Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere- Martin Luther King,
Judiciary, being the sentinel of constitutional statutory rights of citizens has
a special role to play in the constitutional scheme. It can review legislation
and administrative actions or decisions on the anvil of constitutional law. For
the enforcement of fundamental rights one has to move the Supreme Court or the
High Courts directly by invoking Writ Jurisdiction of these courts. But the high
cost and complicated procedure involved in litigation, however, makes equal
access to jurisdiction in mere slogan in respect of millions of destitute and
underprivileged masses stricken by poverty, illiteracy and ignorance. The
Supreme Court of India, pioneered the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) thereby
throwing upon the portals of courts to the common man.
Till 1960s and seventies, the concept of litigation in India was still in its
rudimentary form and was seen as a private pursuit for the vindication of
private vested interests. Litigation in those days consisted mainly of some
action initiated and continued by certain individuals, usually, addressing their
own grievances/problems. Thus, the initiation and continuance of litigation was
the prerogative of the injured person or the aggrieved party. Even this was
greatly limited by the resources available with those individuals. There were
very little organized efforts or attempts to take up wider issues that affected
classes of consumers or the general public at large. However, these entire
scenario changed during Eighties with the Supreme Court of India led the concept
of Public Interest Litigation (PIL). The Supreme Court of India gave all
individuals in the country and the newly formed consumer groups or social action
groups, an easier access to the law and introduced in their work a broad public
The term PIL originated in the United States in the mid-1980s. Since the
nineteenth century, various movements in that country had contributed to public
interest law, which was part of the legal aid movement. The first legal aid
office was established in New York in 1876. In the 1960s the PIL movement began
to receive financial support from the office of Economic Opportunity, This
encouraged lawyers and public spirited persons to take up cases of the
under-privileged and fight against dangers to environment and public health and
exploitation of consumers and the weaker sections.
In Indian law, public interest litigation means litigation for the protection of
the public interest. It is litigation introduced in a court of law, not by the
aggrieved party but by the court itself or by any other private party. It is not
necessary, for the exercise of the court’s jurisdiction, that the person who is
the victim of the violation of his or her right should personally approach the
court. Public interest litigation is the power given to the public by courts
through judicial activism. However, the person filing the petition must prove to
the satisfaction of the court that the petition is being filed for a public
interest and not just as a frivolous litigation by a busy body. Such cases may
occur when the victim does not have the necessary resources to commence
litigation or his freedom to move court has been suppressed or encroached upon.
The court can itself take cognizance of the matter and proceed suo motu or cases
can commence on the petition of any public spirited individual.
PIL has today acquired unprecedented legitimacy and binding power and is
acknowledged as a powerful weapon to combat governmental lawlessness and social
oppression. The judicial messages radiated through PIL cases provide legal
resources to launch struggles against domination and abuses of power. The Indian
PIL has grown in the context of political history of State repression. It
emerged as a device to activate judicial power to force the government to live
up to its commitments. PIL is a unique phenomenon in the Indian constitutional
jurisprudence which has no parallel in the world. This technique is concerned
with the protection of the interests of a class or group of persons who are
either the victims of governmental lawlessness, oppression, or social oppression
or denied their constitutional or legal rights and who are not in a position to
approach the court for the redressal of their grievances due to the lack of
resources or ignorance or their disadvantaged social and economic position. The
Indian Supreme Court began to identify itself as an institution of last resort
when the other two branches of the government were facing legitimating crisis.
The seeds of the concept of public interest litigation were initially sown in
India by Justice Krishna Iyer, in 1976 in Mumbai Kamagar Sabha vs. Abdul
Thaiand was initiated inRaihvaiy vs. Union of India, wherein an unregistered
association of workers was permitted to institute a writ petition under Article
32 of the Constitution for the redress of common grievances.
The first reported case of PIL, in 1979, focused on the inhuman conditions of
prisons and under trial prisoners. In
Hussainara Khatoon vs. State of
Bihar,the PIL was filed by an advocate on the basis of the news item
published in the Indian Express, highlighting the plight of thousands of under
trial prisoners languishing in various jails in Bihar. These proceeding led to
the release of more than 40,000 under trial prisoners. Right to speedy justice
emerged as a basic fundamental right which had been denied to these prisoners.
The same set pattern was adopted in subsequent cases.
