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Shivani Jain

Shivani Jain | Updated: Apr 24, 2020 | Category: Legal

Everything about Public Interest Litigation in India

A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) is not defined in any act or statute. It is a petition that anybody can file in a court in opposition to any person or entity for their actions that violate or disrupt the interest of the public at large. Hence, PIL is like an instrument that can be used when the rights of the person filing the petition, together with a part of society are violated.

Further, PIL can be filed either in any High Court or Supreme Court in order to protect the fundamental rights of the public, which is violated by someone’s act. Moreover, a PIL may also be filed against a construction affecting the public, factory causing pollution, or any such other social issue to protect the rights of people.

The term ‘Public Interest Litigation’ (PIL) has been taken from the American jurisprudence, where it was devised in order to provide legal representation to formerly unrepresented groups such as the poor, unorganized consumers, the racial minorities, citizens who were fervent about the environmental issues, etc.

Furthermore, PIL is the authority given to the public by courts by way of judicial activism. However, the person filing the said petition must prove to the court satisfaction that the concerned petition is being filed for the public interest and not only as a frivolous or vexatious litigation by a busy body.

Lastly, the court can take cognizance on the matter and proceed with Suo Motu or cases can even be initiated on the petition of any public-spirited individual.

Categories Involved in Filing a PIL

The guidelines provide that normally petitions or letters falling under one of the following listed ten categories will be considered as a PIL:

  1. Bonded labour matters
  2. Non-payment of minimum wages
  3. Neglected children
  4. Petitions from jails regarding the death in custody, continuous harassment, speedy trial as a fundamental right, etc
  5. Petitions against police for declining to register a case.
  6. Petitions against the atrocities on women, in particular, harassment of bribe, rape, bribe-burning, kidnapping, murder, etc
  7. Petitions complaining harassment or tortures on persons belonging to SC (scheduled caste) and ST (scheduled tribes)
  8. Petitions relating to environmental issues
  9. Food Adulteration
  10. Maintenance of the heritage and culture

What are the Factors Responsible for the Development of PIL in India?

The following listed are the factors responsible for the development of PIL in India –

  1. The character of the Indian Constitution
  2. Progressive Social Legislations 
  3. Liberal Interpretation of Locus Standi 
  4. Courts are making Part IV of the Indian Constitution judicially enforceable by reading it with Part III of the Indian Constitution.
  5. Judicial Revolutions in order to help the poor and marginalized section
  6. Appointment of commissions to collect information regarding the facts of the case and present it before the bench.

Significance of Public Interest Litigation

The following listed points deals with the significance or importance of Public Interest Litigation –

  1. The objective of PIL is to provide the common people access to the courts in order to obtain legal redress.
  2. PIL is a significant instrument of social change and also for preserving the Rule of law. Further, it also helps in accelerating the balance between law and justice.
  3. The original aim of PILs have beento make justice and law accessible to the poor and the marginalized section of the society.
  4. It is an essential tool for making human rights reach those people who have been denied rights.
  5. It democratizes the access of justice to all. This means any citizen or an organization who is competent can file petitions on behalf of those people who cannot or do not have the assistance to do so.
  6. PIL helps in judicial monitoring of the state institutions such as prisons, protective homes, asylums, etc.
  7. It is an important instrument for implementing the notion of judicial review.
  8. Improved public participation in the judicial review of administrative action is guaranteed by the inception of PILs.

Who is eligible to File a PIL and Against Whom it can be filed?

Any citizen can initiate or start a public case just by filing a PIL

  1. In the Supreme Court, under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution,
  2. In the High Court, Under Article 226 of the Indian Constitution.
  3. In the Court of Magistrate, under Section 133 of the Criminal Procedure Code.

However, it is significant to note that the court must be satisfied that the said petition fulfills the basic needs for PIL (Public Interest Litigation), as the letter is addressed by the aggrieved person, a social action group, and public-spirited individual for the enforcement of Constitutional or legal rights to any person who is not able to contact the court for redress.

Further, a Public Interest Litigation can be filed against any Municipal Authorities, State or the Central Government. However, the same is not qualified to be filed against any private party. 

Furthermore, the definition of the term “State” is the same as provided under Article 12 of the Indian Constitution and this comprises of the Governmental and Parliament of India, and also the Government and Legislature of every State. Moreover, all the local or other authorities within the Indian territory or under the control of the Government are included in this definition.

Procedure to File a PIL

The only step involved in the procedure of filing a public interest litigation (PIL) is the filing of a general writ either in the High Court or Supreme Court. However, if in case in between the proceedings if the concerned judge feels he might appoint a commissioner, in order to inspect allegations and accusations such as the trees being cut, pollution being caused, sewer problems, etc. Further, after filing of the replies by the concerned opposite party and also rejoinder by the petitioner, the final hearing takes place, and thereafter the judge announces his final decision.

