Public Interest Litigation, commonly known as PIL, is a powerful weapon for the citizens of India to assert their fundamental rights and hold the government, public bodies, and authorities accountable. The idea of facilitating PILs aimed at the betterment and welfare of society through the judiciary was born in 1980 as a means of achieving social justice. A PIL is a mechanism by which the common man can approach the court on behalf of himself and society at large. It is a means to keep a check on the arbitrary actions of the government, public bodies, and authorities, and to ensure that justice is delivered in favour of the common man.
Public Interest Litigation
PIL was originally introduced in India as a means of enabling access to justice for those who could not afford it and who would otherwise be unable to avail themselves of legal recourse. The idea was to use the courts as the last resort for the resolution of disputes that had a significant impact on the public interest. The courts had already recognised the principle of locus standi, which means that only those individuals or legal entities that had a direct interest in a case could bring a suit or legal action in court. However, this system was found to be restrictive and did not serve the purpose of ensuring access to justice for all.
The PIL was introduced as a means of removing these restrictions and enabling the public to approach the courts for legal remedies against illegal, unjustified, or unconstitutional actions. The basis of a PIL is to bring to the attention of the courts any matter that affects the public interest, and it is not necessary that the person filing the PIL has any direct or personal interest in the matter. A PIL can be filed not only to address civil wrongs but also constitutional rights.
The conditions for filing a PIL in India are not clearly laid down in the Constitution, but the Supreme Court has, by its judgements, laid down the rules and conditions for the same.
Conditions must be met before filing a PIL
- Issues of Public Interest
The petition must relate to an issue of public interest, which should not be limited to the welfare of a particular individual, but rather, the broader interests of the society at large. The issue in question should have a direct impact on society or a section of society, and not just on an individual.
- Violation of a Legal Right or a Constitutional Provision
The petition should highlight the violation of a legal right or constitutional provision. A petition that merely raises a question of fact or seeks an investigation without clarifying how the issue is of public interest is liable to be rejected.
- Public Interest v. Private Agendas
The petitioner should demonstrate that the PIL is filed in the public interest, and not to serve any private agenda or to settle personal scores. The courts have been known to take a strict view of the matter and have even imposed heavy costs on petitioners known to have filed PILs with malicious intent.
- Locus Standi
The petitioner should be a person or an entity in whose interest the PIL is filed. This means that the person filing the PIL should have a sufficient stake in the matter and should be affected by the issue in question in some way.
- No Alternative Remedy
The petitioner should demonstrate that there is no other effective or alternative legal remedy available to him or her, and that the issue cannot be resolved through any other means.
In view of the above conditions, it becomes quite clear that the success of PILs in India depends heavily on the merits of the case and the sincerity of the petitioner. PILs are meant to bring about social welfare, and they should not be misused for personal gain or to seek publicity. Over the years, however, we have seen many instances where PILs have been misused and filed for trivial and insignificant reasons, which has often led to the judiciary being burdened and its reputation being tarnished.
PILs have also been successful in bringing about positive reforms in various areas. For example, PILs have played a crucial role in protecting the rights of the weaker sections of society, especially the disadvantaged and marginalised. PILs have been used to address issues related to environmental degradation, child labour, and women’s rights. PILs have been instrumental in identifying and rectifying the shortcomings of the Indian judicial system itself, such as judicial delays and judicial inefficiency.
Provisions and Acts Included
Public interest litigation (PIL) is an important tool of the Indian legal system, which has been developed to ensure the protection of the rights of the public at large. This legal mechanism has been put in place to enable Indian citizens to bring legal action against the government, public officials, and other entities that have violated their rights or interests. The legal system in India provides various provisions and Acts for filing public interest litigation.
- The Constitution of India
The Indian Constitution provides various provisions that enable citizens to file public interest litigation, primarily under Part III of the Constitution, which is dedicated entirely to Fundamental Rights. This part of the constitution was included to ensure that the citizens are provided with certain basic rights that the government is obligated to protect. Some of the fundamental rights that citizens can use to file PILs include the right to life and personal liberty, the right to equality and equal protection of laws, and the right to freedom of speech and expression.
- The Code of Civil Procedure, 1908
The Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 (CPC) has given a significant role to Public Interest Litigation. The mechanism of filing Public Interest Litigation under the CPC is known as “representative suits.” According to Section 12 of the CPC, any person can file a suit on behalf of others as well as for the benefit of others. The representative party must have a direct interest in the suit, and the accounts of the parties must be actively different. In cases where the suit application is frivolous, vexatious, or where the object of the suit is unlawful, the court may not permit the suit to proceed. The court also has the power to permit the withdrawal of the suit if it is not in the public interest to proceed with it.
- The Public Interest Litigation Techniques Act, 1986
The Public Interest Litigation Techniques Act, of 1986 was enacted to make PILs more extensive and more effective in India. According to this Act, a person who is not the party to the proceedings can express any opinion, intervene or participate in the proceedings. The Act also limits the expenses and fees that can be incurred in public interest litigation. This provision was included to ensure that the cost of litigation in public interest cases does not become a barrier for any individual or group seeking justice.
