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Public Interest Litigation

Public Interest Litigation

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Published by Anupam Gurung
Public Interest Litigation, The definition, The origin. Public Interest Litigation in India.
Public Interest Litigation, The definition, The origin. Public Interest Litigation in India.

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Published by: Anupam Gurung on Oct 25, 2009
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Pubic Interest Litigation
The Definition:
The term Public Interest Litigation (PIL) is composed of two
words; „Public Interest‟
According to Black‟s Law Dictionary/7
Edition states:an expression which indicates something in which the general public or thecommunity at large has some pecuniary interest, or some interest by which theirlegal rights or liabilities are affected. The word litigation on the other handmeans, a legal action, including all legal proceedings initiated in a Court of Lawwith the purpose of enforcing a right or seeking a remedy. Hence, lexically the
expression „Public Interest Litigation‟ denotes a legal action initiated in a court
of law for the enforcement of public interest where the rights of an individual ora group has been affected.
The concept of Public Interest Litigation first emerged in USA.
The American concept of PIL is clarified by a statement made by “
The Council for 
Public Interest Law” 
setup by the “
Ford Foundation in USA”; “Public In
terest Law is thename that has been given to efforts to provide legal representations to previously unrepresented groups and interests. Such groups and interest include; the poor,environmentalists, consumers, racial and ethnic minorities,
and others”.
owever PIL in
India substantially differs from that in the USA”.
A statement made by Clark.D.Cunningham in his published opinion,
“PIL in Indian Supreme Court: A study inthe light of American experience”Pg
Prof: Upendra Baxi in his published
opinion “Social Action Litigation in the Supreme Court of India” has pointed out
that the prime focus of American PIL was not so much on state repression or
governmental lawlessness as on public participation in governmental decisionmaking. And since the Indian notion of PIL has assumed the character of more of a moral and humane process in providing justice to the victim as in individual orto a group in matters relating to infringement of fundamental rights or denial of civil privileges on the basis of caste, color or creed, Prof: Baxi therefore insistedthat the Indian phenomenon described as PIL should be termed as
Social ActionLitigation
PIL in Action
Because it was seen as a pursuit for the vindication of private
vested interest, PIL in India until the early 1970‟s was in its rudimentary state.
During this time period, initiation and continuance of litigation was prerogativeonly to the individual aggrieved party. A complete change in the scenario in the
1980‟s with the efforts taken by Justice P.N.Bhagwati and Justice V.R. Krishna
Iyer which was marked by attempts to bring wider issues affecting the generalpublic at large within the ambit. As a result, the concept of PIL has evolvedthrough which legal remedies can be sought out without forwarding any heavycourt fees as is required in private civil litigation.The PIL jurisdiction forged by the Supreme Court is an extension of its jurisdiction under Article-32. PIL in India is centered essentially around court
actions with the liberalization of the rule of “Locus Standi”
(Latin-Place to stand
Rightto be heard in a court of law)
, especially for the poor and deprived. With the change inthe character and functions of the state, the rule of locus standi has been
liberalized. „Ashoke Kumar Vs The State of West Bengal
s Verdict
); “
Under the relaxed rule, any member of the public having sufficientinterest can maintain an action for judicial redress of a public injury suffered by anindiscriminate class of persons, provided the petitioner acts bona fide and is not moved by 
an oblique motivation”.
In D.C. Wadhwa Vs the State of Bihar (1987), the
petitioner, a professor of political science who had done substantial research inthe area of proper implementation of constitutional provisions, challenged thepractice followed by the State of Bihar in re-promulgating a number of ordinances without seeking the approval of the legislature. The court held thatthe petitione
r as a member of public has „sufficient interest‟ to maintain a
petition under Art-32.On 1
Dec 1988, the Supreme Court issued a notification on what matters could be entertained as PIL.
(Source-Guidelines for Entertaining Letters/Petitions as PIL, accessedfrom Parivesh News Letter. www.cpcb.inc/legislation/PIL/Newsletter ).
Under thisnotification, letter petitions falling under certain categories alone would betreated, but before that the letter would be first screened in the PIL Cell afterwhich it would be placed before the judge. The categories include mattersconcerning bonded labour, petitions from prisoners, petitions against policeatrocities, petition against atrocities on women, ch
ildren and SC‟s and ST‟s, in
environmental matters etc.The PIL process, to be effective demands proactive action to be taken requiringthe judges to take cognizance of matters
„Sou motu‟
(on their own), as waspracticed by Justice Thakkar of the Gujarat High Court, who converted a letterto the editor in a newspaper written by a widow mentioning her plight becauseof the non-
payment of the „Provident Fund Family Pension‟ after her husbanddeath, and ordered a „Show Cause Notice‟ to be issued without any f 
urtherformalities to the Regional Provident Fund Officer. The arrears were paid justafter the first hearing. However there are dangers of 
suo motu
action, e.g. the judges cannot know the motivation of a person in writing a letter to the editor.He has no means of verifying the veracity of the contents of the letter, beforehe/she commences the proceedings.
PIL in the Indian judiciary is also been focused on matters concerning „prisonersrights‟. In the Hussainnara Vs the State of Bihar
- 1980_SCC 81, the attention of the court was drawn to the shocking situation of Bihar under-trials, who had

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