Public Interest Litigation

Public Interest Litigation

How it all Started

  • Concept of Public Interest Litigation (PIL) originated and developed in USA in 1960s  to provide legal representation to previously unrepresented groups and interests.
  • First case of PIL can be said to be of Hussainara Khatoon case on Undertrials but real beginning came from SP Gupta Case in which Supreme Court increased the Locus Standii
  • Under PIL , Courts accept following cases when approached by any Public Spirited Citizen or Social Organisation
    1. Where rights of all citizens are getting violated 
    2. As representative of poor & disadvantaged persons who can’t approach Court of law  
  • Justice PN Bhagwati and Justice VR Krishna Iyer were the pioneers of PIL in India

June 2019 update : Top 5 judges can hear PIL matters. Earlier only Chief Justice of India & 2nd topmost Judge could hear PIL.

Flexibility in Standing , Form and Evidence

To encourage PILs, Supreme Court provided following flexibilities

  • Increased Locus Standi
  • Development of Epistolary Jurisdiction – Cases can be filed through letters and telegrams too. 
  • Aid in Evidence – Supreme Court  reduced norms governing evidence and appoints Amicus Curie 

Recent Issues

Recently,  Supreme  Court   voiced  its  concerns on  the  NGO  becoming  a  “proxy  litigant”  and  a  front  for settling  corporate  rivalry  or  personal  vendetta. 

Phases of PIL

Positive contributions of PIL

  1. Vehicle  to  bring  social  revolution  through  constitutional  means.
  2. It has also  helped in  expanding  the  jurisprudence  of  fundamental  and  human  rights  in  India. eg : Hussainara Khatun Case protecting fundamental rights of under-trials.  
  3. PIL  also  become  an  instrument  to  promote  rule  of  law,  demand  fairness  and  transparency,  fight corruption  in administration
    • Corruption: 2G scam was unearthed by PIL filed by two individuals.
  4. Through  PIL,  judiciary   filled  legislative  gaps  in  important  areas. For example  –Vishaka  guidelines  on  sexual  harassment  at  workplace.
  5. PIL  has helped the  Indian  judiciary  to  gain  public  confidence  and  establish  legitimacy  in  the  society.


Main challenge is where to draw line from Judicial Activism to Judicial Adventurism. The PIL project has been amplified much beyond its original conception , giving rise to legitimate criticism that its true purpose has been lost sight of.

  1. An unanticipated  increase  in  the  workload  of the  superior  courts. There is huge backlog of cases already and PILs further increases that workload. 
  2. Deviated from original rationale for allowing PILs: PILs have become instruments of contestation  of already powerful and well represented groups eg
    • Dr. Dina Nath Batra of the Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti, a front organisation for the RSS, has filed PILs to remove “objectionable material” in NCERT textbooks 
  3. Settling Corporate rivalry : Sometimes Companies which lose any corporate battle use NGOs as bate to file frivolous PILs as happened in Reliance Jio Case of 2016. 
  4. Violation of separation of power: Courts make Laws which is function of Legislature and is against Separation of Power .
  5. Ineffective implementation:  Due to plethora of PILs, it becomes difficult for court to ensure effective implementation of its orders, which leads to credibility erosion.
  6. Instrument to gain publicity by lawyers : Some lawyers see PILs to increase their publicity and file PILs not with intention to help poors but to gain cheap publicity and buy some time on national news-channels.

Way to correct

  • Supreme Court guidelines (Balwant Singh Chaufal vs State of Uttarakhand) : To qualify as a PIL, certain conditions must be satisfied . e.g., letter addressed by aggrieved person, a public spirited individual etc. 
  • Heavy Fine against Frivolous PILs : Fine heavily those NGOs & persons who waste time of Court in guise or Public Interest. Eg : in May 2017 : Supreme Court  imposed ₹25 lakh  on Suraz India Trust,  for filing frivolous PILs
  • Social Justice Bench- Special Bench christened as Social Justice Bench has been created which will hear all the cases  relating to Social Justice each Friday .

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