Public Interest Litigation for an Individual

calendar04 May, 2023
timeReading Time: 9 Minutes
Public Interest Litigation for an Individual

Public Interest Litigation (PIL) is a tool used in Indian law to allow a group or individual to file a case in the interest of the public at large. PIL has been recognized as an important tool for activating the judicial system for cases that otherwise might not be brought to the attention of the court. It also allows for the promotion of the public interest and the enforcement of the rule of law.

The concept of PIL originated in the United States in the 1960s and was brought to India in the 1980s. In India, PIL has been used to address a wide range of issues in various areas of law, such as environmental law, human rights law, consumer protection law, and labour law.

The filing of PILs has also been made easier in India by the Supreme Court’s relaxation of the rules of standing. Normally, only a person who is directly and personally affected by a legal dispute can file a case in court. But in PIL cases, a person who has no direct stake in the dispute can also approach the court if he or she believes that the dispute affects the public at large.

PIL has been seen as a means of empowering the powerless and giving voice to marginalized groups. It has allowed individuals to seek justice against powerful corporations or government entities. It has also been seen as a way to hold the government accountable for its actions or inactions.

The impact of PIL on Indian law has been significant. PIL has led to the development of new laws and policies to address various social, economic, and environmental issues. It has also been used to challenge the constitutional validity of certain laws or government actions.

Public Interest Litigation is a powerful tool that has been used successfully in India to bring a positive change in society. Public Interest Litigation, commonly known as PIL, is a legal mechanism that allows any citizen or organization to file a case in court on behalf of an individual or group of individuals and seeks legal remedies for public interest issues. Unlike traditional litigation, which resolves disputes between two parties, PIL is a type of litigation focused on larger societal issues that affect the public at large.

The concept of Public Interest Litigation has gained significant popularity and has been used extensively in India since the 1980s. PIL has played a crucial role in the development of human rights and the protection of fundamental rights in India. The primary objective of PIL is to safeguard the interest of the public or a particular community, which cannot approach the court of law due to their social or economic status.

The purpose of this research essay is to analyse the concept of Public Interest Litigation for an individual in the aspects of Indian law. We will discuss the origin and evolution of PIL and its role in protecting the rights and interests of the underprivileged and marginalized sections of society.

Origin and Evolution of PIL

The origin of PIL can be traced back to the 1960s in the United States, where it was first introduced as a means to provide legal aid to underprivileged sections of society. PIL not only provided legal aid to the poor but also helped in raising public awareness on various social issues. This concept has been adopted by several countries with some variations in its application.

In India, the concept of PIL was first introduced in the case of Hussainara Khatoon vs. State of Bihar in 1979. In this case, a group of lawyers filed a case on behalf of several undertrial prisoners, who had been in jail for over five years without any trial. The court took up the case and passed a landmark judgment, ordering the release of all undertrial prisoners who had been languishing in jail for several years without trial. This judgment gave a new dimension to the concept of PIL in India.

After the Hussainara Khatoon case, PIL became a powerful tool for public interest litigation in India. PIL opened up new avenues for citizens to directly approach the court for redressal of their grievances. PIL has been used successfully in India in several cases related to environmental protection, protection of human rights, women rights, and judicial reforms.

Role of PIL in Protecting Fundamental Rights

The Constitution of India guarantees fundamental rights to all citizens. The fundamental rights include the right to equality, the right to life and personal liberty, the right to freedom of speech and expression, the right to education, and the right to work. PIL has played a significant role in protecting the fundamental rights of citizens.

The landmark judgment passed by the Supreme Court in the case of People’s Union for Civil Liberties vs. Union of India, commonly known as the “Right to Food” case, is a classic example of how PIL can be used to protect fundamental rights. In this case, the Supreme Court took suo moto cognizance of a newspaper report that highlighted the high rates of malnutrition among children in the state of Rajasthan.

