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Public Interest Litigation (PIL)

Info: 4746 words (19 pages) Essay
Published: 26th Aug 2021

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Jurisdiction / Tag(s): Indian law


Public Interest litigation, itself says that this is a litigation for any public interest. In the words of some learned people we can say that public interest litigation in a litigation which can be file in any court of law by any public spirited person for the protection of “public interest.” Now a question comes in the mind that “what in public interest?” so answer is ‘any act for the benefit of public is public interest.’ and those act are such as pollution, Terrorism, Road safety, constructional hazards etc. in all these activities we can clearly see the public interest. As it is said that this petition can file any public spirited person so its mean that there should not be interest of only himself. There in word only says that in can be possible that in that act for what he is filing a PIL there in a small part of his benefit also hide But it’s not mean that he cannot file. If the is interest of public then he can file public interest litigation.

Public interest litigation is not defined in any statute or any act. It has been interpreted by judge to consider the intent of public at large. This is just like a writ petition which is file in high court or supreme court under article 226 for high court and article 32 for supreme court. When public interest in affecting at large then this can be filed but affection on only one person is not a ground for filing this petition. There are some various area where a public interest litigation can be filed.

  • Violation of basic human rights of the poor.
  • Content or conduct of government policy.
  • Compel municipal authorities to perform a public duty.
  • Violation of religious rights or other basic fundamental rights.

These are the main area where any public interest litigation can be filed against State/Central Govt., Municipal Authorities, and not any private party. However private party can be include in this as a respondent after making concern state authority. This petition is filed in high court or supreme court just a same manner as other writ petition filed. There is some fee for this purpose and its hearing proceeds is also just like other cases. In early 90’s a judge had treated a complaining post card as public interest litigation so we can say that a latter also may be treated as writ of public interest litigation some other case are also there which we will discuss in this project. There are various kind of remedies also there to secure the public interest as INTERIM MEASURES, APPOINTING A COMMITTEE, FINAL ORDERS.

In India the first case of PIL was filed in 1976 named Majdur kaamgar sabha v Abdul bhai Faizulla bhai. Where Krishna Iyar allowed a group of people to file petition on behalf of others. The rights of the member were violated Krishna Iyar held either one individual or group of individuals together can come to the court. But some time misuse of this petition also comes into picture. This is the problem in PIL that many time this misused by some people. There are various cases in which PIL is misused as S.P. Gupta v union of India. In this can misuse of PIL was cane into picture. and the secondly in the case of Shushes Kumar v Union of India. in this case there was a manager in a company and his boss faired him and he gave a PIL in spite of not being any ground of PIL.

When Can A Pil Be Filled:

Public interest litigation can be filed only in that case where any “public interest” is affecting at large. Because if only one person is affecting then that is not a ground for filing PIL. In this

Project I am giving some area or authorities where any public spirited person can file PIL:-

These are some of the possible areas where a PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION can be filed.

  • Where a factory / industrial unit is causing air pollution, and people nearly are getting effected.
  • Where, in an area / street there are no street lights, causing inconvenience to commuters
  • Where some “Banquet Hall” plays a loud music, in night causing noise pollution.
  • Where some construction company is cutting down trees, causing environmental pollution.
  • Where poor people, are affected, because of state government’s arbitrary decision to impose heavy “tax”.
  • For directing the police / Jail authorities to take appropriate decisions in regards to jail reforms, such as segregation of convicts, delay in trial, production of under trial before the court on remand dates.
  • For abolishing child labor, and bonded labor.
  • Where rights of working women are affected by sexual harassment.
  • For keeping a check on corruption and crime involving holders of high political officer.
  • For maintaining Roads, Sewer etc in good conditions.
  • For removal of Big Hoarding and signboard from the busy road to avoid traffic problem.
  • Recently a PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION has been filed, for directing the “Delhi Traffic Police” to stop the method of sending challans to address by post, as it is being misused.

So these are the various area in which any public spirited person can file any PIL for the interest of public. As first point is talking about factory / industrial unit of the state. As per in this point I want to focus that if any factory is producing any air pollution and public is affecting by that then any person can file a PIL on the behalf of the that public group or particular area. Secondly where in no street light and it should be must at that place cause of meeting accident regularly.