A new era of the PIL movement was heralded by Justice P.N. Bhagawati in the case
S.P. Gupta vs. Union of India.In this case it was held that “any member of
the public or social action group acting bonafide” can invoke the Writ
Jurisdiction of the High Courts or the Supreme Court seeking redressal against
violation of legal or constitutional rights of persons who due to social or
economic or any other disability cannot approach the Court. By this judgment PIL
became a potent weapon for the enforcement of “public duties” where executed in
action or misdeed resulted in public injury. And as a result any citizen of
India or any consumer groups or social action groups can now approach the apex
court of the country seeking legal remedies in all cases where the interests of
general public or a section of public are at stake.
Justice P.N. Bhagawati articulated the concept of PIL as follows:-
“Where a legal wrong or a legal injury is caused to a person or to a determinate
class of persons by reason of violation of any constitutional or legal right or
any burden is imposed in contravention of any constitutional or legal provision
or without authority of law or any such legal wrong or legal injury or illegal
burden is threatened and such person or determinate class of persons by reasons
of poverty, helplessness or disability or socially or economically disadvantaged
position unable to approach the court for relief, any member of public can
maintain an application for an appropriate direction, order or writ in the High
Court under Article 226 and in case any breach of fundamental rights of such
persons or determinate class of persons, in this court under Article 32 seeking
judicial redress for the legal wrong or legal injury caused to such person or
determinate class of persons.”
In 1981, the case of Anil Yadav vs. State of Bihar,exposed the brutalities of
the Police. About 33 suspected criminals were blinded by the police in Bhagalpur
jail in Bihar through putting the acid into their eyes and then eyes were burnt.
The Supreme Court quashed the trial of blinded persons, condemned the police
barbarity in strongest terms and directed the Bihar government to bring the
blinded persons to Delhi for medical treatment at the state’s expense. The Court
declared free legal aid as a fundamental right as an aspect of right to life and
personal liberty. The human rights of prisoners subject to torture,victims of
police excesses,inmates of protective homesand mental
asylums,bondedand child labour,victims of sexual harassmentand
earthquake victimsand many other have been protected by the Supreme Court.
In Citizen for Democracy vs. State of Assam,the Supreme Court declared that
the handcuffs and other fetters shall not be forced upon a prisoner while lodged
in jail or while in transport or transit from one jail to another or to the
court or back.
The Supreme Court in Indian Banks’ Association, Bombay & Ors. vs. M/s Devkala
Consultancy Service and Ors.,held :-
“In an appropriate case, where the petitioner might have moved a court in her
private interest and for redressal of the personal grievance, the court in
furtherance of Public Interest may treat it a necessity to enquire into the
state of affairs of the subject of litigation in the interest of justice. Thus a
private interest case can also be treated as public interest case”.
In Guruvayur Devaswom Managing Committee And Anr. vs. C.K. Rajan and
Ors.,the Supreme Court held :-
“The Courts exercising their power of judicial review found to its dismay that
the poorest of the poor, depraved, the illiterate, the urban and rural
unorganized labour sector, women, children, handicapped by 'ignorance, indigence
and illiteracy' and other down trodden have either no access to justice or had
been denied justice. A new branch of proceedings known as 'Social Interest
Litigation' or 'Public Interest Litigation' was evolved with a view to render
complete justice to the aforementioned classes of persona. It expanded its wings
in course of time. The Courts in pro bono publico granted relief to the inmates
of the prisons, provided legal aid, directed speedy trial, maintenance of human
dignity and covered several other areas. Representative actions, pro bono
publico and test litigations were entertained in keeping with the current accent
on justice to the common man and a necessary disincentive to those who wish to
bypass the, real issues on the merits by suspect reliance on peripheral
procedural shortcomings… Pro bono publico constituted a significant state in the
present day judicial system. They, however, provided the dockets with much
greater responsibility for rendering the concept of justice available to the
disadvantaged sections of the society. Public interest litigation has come to
stay and its necessity cannot be overemphasized. The courts evolved a
jurisprudence of compassion. Procedural propriety was to move over giving place
to substantive concerns of the deprivation of rights. The rule of locus standi
was diluted. The Court in place of disinterested and dispassionate adjudicator
became active participant in the dispensation of justice.”
