History of Public Interest Litigation (PIL)
In the 1960s, the notion of Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was born and developed in the United States. It was created in the United States to provide legal representation to groups and interests that had previously been unrepresented. It was created in response to the fact that the traditional legal services market fails to meet the needs of large sectors of the public and important interests. The impoverished, environmentalists, consumers, racial and ethnic minorities, and others are among these groups and interests.
The PIL is a result of the Supreme Court’s judicial activism in India. It first appeared in the early 1980s. The concept of PIL was invented by Justices V.R. Krishna Iyer and P.N. Bhagwati.
Social Action Litigation (SAL), Social Interest Litigation (SIL), and Class Action Litigation (CAL) are all terms used to describe PIL.
The relaxation of the traditional rule of ‘locus standi’ aided the introduction of PIL in India. According to this law, only the person whose rights have been infringed can file a complaint with the court, however the PIL is an exception to this provision. Under the PIL, any public-spirited citizen or social organization can petition the court to enforce the rights of any person or group of people who are unable to seek relief from the court due to poverty, ignorance, or a socially or economically disadvantaged position. In a PIL, any member of the public with a “sufficient interest” can petition the court to enforce the rights of others and to address a common grievance.
“A legal action filed in a court of law for the enforcement of public interest or general interest in which the public or a class of the community has economic interest or any interest by which their legal rights or liabilities are affected,” according to the Supreme Court.
PIL is absolutely necessary for upholding the rule of law, advancing the cause of justice, and hastening the achievement of constitutional goals. To put it another way, the true goals of PIL are:
(I) the rule of law is upheld;
(ii) promoting effective access to justice for those who are socially and economically disadvantaged, and
(iii) Realization of fundamental rights in a meaningful way.
The PIL’s numerous features are described below:
1. Public Interest Litigation (PIL) is a strategic arm of the legal aid movement that aims to deliver justice to the poor masses, who make up humanity’s low-profile sector.
2. PIL is a completely different type of litigation than regular litigation, which is fundamentally adversarial in nature and involves two litigating parties, one of whom makes claims seeking remedy against the other and the other of whom opposes or resists such redress.
3. A PIL is brought before the Court for the aim of promoting and vindicating public interest, rather than enforcing the rights of one individual against another, as is the case in ordinary litigation.
4. The PIL requests that abuses of constitutional and legal rights of significant groups of impoverished, illiterate, or socially or economically disadvantaged persons not go unreported and unaddressed.
5. A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) is essentially a collaborative effort between the petitioner, the State or Public Authority, and the Court to ensure observance of the constitutional or legal rights, benefits, and privileges conferred on the community’s most vulnerable members and to achieve social justice for them.
6. Public interest litigation is employed to rectify public injury, enforce public responsibility, safeguard social, collective, dispersed rights and interests, or vindicate public interest.
7. The Court’s involvement in PIL is more proactive than in ordinary actions; it is creative rather than passive, and it takes a more constructive approach to deciding acts.
8. Though the PIL court has a degree of flexibility not found in ordinary private law lawsuit trials, whatever process the court chooses must adhere to judicial precepts and features of a judicial proceeding.
9. Unlike traditional dispute resolution mechanisms, there is no determination on individual rights adjudication in a PIL.
Scope of PIL
The Supreme Court issued a set of guidelines in 1998 for the consideration of letters or petitions received as PILs. In 1993 and 2003, these rules were updated. According to them, only letters or petitions that fall within the following categories shall be considered as PILs:
1. The importance of bonded labor
2. Children who have been neglected
3. Non-payment of minimum wages, exploitation of casual workers, and allegations of labor law violations (except in individual cases)
4. Petitions from prisoners alleging harassment, seeking pre-mature release and seeking release after serving 14 years in prison, death in custody, transfer, release on personal bail, and the right to a speedy trial as a fundamental right.
5. Petitions against police for refusing to record a case, police harassment, and death in custody
6. Petitions against women’s horrors, such as bride pestering, brideburning, rape, murder, kidnapping, and so on.
7. Petitions from Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes, as well as economically deprived sections, alleging harassment or torture of villagers by co-villagers or police.
8. Environmental pollution, disturbance of ecological equilibrium, narcotics, food adulteration, heritage and cultural preservation, antiques, forest and wild life preservation, and other concerns of public concern
9. Victims of riots’ petitions
10. A family pension
Cases that fall into the following criteria will not be considered for a PIL:
1. Tenant-landlord issues
2. Service matters, including pensions and gratuities
3. Complaints against Central/State Government ministries and Local Bodies, with the exception of those relating to items (1) to 10) above.
