KNC501/KNC601 Constitution of India, Law and Engineering
Chapter 6: Judiciary
Public Interest Litigation (PIL)
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 public interest and not just as frivolous litigation by a busy body.
Public interest Litigation (PIL) 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 the 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.
- 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 public interest and not just as frivolous litigation by a busy body.
- 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.
Some of the matters which are entertained under PIL are
- Bonded Labour matters
- Neglected Children
- Non-payment of minimum wages to workers and exploitation of casual workers
- Atrocities on women
- Environmental pollution and disturbance of ecological balance
- Food adulteration
- Maintenance of heritage and culture
Evolution of PIL in India
Some Landmark Judgements
- 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 Thai.
- The first reported case of PIL was Hussainara Khatoon vs. State of Bihar (1979) that focused on the inhuman conditions of prisons and under trial prisoners that led to the release of more than 40,000 under trial prisoners.
- The 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.
Factors Responsible for the Growth of PIL in India
- The character of the Indian Constitution.
- India has some of the most progressive social legislation.
- The liberal interpretation of locus stand where any person can apply to the court on behalf of those who are economically or physically unable to come before it has helped.
- Judicial innovations to help the poor and marginalised.
Who Can File a PIL and Against Whom?
Any citizen can file a public case by filing a petition:
- Under Art 32 of the Indian Constitution, in the Supreme Court.
- Under Art 226 of the Indian Constitution, in the High Court.
- Under sec. 133 of the Criminal Procedure Code, in the Court of Magistrate.
- A Public Interest Litigation can be filed against a State/ Central Govt., Municipal Authorities, and not any private party.
Significance of PIL
- The aim of PIL is to give the common people access to the courts to obtain legal redress.
- PIL is an important instrument of social change for maintaining the Rule of law and accelerating the balance between law and justice.
- The original purpose of PILs have been to make justice accessible to the poor and the marginalised.
- It is an important tool to make human rights reach those who have been denied rights.
- It democratises the access of justice to all. Any citizen or organisation who is capable can file petitions on behalf of those who cannot or do not have the means to do so.
- It helps in judicial monitoring of state institutions like prisons, asylums, protective homes, etc.
- It is an important tool for implementing the concept of judicial review.
- Enhanced public participation in judicial review of administrative action is assured by the inception of PILs.
Weaknesses of PIL
- PIL actions may sometimes give rise to the problem of competing rights. For instance, when a court orders the closure of polluting industry, the interests of the workmen and their families who are deprived of their livelihood may not be taken into account by the court.
- It could lead to overburdening of courts with frivolous PILs by parties with vested interests. PILs today have been appropriated for corporate, political, and personal gains. Today the PIL is no more limited to problems of the poor and the oppressed.
- Cases of Judicial Overreach by the Judiciary in the process of solving socio-economic or environmental problems can take place through the PILs.
- 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.
- 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.