Public Interest Litigation is meant for enforcement of fundamental and other
legal rights of the people who are poor, weak, ignorant of legal redressal
system or otherwise in a disadvantageous position, due to their social or
economic background. Such litigation can be initiated only for redressal of a
public injury, enforcement of a public duty or vindicating interest of public
nature. It is necessary that the petition is not filed for personal gain or
private motive or for other extraneous consideration and is filed bona fide in
public interest.The following are the subjects which may be litigated under the
head of Public Interest Litigation:-
1. The matters of public interest:-
a. bonded labour matters,
b. matters of neglected children,
c. exploitation of casual labourers and non-payment of wages to them (except in
d. matters of harassment or torture of persons belonging to Scheduled Castes,
Scheduled Tribes and Economically Backward Classes, either by co-villagers or by
e. matters relating to environmental pollution, disturbance of ecological
balance, drugs, food adulteration, maintenance of heritage and culture,
antiques, forests and wild life,
f. petitions from riot victims and
g. other matters of public importance.
2. The matters of private nature:-
a. threat to or harassment of the petitioner by private persons,
b. seeking enquiry by an agency other than local police,
c. seeking police protection,
d. landlord tenant dispute,
e. service matters,
f. admission to medical or engineering colleges,
g. early hearing of matters pending in High Court and subordinate courts and are
not considered matters of public interest.
3. Letter Petitions:-
a. Petitions received by post even though not in public interest can be treated
as writ petitions if so directed by the Hon’ble Judge nominated for this
b. Individual petitions complaining harassment or torture or death in jail or by
police, complaints of atrocities on women such as harassment for dowry, bride
burning, rape, murder and kidnapping, complaints relating to family pensions and
complaints of refusal by police to register the case can be registered as writ
petitions, if so approved by the concerned Hon’ble Judge.
c. If deemed expedient, a report from the concerned authority is called before
placing the matter before the Hon’ble Judge for directions. If so directed by
the Hon’ble Judge, the letter is registered as a writ petition and is thereafter
listed before the Court for hearing.
“Public Interest Litigation”in simple words, means, litigation filed in a court
of law, for the protection of“Public Interest”, such as Pollution, Terrorism,
Road Safety, Constructional Hazards, etc. Any matter where the interest of
public at large is affected can be redressed by filing a Public Interest
Litigation in a court of law.“Public Interest Litigation”is not defined in any
statute or in any Act. It has been interpreted by judges to consider the intent
of the public at large. According to Black’s Law Dictionary–
“Public Interest Litigation means a legal action initiated in a court of law for
the enforcement of public interest or general interest in which the public or
class of the community have pecuniary interest or some interest by which their
legal rights or liabilities are affected. It does not mean anything so narrow as
mere curiosity, or as the interests of the particular localities, which may be
affected by the matters in question. Interest shared by citizens generally in
affairs of local, state or national government...”
Public Interest Litigation's explicit purpose is to alienate the suffering off
all those who have borne the brunt of insensitive treatment at the hands of
fellow human being. Transparency in public life & fair judicial action are the
right answer to check increasing menace of violation of legal rights.
Traditional rule was that the right to move the Supreme Court is only available
to those whose fundamental rights are infringed.But this traditional rule was
considerably relaxed by the Supreme Court in its further rulings :-
1. Peoples Union for Democratic Rights vs. Union of India.
The court now permits Public Interest Litigation or Social Interest Litigation
at the instance of "Public Spirited Citizens" for the enforcement of
constitutional & legal rights of any person or group of persons who because of
their socially or economically disadvantaged position are unable to approach
court for relief. Public interest litigation is a part of the process of
participate justice and standing in civil litigation of that pattern must have
liberal reception at the judicial door steps.
2. Judges Transfer Case
Court held Public Interest Litigation can be filed by any member of public
having sufficient interest for public injury arising from violation of legal
rights so as to get judicial redress. This is absolutely necessary for
maintaining Rule of law and accelerating the balance between law and justice.
3. Shiram Food & Fertilizer Case
Through Public Interest Litigation, directed the Co. Manufacturing hazardous &
lethal chemical and gases posing danger to life and health of workmen & to take
all necessary safety measures before re-opening the plant.
Mehta vs. Union of India
In a Public Interest Litigation brought against Ganga water pollution so as to
prevent any further pollution of Ganga water. Supreme Court held that petitioner
although not a riparian owner is entitled to move the court for the enforcement
of statutory provisions, as he is the person interested in protecting the lives
of the people who make use of Ganga water.
5. Parmanand Katara vs. Union of India
Supreme Court held in the Public Interest Litigation filed by a human right
activist fighting for general public interest that it is a paramount obligation
of every member of medical profession to give medical aid to every injured
citizen as soon as possible without waiting for any procedural formalities.
