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
- Where rights of all citizens are getting violated
- 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
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
- Vehicle to bring social revolution through constitutional means.
- 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.
- 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.
- Through PIL, judiciary filled legislative gaps in important areas. For example –Vishaka guidelines on sexual harassment at workplace.
- 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.
- An unanticipated increase in the workload of the superior courts. There is huge backlog of cases already and PILs further increases that workload.
- 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
- 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.
- Violation of separation of power: Courts make Laws which is function of Legislature and is against Separation of Power .
- Ineffective implementation: Due to plethora of PILs, it becomes difficult for court to ensure effective implementation of its orders, which leads to credibility erosion.
- 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 .