Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in India



*Azeez Nazar Sabri, (LLM (Business Law)


Public Interest litigation ( PIL) means a legal action initiated in a Court of Law for the enforcement of public interest on which the public or class of community is having certain interest, that may affect their legal rights or liability. Thus the PIL is not litigation for enforcement of the individual rights, but for enforcement of the rights of general public or community as whole.  Public Interest Litigation is directly filed in Supreme Court or High Courts by an individual or group of peoples/ NGOs etc.  Article 39 A of the constitution provides that the State shall ensure the operation of the legal system, promote justice on a basis of equal opportunity to all of its citizens. Article 14 provides for equal treatment of all citizens. PIL is a means through which the goal of justice to all, envisaged under article 39 A &14 can be achieved.  

Definition of PIL

Public Interest Litigation has been defined in the Black’s Law Dictionary (6th Edition ) as under:
Public Interest – Something which the public, the community at  large, has some pecuniary interest or some interest by which their legal rights or liabilities are affected. It does not mean anything so narrow as mere curiosity, or as the interests of the particular localities, which may be affected by the matters in question. Interest shared by Citizens generally in affairs of local, state or national government…….

The Council for Public Interest Law set up by the Ford Foundation in USA defined “ Public Interest Litigation” in its report of Public Interest Law, USA, 1976 as follows:
“ Public Interest Law is the name that has recently been given to efforts provide legal representation to previously unrepresented groups and interests.
Supreme Court of India in People’s Union for Democratic Rights & Others Vs. Union of India & Others ( 1982) 3 SCC 235 defined “ Public Interest Litigation” and observed that the “ Public Interest Litigation is a cooperative or collaborative efforts by the petitioner, state of public authority and the judiciary to secure observance of constitutional or basic human rights, benefits and privileged upon poor, downtrodden and vulnerable sections of the society”.
In the recent years the PIL has emerged as the tool to project the rights of the socially/ economically  backward class of society. 

Origin of PIL in India
The origin and evolution of the Public Interest Litigation in India emanated from the realization of constitutional obligation by the judiciary towards the vast sections of the Society.
In Hussainara Khatoon & Others Vs. Home Secretary, State of Bihar ( AIR ) 1979 SC1369, P.N.Bhagwati, J. observed that “today, unfortunate, in our country the poor are priced out of the judicial system with the result that they are losing faith in the capacity of our legal system. The poor in their contact with legal system have always been on the wrong side of the line. They have always come across” law for the poor” rather than “law of the poor”. The law is regarded by them as something mysterious and forbidding always talking something away from them and not as positive and constructive social device for changing the social economic order and improving their life conditions by conferring rights and benefits on them. The result is that the legal system has lost its credibility for the weaker section of the Community. 
In M.C.Mehta & Another Vs. Union of India & Others ( AIR 1987 SC 1086), the Supreme Court of India observed that Article 32 of the Constitution does not merely confer power on this Court to issue direction, order or writ for the enforcement of fundamental rights. Instead, it also lays a constitutional obligation on this court to protect the fundamental rights of the people.  The Court asserted that, in realization of this constitutional obligation, “ it has all incidental and ancillary powers including the power to forge new remedies and fashion new strategies designed to enforce the fundamental rights”. The court realized that because of extreme poverty, a large number of sections cannot approach the court. The fundamental rights have no meaning for them and in order to preserve and protect the fundamental rights of the marginalized section of society by judicial innovation, the courts by judicial innovation and creativity started necessary directions and passing orders in the public interest. 

Who is aggrieved person / Locus Standi 

In Jasbhai Motibhai Desai Vs Roshan Kumar, Haji Bashir Ahmed & Others ( 1976) 1 SCC 671, held that the traditional rule is flexible enough to take in those cases where the applicant has been prejudicially affected by an act or omission of an authority, even though he has no proprietary or even a fiduciary interest in the Subject-Matter. That apart, in exceptional cases  even a stranger or a person who was not a party to the proceedings before the authority, but has a substantial and genuine interest in the subject- matter of the proceedings will be an aggrieved person.
The rule of locus standi was relaxed in Bar Council of Maharashtra v. M.V.Dabholkar & Other ( 1976 scr 306).
In the Mumbai Kamgar Sabha, Bombay Vs. Abdulbhai Faizullabhai & Others, AIR 1976 SC 1455, Supreme Court made conscious efforts to improve the judicial access for the masses by relaxing the traditional rule of “Locus Standi”.
In Municipal Council, Rathlam V. Vardhichand & Others AIR 1980 SC 1622, Supreme Court also relaxed the rule of Locus standi. 
In S.P. Gupta Vs. President of India & Others AIR 1982 SC 149, Justice Bhagwati dismissed the traditional rule of standing, and replaced it with liberalized modern rule.
In J. Jayalalitha V. Government of Tamil Nadu & Other ( 1999)1 SCC53, Supreme Court laid down that public interest ligigation can be filed by any person challenging the misuse or improper use of any public property including the polical party in power for the reason that interest of individuals cannot be placed above or preferred to a larger public interest. 

Misuse of PIL 

Although PIL has become a popular tool to raise the issues related to common people, there are examples where the people have used PIL for their vested interest. To prevent such misuse to the PIL courts have passed strict orders and framed guidelines for PIL. 

In Ashok Kumar Pandey Vs. State of West Bengal ( WP Crl.199/2003), Supreme Court observed that when there is a material to show that a petition styled as Public Interest Litigation is nothing but a camouflage to foster personal disputes, said petition is to be thrown out. Public Interest Litigation, which is naw come to occupy an important field in the administration of law should not be “ Publicity Interest Litigation” or Private Interest Litigation” or Politics Interest Litigation” or a tool in unscrupulous hands to release vendetta and wreck vengeance, as well. There must be real and genuine public Interest Litigation and not merely an adventure or knight errant of poke ones into for a probe. It cannot also be invoked by a person or a body of persons to further his or their personal causes or satisfy his or their personal grudge and enmity. Courts of justice should not be allowed to be polluted by unscrupulous litigants by resorting to the extraordinary jurisdiction. A person acting bonafide and having sufficient interest in the proceeding of public interest litigation will alone have a locus standi and can approach the Court to wipe out violation of fundamental rights and genuine infraction of statutory provisions.
These aspects were also highlighted in The Kazi Lhendup Dorji Vs. Central Bureau of Investigation, 1994 (Supp) 2 SCC 116, Ramjas Foundation Vs. Union of India, (AIR 1993SC 852),K.R.Srinivas Vs. R.M.Premchand ( 1994(6) SCC 620 and S.P.Anad Vs. H.D.Deve Gowda & Others AIR 1997 SC272.

In Janta Dal Vs. H.S.Chowdhary & Others (1992) 4 SCC 305, the Supreme Court cautioned that expanded role of courts in modern “Social” state demand for greater judicial responsibility. The PIL has given new hope of justice-starved millions of people of this country. The court must encourage genuine PIL and discard PIL filed with oblique motives. 

In Sanjeev Bhatnagar Vs. Union of India & Other, AIR 2005 SC 2841, Supreme Court imposed a monetary penalty against an advocate for filing a frivolous and vexatious PIL Petition. 

Email to  : azeez_nazar@rediffmail.com 

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