6. Council For Environment Legal Action vs. Union of India
Public Interest Litigation filed by registered voluntary organization regarding
economic degradation in coastal area. Supreme Court issued appropriate orders
and directions for enforcing the laws to protect ecology.
7. State vs. Union of India
Public Interest Litigation is a strategic arm of the legal aid movement which
intended to bring justice. Rule of Law does not mean that the Protection of the
law must be available only to a fortunate few or that the law should be allowed
to be abused and misused by the vested interest. In a recent ruling of Supreme
Court on "GROWTH OF SLUMS" in Delhi through Public Interest Litigation initiated
by lawyers Mr. B.L. Wadhera & Mr. Almitra Patel Court held that large area of
public land is covered by the people living in slum area. Departments despite
being giving a dig on the slum clearance, it has been found that more and more
slums are coming into existence. Instead of "Slum Clearance", there is "Slum
Creation" in Delhi. As slums tended to increase; the Court directed the
departments to take appropriate action to check the growth of slums and to
create an environment worth for living.
8. Kapil Hingorani vs. State of
The matter of denial human right to food and means of livelihood was brought to
the attention of the Supreme Court by way of PIL. The PIL arouse from a
newspaper report that due to non-payment of salary for a long time, resulting in
starvation of an employee of Bihar State Agro-Industries Development Corporation
the employee tried to immolate himself. The Court recognized that hunger was
violation of human rights and the State has an obligation to satisfy basic human
9. Centre for Enquiry into Health & Allied Themes (CEHAT) vs. Union of India
A PIL was filed by a social action organized for a direction for the effective
implementation of the law banning sex selection and sex determination.The
Court has expressed its deep concern over the non-action of the executive in
preventing pre-natal sex determination leading to female foeticide. In this PIL
the Supreme Court issued several directions to the government to create public
awareness about the new law through advertisements throughout the country
through both electronic and print media. The Court had referred to all its
earlier directionsto the Central and State Governments and found it very
fortunate that they have not been implemented.
10. Areport entitled “Treat Prisoners Equally HC” published in THE TRIBUNE, Aug
23 Punjab & Haryana High Court quashed the provisions of jail manual dividing
prisoners into A, B & C classes after holding that there cannot be any
classification of convicts on the basis of their social status, education or
habit of living .This is a remarkable ruling given by High Court by declaring
576-A paragraph of the manual to be "Unconstitutional".
In environmental cases the Supreme Court has addressed the issues of
environmental degradation such as vehicular pollutionleakage of oleum gas
from a factory,danger to Taj Mahal from Mathura Refinery,degradation of
Ridge area in Delhi,pollution caused by shrimp farming,tanneries,and
chemical industriesand so on. The Court has taken several activist measures
to ensure compliance of pollution standards. However, the judicial activism in
this area has been criticized on the ground that the Court has not taken into
account the interest of the workers and their families while passing orders for
the closure of pollution industries. The interest of tribal population has not
been taken into account by the court while passing orders for the enforcement of
Forest Act and Wild Life Protection Act.
It is a settled law that when a person approaches the court of equity in
exercise of extraordinary jurisdiction, he should approach the court not only
with clean hands but with clean mind, heart and with clean objectives.
Supreme Court has now realized its proper role in welfare state and it is using
its new strategy for the development of a whole new corpus of law for effective
and purposeful implementation of Public Interest Litigation.
One can simply approach to the Court for the enforcement of fundamental rights
by writing a letter or post card to any Judge. That particular letters based on
true facts and concept will be converted to writ petition. When Court welcome
Public Interest Litigation, its attempt is to endure observance of social and
economic programs frame for the benefits of have-nots and the handicapped.
Public Interest Litigation has proved a boon for the common men. Public Interest
Litigation has set right a number of wrongs committed by an individual or by
society. By relaxing the scope of Public Interest Litigation, Court has brought
legal aid at the doorsteps of the teeming millions of Indians; which the
executive has not been able to do despite a lot of money is being spent on new
legal aid schemes operating at the central and state level. Supreme Court's
pivotal role in expanding the scope of Public Interest Litigation as a counter
balance to the lethargy and inefficiency of the executive is commendable.
Among, the numerous factors that have contributed to the growth of PIL in this
The following deserve special mention:-
# The character of the Indian Constitution. Unlike Britain, India has a
written constitution which through Part III (Fundamental Rights) and Part IV
(Directive Principles of State Policy) provides a framework for regulating
relations between the state and its citizens and between citizens inter-se.