In High Court

If a PIL is filed in a High court, then the petitioner is required to submit two copies of the said petition. Further, an advance copy of the concerned petition is also required to be served on to each respondent, i.e., the opposite party. Lastly, the said proof of service is required to be affixed on the petition.

In Supreme Court

If in case a PIL is filed in the Hon’ble Supreme court, then 5, i.e., (4) +(1) sets of petitions are required to be filed. Out of 5 copies, one set is to be served to the opposite party, and then only the notice is issued.

Court Fees

A Court fee of Rs 50, per respondent, is required to be affixed on the petition, i.e., for each number of opposite parties, court fees of Rs 50 is paid.

Can a Writ Petition be also treated as a PIL?

Yes, a writ petition filed by an aggrieved person, whether on behalf of a group or along with a group can be considered as a PIL. However,

  1. The said writ petition must involve a question in law, which affects the public at large or a group of people, but not a single individual.
  2. Only the affected or the aggrieved person is qualified to file a writ petition.

Further, there must be a specific prayer, asking the concerned court to direct or order the state Authorities to take note of the said complaint or allegation.

Landmark Judgments on Public Interest Litigation (PIL)

The following listed are some of the landmark judgments on the concept of PIL –

  1. Hussainara Khatoon v. Home Secretary, State of Bihar – This case was declared to be a landmark judgment in India in the 1980s. This case deals with the plight of the undertrial accused. This particular case helped in creating a precedent over the concept of a speedy trial and equitable justice for the undertrial prisoners. This case was filed by a multiple number of prisoners and talked about the undertrial prisoners remaining in prison for a period, which is more than what they will get in actual if they have got convicted also.
  2. Vishaka v. The State of Rajasthan – This case was introduced by an advocate by way of filing a PIL. In this case, there is a sad story of a Bhanwari who was a rape victim, which happened to her after she fought against her child marriage. Further, her whole family was shunned from the village. This case was basically the ignition or the initiating point for the tremendous enactment of Harassment laws in the workplace. Lastly, this judgment is a landmark case as it declared the rigid guidelines regarding a healthy workplace environment for women.
  3. Javed v. the State of Haryana – In this case, a PIL was filed by an aggrieved party who were not able to contest in the election due to a statute, which made that any person who has more than two children is not eligible to contest election in certain posts of the panchayat. Further, this so-called only two children norm was passed to give due attention to the scheme of family planning.
  4. M.C. Mehta v. Union of India – This case was bought against those who were polluting the river Ganga. The case was filed by the noteworthy environmental attorney Mr. M.C Mehta. In this case, he fought against numerous cities and industries which mixed the Ganges water with effluents and toxic waste. Hence, this case is recognized to be one of the most important judgments in the history of PILs.
  5. Parmanand Katara v. Union of India – This case makes its place to the list of landmark cases due to the reason that a number of lives were saved after this concerned PIL was made. The case basically deals with the hospitals, which were unenthusiastic and reluctant to attend legal and accident cases.This case ensured that the ultimate aim of the hospital must be to save a life and not escaping from the troubles. The court, in this case, gave complete freedom on the hospitals to attend an emergency case that arises to them, that too, without worrying about the legal troubles.
  6. SP Gupta v. Union of India – In this case, it was observed that an advocate too has a locus standi to file a writ for the Public Interest Litigation. This case has opened up a plethora of PIL petitions filed by the advocates.


Public Interest Litigation has given astonishing and surprising results, which were improbable three decades ago. Now, the tortures on the undertrials prisoners, degraded bonded labourers, exploited children, humiliated inmates of the protective women’s home, beggars, blinded prisoners, and many others have been provided relief by way of judicial intervention.

Further, it is significant to note that the greatest contribution of the PIL has been to augment the accountability of the government in the direction of the human rights of the poor.

The concept of PIL has also developed a new jurisprudence of the state’s accountability for the constitutional and legal violations or infringements adversely affecting the interests of the weaker and marginalized elements in the community.

However, the Judiciary must be cautious enough during the application of PILs in order to avoid Judicial Overreach that is violative of the principle of Separation of Power. Apart from this, the frivolous and vexatious PILs with vested interests should be discouraged by the courts in order to keep its workload manageable.

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Shivani Jain

Shivani Jain

Shivani has completed her B com LLB (Hons) and has the experience of writing various research papers during her college time. Earlier she was working as an Associate in a Delhi based Law Firm, but her interest in writing made her pursue Legal Content Writing as a career. Her core area of interest is in writing about various legal enactments, tax and finance.

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