4. Acceptance into a medical school or other educational institution
5. Petitions for expedited hearings in pending matters in the High Courts and Subordinate Courts
Principles of PIL
In relation to PIL, the Supreme Court established the following principles:
1. The Court, in exercising its powers under Articles 32 and 226 of the Constitution, can hear a petition filed by any interested person concerned about the welfare of those who are disadvantaged and hence unable to approach the Court. The Court has a fundamental obligation to protect the Fundamental Rights of such disadvantaged people and to order the State to follow through on its constitutional obligations.
2. When matters of public importance, such as the enforcement of a significant number of people’s fundamental rights in relation to the State’s constitutional duties and tasks, the court treats a letter or telegram as a PIL. In such instances, the court relaxes the procedural rules as well as the pleadings law.
3. Whenever a large number of persons are treated unfairly, the court will not hesitate to intervene, invoking Articles 14 and 21 of the Indian Constitution as well as international human rights conventions that provide a reasonable and fair trial.
4. The common rule of locus standi is relaxed to allow the court to hear grievances on behalf of the poor, disadvantaged, uneducated, and crippled who are unable to defend the legal wrong or legal injury they have suffered as a result of a violation of any constitutional or legal right.
5. When the Court is prima facie satisfied that a group of people in the disadvantaged category has been deprived of a fundamental right, it may not allow the State or the Government to raise the issue of the petition’s maintainability.
6. While procedural laws apply in PIL cases, whether or not the principles of res judicata or analogous concepts apply depends on the type of the petition as well as the facts and circumstances of the case.
7. A disagreement between two feuding organizations that is solely a matter of private law will not be allowed to be litigated as a PIL.
8. However, in suitable cases, the Court may consider it necessary to inquire into the state of affairs of the subject of litigation in the interest of justice, even though the petitioner may have sought the Court in his own interest and for redress of personal complaints.
9. In exceptional circumstances, the Court may appoint a Commission or other body to investigate the charges and determine the facts. It may also direct the management of a public institution that the Commission has taken over.
10. In most cases, the Court will not deviate from a policy. It must also take great caution not to overstep its bounds while ostensibly protecting people’s rights.
11. Normally, the Court would not stray from well-established areas of judicial review. Although the High Court has the jurisdiction to issue an order to provide complete justice to the parties, it does not have the same power as Article 142 of the Indian Constitution.
12. Normally, the High Court should not hear a writ petition filed as a public interest litigation (PIL) challenging the legality or validity of a statute or statutory rule.
Guidelines for admitting PIL
The Public Interest Litigation (PIL) has now established itself as an important tool in the administration of justice. It should not be allowed to become ‘Publicity Interest Litigation,’ ‘Politics Interest Litigation,’ ‘Private Interest Litigation,’ ‘Paisa Interest Litigation,’ or ‘Middle-class Interest Litigation,’ or ‘Middle-class Interest Litigation,’ or ‘Middle-class Interest Litigation,’ or ‘Middle-class Interest Litigation,’ or ‘Middle
“PIL is not a medicine or a panacea for all wrongs,” the Supreme Court said in this context. It was created to protect the weak and disadvantaged’s basic human rights, and it was an innovative procedure in which a public-spirited person files a petition on their behalf on behalf of those who could not approach the court for relief due to poverty, helplessness, or economic and social disabilities. In recent years, there have been a rising number of cases of PIL abuse. As a result, it is necessary to re-emphasize the criteria within which a petitioner can file a PIL and have it heard by the court.”
As a result, the Supreme Court established the following guidelines to prevent the PIL from being abused:
- The court must encourage genuine and bona fide PIL while effectively discouraging and restricting the use of PIL for non-legal reasons.
- Rather than each Judge inventing his own system for dealing with PILs, it would be more appropriate for each High Court to correctly formulate regulations favoring real PILs and discouraging PILs filed for oblique reasons.
- Before hearing the PIL, the Court shall verify the petitioner’s qualifications prima facie.
- Before hearing the PIL, the Court must be convinced that the petition’s contents are correct on a prima facie basis.
- Before considering the petition, the Court should be completely satisfied that there is a strong public interest at stake.
- The Court should ensure that the petition with the greatest public interest, gravity, and urgency takes precedence over all others.
- The Court must ascertain that the PIL is intended at redressing actual public harm and injury before accepting it. The Court should further ensure that the filing of the PIL is not motivated by personal gain, a private motivation, or an indirect motive.
- The Court should also ensure that petitions filed by busybodies for ulterior objectives are discouraged by imposing exemplary costs or using other new means to prevent frivolous petitions and petitions filed for ulterior motives.