# India has some of the most progressive social legislation to be found
anywhere in the world whether it be relating to bonded labor, minimum wages,
land ceiling, environmental protection, etc. This has made it easier for the
courts to haul up the executive when it is not performing its duties in ensuring
the rights of the poor as per the law of the land.
# The liberal interpretation of locus standi where any person can apply
to the court on behalf of those who are economically or physically unable to
come before it has helped. Judges themselves have in some cases initiated suo
moto action based on newspaper articles or letters received.
# Although social and economic rights given in the Indian Constitution
under Part IV are not legally enforceable, courts have creatively read these
into fundamental rights thereby making them judicially enforceable. For instance
the "right to life" in Article 21 has been expanded to include right to free
legal aid, right to live with dignity, right to education, right to work,
freedom from torture, bar fetters and hand cuffing in prisons, etc.
# Sensitive judges have constantly innovated on the side of the poor. For
instance, in the Bandhua Mukti Morcha,the Supreme Court put the
burden of proof on the respondent stating it would treat every case of forced
labor as a case of bonded labor unless proven otherwise by the employer.
Similarly in the Asiad Workers judgment case,Justice P.N. Bhagwati
held that anyone getting less than the minimum wage can approach the Supreme
Court directly without going through the labor commissioner and lower courts.
# In PIL cases where the petitioner is not in a position to provide all the
necessary evidence, either because it is voluminous or because the parties are
weak socially or economically, courts have appointed commissions to collect
information on facts and present it before the bench.
Aspects of Public Interest Litigation:-
(a) Remedial in Nature
Remedial nature of PIL departs from traditional locus standi rules. It
indirectly incorporated the principles enshrined in the Part IV of the
Constitution of India into Part III of the Constitution. By riding the
aspirations of Part IV into Part III of the Constitution had changed the
procedural nature of the Indian law into dynamic welfare one. Bandhua Mukti
Morcha vs. Union of India, Unni Krishnan vs. State of A.P.,etc.
were the obvious examples of this change in nature of judiciary.
(b) Representative Standing
Representative standing can be seen as a creative expansion of the well-accepted
standing exception which allows a third party to file a habeas corpus petition
on the ground that the injured party cannot approach the court himself. And in
this regard the Indian concept of PIL is much broader in relation to the
American. PIL is a modified form of class action.
(c) Citizen standing
The doctrine of citizen standing thus marks a significant expansion of the
court’s rule, from protector of individual rights to guardian of the rule of law
wherever threatened by official lawlessness.
(d) Non-adversarial Litigation
In the words of Supreme Court in People’s Union for Democratic Rights vs.
Union of India, “We wish to point out with all the emphasis at our command
that public interest litigation…is a totally different kind of litigation from
the ordinary traditional litigation which is essentially of an adversary
character where there is a dispute between two litigating parties, one making
claim or seeking relief against the other and that other opposing such claim or
resisting such relief.”
Non-adversarial Litigation are of two aspects:-
(1) Collaborative Litigation
In collaborative litigation the effort is from all the sides. The claimant, the
court and the Government or the public official, all are in collaboration here
to see that basic human rights become meaningful for the large masses of the
people. PIL helps executive to discharge its constitutional obligations. Court
assumes three different functions other than that from traditional determination
and issuance of a decree.
(i) Ombudsman-The court receives citizen complaints and brings the most
important ones to the attention of responsible government officials.
(ii) Forum-The court provides a forum or place to discuss the public issues at
length and providing emergency relief through interim orders.
(iii) Mediator-The court comes up with possible compromises.
(2) Investigative Litigation
It is investigative litigation because it works on the reports of the Registrar,
District Magistrate, comments of experts, newspapers etc.
(e) Crucial Aspects
The flexibility introduced in the adherence to procedural laws. InRural
Litigation and Entitlement Kendra vs. State of U.P.,Supreme Court rejected
the defense ofres judicta. Court refused to withdraw the PIL and ordered
compensation too. To curtail custodial violence, Supreme Court inSheela Barse
vs. State of Maharashtra,issued certain guidelines. Supreme Court has
broadened the meaning of Right to live with human dignity available under the
Article 21 of the Constitution of India to a greatest extent possible.