- The Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987
The Legal Services Authorities Act, of 1987 is another important legislation governing the filing of PILs in India. It provides for the establishment of Legal Aid Committees to extend free legal aid to the weaker sections of society, including women, children, and those that belong to the marginalized sections of society. The object of this legislation is to ensure that public interest cases are not restricted to only those who can afford to pay for legal representation, but also to those who cannot.
- The Indian Environmental Laws
The Indian Environmental Laws, including the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981, and the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 provide for various provisions that enable citizens to file PILs against violators of environmental laws. These acts further provide for penalties and fines for individuals and companies that violate environmental laws.
- The Consumer Protection Act, 1986
The Consumer Protection Act, of 1986 also provides for the filing of public interest litigation. This Act empowers consumers to file PILs against companies or individuals who sell goods or services that are defective or unsafe. The Act provides for a penalty for violators and further enables consumers to receive compensation for damages suffered as a result of defective goods or services.
Conditions for Filing Public Interest Litigation and Explanation
|Conditions for filing Public Interest Litigation (PIL)||Explanation|
|Violation of Fundamental Rights||PIL can be filed when there is a violation of fundamental rights guaranteed under the Indian Constitution.|
|Environmental Protection||PIL can be filed to protect the environment and prevent damage to natural resources.|
|Consumer Protection||PIL can be filed to protect the rights and interests of consumers.|
|Government Accountability||PIL can be filed when the government engages in corrupt practices, mismanagement of public funds, or failing to perform its duty.|
|Public Health and Safety||PIL can be filed to safeguard the health and safety of the public, including issues related to sanitation, clean water, and access to healthcare.|
|Education||PIL can be filed to ensure access to quality education and prevent discrimination in educational institutions.|
|Women’s Rights||PIL can be filed to protect and promote the rights of women, including issues related to gender-based violence and discrimination.|
|Child Rights||PIL can be filed to protect and promote the rights of children, including issues related to child abuse, child labour, and child trafficking.|
|Minority Rights||PIL can be filed to protect and promote the rights of minorities, including issues related to discrimination and persecution.|
|Labour Rights||PIL can be filed to protect and promote the rights of workers, including issues related to fair wages, workplace safety, and employment discrimination.|
Landmark Case Laws
- Fertilizer Corporation Kamgar Union v. Union of India (1981)
In the case of Fertilizer Corporation Kamgar Union v. Union of India (1981), the Supreme Court of India established the validity of PIL. In this case, the petitioner was the union of workers of the Fertilizer Corporation of India. They filed a PIL against the government for not taking adequate measures to prevent pollution caused by the fertilizer plant. The Supreme Court held that the petitioner had the right to approach the court under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution and that the issue raised was of public interest.
- S. P. Gupta v. Union of India (1981)
The Supreme Court of India has also clarified that PIL is not meant to replace or substitute existing legal procedures. In the case of S. P. Gupta v. Union of India (1981), the Supreme Court emphasized that PIL should not be used as a substitute for normal legal proceedings. PIL should be used only when existing legal procedures are not sufficient to address the issue raised. Moreover, the court ruled that PIL should not be used for personal or political gain.
- Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India (1984)
In the case of Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India (1984), the Supreme Court emphasized the scope of PIL. In this case, the petitioner was an organization working for the elimination of bonded labour. They filed a PIL against the government for not taking adequate measures to eliminate bonded labour. The Supreme Court held that PIL can be filed by any person or organization seeking to protect the public interest. Moreover, the court ruled that the concept of “locus standi” should be relaxed for PIL.
- Centre for Public Interest Litigation v. Union of India (2002)
The Supreme Court of India has also clarified that PIL should not be used to settle private disputes. In the case of Centre for Public Interest Litigation v. Union of India (2002), the Supreme Court held that PIL should not be used to settle private disputes or personal grievances. The petitioner in this case had filed a PIL against the government on the grounds of an alleged scam in the purchase of coffins for the Indian army. The court ruled that the petitioner did not have locus standi as the issue raised was not of public interest.
- Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra v. State of U.P. (1985)
In the case of Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra v. State of U.P. (1985), the Supreme Court highlighted the importance of PIL in protecting the environment. The petitioner in this case was an organization working for the rights of the poor and the environment. They filed a PIL against a mining company for causing environmental damage. The court ruled that the issue raised was of public interest, and the petitioner had the right to approach the court.
In conclusion, PILs represent a significant development in India’s legal system, and the tool has shown great potential in realising social justice and achieving the welfare of the public, which is the main purpose behind it. However, it is also imperative that the power of the PIL is not abused and that only cases that meet the prescribed conditions and merit are allowed to be filed. It is a powerful tool in the hands of the public to raise public issues that have not been addressed by the government or other legal mechanisms. To file a PIL, the petitioner must fulfil certain conditions, such as locus standi, genuine evidence, and public interest. Thus, with more people becoming aware of this powerful tool, there is a need for maintaining its sanctity to ensure that PILs continue to deliver on their promise of social justice and fulfil the vision of an equal and just society.
Read Our Article: Origin And Meaning Of Public Interest Litigation In India