Part of India's judicial system since the 1970s, Public Interest Litigation (PIL)
was first mentioned during the case of S.P. Gupta v. Union of India by Justice
P.N. Bhagwati. Essentially, PIL refers to any legal action with the goal of law
reform, safeguarding legal rights, or stopping legal malpractice.
Every concerned citizen is expected to take immediate action when there are
matters that affect a significant portion of the populace. This type of legal
action is called Public Interest Litigation (PIL) and has the purpose of
safeguarding the interest and welfare of the public. Government officials who
are not performing according to the standards of their duty may be subject to
To promote actions in the public's best interest, the higher judiciary has PIL as one of its weapons. From a notable decision by the Supreme Court on the
transfer of judges, the concept of PIL was born. Fostering judicial review has
been the result of India's elevated courts, thereby fostering the emergence of
Public Interest Litigation (PIL).
It is worth noting, however, that PIL is limited to being filed in the interest
of the public or a group of individuals - personal grievances do not suffice.
Courts where PIL can be filed:
In order to file a PIL, individuals can typically submit a writ petition before
the High Court or Supreme Court. If your case is won initially, it is not
possible to appeal to the Supreme Court unless there was a mistake or something
was omitted. On the other hand, if you've lost your case in the High Court, you
can still try for the Supreme Court but you have to do it within 30 days.
Taking advantage of a peculiar rights framework, NRIs in India can push a PIL
into motion, which can then be brought forth either to the Supreme Court or to
any of the High Courts, as deemed appropriate by the case and the desired course
of action. One key factor here is to make sure you hit the right court setup,
considering factors like local jurisdiction, scope of the court's mandate, and
the intrinsic public concerns involved. In short, it's a complex legal maneuver
that calls for precise planning, but which can have far-reaching rewards for
those who dare to try.
Filing a PIL in the High Court that governs a particular area is the best course
of action for issues that are limited to one region. However, if the matter
affects the entire country, presenting it to the Supreme Court of India is a
By drafting an application addressed to "The Chief Justice of India or the Chief
Justice of the concerned High Court," an individual can request to file a writ
petition under either Article 32 or Article 226 of the Constitution
respectively. The PIL must be signed by either the individual or their legal
Eligibility to file PIL
By anyone who is a public-spirited individual or organization, a PIL can be
filed on behalf of the aggrieved and afflicted. As far as the writ petition is
concerned, it can be as straightforward as a postcard. It's important to note
that PIL is preoccupied with what's best for the group, not for singular
If the situation appears to favor an individual, the Supreme Court or
High Court retains the authority to dismiss it. A petition may be submitted in
an attempt to bring about changes under Article 32 with the Supreme Court of
India or Article 226 with the High Court of India.
An order can only be passed under Section 133 CrPC if the safety of the public
is in danger, and in such cases, the implemented restrictions must be equitable
and fair. It's worth highlighting that these legal proceedings should not be
utilized as a means to address personal disputes.
Additionally, if a matter is of great significance, the court has the authority
to take suo motu cognizance.
Among the prerequisites for bringing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) to court
are that the petitioner must be both a citizen of India and at least 18 years of
age. If the PIL represents a collective of people, the petitioner should
preferably be a part of that assembly. More significantly, the PIL must exhibit
a matter of public concern and the purpose should be to demand justice or legal
If the petitioner desires for their PIL to be granted, they must
demonstrate that the potential damages they would receive surpass the cost of
filing and other legal fees if the judgement turns out to be unfavorable. To
ensure that the court deems the documents admissible, originals must be
submitted since copies will not be legally recognized.
Grounds for filing PIL:
A PIL can be filed based on the following conditions:
- Human rights violations, including custodial torture, extrajudicial killings, and forced labor, can be remedied by filing PIL.
- Artifacts, historical monuments, and cultural heritage can all be protected through the use of PILs.
- In PIL, issues concerning students' rights, education quality, and discrimination in educational institutions can be addressed.
- Through a Public Interest Litigation (PIL), legal action can be taken against urban planning and developmental projects that have negative consequences on the public. Additionally, PIL can be filed for poor public infrastructure issues.
- To make sure that prisoners' rights are safeguarded and they're treated humanely, filing Public Interest Litigations could be considered as an avenue.
- The protection of linguistic and religious minorities falls under PIL.
- PILs can be implemented to combat issues related to child trafficking, child labor, and child protection.
- Gender-based harassment, violence, and discrimination with a special emphasis on women's security and rights can be tackled well through PILs.
- Making use of PILs can be an effective means to demand transparency and accountability from the government and its officials, thereby making it a powerful tool to fight against corruption.
- Inadequacies in product quality and predatory pricing tactics can be addressed by employing legal remedies such as filing PILs. Addressing unfair trade practices and protecting consumer rights can be achieved through employing this tool.
- Filing PILs is an option to ensure that prisoners' rights are protected and they receive humane treatment.
- PIL applies to rights and the well-being of linguistic and religious minorities.
- The protection of children, child labor, and child trafficking can be addressed through PILs.