(f) Relaxation of strict rule of Locus Standi
The strict rule oflocus standihas been relaxed by way of (a) Representative
standing, and (b) Citizen standing. InD.C. Wadhwa vs. State of Bihar,Supreme
Court held that a petitioner, a professor of political science who had done
substantial research and deeply interested in ensuring proper implementation of
the constitutional provisions, challenged the practice followed by the state of
Bihar in re-promulgating a number of ordinances without getting the approval of
the legislature. The court held that the petitioner as a member of public has
‘sufficient interest’ to maintain a petition under Article 32.
(g) Epistolary Jurisdiction
The judicial activism gets its highest bonus when its orders wipe some tears
from some eyes. This jurisdiction is somehow different from collective action.
Number of PIL cells was open all over India for providing the footing or at
least platform to the needy class of the society.
Certain Weaknesses of PIL
1.PIL actions may sometime give rise to the problem of competing rights. For
instance, when a court orders the closure of a polluting industrythe
interests of the workmen and their families who are deprived of their livelihood
may not be taken into account by the court. A court order for the closure of a
polluting abattoir may deprive the means of subsistence of the butchers.The
construction of a darn to provide water to the people may deprive other citizens
their right to shelter.
2.PIL matters concerning the exploited and disadvantaged groups are pending for
many years. Inordinate delays in the disposal of PIL cases may render many
leading judgments merely of academic value.
3.Then there is the problem of willful deﬁance of judicial directions.
Surprisingly, the courts are unwilling to punish the violators of their own
orders through the exercise of their contempt power. Frequent, deﬁance of
judicial order might also dilute the credibility of the courts.
Public Interest Litigation has produced astonishing results which were
unthinkable three decades ago. Degraded bonded labourers, tortured under trials
and women prisoners, humiliated inmates of protective women’s home, blinded
prisoners, exploited children, beggars,and many others have been given
relief through judicial intervention. The greatest contribution of PIL has been
to enhance the accountability of the governments towards the human rights of the
poor.However, the judges acting alone cannot provide effective responses to
state lawlessness but they can surely seek a culture formation where political
power becomes increasingly sensitive to human rights. When people’s rights are
invaded by dominant elements, PIL emerges as a medium of struggle for protection
of their human rights. The legitimacy the PIL enjoys in the Indian legal system
is unprecedented. PIL interrogates power and makes the courts as people’s court.
In its early career PIL was understood as a medium to liberate the oppressed and
the poor. Unfortunately PIL has today has been appropriated for corporate,
political and personal gains. Today the PIL is no more limited to problems of
the poor and the oppressed. This technique is being used to cure all ills
affecting the Indian society. It seems that dominant concern of PIL activism
today is to focus the interests of Indian middle-classes. For instance, PIL
seeking order to ban Koran,transmission of T.V. series,implementation of
consumer protection law,removal of corrupt politicians,invalidation of
irregular allotment of petrol pumpsand government
accommodation,prosecution of politicians and bureaucrats for accepting
kickbacks through Hawala transactions,better service conditions of members
of lower judiciary,quashing the selection of university teachers,are
some blatant instances of middle class interests.
The impact of PIL decisions is hard to measure and requires serious social
research. It is undoubtedly true that in recent years the cause of social
justice and emancipation of the oppressed groups has been advanced in many ways
through the device of PIL but the fact that in some cases PIL has achieved
positive success does not certify this technique as a sovereign remedy to
protect the human rights of the poor. Mass production of rights through PIL has
resulted in heightened expectations from the judges that they are available to
provide relief from all miseries and misfortunes. Human rights of the poor and
the disadvantaged groups will be better protected by subjecting PIL to
discipline and control and which should be limited only to the cases focusing on
hapless victims of domination and governmental lawlessness. The overuse of PIL
for every conceivable public interest might dilute the original commitment to
use this remedy only for enforcing human rights of the victimized and the
Public Interest Litigation is now working as an important instrument of social
change. It is working for the welfare of every section of society. It’s the
sword of every one used only for taking the justice. The innovation of this
legitimate instrument proved beneficial for the developing country like India.
PIL has been used as a strategy to combat the atrocities prevailing in society.
It’s an institutional initiative towards the welfare of the needy class of the
Bandhua Mukti Morcha vs. Union of India,Supreme Court ordered for the
release of bonded labourers. In
Murli S. Dogra vs. Union of India,the Supreme Court banned smoking in
public places. In a landmark judgment of Delhi Domestic Working Women’s Forum
vs. Union of India,Supreme Court issued guidelines for rehabilitation and
compensation for the rape on working women. InVishaka vs. State of
Rajasthan,Supreme Court has laid down exhaustive guidelines for preventing
sexual harassment of working women in place of their work.
