This doctrinal article aims to highlight the concept and development of
public interest litigation (PIL) in the Indian criminal justice system as well
as focuses on the judicial pronouncements which have extended an aiding arm
towards the positive implications and prosperity of the same.
The process of social legislation is one of the most important developments that
took place in the recent years and the social reform in the form of legal action
is known as Public interest litigation. India being a developing country,
justice was a remote reality for our illiterate, underprivileged and exploited
fellow countrymen untill the emergence of PIL. Thus PIL is a process of
obtaining justice for the people and of voicing people's grievances through the
legal process. The development of PIL is not, however flawless but with both the
pros and cons PIL acts like a propeller in the criminal administration.
"There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must
never be a time we fail to protest." - Elie Wiesel.
The Supreme Court of India has eradicated one of the grave hurdles faced by the
poor through the process of reinterpretation of the concept of locus standi and
has paved the way for easy access to the court of justice. The upgraded
observation is such that if a person or group of persons suffers any injury and
he/they cannot move before the court due to poverty, lack of awareness or any
other disability, any public spirited person can file a petition on his or their
behalf. It is hoped that this new approach will give meaning to the
constitutional objectives of socio economic justice for all.
Meaning of PIL:
The well founded concept of PIL is nowhere defined in any
statute or enactment. In Black's Law Dictionary, PIL means a legal action
initiated in a court of law for the enforcement of public interest of pecuniary
nature or to establish any legal right or liability if affected.
Therefore PIL is a proceeding in which an individual or group seeks relief in
the interest of general public and not for his own purpose. Responding to the
demands of the changing times and needs of the common, the courts are putting
effort to become the court of the poor and struggling masses.
In the mid 1960s the term PIL originated in the United States.
Various movements have contributed to the development of PIL in the nineteenth
century. In 1876, the first legal aid office was established in New York in
1876. The movement started receiving financial support in 1960s. This encouraged
lawyers and public spirited persons can take up the cases of the underprivileged
and fight against injustice to the weaker section. In England, PIL made a
remarkable note during the years of Lord Denning in the 1970s.
PIL had begun in India towards the end of 1970s and came into full bloom in the
1980s. Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer and Justice P. N. Bhagwati have delivered some
landmark judgements which have opened up new vistas of PIL.
Nature of PIL:
In the words of Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer, PIL is a process of
obtaining justice for the people and of voicing people's grievances through the
legal process. The aim of PIL is to give to common people the access to courts
and obtain legal redressal against injustice committed against them. Justice
Bhagwati opined that PIL is not in the nature of advisory legislation but it is
a challenge and opportunity to the government.
When the court entertains PIL, it does not do so in a caviling spirit or in a
confrontational mood, but the attempt is made only to ensure observance of
social and economic programs, framed for the benefits of the have nots. The
court is thus merely assisting in the realisation of constitutional objectives.
Thus the compulsion for judicial innovation of the technique of public interest
action is to usher in an egalitarian social order and a welfare state.
Essentials of PIL:
The main presumption behind PIL was that radical changes in
society would come about through the courts of justice if fundamental rights of
weak and poor citizens are enforced effectively. The new technique fashioned by
the architects of PIL would bring about for reaching changes in the judicial
system of the country.
Fertilizer Corporation vs. Union of India, AIR 1981 SC 434
In S. P Gupta's case, Justice Bhagwati pointed out the following essentials of
- There must be a legal wrong caused to a person or to a determinate class
- The wrong must arise from violation of any constitutional or legal
- The wronged person must be unable to approach the court for relief by
reason of poverty, helplessness or social or economic disability.
- Any member of the public can seek judicial relief for the above wrong.
- The person initiating the proceeding must act bonafide to get redress for a
public grievance and not to pursue personal gains or from malicious motives.
- If the case is otherwise appropriate for PIL then the court can act even on a
letter addressed to it.
(S. P. Gupta vs. Union of India, AIR1982 SC 149)
The movement of PIL was given a radical thrust by
the new liberal interpretation of the Fundamental Rights and Directive
Principles of State Policies. The meaning and scope of Article 14, 21, 32 and
226 of the Constitution were given a wide interpretation in favor of the weaker
section of the society.
Article 14 was interpreted to provide equality of law
and equal protection of law. In fact this voices for the right against executive
and administrative arbitration in any decision making. article 21 guaranteeing
the right to life has secured the every aspect of livelihood, similarly, Article
32, 226 allows the common individuals to directly move before the High Courts or
Supreme Court is any of the Fundamental rights are infringed.
New interpretation of 'locus standi':
The Latin word 'locus standi' signifies
the legal right of a person to file a suit or conduct a litigation in the court
of law. As per the traditional Anglo Saxon concept, locus standi means only the
person whose rights are violated could sue for judicial redress.
However, this ancient doctrine was found insufficient to meet the needs of a
developing country. In the new age of collective rights, the strict rule of
locus standi was first relaxed in S. P. Gupta's case
. The seven judges
constitution bench ruled that any member of the public acting bonafide and
having sufficient interest in instituting an action for redressal of public
wrong, could move to the court. In the famous Judges Transfer case the Supreme
Court ruled that any member of the public having sufficient interpretation can
approach the court for enforcing rights of others.
PIL in USA & SAL in India:
Prof. Bakshi opined that PIL in India should be
labeled as Social Action Legislation (SAL) because of it's distinctive
characteristics. He contended that whereas PIL has focused on people's
participation in governmental policy making, in India, PIL primarily focused on
the disadvantaged section. Unlike India, PIL in USA sought to represent interest
without groups such as consumerism or environment. In India the role of PIL is
to bring social change through active role of the judges.
Although there are concrete differences between how PIL jurisdiction has
unfolded in USA and India, the distinction as to the subject matter or basic
objectives is not that much as it used to be when an argument was made to label
PIL or SAL.
Impact on criminal administration:
PIL is a component through which the poor are
enabled to get equity. The advancement of this authentic instrument demonstrated
advantages for creating a nation like India. PIL has been utilized as a strategy
to battle the abominations winning in the general public. The courts
subsequently got the chances to keep in mind the cases being recorded and ensure
the genuine enthusiasm of the solicitor and hence the idea of the clarification
for activity is derived to maintain a strategic distance from pointless suits.
The development of PIL has also uncovered it's pitfalls
and drawbacks. The abuse of PIL is increasing with the extended and multifaceted
use. Many have found PIL as ahm handy tool since frivolous cases could be filed
without investment of heavy court fees as required in private civil proceedings
. Just aa a weapon is meant for defence, can be equally effectively for an
offense, the modification of locus standi rule has permitted privately motivated
interests to pose as public interest.
However the Apex court had framed certain guidelines to govern the management
and disposal of PIL.
Therefore to conclude we can say that many a PIL filed
in the recent past have helped to restore the fundamental rights. It is now left
to the social activists and non-governmental organizations interested in the
development of the weaker section of the society to make the best use of the
recent development in the judicial system of India and to bring adequate
socio-economic transformation in society . At the end we'll surely look forward
for a bright morning when justice will be served at every single corner of our
Written By: Saheli Chatterjee, Advocate