The court passed an order directing the government to provide food to the affected children and to implement various schemes to eradicate malnutrition. Following the judgment, the government of India launched several initiatives, including the Integrated Child Development Services, which has been successful in reducing malnutrition in the country. Thus, this judgment underscores the pivotal role that PIL can play in securing the fundamental rights of citizens.

Role of PIL in Environmental Protection

PIL has played a significant role in environmental protection in India. The Supreme Court has passed several landmark judgments in PIL cases related to environmental protection. The cases of Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum vs. Union of India and MC Mehta vs. Union of India are classic examples of how PIL can be used to protect the environment.

In the Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum case, the Supreme Court passed a judgment directing the closure of several industrial units that were polluting the environment in the state of Tamil Nadu. In the MC Mehta case, the Supreme Court passed a judgment directing the closure of several polluting industries in Delhi and ordering the government to take measures to reduce vehicular pollution.

PIL has been instrumental in creating awareness among the public on environmental issues, and has encouraged the government to adopt various measures for environmental protection. PIL has played an important role in the development of environmental jurisprudence in India.

Role of PIL in Women’s Rights

PIL has been a powerful tool in protecting the rights of women in India. In several cases, PIL has been used to provide justice to women who have been subjected to violence or discrimination. The Vishaka Guidelines, which provide guidelines for preventing sexual harassment of women at the workplace, were the result of a PIL filed in the Supreme Court.

One of the most famous examples of PIL in India is the MC Mehta v Union of India case, also known as the Oleum Gas Leak case. In this case, the Supreme Court of India recognized the right to a healthy and pollution-free environment as a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. This case led to the strengthening of India’s environmental laws and regulations.

Another example is the Vishakha v. State of Rajasthan case, which led to the development of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. This case was filed by a group of NGOs and women’s rights activists in response to the gang rape of a social worker in Rajasthan.

Important Aspects of PIL for an Individual in Indian Law

Aspect Explanation  
Who can file An individual, group of individuals or NGOs can file PIL  
Nature of the case The case must be related to the public interest or larger societal good  
Jurisdiction Can be filed in any court, but generally in High Courts and Supreme Court  
Cost of filing PIL can be filed free of cost or with nominal fees  
Relief sought The relief sought in PIL is for the public, not for the person filing the case  
Procedure The court has discretion to take up the case, and may even appoint a lawyer to represent the public interest  
Role of court The court acts as the guardian of the public interest and ensures justice is done  
Impact PILs have played a crucial role in bringing social reform, protecting human rights and environmental issues, and promoting public accountability  
Challenges PILs also face challenges such as frivolous cases, misuse of the process, and lack of accountability of the petitioner  

The roots of PIL can be found in the Constitution of India, which guarantees the Fundamental Rights under Part III and provides for the protection of these rights conferred by the Constitution. The Constitution of India also provides a framework for the government’s duties to promote the welfare of the people and promote the social justice system. PIL is an essential instrument under Article 32 of the Constitution, which provides a mechanism for individuals to approach the Supreme Court for the enforcement of Fundamental Rights.

One of the primary objectives of PIL is to democratize the legal process by widening the scope of access to justice. PIL helps enable social action groups, and public-spirited individuals challenge arbitrary government action and enforce statutory duties. In several cases, the courts have used PIL to provide relief to the disadvantaged and marginalized sections of society. PIL has played a crucial role in ensuring the right to education, the right to information, and the right to health. It has also become a crucial tool in environmental protection.

Individuals can file PILs with the court to address issues of public concern. These can be issues involving a violation of fundamental rights, discrimination against people based on their caste, sex, religion, or any other grounds, or issues that deprive people of their basic necessities. The Supreme Court has interpreted the right to life under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution to include the right to dignity, the right to livelihood, and the right to access to health, education, and basic necessities. PIL has been helpful in the enforcement of these rights.