Hence there are many ground when it can be file.

As In the first PIL on prisoner’s rights Hussainara Khatoon v State of Bihar, the attention of the court was to the incredible situation of Bihar under trials who had been detained pending trail for periods far excess of the maximum sentence for the offence they were charged with.

Where A Pil Can Be Filed:

Now a chief question comes in the mind that where should a public spirited person file this petition to take remedy by this. So the answer of this chief question is this that all PIL are used to filed in high court or Supreme Court. If a person want to go to high court to filing that then he can go under article 226 of Indian constitutional law and if any person wants to go to supreme court then he can go under article 32 of the Indian constitutional law but Article 226 is something distinguished from article 32 of constitutional law. Under article 32 that person can go to supreme court whose only fundamental rights are violation nothing else but if any person going through the violation of not only fundamental right but also constitutional right and any other legal right also or secondly we can see by this view that It will purely and solely depend on the “Nature of the case”, if the question involves only a small group of people being effected by action of State authority, the PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION can be filed in high court. For e.g. if there is a sewage problem in a locality effecting 50 families, the PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION can be filed in High court. If a large section of people is affected whether by State Government or Central Government, PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION can be filed in Supreme Court For e.g. placing a ban on adult movies, prohibition industrial unit from causing pollution etc.

So we can say that both of the court have power to entertain the public interest litigation.

Who Can File A Pil? :

As we already said that any public spirited person even a foreigner can file a PIL on behalf of others but this is necessary that only the person who is filing a PIL should not get benefit. Meaning there by any PIL whoever is filing should be only and only in for the benefit of peoples. If only one person is getting affected by any act then that is not a ground of filing PIL. Although earlier only the person whose interest in directly along with others can use such litigation.

So these are the essential point for that person who can file any public interest litigation.

  • He is a member of the public acting bona fide and having sufficient interest in instituting an action for redressal of public wrong or public injury.
  • He is not a mere busy body or a meddlesome interloper.
  • His action is not motivated by personal gain or any other oblique consideration.

As we can see that in the society there are some person who come in the picture for the same behave as M.C. MEHTA, MACHILIPATNAM, Lankisetti Balaji are in the lime light in this domain. There is a case named M.C.Mehta V Union of India AIR (1987) 4 SCC 463, in this case Shriram Food and Fertilizers Industry a subsidiary of Delhi Cloth Mills Limited was producing caustic and chlorine. On December 4th and 6th 1985, a major leakage of oleum gas took place from one of the units of Shriram Food and Fertilizers Limited in the heart of the capital city of Delhi which resulted in the death of several persons that one advocate practicing in the Tees Hazari Courts died.

The leakage was caused by a series of mechanical and human errors. This leakage resulted from the bursting of the tank containing oleum gas as a result of the collapse of the structure on which it was mounted and it created a scare amongst the people residing in that area. Hardly had the people got out of the shock of this disaster when, within two days, another leakage, though this time a minor one took place as a result of escape of oleum gas from the joints of a pipe.

Shriram Foods and Fertilizer Industries had several units engaged in the manufacture of caustic soda, chlorine, hydrochloric acid, stable bleaching powder, super phosphate, vanaspati, soap, sulphuric acid, alum anhydrous sodium sulphate, high test hypochlorite and active earth. All units were set up in a single complex situated in approximately 76 acres and they are surrounded by thickly populated colonies such as Punjabi Bagh, West Patel Nagar, Karampura, Ashok Vihar, Tri Nagar and Shastri Nagar and within a radius of 3 kilometers from this complex there is population of approximately 2, 00,000.

On 6th December, 1985 by the District Magistrate, Delhi under Section 133(1) of Cr.P.C, directed Shriram that within two days Shriram should cease carrying on the occupation of manufacturing and processing hazardous and lethal chemicals and gases including chlorine, oleum, super-chlorine, phosphate, etc at their establishment in Delhi and within 7 days to remove such chemicals and gases from Delhi. At this juncture M.C.Mehta moved to the Supreme Court to claim compensation by filing a PIL for the losses caused and pleaded that the closed establishment should not be allowed to restart. So this was one of the cases of PIL.

