Public Interest Litigation

Justice Krishna Iyer is famously known for his contribution to conceptualizing the idea of Public Interest Litigation(PIL) and the person behind originating this term was Justice P.N. Bhagwati. The PIL is also referred to as Social Action Litigation (SAL). The role of PIL is to usher in judicial activism by empowering the public to file a lawsuit and seek justice for the socially deprived sections. It is in contradiction to the locus standi rule in which only those affected could file a case in the court and look for justice. With PIL, the public in general is armed to strive for justice for cases even when they are not directly involved. In this way, PIL brought a paradigm shift and entrusted the public with a weapon to seek remedy for a common cause. The concept of PIL is also in line with the principles enshrined in Article 39A (free legal aid) of the Indian Constitution. 

Hussainara Khatoon Vs State of Bihar is one of the earliest cases where the application and success of PIL became apparent. The case was filed by the inmates of Bihar jail. The apex court ruled in favor of prisoners as it is their right to obtain free legal aid. Later in the SP Gupta case, the court defined the term PIL. 

Furthermore, there is no stringent method to seek remedy under PIL and even letters were considered by the judges to provide justice to the masses. There are instances when a PIL was considered as a remedy under Article 32 I.e. Right to Constitutional Remedies. 

PIL can be filed against the Central Government, State Government, Municipal body, and even a private individual. 

The public can file cases via 

  1. Article 32 in the Apex court 
  2. Article 226 in the High Court 
  3. Section 133 of CrPC

Some milestone cases corresponding to the use of PIL are as follows- 

  • Vishakha case in the Supreme Court- The case filed by Smt. Bhanwari Devi led to the enforcement of Vishakha guidelines and also the Prevention of Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act (PoSH). 
  • M.C. Mehta’s case – led to environmental protection and helped in ensuring a healthy environment. 

Conditions for filing a PIL 

  1. Some action or inaction or state of affairs 
  2. Infringement of rights of a large number of people suffering the same evildoing 3. The unfairness should be redressed by petition in court 
  3. PIL should be pointed out by a section of people on behalf of all others. 

Some matters that can be sued as a PIL are (as per Supreme Court guidelines)-

  1. Bonded labor
  2. Neglected children 
  3. Minimum wages declined for workers and labor laws violated 
  4. Prisoners in jail seeking fairness 
  5. Injustices by police including custodial death 
  6. Atrocities against women 
  7. Atrocity against SC, ST, or economically backward sections 
  8. Environmental pollution, protection of culture, etc. 
  9. Complaints by Riot sufferers 
  10. Family pension 

The apex court has listed several cases which shall not be entertained as PIL. Such cases include matters of landlords and tenants, admission to educational establishments, and several others. This clarification by the Supreme Court is easily accessible and hence has ensured clarity amongst the public as to what constitutes PIL and what not. 

Advantages of Public Interest Limitation (PIL) 

  1. Serves as a legal redressal to socially disadvantaged sections of society. 2. Gives voice to the voiceless and is not cumbersome to seek remedy in PIL. 3. The engine of change for economically backward sections. It opens the doors of the judiciary to the common man. 
  2. Justice is democratized and is available to the common man. 
  3. The PIL brings about awareness among the public. 
  4. It ushers in judicial activism and ensures checks on the misdoings of the executive. 7. Provision of human rights to destitute sections of society. 

Impediments to the success of PIL 

  1. Some allege that the court’s attention is being drawn away from the core issues. 2. Frivolous litigations are a concern -Former Chief Justice of India(CJI) N.V. Ramana raised concern over the misuse of PIL and called it Personal Interest Litigation. He raised apprehension regarding the misuse of PIL to stall projects and said, it is being used to settle scores in corporate rivalry. 
  2. It might lead to judicial overreach as the judiciary is sent overstepping the fine line of separation of power that runs between the judiciary and executive. 
  3. The PIL cases are not disposed of in time and linger on for a long time. 5. It is said that it adds more work to the already burdened judiciary. 

PIL has been received in society as an empowering agent and has been a torchbearer for the rights of aggrieved people in general.

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