PIL has had several success stories in Indian law. One of the most famous cases in India is the Vishakha Case, where a group of female activists and NGOs filed a PIL before the Supreme Court, highlighting the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace. This PIL led the Supreme Court to lay down guidelines for preventing sexual harassment at the workplace, known as the Vishakha Guidelines. The guidelines mandated the creation of a committee to handle complaints of sexual harassment and established procedures to address such complaints. This judgment made India the first country in South Asia to have legal provisions against sexual harassment, and it inspired other countries to follow suit.

Another landmark case is the Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India, where a PIL was filed by an NGO seeking to secure the release of bonded labourer’s. The Supreme Court passed a judgment that recognized bonded labour as a form of slavery and declared it unconstitutional. The judgment directed the government to provide rehabilitation and compensation to the victims of bonded labour. The Bandhua Mukti Morcha judgment marked a turning point in the Indian labour law and recognized the rights of millions of labourer’s who were often forced into bonded labour through deception.

Despite these success stories, PIL has also been criticized for encouraging judicial activism and interfering with policy decisions. PILs often focus on individual cases, which may not have wider implications for society. Such cases can result in judicial overreach, which could undermine the authority of the democratic process. There have also been instances where individuals and NGOs have filed PILs for personal gain or publicity. In such cases, the judiciary must exercise caution and take measures to ensure that PILs are filed in good faith.

The Indian judiciary has recognized the importance of ensuring that PILs are not misused. There are well-defined guidelines for filing a PIL. These guidelines ensure that the PIL is well-written, supported by relevant facts and figures, and does not promote a personal agenda. The judiciary also opts for the principle of “pro bono publico,” which means that the costs of filing a PIL are borne by the petitioner and not the state.

Furthermore, the judiciary has also laid down the “Locus Standi” principle, which means that a petitioner must have a sufficient interest in the matter to appear before the court. PIL allows public-spirited individuals, NGOs, and social activists to act as a watch guard of democracy and bring the executive to account. PIL acts as a supplement to the efforts that government or other bodies may be making to strengthen the rule of law or implement policies to protect their citizens’ interests.

Despite the positive impact of PIL, there are also concerns about its misuse. Some PILs are seen as frivolous or motivated by personal gain rather than the public interest. There are also concerns about the increasing number of PILs filed, which can lead to the clogging of the judicial system.

In addition to PIL, Indian law also recognizes the rights of individuals to pursue legal action for their personal grievances. The right to access justice is enshrined in the Constitution of India and is a fundamental right. Individual rights can be enforced through various legal mechanisms, such as civil suits, criminal complaints or appeals.

The concept of individual rights is particularly important in India given its diverse and complex social fabric. Individual rights can be seen as a means of protecting the rights of individuals who belong to minority groups or who face discrimination or social exclusion.

One of the most significant examples of individual rights in Indian law is the Right to Information Act, of 2005[1]. This Act allows individuals to access information held by public authorities and has been seen as a means of promoting transparency and accountability in government.

Another example is the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, of 2005. This Act recognizes the right of women to live free from violence and abuse and provides for a range of legal remedies and protections.

Despite the recognition of individual rights in Indian law, there are also concerns about their enforcement. Many individuals in India, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, face significant barriers in accessing justice. These barriers include the cost of legal proceedings, the length of time it takes for cases to be heard and the lack of legal aid.


The concepts of PIL and individual rights are important components of Indian law. PIL allows for the promotion of the public interest and accountability of government, while individual rights are a means of protecting the rights of individuals who are marginalized or discriminated against. However, there are also concerns about the abuse of PIL and the barriers faced by individuals in accessing justice. Therefore, there is a need to balance the promotion of public interest with the protection of individual rights in Indian law. Thus, PIL has been a critical instrument in addressing the violation of individual rights in India. The judiciary has played a crucial role in promoting social justice and ensuring that the government is accountable for its actions. PIL has helped provide the marginalized and vulnerable people of India with basic necessities and essential human rights. PIL has restored the faith of the common man in the judiciary, and people now have a sense that their voices are being heard.

Read Our Article: Public Interest Litigation (PIL): Things You Need To Know

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