Public Interest Litigation In India – Explain


Public Interest Litigation (PIL) has undertaken a prime role and dimension in recent years. PIL is social interest litigation. The main purpose of PIL is for the protection of people.

Public Interest Litigation aims to provide justice to society. Litigation is filed to the Court to protect the public interest is known as the Public Interest Litigation.

Public Interest Litigation is not defined in any law or any statutes. It is based on the estimation of judges.

The concept of PIL is in accordance with Article 39A of the Indian Constitution. It says that it is the duty of the State to protect and deliver social justice with the help of law.

What is Public Interest Litigation?

Public Interest Litigation means a legal measure commenced in a Court of law by an individual or a group of individuals or the person other than the affected party for the implementation of public interest.

PIL is an extrajudicial remedy. Hence it is a part of judicial activism. The main purpose of PIL is to enforce the public interest. Here public means a general interest of a group of people. If any law existing in the country is affecting or impacting the interest of the public i.e.; a group of people or the public as general, the High Court or Supreme Court will take up PIL.

Public Interest Litigation is a vehicle for creating and also enforcing the rights of individuals or a group of individuals. It is very crucial for the substance of democracy because under PIL the judicial process is more democratic because there is more people’s participation.

Where the community or society have some interest by which their legal rights or liabilities are concerned, but while moving a plea in such type of cases, the court would find out that it is done by a legitimate person or party for a general issue, not for the aim of any personal benefit.

If any person is unable to approach the Court for relief because of their poverty or socially or economically disadvantaged position. So any person or a group of individuals helps them by Public Interest Litigation.

Through judicial activism, the Court gives the powers of Public Interest Litigation to the people.

Evolution of Public Interest Litigation

In India, Public Interest Litigation was originated in the year 1980. The origin of PIL is from the USA and now it is prevailing in many countries including India.

The concept of PIL was firstly broadcast in India by Justice Krishna Iyer, in 1976 in the case of Mumbai Kamagar Sabha v. Abdul Thai[1]. In this case, an unregistered association of workers was granted to institute a writ petition under Article.32 of the Indian Constitution for rectifies the common grievances.

The first reported case of PIL was Hussainari Khitoon v. State of Bihar[2] in 1979. In this case the PIL was filed by an advocate. A news item was published in Indian Express. In Bihar, about 40,000 trail prisoners were kept in jail for several years without trail. So the Supreme Court held that the Right to speedy justice appeared as an essential and integral part of the fundamental right which had been declined to the prisoners. The same pattern was adopted in the succeeding cases.

1. S.P. Gupta v. Union of India[3]

In this case it was held that any member of the public or NGO acting bonafide can invoke the writ jurisdiction of the High Court in Article. 226 or the Supreme Court in Article. 32. Seeking redressal against violation of legal or constitutional rights of persons who due to social or economic or any other disability cannot approach the Court.

2. M.C. Mehta v. Union of India[4]

  1. Public Interest Litigation brought against the Ganga water pollution.
  2. Supreme Court held that Petitioner although not a riparian owner entitled to move the Court for the enforcement of statutory provisions, as he is the personal interest in protecting the lives of the people using Ganga water.

3. Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan[5]

The judgment of the case recognized sexual harassment as a violation of the fundamental rights of Article 14, Article 15 and Article 21 of the Indian constitution.

The guidelines also directed for the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.

4. Indian Banks Association, Bombay & Ors.  v. M/s Devkala Consultancy Service and Ors.[6]

  1. In this case, the Supreme Court held that the Petitioner might have moved a Court in her individual interest and for the remedy of her personal grievance.
  2. The court in the advancement of public interest may treat it as essential to enquire into the state affairs of the subject of litigation in the interest of justice. So in this case court said that a private interest case can also be treated as a public interest case.

Justice Bhagwati and Justice V.R Krishna Iyer were the first judges to admit Public Interest Litigation in Courts.

There are many cases involved in Public Interest Litigation as one of the main causes for the case and its judgment.