PIL represents the first attempt by a developing common law country to break
away from legal imperialism perpetuated for centuries. It contests the
assumption that the most western the law, the better it must work for economic
and social development such law produced in developing states, including India,
was the development of under developed men. The shift from legal centralism to
legal pluralism was prompted by the disillusionment with formal legal system. In
India, however instead of seeking to evolve justice- dispensing mechanism ousted
the formal legal system itself through PIL. The change as we have seen, are both
substantial and structural. It has radically altered the traditional judicial
role so as to enable the court to bring justice within the reach of the common
PIL is a tool in hands of public spirited citizens who have a good motive behind
the PIL and to prevent it from becoming a weapon in the hands of those litigants
who want to either misuse this concept for either commercial gain or publicity
the apex court has time and again laid down various guidelines and by imposing
costs on the frivolous public interest litigation the courts have only
strengthened their stance. Further, it is humbly submitted that PIL is still is
in experimental stage. Many deficiencies in handling this kind of litigation are
likely to come on the front. But these deficiencies can be removed by innovating
better techniques. In essence, the PIL develops a new jurisprudence of the
accountability of the state for constitutional and legal violations adversely
affecting the interests of the weaker elements in the community.
In PIL the court normally acts as an investigator, a mediator, a counsellor, or
a collaborator as has been pointed by Justice M.N. Venkatachaliah in
Sheela Barse vs. State of Maharashtra. 
PIL requires a judge to play an active role in providing immediate relief to the
victims of human rights violations by relaxing procedural technicalities and by
exempting the petitioner to prove the alleged facts which are investigated by
the court itself. If all the characteristics are not present simultaneously the
matter cannot legitimately be called a PIL. But unfortunately the judges have
not resisted their temptation to treat any and every matter as a PIL even if
such matter is not even remotely connected with human rights. The result is that
over the years the courts have emerged as an institution of governance through
the device of PIL.
The norms for entertaining a PIL should be laid down so as to eliminate the
subjective choices of the judges to entertain anything under the sun as a PIL.
PIL should be limited only to vindicate the rights of the victims of
governmental lawlessness and social oppression. Issues involving political
governance, or misrule or arbitrary exercise of power and so on are also
important but they should still be handled within the traditional mould of
litigation. Such cases need not be borrow the nomenclature of PIL.
We may end with the hope once expressed by, Justice Krishna Iyer :–The
judicial activism gets its highest bonus when its orders wipe some tears from
 AIR 1976 SC 1455 ; 1976 (3) SCC 832.
 AIR 1979 SC 1369.
 AIR 1982 SC 149.
 AIR 1982 SC 1008 ; (1981) 1 SCC 622.
Khatri vs. State of Bihar, (1981)1 SCC 627, 635 ;VeenaSethi vs. State of
Bihar, (1982)2 SCC 583 (Right to legal aid declared as an aspect of Article 21).
 NilabatiBehera vs. State of Orissa, AIR 1993 SC 1961.
 UpendraBaxi vs. State of UP, 1981 (3) SCALE 1136.
 R.C. Narainvs. State of Bihar, (1986) Supp. SC 576,B.R. Kapoor vs. Union of
India, AIR 1990 SC 752. On the basis of a Newspaper report that more than 25
mentally challenged patients housed in mental asylum in Ervadi in Ramanathpuram
District of Tamil Nadu were charred to death as the patients could not escape
the blaze as they had been chained to poles or beds, the Supreme Court in Inre:
Death of 25 Chained Inmates in Asylum Fire in T.N. (AIR 2002 SC 979)tooksuo
motoaction by way of PIL and issued several directions to every State and Union
Territory to implement the Mental Health Act, 1987.
 Bandhua Mukti Morcha vs. Union of India supra. Note. 3, See, Parmanand
Singh, “Bandhua Mukti Morcha: Social Action and the Indian Supreme Court”, 12
Indian Bar Review 228 (1985).
 M.C. Mehta vs. Union of India,(1996) Supp. SCC 553.
 Vishaka vs. State of Rajasthan,(1997) 6 SCC 241.
 InBipinchandravs. State of Gujarat,AIR 2002 Guj. The High Court of Gujarat
applied the doctrine of parents patriae for providing relief to earthquake
victims of Gujarat, holding that under the Constitution the State has an
obligation to help people in distress. Article 12 was the repository of all
human rights. The court gave directions for relief and rehabilitation of
 1995 (3) SCR 943.