Indian council for Enviro-legal action v union of india chemical industry were causing problem of pollution, affecting right to life, NGO filed petition on behalf of the aggrieved people. Secondly in the case of Banvasi seva Ashram v state of U.P in this case, the NGO filed a petition on behalf of the tribal’s of the affected area..

Against Whom Public Interest Litigation Can Be Filed?

Now this is a curious part of PIL that if any public spirited person wants to file PIL in court of law but the question is where? So the answer is this that any public spirited person can file any PIL but only against the state govt./ central govt. or any municipality authority but against to the any private party but it doesn’t mean that private party does not comes under the sphere of PIL. A private party also can be tried by the PIL by acting a role of respondent after making concern by the state authorities.

For example- If there is a Private factory in Delhi, which is causing pollution, then people living nearly, or any other person can file a PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION against:

  1. Government of Delhi
  2. State Pollution Control Board, and
  3. Also against the private factory

But public interest litigation can not file against only private party without concerning state govt. or central govt. as in the above case this case was against the union of India not to that corporation whose fault was there.

Procedure To File A Public Interest Litigation:

Procedure to file a public interest litigation is just like a filing a general writ in high court or supreme court.

In High Court:

If a PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION is filed in a High court, then two (2) copies of the petition have to be filed. Also, an advance copy of the petition has to be served on the each respondent, i.e. opposite party, and this proof of service has to be affixed on the petition.

In Supreme Court:

If a PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION is filed in the Supreme court, then (4)+(1) (i.e. 5) sets of petition has to be filed opposite party is served, the copy only when notice is issued.

Court Fees:

A Court fee of RS. 50, per respondent (i.e. for each number of opposite party, court fees of RS. 50) has to be affixed on the petition.


  1. Proceedings, in the PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION commence and carry on in the same manner, as other cases.
  2. However, in between the proceedings if the judge feels he may appoint a commissioner, to inspect allegations like pollution being caused, trees being cut, sewer problems, etc.
  3. After filing of replies, by opposite party, and rejoinder by the petitioner, final hearing takes place, and the judge gives his final decision.

A Letter Can Also Be Treated As Pil:

In early 90’s there have been instances, where judges have treated a post card containing facts, as a PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION.

some of them are:

  1. Letter alleging the illegal limestone quarrying which devastated the fragile environment in the Himalayan foothills around Mussoorie, was treated as a PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION
  2. A journalist complained to the Supreme Court in a letter, that the national coastline was being sullied by unplanned development which violated the central government directive was treated as a PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION

In a landmark judgment, in D.K. Basu v State of West Bengal, the court acted upon a letter petition which drew attention to the repeated instances of custodial deaths in West Bengal. The court further mandated that a relative of the arrested must be promptly notified. It made clear that the failure to comply with this direction would be punishable as contempt of court. The early PILs had witnessed the award of compensation by the court to victims of human rights violations.

In the case of Upendra bakshi v Union of India a letter highlighting the pathetic condition of the young offenders was sent to S.C judge which was taken into consideration.

Secondly in the case of HINDUSTAN TIMES V CENTRAL POLLUTION BOARD a news paper cutting was taken as complaint by the court of law. In other case kamalnath v union of India kamalnath had a lakeside hotel in mussorie. The proprietors wanted to increase the area. They encroached the canal and built rooms there, thereby violating right to clean environment by taking pollution a grievous level. A news item of the same appeared and it was considered by the court.

The Present Scenario:

In the past, many people have tried to misuse the privilege of PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION and thus now the court generally require a detailed narration of facts and complaint, & then decide whether to issue notice and call the opposite party.

However as there is no statute laying down rules and regulations for a PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION Still the court can treat a letter as a PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION


However the letter should bring the true & clear facts, and if the matter is really an urgent one, the court can treat it is a PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION

But still it depends upon facts and circumstances, and court has the entire discretion.

Reliefs Available By Public Interest Litigation?

By such a petition many kind of relief are available here to secure the public interest at large.

