Is PIL A Pill For All Wrongs?

Originated and developed in the USA in 1960s, it was designed to provide adequate legal representation to the deprived classes. The concept of PIL in India is a product of the Supreme Court of India through the process of judicial activism. The architects of PIL in India are Justice Krishna Iyer and Justice P.N. Bhagwati. Often it is known by the name of Social Interest Litigation(SAL) or Class Action Legislation(CAL). Previously only those persons whose fundamental rights are being violated, they can only move to the Supreme Court for reinforcement of their rights. But, India is a developing country where maximum of the population is educationally backward, economically backward as well as socially excluded. If this traditional rule of locus standi is applied, only a few of whose rights are being violated, they can reinforce their rights. Owing to the societical structure, the Supreme Court of India has liberalised the rule of locus standi and thus the concept of PIL emerged. The concept signifies that any citizen or social organization can move to the Supreme Court or the High Courts for enforcement of the rights of any person or group of persons who cannot reiterate back to the Court for ends of justice merely by the fact that they are ignorant, socially or economically disadvantageous position.

The concept was developed time bring justice within the ambit of the poor people which constitutes a chunk of the population of India. The PIL now occupies an important place in the administration of law and justice. But, nowadays it must not be allowed to become ‘Publicity Interest Litigation’, ‘Politics Interest Litigation’, ‘Paisa Interest Litigation.’ In the case of BALCO Employees Union vs. Union of India(AIR 2002), the Supreme Court has held that, “PIL is not a pill or panacea for all wrongs. It was essentially meant to protect the rights , especially the human rights of the weak and the disadvantaged and was a procedure which was innovated where a public spirited person files a petition in effect on behalf of such persons who on account of poverty, helplessness or economic and social disabilities could not approach the court for relief. There have been, in recent times increasingly instances of abuse of PIL. Therefore, there is a need to re-emphasise the parameters within which PIL can be resorted time by a petitioner and entertained by the court.

The Supreme Court, in the case of State of Uttaranchal vs Bal want Singh Chaupal(AIR 2010), has laid down the following guidelines for PIL:

  1. That the court shall allow only bonafide complaints and reject hasty ones.
  2. That every High Court shall formulate its own procedure for dealing with PIL, rather than leaving it for every Judge to frame his own rule.
  3. The Court shall, on the face of it, assess the suitability of the petitioner before allowing the suit.
  4. That the Court shall verify the correctness of the petitioner before allowing the petition.
  5. That the court should be fully convinced of the fact that it is the very social welfare and public interest associated with the petition and thus, it has been allowed.
  6. That the Court shall take into the factors of gravity, urgency and larger public interest if the petition.
  7. That Court should be fully ensured of the fact that there is no personal gain, private motive or oblique motive behind filing of PIL.

The scope of PIL has been formulated by the Supreme Court of India in 1998. Bonded labourer matters, neglected children, non payment of minimum wages, petitions from jail complaining harassment, seeking release after 14 years, petitions against police refusing to file case, death in police custody, petitions from SC, ST and economically backward classes, family pensions, petition from riot victims can be entertained as PIL. Thus the Court has itself set up the linits within which PIL is confined to.

However, in recent times, we have witnessed a large number of PILs being filed for profit motive. That is not fair. The very concept for which the PIL was framed is now getting destabilized owing to vexatious PILs too. Therefore, it is the need of the hour to use this as a device for providing justice to the people who cannot access justice instead of using it as a means to an end.

Subham Chatterjee

Subham Chatterjee is a penultimate year law student from Tezpur Law College, Assam. Apart from excelling in academics, he has presented papers in national seminars, contributed chapters in edited books published internationally. He also brought accolades by winning Moot Court Competition, Client counselling competition and Quiz Competitions apart from participating in various competitions. He has recently authored an ISBN book 'Land Laws of Assam: A Reference Book for the students of Gauhati University" He is also a trained Hindustani Classical (Vocal) and Rabindra Sangeet singer.

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