The unique model of PIL that has evolved in India is that not only does it serve the problems like consumer protection, environment, and equal wages for men and women, gender justice, ecological destruction etc. It is also aimed to find social and political space for the underprivileged and other vulnerable groups in society. There have been hundreds of other cases as well in which the judiciary has exercised its powers with courage, creativity and conviction. Some of them are the Asiad Project Case, Bandhu Mukti Morcha Case, Hawala Case, Chandraswami Case and cases relating to environmental degradation. It has also indicated its discomfort over the magnitude of corruption in high places, mainly the housing scandal, the Fodder Scam, St. Kitts Forgery case, Lakhubhai Pathak case, 2G Spectrum case, etc.

Who can file Public Interest Litigation?

  1. Any citizen of India can file a PIL. The petitioner need not be the aggrieved person. Even an organization can file a PIL.
  2. The condition is that it should not be filed with a personal agenda but in the interest of the public.
  3. Now, even the court can take awareness of a matter if it is for the maximum public importance and can also appoint an advocate to handle the case.

Where can a PIL be filed?

  1. PIL can be filed in Supreme Court as well as High Court.
  2. In Supreme Court, PIL can file under Article.32 of the Indian constitution.
  3. In the High Court, PIL can file under Article.226 of the Indian constitution.

Procedure for filing a PIL?

1. The procedure for filing Public Interest Litigation is the same as the procedure for filing a writ petition.

2. Before filing a PIL one has to do thorough research about the matter. In case of filing a PIL regarding several people, the Petitioner must consult all the people or groups which the issue is affected.

3. When you decide to file a PIL, you will collect all the essential information and documents as evidence for the case.

4. You can argue by yourself or you can appoint an advocate for arguing the case. It is better to consult a lawyer before filing a PIL. If you are arguing the case then you have to be prepared to explain the issues of the case and convince the court within the allotted time.

5. If you are filling the PIL in Supreme Court, then you have to submit five copies of the petition before the court. Respondent is served with the petition copy when the notice is issued from the court.

6. If you are filling the PIL in High Court then you have to submit two copies of the petition before the court. Also, one copy of the petition is to be served to the respondents in advance and this proof of serving the copy to the respondents has to be attached in the petition.

Matters entertained under PIL?

Some of the matters entertained under Public Interest Litigation are as follows:

  1. Bonded labor matters.
  2. Neglected children.
  3. Nonpayment of minimum wages to workers and exploitation of casual workers.
  4. Atrocities of women.
  5. Environmental pollution and disturbance of ecological balance.
  6. Food adulteration.
  7. Maintenance of heritage and culture.
  8. Petitioners from jail complaining of harassment, death in jail, speedy trial as a fundamental right etc.
  9. Petition from riot victims.
  10. Matters of torture of peoples of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Castes either by police or by others.
  11. Other matters of public importance.
  12. Family pension.

Objectives of filling PIL?

  1. Obtain social justice for society.
  2. Solving the issues affecting a large number of people in a legitimate manner and the way through legal proceedings.
  3. Helps to claim rights against government and private action.
  4. It is much democratic because it provides welfare for a large number of individuals.
  5. It is an inexpensive remedy so financially backward or poor people can file PIL.
  6. It deals with human rights, health issues, environmental issues etc.


Public Interest Litigation is a strategic arm of the legal aid movement and is intended to bring justice within the reach of the poor people, who constitute the low visibility area of humanity. PIL is totally different kind of litigation from ordinary traditional litigation.

PIL is brought before the Court, not for the purpose of enforcing the right of one individual against another as happens in case of ordinary litigation, but is deliberated to promote a clear public interest.

Public Interest Litigation demands that violation of constitutional and legal rights of a large number of people who are poor, ignorant or in a socially or economically disadvantaged position should not go unnoticed and unaddressed.

The greatest contribution of PIL is that it helps to enhance the accountability of the government towards the human rights of the poor people.

In PIL, the role held by the court is more assertive than in the traditional actions, it is creative rather than passive and it assumes a more positive attitude in determining the acts.

Supreme Court and High Court mostly deal with PIL rather than other cases because PIL is more popular nowadays and the society is more concerned in public issues so PIL is increasing day by day. Therefore the pending cases other than PIL in High Courts and in Supreme Court increases.

[1] AIR 1976 SC 1455

[2] AIR 1979 SC 1369

[3] AIR 1982 SC 149

[4] (1996) 4 SCC 750

[5] AIR 1997 SC 3011

[6] INSC: [2004] INSC 287

This Article is Authored by Megha Ravindran, 3rd Year BBA-LLB Student at Nehru Academy of Law. 

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