That relief is:

Interim Measures

The court can afford an early interim measure to protect the public interest till the final order for example:

  1. Release of under trial on personal bonds ordering release of all under trial who have been imprisoned for longer time, than the punishment period, free legal aid to the prisoners, imposing an affirmative duty on magistrates to inform under trial prisoners of their right to bail and legal aid. Or
  2. Closure of Industrial plant emitting poisonous gas, setting up victim compensation scheme, ordering the plaint reopening subject to extensive directions etc. Or
  3. Prohibiting cutting of trees or making provisions for discharge of sewage, till the disposal of final petition.

Relief in most of the PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION cases in the Supreme Court is obtained through interim orders.

Appointing A Committee

  1. The court may appoint a committee, or commissioner to look into the matter, and submit its report.
  2. Such committee or commissioner may also be given power to take cognizance of grievances and settle it right in the public intent.

Final Orders

The court may also give final orders by way of direction to comply within a stipulated time.

Can A Writ Petition Be Treated As A Public Interest Litigation?

Yes, a writ petition filed by the aggrieved person, whether on behalf of group or together with group can be treated as a PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION however,

  1. The writ petition should involve a question, which affects public at large or group of people, and not a single individual.
  2. Only the effected/Aggrieved person can file a writ petition.

There should be a specific prayer, asking the court to direct the state Authorities to take note of the complaint/allegation.

Misuse Of Pil:

In the last few years, there have been serious concerns about the use and misuse of public interest litigations and these concerns have been expressed at various levels. The time has come for a serious re-examination of the misuse of public interest litigation. There are numerous cases in the history of law where PIL has been misused. As in the case of Shubhash Kumar V state of Bihar. In this case there was a prole who was fired by the director of the company so he filed a PIL that this company is acting something wrong so this should be tried. So in this case by the fact of the case we can see that this is purely misuse of PIL nothing else. As same in the case of S.P. Gupta V Union Of India. There was also misuse of PIL came into picture. as per as in the case of Sheela Barse v. State of Maharashtra [(1983) 2 SCC 96]: In this case, on receiving a letter from the petitioner, a journalist, the Supreme Court took notice of the complaint of custodial violence to women prisoners in the lock-up in the city of Bombay. The court issued various directions which included the following: “Four or five police lock-ups should be selected in reasonably good localities where only female suspects should be kept and they should be guarded by female constables”. This misuse comes in various forms. The first is what Justice Pasayat in the case of Ashok Kumar Pandey v. State of W.B. Described as “busybodies, meddlesome interlopers, wayfarers or officious interveners who approach the court with extraneous motivation or for glare of publicity”. Such litigation is described as “publicity interest litigation” and the courts have been fraught with such litigation. How else would one describe a public interest litigation filed for “reliefs” such as that the higher judiciary would be provided with private planes and special transport? A petition to this effect was filed by a lawyer practicing in U.P. As could be expected, it was summarily rejected, but not before the gentleman had his day in the sun, however momentary it was. Examples of this kind of litigation are innumerable. No sooner has an event of public interest or concern occurred than there is a race to convert the issue into a PIL.

Cautioning the High Courts on the misuse of the PIL, the Bench said “PIL is a weapon which has to be used with great care and circumspection and the judiciary has to be extremely careful to see that behind the beautiful veil of public interest an ugly private malice, vested interest and/or publicity seeking is not lurking”. The Bench made it clear that a PIL should be aimed at redressal of genuine public wrong or public injury and not publicity oriented or founded on personal vendetta. It observed that it should not be allowed to become “publicity interest litigation or private interest litigation or politics interest litigation or, the latest trend, praise income litigation. The laudable concept of PIL was for extending the long arm of sympathy to the poor, ignorant and oppressed”, the Bench said and added the “brand name” should not be allowed to be used by imposters and meddlesome interlopers impersonating as public-spirited holy men.

In the case of Chhetriya pradushan sangarsh samiti v state of U.P the jhunjhunwala mills purchased a land form the member of samiti long back because increasing land prices the heirs of the persons, who sold the property asked to return it when they could not succeed in that they started launching criminal offence complaints and that the that mills polluting the environment. SC held that samiti has not come with clean intention and hence PIL cannot be entertained. Because of those cases, the SC laid down certain condition for PIL.