 Judgment Today 2004 (4) SC 587.
 (2003) 7 SCC 546.
 AIR 1982 SC 1473 ; 1983 SCR (1) 456.
S.P. Gupta vs. Union of India,AIR 1982 SC 149.
M.C. Mehta vs. Union Of India, AIR 1987 SC 1086 ; 1987 SCR (1) 819.
AIR 1988 SC 1115 ; 1988 SCR (2) 530.
AIR 1989 SC 2039 ; 1989 SCR (3) 997.
 Decided on 18 July, 2011, by Bench of : Justice DalveerBhandari, Justice
 AIR 1996 Cal. 181 at 218.
 (2003) 6 SCC 1.
 2003 (7) SCALE 345.
 The Pre-natal Diagnostic Technique (Regulation and Prevention of Missue)
Act, 1994. This Act has now been re-titled as
The Preconception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Technique (Prohibition Of Sex
 Direction issued on 04.05.2001, 19.09.2001, 17.11.2001, 31.03.2003. Also
seeCEHAT vs. Union of India, 2003 (10)
M.C. Mehta vs. Union of India, 1996 (1) SCALE 42.
M.C. Mehta vs. Union of India, (1987) 1 SCC 395.
M.C. Mehta vs. Union of India, (1996) 4 SCC 351.
M.C. Mehta vs. Union of India, (1996) 1 SCALE SP 22 ;M.C. Mehta vs. Union of
India, (1996) 6 SCC 756.
 M.C. Mehta vs. Union of India, (1996) 4 SCC 351.
 S. Jagannath vs. Union of India, (1996) 5 SCC 647.
 In reBharvani River Sakti Ltd.,(1998) 6 SCC 335.
 Narmada Bachao Andolan vs. Union of India, (2000) 10 SCC 664.
 AIR 1984 SC 802 ; 1984 SCR (2) 67.
 AIR 1982 SC 1473 ; 1983 SCR (1) 456.
 AIR 1984 SC 802 ; 1984 SCR (2) 67.
 AIR 1993 SC 2178 ; 1993 SCR (1) 594.
 AIR 1982 SC 1473 ; 1983 SCR (1) 456.
 AIR 1985 SC 652 ; 1985 SCR (3) 169.
 Judgment Today 1988 (3) 15 ; (1988) 4 SCC 226.
 AIR 1987 SC 579 ; 1987 SCR (1) 798.
 M.C. Mehta vs. Union of India, (1997) 11 SCC 227, 312, 327.
 Buffalo Traders Welfare Association vs. Maneka Gandhi, 1994 Supp (3) SCC
 Narmada Bachao Andolan vs. Union of lndia, (2000) 10 SCC 664.
 M.S. Patar vs. Government of N.C.T. Delhi, AIR Delhi 133, (A PIL was filed
by a social worker seeking appropriate
compensation and direction ﬁxing responsibility on persons responsible for the
death of 8 beggars in a beggars home in
Delhi. The High Court of Delhi issued directions to make the beggars home more
 See Mahendra P. Singh, Statics and Dynamics of Fundamental Rights and
Directive Principles — A Human Right
Perspective, in S.P. Sathe and Satyanarayan (eds) Liberty, Equality and Justice:
Struggles for a New Social Order, 45-58,
(2003) Eastern Book Company, Lucknow.
 Chandanmal Chopra vs. State of West Bengal, AIR 1986 Cal. 104.
 Oddessey Lok Vidyayana Sanghatan vs. Union of India, (1988) 1 SSC 168.
 Common Cause vs. Unoin ofIndia, (1996) 2 SCC 752.
 D. Satyanarayana vs. N. T. Rama Rao, AIR 1988 AP 144.
 Centre For Public Interest Litigation vs. Unoin of India, 1995 (Supp) 3 SCC
 Shiv Sagar Tiwari vs. Unoin of India, (1996) 6 SCC 558.
 Vineet Narain vs. Unoin of India, (1996) 2 SCC 199.
 All India Judges Association vs. Union of India, AIR 1992 SC 165.
 Bishwajeet Sinha vs. Dibrugarh University, AIR 1991 Guj. 27.
 AIR 1984 SC 802 ; 1984 SCR (2) 67.
 2001 Supp (4) SCR 650.
 1995 SCC (1) 14 ; Judgment Today 1994 (7) 183.
 (1997) 6 SCC 241.
 Judgment Today 1988 (3) 15 ; (1988) 4 SCC 226.