The late 1970s and early 1980s witnessed a revolutionary step in the Indian judicial system with the introduction of the concept of Public Interest Litigation. It was Justice Krishna Iyer and Justice PN Bhagwati who started admitting PILs in the court and they eventually shaped the concept of Public Interest Litigation into a full-fledged weapon for the voiceless people in the country to wipe out the injustices caused by the authorities. The advent of PILs rewrote the rule that only those people whose rights are infringed will have the locus standi to file the case before the courts of justice, and allowed any bonafide person having an interest in the matter concerned to approach either High Court or Supreme Court, in order to seek an adequate remedy. This led to an overwhelming increase in the number of PILs filed for a wide variety of causes. Hussainara Khatoon v Union of India (1979), which released around 40,000 undertrial prisoners on account of the violation of right to speedy trial, Vishaka & Ors. v State of Rajasthan (1997), which enforced the fundamental right of women against sexual harassment at the workplace under Art 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution, the series of MC Mehta v Union of India, were some of the very initial landmark PIL cases. In the light of the overflow of PILs in the Courts in India today, it is imperative for every citizen of the country to understand how to file a PIL and its basics as it serves as a handy weapon for the common people to fight the injustices in the society.
Meaning of Public Interest Litigation:
Before filing a PIL it is very essential to understand what a PIL is. This will help you to determine whether you should seek remedy through a PIL or some other means.
No statute defines PIL in India. It is a modified version of PILs filed in American Courts derived from judicial activism.
Black’s Law Dictionary defines Public Interest Litigation as “a legal action initiated in a court of law for the enforcement of public interest or general interest in which public or class or class of community have pecuniary interest or some interest by which their legal right or liabilities are affected”.
In simple words, PIL is a writ petition filed by any person in good faith for a public cause. The remedy sought through PILs should have a broadened impact on public at large and should not be intended to achieve private gains by the petitioner.
Who against Whom:
Any person who is a citizen of India can approach either the High Court or the Supreme Court under a PIL for appropriate remedy. NGOs, social workers or any group of persons in the interest of the general public also can file a PIL against. It can be filed against any authority under the definition of Article 12 of the Constitution if their actions cause any public injury.
Filling A Public Interest Litigation:
The very first step in filing a PIL is to determine whether PIL is the appropriate remedy to be sought. For this, one has to know what are the matters that can be contested in the Court through a PIL. Supreme Court has laid down certain guidelines as to what matters should be entertained as a PIL and what should not. “According to the guidelines the following matters shall ordinarily be entertained as a PIL.
- Bonded Labour matters.
- Neglected Children.
- Non-payment of minimum wages to workers and exploitation of casual workers and complaints of violation of Labour Laws (except in individual cases).
- Petitions from jails complaining of harassment, for premature release and seeking release after having completed 14 years in jail, death in jail, transfer, release on personal bond, speedy trial as a fundamental right.
- Petitions against police for refusing to register a case, harassment by police and death in police custody.
- Petitions against atrocities on women, in particular harassment of bride, bride burning, rape, murder, kidnapping etc.
- Petitions complaining of harassment or torture of villagers by co- villagers or by police from persons belonging to Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes and economically backward classes.
- Petitions pertaining to environmental pollution, disturbance of ecological balance, drugs, food adulteration, maintenance of heritage and culture, antiques, forest and wildlife and other matters of public importance.
- Petitions from riot -victims.
- Family Pension.
Likewise, the following matters cannot be the subject matter of a PIL.
- Landlord-Tenant matters.
- Service matter and those pertaining to Pension and Gratuity.
- Complaints against Central/ State Government Departments and Local Bodies except those relating to item Nos. (1) to (10) above.
- Admission to medical and other educational institution.
- Petitions for early hearing of cases pending in High Courts and Subordinate Courts”.
If the matter is covered under the scope of PIL, the next step is to conduct extensive research on the matter disputed under the PIL. If the Court finds that the petitioner lacks adequate knowledge on the subject matter, the PIL will not be entertained. Recently, the apex Court imposed a fine of Rs.5,00,000 on the petitioner seeking ban on the sale and use of Coca Cola, Thums up, Soft Beverage on the ground that the petition has been filed without the petitioner having any technical knowledge on the subject. Therefore, it is very important to have enough knowledge about the matter before filing the petition.
After having gained necessary information to substantiate and justify the arguments concerning the matter, the person or the group of persons or the NGO filing the PIL should consult the parties affected.
It is also to be noted that the Court will not entertain the matter if the petitioner has not had recourse to local remedies. The Court at many instances insisted the petitioners to exhaust the other remedies before filing a PIL. The petitioner has to raise the issues before the concerned authorities first and give them reasonable time to respond to the issue. If the authority is responding or if the response is not satisfactory, one can proceed to file a PIL.
If all the prerequisites of filing a PIL, as mentioned above are met, the petitioner can move to either the Supreme Court or the High Court. If the PIL is to be filed in the Supreme Court under Article 32, the petitioner should file 5 copies of the petition. The Court after considering the petition will issue notice and the copy of the petition will be served to the respondent. For filing PIL in a High Court under Article 226, 2 copies of the petition has to be filed in the Court and the petitioner has to send a copy of the petition to each respondent in advance and should affix the proof of the same in the petition.
Contents of A PIL Petition:
The Handbook on Practice and Procedure and Office Procedure of Supreme Court provides for the essentials of a PIL. “A writ petition in public interest invoking extraordinary original jurisdiction under Article 32 of the Constitution read with Order XXXVIII Rules 1 and 12(1)(d) and (2) of the Rules shall be filed in Form No. 33 and shall disclose —
(a) the full name of the petitioner, his complete postal address, email address, phone number, proof regarding personal identification, occupation and annual income, PAN number and National Unique Identity Card number, if any;
(b) the facts constituting the cause of action;
(c) the nature of injury caused or likely to be caused to the public;
(d) the nature and extent of personal interest, if any, of the petitioner(s);
(e) details regarding any civil, criminal or revenue litigation, involving the petitioner or any of the petitioners, which has or could have a legal nexus with the issue(s) involved in the public interest litigation; and
(f) whether the concerned Government Authority was moved for relief(s) sought in the petition and if so, with what result.
Further, it shall be accompanied by an affidavit stating that the petitioner has no personal gain, private motive or oblique reason in filing such petition.
Also, it shall contain a statement/declaration of the petitioner that, to his knowledge, the issue raised was not dealt with or decided and that a similar or identical petition was not filed earlier by the petitioner or 68 by any other person and in case such an issue was dealt with or a similar or identical petition was filed earlier, its status and the result thereof”.
‘Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter’ -Martin Luther King Jr.
With the introduction of PIL Indian Courts have kept it doors wide opened so that the common man can access justice. We as true citizens should knock the doors of justice using PILs and become the voice of the voiceless. However, we should refrain ourselves from using such a potent weapon for frivolous purposes.
SUPREME COURT OF INDIA, COMPILATION OF GUIDELINES TO BE FOLLOWED FORENTERTAININGLETTERS/PETITIONS RECEIVED. https://main.sci.gov.in/pdf/Guidelines/pilguidelines.pdf
Umadesh P Chavda v Union of India, order dated 11.06.2020.
This Article is Authored by Anitta Varghese, Third-Year, B.A. LL.B student at St. Joseph’s College of Law, Bangalore.