and Study Material for LLB, LLM, Judiciary, and Entrance Exams

Law Aspirants – Ultimate Test Prep Destination

Ananya Kukreti

Ananya Kukreti

Ananya has a strong inclination towards policy research and business laws. Institution: Amity University, Noida

Next Story