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A Review on Public Interest Litigation

Public Interest Litigation (PIL) is a significant innovation in justice administration of delivering legal service to certain class of citizens who stand deprived of their right and who are disabled in accessing initiations of justice or any other remedial process in case of any infringement of their right, on their own accord.

The expression public interest litigation means a legal action initiated in an appropriate court for enforcement of interests of the general public at large in which the entire population or a class or community has an interest, founded on their constitutional or legal rights.

A writ under the relevant provisions of the Constitution[1]can be moved not only by the person aggrieved from any state action, but also by a public spirited individual[2], an association or a journalist[3] or a social action group, or persons for the enforcement of the constitutional or legal rights[4] of some other person, provided he or she is unable to approach the court for redress owing to his condition that he belongs to a class or group of persons who are in a disadvantaged position on account of poverty, disability or other social or economic impediment and are unable to enforce their rights,[5] or such person being in custody;[6] such person may not be inclined to pursue litigation process by reason of perceived impediments.

No right called Public Interest Right

In pursue of invoking the constitutional powers to protect public interests, it is important to note that mere demonstration of such interests is not sufficient. There is no specific right called a ‘public interest right'. Rights are either legal or constitutional. Unless a constitutional right is shown to have been infringed, a petition under Article 32 does not lie.[7]

Merely issues of governance, institutional administration or organisation of affairs of public institutions need not necessarily qualify as issues for resolution by Article 32, unless it is shown that an injury may be caused to the independence of such institutions.[8]

Private interest case may be treated as PIL

In appropriate case, where the petitioner might have moved a curt in his private interest and for his personal grievance, court may in furtherance of public interest treat it as an occasion and a necessity to inquire into the state of affairs of the subject of litigation. Thus, a private interest case can also in special circumstances transmit itself as a public interest cause.[9]

Scope of PIL

The strategy of PIL has been evolved, with a view to bring justice within the easy reach of poor and disadvantaged section of the society.[10] The grievance in a PIL is about the legality, relevance of any state action in relation to constitutional or statutory rights of segments of society and in certain circumstances the conduct of government itself.[11]

The relief to be granted looks to the future and is, generally, corrective rather than compulsory in nature. The court in this regard plays a positive role in furtherance of justice instead of merely declaring on the rights of the parties.[12]

The Supreme Court in People's Union for Democratic Rights v. Union of India[13] has laid down certain principles with regard to PIL:

  1. Rights under Article 17, 23 and 24 are enforceable not only against the State, but also against any other person violating these rights.
  2. Any individual or a body or group can move the court on behalf of poor, illiterate and ignorant classes, for protection of their fundamental rights.
  3. Even a letter addressed by a public spirited person to the Supreme Court judge bringing to their notice violations of the rights of poor can be treated as a writ petition.
  4. The court must prima facie verify the credentials of the petitioner before entertaining a PIL.
Settling disputes between individual parties is not the province of PIL.[14] In case of conflict between public and private interest, former shall prevail.[15] The ‘clean hand principle' will apply to PIL.[16] The courts, while dealing with PIL, will take great precaution, that this wholesome jurisdiction be sparingly used and it should not become a source of abuse of process of law by disintegrated litigants.[17]

PIL is not of adversarial character

PIL is not in the nature of adversarial litigation, but it is a challenge and an opportunity for the government and its officers to make basic human rights meaningful.[18] Strict rules of pleading may not apply in a PIL however there must be sufficient material in the petition on basis of which court may proceed.

Locus standi

No rigid rule of locus standi can be applied to PIL.[19] Any person acting bona fide and having sufficient interest in maintaining an action for judicial machinery in motion may have a locus,[20] but not the one who acts for personal gains or private motive.[21]

When PIL is not maintainable

PIL is not a charter to indulge in wild and reckless allegations besmirching the character of others, and court will avoid mischievous petitions, seeking its assistance for oblique motives.[22]

End-Notes:
  1. Article 32 and Article 226
  2. Upendra Baxi v. State of UP, (1983) 2 SCC 308.
  3. Bholanath Tripathi v. State of UP, (1990) Supp SCC 151.
  4. Shenoy K Ramdass v. Chief Officer, Town Municipal Council, Udipi, AIR 1974 SC 2177.
  5. Subash Kumar v. State of Bihar, AIR 1991 SC 420.
  6. Sunli Batra v. Delhi Administration, AIR 1980 SC 1579.
  7. Janata Dal v. H S Chowdhary, (1992) 4 SCC 331.
  8. Vineet Narain v. Union of India, AIR 1998 SC 889.
  9. Indian Bank's Association v. Devkala Consultancy Service, AIR 2004 SC 2615.
  10. Bihar Legal Society v. Chief Justice of India, AIR 1987 SC 38.
  11. Sudeep Majumdar v. State of MP, (1996) 5 SCC 368.
  12. Nilima Priyedarshini v. State of Bihar, AIR 1987 SC 2021.
  13. AIR 1982 SC 1473.
  14. Bandua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India, (1994) 3 SCC 161.
  15. Tarak Singh v. Jyoti Basu, AIR 2005 SC 338.
  16. Ashok Kumar Pandey v. State of West Bengal, AIR 2004 SC 1923.
  17. Ibid.
  18. Girish Vyas v. State of Maharashtra, AIR 2012 SC 2043.
  19. S P Gupta v. Union of India, AIR 1982 SC 149.
  20. Supra Note 7.
  21. Dattaraj Nathuji v. State of Maharashtra, AIR 2005 SC 540.
  22. Jafar Imam Naqvi v. Election Commission of India, AIR 2014 SC 2537

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