What is Public Interest Litigation?

In American Law, public interest litigation is known as “public interest litigation”. A legal aid system was created in the 1960s to provide representation for previously unrepresented groups, including minorities, people from custody, migrant workers, prisoners of war, and other backward classes. As a result of the lack of fair legal services in the broader marketplace, it was established to address this issue.

As a result, Public Interest Litigation is defined as litigation filed in a court of law for the protection of the public interest. There is no specific definition for PIL in any act or statute, but its primary focus is on these areas:

Basic human rights violation of the poor

Conduct of the government policy

Violation of other fundamental rights

Through PIL,

It provides citizens with an inexpensive legal remedy, as there are nominal court fees.

In the protection of their basic rights, litigants can achieve results pertaining to public issues at large.

Supreme Court’s role in judicial activism led to PILs in India. Early in the 1980s, Justice P.N. Bhagwati and Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer first introduced it. Thousands of Bihar jail prisoners filed a PIL in 1979 against the state over the inhuman conditions of the jail, which is the first ever PIL to be filed. Hussainara Khatoon v. State of Bihar dates back to 1979. P.N. Bhagwati, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, stated prisoners’ right to free legal aid and expeditious trials.

Meaning of PIL

Lawsuits filed before a court of law in the interest of the public interest are known as Public Interest Litigation. PIL was introduced in India as a result of a relaxation of the conventional “locus standi” rule. According to this rule, only a person who has been violated can make a court application for redress. There is an exception to this rule in the case of a PIL. Frequently referred to as Social Interest Litigation, Indian Constitution Article 32 permits the practice of Public Interest Litigation in which citizens or organizations submit petitions alleging violations of fundamental rights. In this way, anyone with an interest in enforcing another’s rights can seek help from a court. The Rule of Law depends on PILs. 

Prafullachandra Natwarlal Bhagwati

In 1921, P.N. Bhatwati was appointed to the position of Chief Justice of India, serving from July 1985 to December 1986. India’s pioneer of judicial activism regards him as a pioneer. During his lifetime, he came up with the concepts of public interest litigation and absolute liability in India. The President of the World Congress on Human Rights, which was held in 1989, acknowledged his contribution to legal aid and law for the poor. As an observer, he was assigned to follow the work of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into alleged violations of human rights in Sri Lanka. 

In addition to providing easy access to justice and enabling judicial activism, P.N. Bhagwati provided the Indian judicial system with the power to transform societal structures that were otherwise deprived of the basic rights of citizenship.

Characteristics of PIL

As PIL has progressed, several issues have been incorporated, but they share several characteristics. These are:

It is commonly referred to as a non-adversarial lawsuit in which one party pits its interests against another. Instead of focusing on the traditional mode of litigation, PIL is recognized as a tool for bringing social change.

Third parties are granted the right to petition the court through PILs, which are based on the principles of citizens and representatives.

The PIL was introduced for remedial purposes to create a dynamic, welfare-oriented system of justice. Thus, Part III of the Constitution incorporates Directive Principles, claims for which cannot be brought directly before courts, into the domain of fundamental rights.

The PIL strengthens the judiciary’s role as a watchdog over the other government organs, the executive and the legislature. It has improved the quality of institutions like jails because people are scared of being prosecuted. A protective home in the country.

Scope of PIL

Court guidelines were formulated in 1998 for listening to petitions and letters received as PILs. Several modifications were made to these guidelines between 1993 and 2003. In accordance with PIL, the following letters and petitions are recognized:

Neglected Children

Non-payment of minimum wages to the workers.

Atrocities on women, in particular, rape, murder, kidnapping and harassment of bride.

Food adulteration

Environmental Pollution

Petitions from jail regarding inhuman treatment, death in jail, speedy trail.

Petitions from Riot-Victims.

Harassment of villagers by co-villagers or police.

Exceptions- The cases that do not fall under the category that will be entertained as PIL are:

Landlord-tenant matter.

Service matter pertaining to pension and gratuity.

Admission to medical or other educational institution.

Complaints against Central and State Government and Local Bodies.

Petitions for early hearing of the cases that are pending in the High Courts or Subordinate Courts.

Principles of PIL

The Supreme Court laid down the following principles in regard to PIL. These are:

The Constitution of India, under Articles 32 and 226, allows the Court to entertain petitions filed by persons who have an interest in the welfare of people in disadvantaged circumstances. Courts should protect these individuals’ fundamental rights.

Whenever a large number of people are treated unfairly, the court will invoke articles 14 and 21 of the Indian Constitution as well as the International Convention on Human Rights.

A state cannot question the maintainability of the petition when a court prima facie finds there has been a violation of any constitutional right of a group of backward people.

It depends on the nature, facts and circumstances of the petition whether res judicata or principles analogous thereto apply to PIL cases despite procedural laws being applied.

Dispute between two groups purely in the realm of private law would not be allowed to be agitated as PIL.

In cases, where the petitioner has moved the court for his private interest and the redressal of personal grievances, the Court in furtherance of public interest, may treat it as a PIL.

The Court shall not transgress into a policy. It shall take utmost care to not transgress its jurisdiction while protecting the rights of the people.

Guidelines for Admitting PIL

PIL has become as important part in the administration of law. With the advent of PIL, they have been misused for personal gains which has led to frivolous litigation on unnecessary issues. Hence, the Supreme Court has laid down the guidelines for checking the misuse of PIL.

The Court should encourage bona fide PIL and effectively discourage the PIL field for extraneous considerations.

Every High Court should formulate a set of rules for encouraging the genuine PIL that are filed and discourage PIL filed for reasons relating to personal gains.

Each Court should prima facie verify the credentials of every petitioner before acknowledging the PIL.

The Court should be prima facie satisfied with the contents of the PIL before acknowledging it.

The Court should be satisfied with the fact that the PIL involves a substantial public interest.

The PIL should involve a large public interest, the gravity and urgency of which must be given priority.

The Court must ensure that the PIL aims to redress public injury and that no personal gain is involved in it.

Landmark Judgement

Following M.C. v. Union of India, a PIL was filed in the matter of the Ganga getting polluted, to prevent any further pollution of it. Even though petitioner is not an owner, he has the right to ask the court to enforce statutory provisions since he is trying to protect the lives of people who use Ganga’s water on a daily basis.


A number of remarkable results have been achieved by Public Interest Litigation since its introduction. A new jurisprudence of accountability for legal violations affecting the interests of the backward category has evolved in PIL. In applying PILs, the Judiciary must be cautious so as not to violate the principle of Separation of Power and overreach.

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