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Public Interest Litigation

NAME: Shivani

DESIGNATION: Law student, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar National Law University, Sonepat

CONTACT NUMBER: 9053*******



Access to courts is an essential part of providing justice to the people of the state. It is as crucial as the Fundamental Rights mentioned in Part III of the Constitution of India. Imagine living at a place where you do not have safety and security of life, where people can do gruesome things and get away with them easily and a place where people have some bounds as to what they can and cannot do. Which place will you choose to live? Obviously the second one as it guarantees some sort of security in the minds of people. I am not talking about world peace or no crime at all, but something where people think thoroughly before doing something that would hurt the liberty of someone else as it’ll come back right at them in the form of “Justice Delivered, Punishment Served.”

This feeling of security comes from a concept called Public Interest Litigation. PIL has been termed as a strategic arm of the legal movement, which aims at bringing justice within the reach of disabled and poor masses who constitute the low visibility area of the humanity.

So basically, it is a litigation filed in the court of law to protect the Public Interest. The issues that concern the public at large are dealt with through this system.


This concept has been taken from the American Jurisprudence. Justice P. N. Bhagwati is known as the Father of PIL in India. In addition to the Supreme Court's jurisdiction under article 32 of the Constitution of India, the high courts have also used article 226 to entertain PIL and thus awarded a wide range of remedies in matters litigated in the public interest despite the lack of formalities which would be normally required in an ordinary lawsuit. Now one might confuse a writ petition and a PIL. It is important to note that a writ petition is concerned to an individual or private interest, whereas, a PIL serves for public at large.

The first reported case was of Hussainara Khatoon v. State of Bihar which was focused on the inhuman conditions of the prisoners in the jail 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. The Right to speedy trial was given birth by this very case.

After this, Justice P. N. Bhagwati started a new era of the PIL movement in the S. P. Gupta v. Union of India, commonly known as the “Three Judges Case”. In this case it was held that any member of the public or social action group acting bona-fide can invoke the Writ Jurisdiction of the High Courts or the Supreme Court seeking redressal against violation of a legal or constitutional right of persons who due to social or economic or any other disability cannot approach the Court. This was a remarkable judgement which acted like gold to the people of India as they could easily approach the apex court of the state for justice in any case which that acts against the interests of general public or a group.


Any citizen can file a public case by filing a petition:

  • Under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution, in the Supreme Court.

  • Under Article 226 of the Indian Constitution, in the High Court.

  • Under Section 133 of the Criminal Procedure Code, in the Court of Magistrate.

It can be filed against:

  • State Government

  • Central Government

  • Municipal Authorities

An important point to note here is that it cannot be filed against any private party but a private party can be included as a respondent after making the concerned state authority a party.


It ensures the deliverance of Justice to all.

  • The concept has helped people who couldn’t reach the court due to financial issues or support.

  • It keeps a check whether or not the human rights reach to the people who have been denied these rights.

  • It has helped in implementing Judicial Review.


In India, PIL is still in its developmental stage. It doesn’t cover the aspects that plummets its very own purpose. Even though it is a PUBLIC interest litigation, many of the people all over the country are using it for their own benefit. They’ve made it more of a PRIVATE interest litigation. People tend to prefer PILs over other litigations since it have a very low fee and they pose their private interests as public interests.

Also anything that is not in favor of a group cannot come under the scope of PIL. To exemplify, a sudden rise in the rate of tomatoes causes discomfort to the poor section of the society but this cannot be a ground for a Public Interest Litigation just because it does not favor a particular class in the society. But people have failed to understand this. The court takes in consideration those cases in which the fundamental rights of the group are denied. For example, a manufacturing industry is causing too much pollution in a locality, a PIL can be filed by those people against the pollution control board of that specific state since it denies the Right to a clean and healthy environment covered under the Article 21 of the constitution of India which talks about the Right to Life and Personal Liberty.

In In Paschim Banga Khet Mazdoor Samiti v. State of West Bengal it was held that "Article 21 imposes an obligation on the State to safeguard the right to life of every person. Preservation of human life is thus of paramount importance. The government hospitals run by the State and the medical officers employed therein are duty-bound to extend medical assistance for preserving human life."


Public Interest Litigation is an invaluable innovative judicial remedy. It has translated the rhetoric of fundamental rights into living reality for at least some segments of our exploited and downtrodden humanity. It has brought about a change which at a point of time was unimaginable and no one could ever hope for anything as such. It has exponentially helped in certain areas like women at workplace, prison inmates and many more. Even though it has drawbacks, they can’t overshadow its benefits.

In the words of Chief Justice J.S. Verma, “The need is to prevent misuse of PIL and not to criticize the process. And this is what the courts will have to do so that misuse of PIL is prevented and proper use of it has not to be blunted. Every innovation takes time to get into proper shape. Any attempt to curb it would be to throw the baby with the bathwater.”







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