Secondly in sheela barse v union of India no PIL to protect the interest of criminals be filed.

In S.P. Gupta v union of India P.N. Bhagwati in the instant case lays down certain specific case where PIL cannot be entertained namely.

  1. In the person is engaged in socio- economic crime then there is no PIL.
  2. If offence is against the woman, no PIL should be filed on behalf of the t criminal.

Criticism Of Pil:

criticism of PIL has been given by many learned people of the field of law but one of the main criticism is given here:

Liberalizing the requirement of standing in PIL- M.N. Chaturvedi

Mr. Chaturvedi in his article points out 2 criticism against PIL namely:

  1. It encourages vexatious litigation to file unmerited, odious, fictitious claims and abuse of the process of the court.

Comment:- PIL has protected public interest.

  1. It shows immobility & inefficiency in administration.

Comment:- administration to go according to the manner in which they want till the order of the court. For example in Ratlam municipality v vardhichan only when the direction came, the municipality worked but administrative inefficiency is also because of its supervisors or offences.

  1. In the PIL court sits in the judgment of the political branch of the state judiciary comes into conflict with the political branch of the state judiciary comes into conflict with the political branch.

Comment:- In wadhera vishakha case directions were issued, but no effective. This may be true but in the most if the cases victims were given relief.

  1. PIL is trying to wither away the doctrine of separation on of power.

Comment:- montesques doctrine that there should be separation of power i.e. the organs of the govt. should confine their role in the PIL judiciary encroaches into the domain of Legislation and executive but to chturvedi, the doctrine is not followed strictly in India. When the Executive and legislation has not taken any action the judiciary has to take lead.

Recent Case Of Pil:

Recently in the territory of India many cases from the area of PIL has come into picture which has been filed in the court of law. This project put lights in few of the cases related to PIL. As in 2008 a case was decided by Supreme Court named Common Cause (A Regd. Society) Vs. Union of India AIR 2008 SC 2116 in this PIL Petitioner filed public interest litigation praying to court to enact a Road Safety Act in view of the numerous road accidents but in this case court held that court cannot direct legislation A perusal of the prayers made in this writ petition clearly shows that what the petitioner wants the courts to do is legislation by amending the law, which is not a legitimate judicial function so this Petition was dismissed by court of law.

Secondly Sanganmal panday v state of u.p. The Lucknow bench of Allahabad Court on Saturday stayed construction activities from Jail Road trisection to Kanshiram memorial till September 22 on a PIL alleging the Uttar Pradesh government’s move was affecting the green belt in the area. A division bench comprising Pradeep Kant and Rituraj Awasthi passed this directive on a PIL filed by a local lawyer Sangamlal Pandey. Earlier, on September 17, the apex Court had disposed off Pandey’s petition allowing him to file the PIL in the High Court. In his PIL, Pandey had contended that the government move was not environment-friendly and construction work was going on in the green belt land.


So by the all discussion this is conclusion that Public interest litigation is a process to put any public problem in the eyes of law but as it is said that nothing can be fully good so there are some good feature then some bad are also their as we have discussed about the misuse of PIL. In the misuse of PIL it can be possible that any person of society send PIL to tease any other person of the society in Indian law, means litigation for the protection of 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.

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.

A judicial system can suffer no greater lack of credibility than a perception that its order can be flouted with impunity. This court must refrain from passing orders that cannot be enforced, whatever the fundamental right may be and however good the cause. It serves no purpose to issue some high profile mandamus or declaration that can remain only on paper. Although usually the Supreme Court immediately passes interim orders for relief, rarely is a final verdict given, and in most of the cases, the follow-up is poor.


Website referred:

  • www.wikipedia.com
  • www.helplinelaw.com
  • www.halsbury.com
  • www.legalserviceindia.com

Book referred:

  1. M.P. Jain, ‘Indian Constitutional Law’, vol-I (5th Ed., 2003, Wadhwa Nagpur)
  1. Durga Das Basu, ‘Commentary on the Constitution of India’, vol-II (8th Ed., 2008, Lexis Nexis, Butterworth Wadhwa)

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