Meaning Of Public Interest Litigation (PIL)

“Public interest is something in which public, the community at large has some pecuniary interest in which their legal rights and liabilities are affected. It does not mean anything narrow as a mere curiosity or as the interest of the particular localities which may be affected by the matters in questions. Interest shared by citizens generally in affairs of local state or national government.”


Public interest generally means litigation or petition for the protection of public interests. It is not established in the court of law by the aggrieved party himself but by the court itself or any other private party. It is the power given to the public by the court through judicial activism. However, the person filing the petition must prove to the satisfaction of the court that the Public Interest litigation is being filed for a public interest, not for any personal or political vendetta. Such cases of the victim cannot approach the court himself due to a lack of required resources. The Supreme Court in the case of Democratic Rights v. Union of India defined Public interest litigation as in a cooperative or collaborative effort by the petitioners the state of public authority and the judiciary to secure observance of the constitutional or basic human rights benefits and privileges upon poor, downtrodden and vulnerable sections of the society.

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The term ‘Public Interest Litigation’ simply means litigation in the interests of the public. The term was first used by Professor Abram Chayes in the year 1976. It is also known as Social Action Litigation. The term Public interest litigation comes from the United State jurisprudence where it was designed to provide legal representation to previously unrepresented groups and interests. Such interests and groups include the poor, environmentalists, consumer, rational and ethnic minorities and others. Thus, Public Interest Litigation may be described as litigation in the interest of the voiceless voice to secure their legal rights and entitlements. The idea of Public Interest Litigation came from ‘action popularis’ of Roman Jurisprudence which allowed court access to every citizen in matters of the public wrong. It is a judge-led and judge induced strategy which represents the high benchmark of judicial creativity and sensitivity to the problem of weak and vulnerable. In India, the very idea of PIL comes from the oath of judge’s takes for combating exploitation and injustice. A PIL can be initiated by a Public spirited person, groups on the behalf aggrieved.

Justice P.N Bhagwati in the landmark judgment in S.P Gupta v. Union of India[1] expressly articulated that when a legal right has been breached and the individual is unable to approach the court for relief and member of the Public can maintain an application for an appropriated direction both the High Court and the Supreme Court.


The term PIL was for the very first time used in the United States of America. The Indian public interest litigation is an improved version of the United States concept. Prior to the 1980’s only the aggrieved party has the locus standi to file a case and seek remedy for the grievances, and the non-affected person had no locus standi to do so. As a result of this, there was hardly any link between the rights given by the Constitution and laws laid down by the legislature and the vast majority of the illiterate citizen of the nation.

The scenario gradually changed during the post-emergency period. As a result, the Supreme Court tackled the problem of Justice by bringing the radical changes made in the requirement of the locus standi to file a petition. The magnificent efforts of Justice Krishna Iyer and Justice P.N Bhagwati were instrumental in the juristic revolution of the 1980’s to the change over the apex court of India into the Supreme Court for all Indians.

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Thus from the above word, it can be concluded that Public Interest Litigation is a procedure to put any public problem in the eyes of law. However, as it is said that nothing can be perfect hence there are some pron and cons. A person can misuse the right to file a PIL by filing petitions on another party over a personal vendetta. Since PIL is an extraordinary remedy available at a reasonable cost to do all the citizens of the country is ought to be used as a substitute for ordinary cases as a matter to provide justice to the problem faced by the public.

[1] AIR 1982 SC 149.

Pranav Kaushal

Pranav Kumar Kaushal, Content Writter, Law Corner, Student B.A., LLB 7th Semester, School of Law, Bahra University, Shimla, Himachal Pradesh.

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