“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”

                                                                                                                                         -Martin Luther King, Jr.

Public Interest Litigation (PIL) means a legal action initiated in a court of law for the enforcement of certain rights. Public Interest Litigation in India can be filed in the interest of the public where the class of community may or may not have pecuniary interest or any other interest by which their legal right are affected. One of the methods adopted for the enforcement of such rights is through Public Interest Litigation which was adopted by the Judiciary in the late 1980s. Ubi Jus, Ibi Idem Remedium is a Latin term which means that where there is a right, there is always a remedy. Legally a right means the standard of permitted action by law.

The remedy for enforcement of Rights guaranteed under the Constitution of India is embedded in Article 32 and 226 of the Constitution. Public Interest Litigation is a petition which is filed by an individual or citizen groups or a non-government organization in the court pursuing justice on a problem which has a broader public interest.

There are some common reasons for which a PIL can be filed include the following:

  • Violation of the human rights of the poor.
  • Regarding the content or conduct of government policy.
  • To compel municipal authorities to perform a public duty.
  • Violation of religious rights or other basic fundamental rights.

Where to file PIL in India?

Under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution, the affected individual has the right to file a Public Interest Litigation in the Supreme Court for the enforcement of rights or duties under the constitution. A PIL can be filed in the Supreme Court under Article 32 or before any of the High Courts under Article 226 of the Indian Constitution.

Against whom PIL can be filed?

A Public Interest Litigation can be filed against any other authority that comes within the meaning of a ‘State’ under Article 12 of the Indian Constitution. Article 12 of the Indian Constitution includes the following:

  • The Government, Central and State.
  • Parliament of India, Legislative assemblies, Councils of all States and Union Territories.
  • Any local or other authorities within the delimitations of India and controlled directly or indirectly by the government.
  • Other authorities.

What is the procedure of filing PIL in India?

It is important to conduct proper research before taking the decision to file a PIL in India. It is recommended to research properly regarding the matter and ensure that the PIL is not filed for a frivolous or unimportant matter. If the subject matter of a PIL is unimportant, the court can reject it. It is also seen recently that the court impose heavy penalties on people who have wasted time of the courts by presenting PILs with no substance.

A PIL is filed in the same manner as a writ petition filed in the Supreme Court or High Court. If the PIL is filed in High Court, 2 copies of the petition have to be filed with the court and if the PIL is filed in the Supreme Court, 5 copies of the petition have to be filed. It is also mandatory to send an advocate copy of the PIL to each opposite party and the proof of sending the copy of such PIL has to be attached with the petition.

A court fee per respondent has to be paid along with the Public Interest Litigation. The court process in a PIL hearing is the same as that in another case irrespective of its nature. However, during the PIL proceedings, the presiding judge can appoint a court commissioner to investigate the matter in question, if required.

Role of Judiciary:

In S.P. Gupta V. UOI AIR 1982 SC 149, SC held that, 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 and such person or determinate class of persons is by reason of poverty, helplessness, or disability or socially or economically disadvantaged position, unable to approach the Court for relief, any member of the public can maintain an application for an appropriate direction, order or writ.

In Hussainara Khatoon V. State of Bihar 1979 AIR 1369, PIL was filed for the rights of prisoners and the attention of the Court was drawn to the trail pending upon them which resulted into an excess of detention period which was far exceeding the maximum punishment available under the law for which they were charged with.

In the case of M.C. Mehta V. UOI 1987 SCR (1) 819, where an industry named Shriram food fertilizers was producing chlorine and caustic as a subsidiary of Delhi Cloth Mills Limited. A major leakage of oleum gas took place from the industry in Dec, 1985. The leakage was caused due to the many mechanical and human errors in the unit, which resulted in the death of several innocent people and an advocate practicing at Tis Hazari Court died.

M.C. Mehta filed a PIL in the Supreme Court to get compensation for the people who have suffered loss in the matter and requested to shut down the unit and not to grant permission for restart.

In Vishaka & Ors.V. State of Rajasthan AIR 1997 SC 3011, the victim was not getting any justice under criminal trial, failures to tangible remedies and restore dignity Naina Kapoor a lawyer made a petition of PIL in this case and challenged the sexual harassment in the workplace. A writ petition was also filed for the same on the name of five NGO against the state government. The judgement clearly depicted and stated that sexual harassment is a clear violation of the fundamental rights of equality, non-discrimination, life and liberty. And given certain guidelines which must be followed in every workplace by the employer and employees.

In Pt. Parmanand Katara V. UOI & Ors. 1989 AIR 2039, a writ petition was filed in the Supreme Court on the basis of newspaper report where a scooter rider was hit by a car and doctors refused to treat and attend him. They directed him to go to another hospital which was 20 km away from that place which could handle medico-legal cases. In this case, SC issues certain guidelines and held that, “Preservation of human’s life is of paramount importance. Every doctor has an    obligation to save the life of a person and extend his service to protect his life. ”

A letter can be treated as a PIL?

Initially, where the situation was not providing an opportunity to party to approach the PIL, in that scenario a letter was considered as PIL by the Court.

In D.K. Basu V. State of West Bengal 1997 (1) SCC 416, a letter brought the focus of the Court about the custodial death in the Court premises of the West Bengal. In Hindustan times V. Central Pollution Board (2000) 10 SCC 587, where a newspaper cutting was considered as a PIL by the Court.

Problems with PIL:

Anyone can file public interest litigation, if there is any violation of Fundamental Right. With this development, it seems like the misuse of PIL has reached to peak level, where it is going to overshadow the bright side. There are numerous cases where the misuse of PIL can be clearly depicted.

In case of Subhash Kumar V. State of Bihar & Ors. 1991 AIR 420, the court held that petition is not in public interest but for personal interest. Public Interest Litigation should be resorted to by a person genuinely interested in the protection of society. Personal interest cannot be enforced in the garb of public interest litigation. Entertainment of petitions satisfying personal grudge is abuse of process of the Court duty of the Court is to discharge such petitions.


The rise in the number of PILs in India is a direct result of judicial activism. It has become a weapon to deal with public issues before the court plays an important role in protecting the fundamental rights of the public as a whole. Public Interest Litigation is for that section of society who was not able to fight for their rights and protect their interests.

Nowadays the same is being misused by the upper class of the society for their own needs. The court has to be extremely cautious in such situations whereby it has to examine whether the petition is for public or private interest. This sacred jurisdiction has to be invoked very carefully in favour of a vigilant litigant and not for sake of publicity or to serve private ends.

-Kiranpreet Kaur

Associate at Aggarwals & Associates, S.A.S. Nagar, Mohali