Public Interest Litigation


The year 1979 witnessed the introduction of the concept called Public Interest Litigation or broadly known as PIL. When advocate Kapila Hingorani filed a petition regarding the conditions of prisoners of Bihar jail after getting the petition signed by them in the Supreme Court of India which led to release of the prisoners and she can rightfully be named as the one who started the concept of Public Interest Litigation but it was in the 1981 when justice PN Bhagwati in one of his judgments discussed the term in detail and it officially came into existence (though initially a few cases of same nature were dealt with) and he became the father of PILs. Public interest litigation as the name suggests means protection of interest of public at large and in general. PIL equals: protection of public interest via litigation filed in courts. A Public Interest Litigation is filed where the public interest is at stake.


Initially before the concept of PIL was introduced only the party which has been aggrieved and is directly involved could file a suit but with the emergence of PIL it changed and people not related were also allowed to file the petition related to public matters. NGOs, public or any other individual can seek remedy for the oppressed public though it should be clear that the one filing the PIL does not have any personal gain in the same and it is for the interest of public. The person should not be meddlesome or someone creating trouble. If the benefit is for one individual it would not be considered as a PIL, the cause has to be about public. The PIL can be filed via letters, telegrams or in courts barring district and any other lower level court.

For one to file a PIL one can either go to the Hon’ble High Court or the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India under articles 226 and 32 of the Indian constitution respectively though for article 32 deals only with fundamental rights whereas article 226 deals with fundamental as well as other constitutional rights. Though if a smaller public portion is affected, they can approach the Hon’ble High Court and if the larger one is affected, they can go to the Hon’ble Supreme Court.


PILs can be filed against any government body be it central or state. Also, it can be filed against the municipal corporations though private party directly cannot be sued by the way of PIL but it can be made a part of the same as one of the Defendant when PIL is filed against the government body.


Though there is no particular law or section stating anything about Public Interest Litigations it still promotes  the idea of Article 39(A) of the Indian Constitution which talks about protecting and delivering yield social justice as PIL is a means for the ones who are oppressed or it helps anyone seeking justice for the ones who are under-privileged and filing public interest litigations does not cost much. Also, it somewhat extends the right to life and personality along with equality which is talked about in part III of the constitution.


1.It is a bridge between marginalised and oppressed class and justice. It is a means through which they can claim justice as NGOs and any other institution are having an easy way to help them as it is no longer a necessity to have the aggrieved party only to file the case, it can be anyone on their behalf.

2.It is a way to maintain equality as the ones who are denied their rights are provided with their human rights.

3.It helps in protecting the rights of people in institutions like old age home. NGOs, asylums etc.

4.Also, the ones who cannot afford high litigation fees have a cost-effective way to fight for justice as the PIL is a pretty inexpensive process.

5.It is a way to help courts have much less number of case for the same case as for an oppressed class some single person, NGO or anyone can file a PIL not just the aggrieved party otherwise it would have been a hassle had the earlier rule of locus standi still prevailed.

6.It had definitely led to bringing courts close to disadvantaged sections of society.


There had been quite a few cases where the practise of Public Interest Litigation has been misused as frivolous petitions have been filed due to it being cost effective. This has led to many cases being viewed with speculation and wasting the time of court  and to control that guidelines have been provided which states that facts and other detailed showed be presented in a very thorough manner and even if the PIL has been filed using letter it should be having all the relevant facts of the matter. And also, judges have an understanding on which matters can be taken as PIL thus, this mal-practise can be put to an end. Reliefs that are provided by the PIL are interim measures such as prohibition on something or asking to close a plant or some committee can be appointed to look into the case and when required settle the case in public intent.


There are many countries which have taken up to the practise of Public Litigation Interest. Not just India but countries like South Africa, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have adopted the practise. Other countries that have taken up the practise are USA, China, Italy etc.

SOUTH AFRICA- PIL have been made a fundamental right there. It had been there since apartheid rule to fight unjust laws but now it is used as a tool to enforce socio-economic rights.

CHINA-public interest law is the term which is accepted there. Though common law does not so much require lawyers playing a main role in forming laws a small section of them are starting to act up on public litigation.

UNITED STATES-public interest was term which was accepted in USA during the turmoil in the 1960s. Since then it had been there to protect the fundamental rights, environment etc. They are institutionalised in the States.

HONK KONG- there it is an emerging field. The main reason for it to be rising is judicial review.


The impact that PIL has created is amazing as finally the distance between justice and disadvantaged groups has been reduced. PILs have made the official authorities answerable to the NGOs. The ones who cannot afford to get justice can have anyone helping them by the way of PIL. Though there have been abuse of PIL and might create some problems such as judicial overreach or delays and overburdening of courts with frivolous PILs the current situation has improved with the new guidelines the judges have come up with to put an ending to the abuse. There is more equality then before as some unprivileged class is not left behind or out of the protection of law as the one of the reasons for PIL to be introduced was to help the ones not getting justice. If used in a proper way PIL can prove to be one of the most essential tools which will help establish complete equality and eradicate unjust treatments and it will definitely help to protect the rights of every citizen of the nation.




Author: Lavanya Goel,
Symbiosis Law School, Noida

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