Public interest litigation


The phrase ‘Public Interest Litigation’ has been borrowed from U.S constitution, where it was figured 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. Public interest Litigation (PIL) means litigation filed in a court of law, for the protection of Public Interest in each and every way such as Pollution, Terrorism, Road safety, Constructional hazards etc. Any person can file public interest litigation in a court of law where the interest of public at largely affected. Basically, public interest litigation is the power given to the common people in their hand under the supervision of Indian judiciary. Article 32 of the Indian constitution contains a tool which directly joins the public with judiciary. PIL is not mentioned 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. The matters which are included under Public Interest Litigation are Non-payment of minimum wages to workers, Maintenance of heritage and culture, Bonded Labour matters, exploitation of casual workers, food adulteration, Neglected Children, Environmental pollution, disturbance of ecological balance and atrocities on Women, etc.

 History of Public Interest Litigation in India

 Initially the concept of public interest litigation was seen in India by Justice Krishna Iyer, in 1976 in Mumbai Kamagar Sabha vs. Abdul Thai. The first reported case of PIL was of Hussainara Khatoon vs. State of Bihar (1979) on the ground that focused on the under-trial prisoners and inhuman conditions of prisons. In this case the PIL was filed by an advocate on the basis of news item published in the Indian Express highlighting the plight of thousands of under trail prisoners in various jails of Bihar which led to the release of almost 40,000 under trial prisoners from Bihar’s jail. The litigation was filed in the SC before a Bench led by Justice P N Bhagwati. After the result of this successful case Kapila Hingorani {plaintiff} had earned the title of ‘Mother of PILs’.

A new era of the PIL movement was heralded by Justice P.N. Bhagwati in the case of S.P. Gupta vs. Union of India. In this case it was held that any member of the public or social action group acting without malice can invoke the litigation in the High Courts under article 226 or in the Supreme Court under Article 32 seeking redressal against violation of constitutional rights of persons who due to social or financial or due to any other disability cannot approach the Court of law. By judgment of this case PIL became a best weapon for the enforcement of public duties where executive action or misdeed resulted in public injury. And as a result of this case now any citizen of India can approach to the supreme court of the country seeking legal remedies in all cases where the interests of general public are largely affected.

Who Can File PIL?

Any citizen of India can file PIL in court of law in Supreme Court under Article 32 of Indian constitution or in High Courts under article 226 of Indian constitution or in the court of magistrate Under sec. 133 of the Criminal Procedure Code. But before moving forward in case the court must be satisfied that the writ petition fulfils all the basic needs of PIL like the letter is addressed by the aggrieved party, it should be in concern of public and a social action group for the enforcement of Constitutional rights to any person who are not able to approach the court for justice. A Public Interest Litigation can be filed against a State government, Central Government and Municipal Authorities but litigation can’t be filed against any private party.

What are the issues on which a PIL cannot be filed in Court?

 The Supreme Court has released a list of guidelines according to which PIL cannot be filed in some cases. The PIL cannot be filed in the:

  • Complaints against central and state government departments and local bodies.
  • Matters related to landlord-tenant
  • Matters related to admission in medical and other educational institutions
  • Petition for early hearing of pending cases in High Court or subordinate courts
  • Matters related to services

How to File PIL in Court of Law?

Firstly, for filing an PIL the petitioner should thoroughly investigate the related matter. If the PIL is related to many peoples then the petitioner should consult all of them before filing litigation in court of law. Before filing PIL the petitioner should collect all relevant evidences and documents to strengthen his/her case. In each court there is different procedure to file a PIL. If a Public Interest Litigation {PIL} is filed in the Supreme Court, then five copies of the petition have to be submitted in the court. The copy of the PIL is sent to the respondent {defendant} only when a notice is issued by the court for it. If a Public Interest Litigation {PIL} is filed in the High Court, then two copies of the petition have to be submitted in the court. And, a copy of the petition has to be sent in advance to each defendant and proof of the same has to be added to the PIL before submitting in High Court.


As we all know that in India where the number of pending cases is more than 4 crores spanning in supreme court, high courts and various district courts and subordinate courts, the misuse of public interest litigations is increasing day by day. Unnecessary PIL could lead to overburdening and overpressure on the courts. Today the PIL is no more limited to problems of the poor and the oppressed it has become a luxury for the politicians and elite group.  People file frivolous petitions which result in the wastage of time and increase unnecessary burden on the courts. To solve this problem a bench of judges leads by Justice Dalveer Bhandari stated that the “indiscriminate filing of PILs creates unnecessary pressure on the judicial system and it results in excessive delays in the disposal of genuine and relevant cases”. So, it’s a duty of people to understand that before filing unnecessary PIL they must bother about the strict consequences of their act.


Public Interest Litigation is working for welfare of every section of society. Public Interest Litigation has produced astonishing results in the last three decades. But the greatest contribution of PIL is that it enhanced the accountability of the governments towards the human rights of the lower- and middle-class family. Besides, the unnecessary PILs with vested interests must be discouraged by the court to keep its workload manageable. However, in listening to PILs the Judiciary should be cautious enough to avoid Judicial Overreach that are violative of the principle of Separation of Power. I think that it would be best to conclude by quoting Cunningham, Indian PIL might rather be a Phoenix: a whole new creative arising out of the ashes of the old order. By noticing today’s scenario, we can easily say that PIL is still in experimental stage. We may end with the hope once expressed by Justice Krishna Iyer, “the judicial activism gets its highest bonus when its orders wipe some tears from some eyes”.

Author: Shashi Sharma,
Symbiosis Law School, Nagpur

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