- Through PILs, women's safety and rights can be addressed including gender-based harassment, violence, and discrimination.
- Transparency and accountability from government entities and officials can be demanded with the use of PILs, making it a tool against corruption.
- PIL has the potential to address matters that have a significant impact on public health, including disease spread, availability of clean drinking water, and sanitation.
- Filing PILs is an avenue available to address concerns related to the natural world, whether it be battling pollution, preventing deforestation, preserving wildlife, or protecting natural resources.
- When one's fundamental rights protected by India's Constitution are violated, it is possible to submit a PIL. Within that context, this may involve aspects pertaining to expressions of speech, equal opportunities, one's wellbeing, and additional factors.
- On the non-implementation of governmental measures, PIL can be initiated.
- Filing PIL is an option when the underprivileged and marginalized populations are taken advantage of.
- A PIL can be filed to expose corruption and demand transparency and accountability from government bodies.
- A PIL is just the thing to bring to court issues related to programs that promote social welfare, efforts to alleviate poverty, and the protection of the rights of communities that are marginalized.
- Administrative actions, policies, and decisions that harm the interests of the general public are subject to challenge through PILs.
Procedure of filing PIL
While filing a Public Interest Litigation, one must be responsible and follow
the proper procedure that adheres to the Constitution's rules. A checklist of
crucial documents is mandatory, including details about the afflicted
individuals which must be submitted to the court. Moreover, information about
the officials who are sought to deliver relief should be gathered, and incidents
that infringe upon people's rights need to be meticulously reported.
documents such as identity proof, address proof and title deeds have to be
presented for the respective incident. Additionally, the desired relief must
also be specified by the applicant. Normal court proceedings are followed by PIL
hearings. Furthermore, when necessary, the judge has the authority to assign a
commissioner to investigate the matter.
Benefits of PIL
Societal well-being is positively influenced by Public Interest Litigation (PIL)
which presents many noteworthy benefits. Marginalized and disadvantaged groups
become empowered to defend their rights and seek justice through PIL. As a
result, it offers a means of keeping government authorities in check by
requiring them to carry out their obligations.
It shines a light on issues
violating basic human rights and creates awareness, driving people to band
together to combat such wrongs. Primarily, PIL plays an integral part in
protecting vulnerable communities, guaranteeing that their concerns receive
attention and are corrected suitably.
Grounds for Rejection of PIL
Sometimes, the court investigates the petition to determine if an individual or
group's rights have been violated. If no infringement has occurred, any public
interest litigation may be rejected.
One can file a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in India in hopes of promoting a
greater good; nonetheless, the Supreme Court can refuse or dismiss the motion if
the need arises.
The ability for courts to reject PILs is granted if insufficient public interest
is shown and when the case is focused on individual or private matters. Public
concern is the primary objective of PILs, handling matters crucial to the public
For a litigation to be viable, having credible authority to prove their claim is
crucial. In the absence of sufficient evidence, the proceedings may come to a
If a particular issue is currently being examined by a lower court, the Supreme
Court has the discretion to dismiss any Public Interest Litigation (PIL) related
to that same subject matter. The intent behind such a dismissal is to prevent
any confusion or avoid repetition of legal procedures.
Should the nature of the appeal be seen as questionable by the court, due to
poorly specified claims that are unfounded and too ambiguous, it may choose to
reject a PIL proposal.
If the court suspects that a petition submitted through the PIL mechanism was
filed with an ulterior motive or as an abuse of the legal system, it has the
authority to reject it outright. This helps to ensure that petitions filed in
good faith are given the attention that they deserve and are not buried beneath
a wave of frivolous or malicious petitions.
The court may reject the PIL and recommend alternative solutions if the
petitioner neglects to exhaust all available legal options for handling any
Providing incomplete or inaccurate information when filling out the PIL can lead
to its rejection.
Non-compliance with procedural guidelines, particularly the mis-formatting of
PIL submissions, can result in their dismissal.
The Court retains the ability to evaluate PILs based on their unique attributes,
making it crucial to highlight that each case is distinct. The court is
generally willing to consider Public Interest Litigations (PILs) if they aim to
protect the public's interests and address important issues. Therefore, those
filing PILs must focus on generating well-constructed and coherent petitions
that accurately reflect public opinion. This will prevent the court from
dismissing or rejecting them. It is essential for petitioners and their legal
representatives to bear this in mind when presenting their argument.
Misuse of PIL:
The Indian legal system is facing a troubling problem with the misapplication of
Public Interest Litigation (PIL). Despite being an effective means of addressing
social issues and protecting the integrity of justice, the instrument remains
vulnerable to exploitation. The filing of pointless or trivial cases has
burdened the judiciary with meaningless claims and consumed valuable court
resources, thereby wasting precious time and effort.
Frequent misuse of PILs exists, often due to ulterior motives, rather than with
the intent of resolving matters pertinent to the common weal. This may come in
the form of seeking vengeance against an individual or entity or gaining
attention where it's not warranted. "PIL activists" may inundate the courts with
numerous filings, sometimes lacking a substantial public interest component.
