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Public Interest Litigation

Public Interest Litigation

What is Public Interest Litigation?

  • Public interest Litigation (PIL) means litigation filed in a court of law, for the protection of “Public Interest”. Any matter where the interest of the public at large is affected can be redressed by filing a Public Interest Litigation in a court of law such as Pollution, Terrorism, Road safety, Constructional hazards, etc.
  • The expression ‘Public Interest Litigation’ has been borrowed from American jurisprudence, where it was designed to provide legal representation to previously unrepresented groups like the poor, the racial minorities, unorganized consumers, citizens who were passionate about the environmental issues, etc.
  • PIL is not defined in any statute or in any act. It has been interpreted by judges to consider the intent of the public at large. It is the power given to the public by courts through judicial activism. However, the person filing the petition must prove to the court’s satisfaction that the petition is being filed for public interest and not just as a frivolous litigation by a busy body.

History of Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in India

  • In 1979, Kapila Hingorani filed a petition and secured the release of almost 40000 undertrials from Patna’s jails in the famous ‘Hussainara Khatoon’ case. Hingorani was a lawyer. This case was filed in the SC before a Bench led by Justice P N Bhagwati.
  • Hingorani is called the ‘Mother of PILs’ as a result of this successful case. The court permitted Hingorani to pursue a case in which she had no personal locus standi making PILs a permanent fixture in Indian jurisprudence.
  • Justice Bhagwati did a lot to ensure that the concept of PILs was clearly enunciated. He did not insist on the observance of procedural technicalities and even treated ordinary letters from public-minded individuals as writ petitions. Justice Bhagwati and Justice V R Krishna Iyer were among the first judges in the country to admit PILs.

Some of the matters which are entertained under PIL are:

    • Bonded Labour matters
    • Neglected Children
    • Non-payment of minimum wages to workers and exploitation of casual workers
    • Atrocities on women
    • Environmental pollution and disturbance of ecological balance
    • Food adulteration
    • Maintenance of heritage and culture

Cases in which PILs are filed:

  1. Violation of the basic human rights of the poor (litigations for protection of fundamental rights, mainly Article 21)
  2. Content and conduct of the government and its policymaking
  3. Labor exploitation issues
  4. Women rights
  5. Caste and religious issues
  6. Governance issues and the working of public bodies: Local, state and the union
  7. Environmental issues
  8. The issues of culture and heritage
  9. Other matters of public importance

Features of Public Interest Litigation (PIL)

  •  intended to promote and vindicate public interest
  •  strategic arm of the legal aid movement and is intended to bring justice
  • totally different kind of litigation from the ordinary traditional litigation which is essentially of an adversary character
  •  co-operative effort on the part of the petitioner, the State or Public Authority, and the Court to secure observance of the constitutional or legal rights
  • redressing public injury, enforcing public duty, protecting social, collective, diffused rights and interests or vindicating public interest
  •  role held by the Court is more assertive than in traditional actions; it is creative rather than passive.                                                          Public Interest Litigation
  • demands that violations of constitutional and legal rights of large numbers of people should not go unnoticed and unredressed
  •  court enjoys a degree of flexibility unknown to the trial of traditional private law litigations
  •  procedure adopted by the court it must be procedure known to judicial tenets and characteristics of a judicial proceeding,
  •  no determination on adjudication of individual rights


Indian Polity

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