Additionally, PILs can be exercise as a means of legal harassment, with the
intent of singling out individuals, businesses, or government officials, and
sometimes twisted to serve political ends, manipulating public sentiment or
The rampant misuse of PILs has forced courts to implement safeguards in order to
maintain their legitimacy. Strategies include penalizing individuals who file
unwarranted or aggravating PILs, mandating proof of a real public interest
aspect in cases, and tossing out claims that do not meet the criteria required
for a PIL. Despite these precautions, the problem of misuse lingers,
necessitating ongoing efforts to find a middle ground between the genuine
necessity of PILs and the deterrence of misuse.
The increase in PILs misuse or abuse has become a severe worry. The Supreme
Court criticized baseless PIL requests for personal or unrelated reasons in 2010
and ultimately set up rules for courts to follow when considering PILs. "It
creates undue burden on the justice system and results in serious slowdown in
the handling of legitimate cases," stated justices Mukundakam Sharma and Dalveer
Bhandari in regards to the submission of haphazard petitions.
A plea against an order of the Karnataka High Court which had rejected a
petition regarding pension to the State Information Commissioners was dismissed
by the Supreme Court. The court declared that an interested person was not
entitled to file Public Interest Litigation (PIL). thhindu.com, 14 October, 2021
The Supreme Court dismissed the Bombay Lawyers Association's Special Leave
Petition. The petition contested the High Court's ruling that dismissed their
PIL accusing Vice President Jagdeep Dhankhar and former Law Minister Kiren
Rijiju for their public remarks regarding the basic structure doctrine evolved
by the Apex Court and the Supreme Cout's Collegium system for appointing judges.
livelaw.in, 15 May 2023
The Supreme Court turned down a PIL filed by Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, who is both
a BJP leader and an attorney, concerning renaming ancient places and towns that
he deems are currently named after "invaders" [Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay v. the
Union of India and others]. barandbench.com, 27 February 2023
The Supreme Court rejected an absurd proposal that urged the Centre to develop
guidelines regarding the registration of live-in relationships. The court
referred to it as a "hare-brained" concept. livemint.com, 20 March 2023
A PIL that sought to alter the Right to Education (RTE) Act, 2009 was dismissed
by the Supreme Court. The request aimed to institute a uniform syllabus and
curriculum for students throughout the nation while stating that the RTE was
arbitrary and irrational. indiatoday.in, 11 February 2022
The Supreme Court dismissed a Public Interest Litigation that aimed to limit
political candidates' ability to run for the same office in multiple
constituencies simultaneously. The court stated that these concerns are under
the jurisdiction of the legislative branch. organizer.org, 2 February 2023
The Supreme Court rejected a writ petition under Article 32 that contested both
Albert Einstein's theory that mass and energy are equivalent, as well as Charles
Darwin's theory of evolution. Justices Sudhanshu Dhulia and Sanjay Kishan Kaul
both agreed that it was not appropriate to challenge established scientific
theories through legal filings. ndtv.com, 13 October, 2023
In the matter of Madhya Pradesh Judicial Service Rules, the Supreme Court
rejected a Public Interest Litigation that opposed the prerequisite of a minimum
three-year advocacy practice for those LL.B. graduates who couldn't secure at
least 70% combined marks in their examination, as a mandatory requirement for
eligibility in the recruitment process for Civil Judges in the subordinate
judiciary. Initially, the petitioner was charged a cost of Rs. 30,000, but upon
being requested, the Court waived the cost. verdictum. in, 10 October, 2023
The Odisha government's construction activities at the Jagannath temple in Puri
were questioned by the petitioners in a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) which
was criticized by the Supreme Court for their misuse of the process. The court
which found the petitions to be without merit and detrimental to the public
interest, imposed a fine of Rs 1 lakh on each petitioner, and dismissed their
appeals. indiatoday.in, 3 June 2022
The PIL system was introduced into the Indian legal system in an effort to
advance social justice. However, this noble pursuit has been derailed into
self-promotion and political advancement by its users. Unfortunately, there has
been a growing trend of using PILs to spread intolerance and animosity, masking
it as public interest. The uncontrolled abuse of this system has resulted in a
decrease in its credibility, despite its history of producing groundbreaking
Frivolous litigation cases often referred to as "publicity interest" or
"political interest" litigations, have seen an increase owing to the lack of a
concrete mechanism to separate them from legitimate ones. Curbing this vicious
cycle is being entrusted upon the moral conscience of the litigants by the
courts. These baseless petitions not only burden the judiciary but also
adversely impact the public trust in the legal process. Judges, even if
dismissing such a plea, need to initiate proceedings that take up considerable
time for reviewing the petition and hearing the petitioner.
With great care and caution, Public Interest Litigation has been regarded as a
powerful tool. The Judiciary is mindful of the need to remain vigilant to ensure
the appearance of unsightly personal vendettas and self-serving goals are not
disguised behind the facade of noble public interest litigation.
Written By: Md.Imran Wahab
, IPS, IGP, Provisioning, West Bengal
Email: [email protected]
, Ph no: 9836576565