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Public Interest Litigation

Meaning of public interest litigation

Public interest litigation

describes legal actions
brought to protect or enforce
rights enjoyed by members of
the public or large parts of it.
Meaning of public interest litigation
“Public Interest Litigation means a legal action
initiated in a court of law for the enforcement of
public interest or general interest in which the
public or class of the community have
pecuniary interest or some interest by which
their legal rights or liabilities are affected.”
Why public interest litigation

• In most developing countries, the legal

• regime of environmental laws is weak and the
• laws are difficult to enforce and sometimes
• ambiguous. Public interest litigation has
• helped bridge this gap.
Why public interest litigation
• Public interest litigation is important where
• the government is not willing to
• promote/protect the environment. The
• government may not be willing to prosecute
• those who violate environmental laws and at
• times the government is a violator of
• environmental laws. In some jurisdictions an
• injunction can be brought to compel or stop
• the government from degrading the
• environment.
Why public interest litigation

• In most developing countries governments lack

• resources to prosecute and investigate all the
• criminal cases that take place within its jurisdiction.
• Public interest litigation enables individuals to bring
• action on behalf of the community, a role the
• government may not play.
Why public interest litigation

• Where criminal remedies are not enough, e.g. a

• fine may be too small compared to the amount of
• environmental degradation. A civil suit is well
• suited for orders such as restitution and
• compensation which may not be provided for by
criminal laws of a country.
Why public interest litigation

• Where criminal remedies are not enforceable, e.g.

• where a crime is committed by a company and yet
• the punishment for the crime is imprisonment, it
• becomes hard to punish the company.
The matter must require a legal remedy
and be of public interest, which means it

 Affect a significant number of people not just the

individual or;
 raise matters of broad public concern or;
 impact on disadvantaged or marginalized group,
 it must be a legal matter which requires addressing
pro bono publico (‘for the common good’)
An action can be brought for public
interest litigation under the following

 Environmental degradation
 Violation of basic human rights of the poor
 Content or conduct of government policy
 Compel municipal authorities to perform a public
 Violation of religious rights or other basic
fundamental rights
When and how to File a PIL
1.Make an informed decision to file a case.

2.Consult all affected interest groups who are possible allies.

3.Be careful in filing a case because

i.Litigation can be expensive.

ii.Litigation can be time consuming.

iii.Litigation can take away decision making

capability/strength from communities.

iv.An adverse decision can affect the strength of the


v.Litigation involvement can divert the attention of the

community away from the real issues.
When and how to File a PIL
4.If you have taken the decision
i.Collect all the relevant information
ii.Be meticulous in gathering detail for use in the case. If you plan to use
photographs, retain the negatives and take an affidavit from the
photographer. Retain bills.
iii.Write to the relevant authorities and be clear about your demands.
iv.Maintain records in an organized fashion.
v.Consult a lawyer on the choice of forum.
vi.Engage a competent lawyer. If you are handling the matter yourself
make sure you get good legal advice on the drafting.
vii.A PIL can be filed only by a registered organization. If you are
unregistered, please file the PIL in the name of an office
bearer/member in his/her personal capacity.
viii.You may have to issue a legal notice to the concerned
parties/authorities before filing a PIL. Filing a suit against the
government would require issuing a notice to the concerned
officer department at least two months prior to filing.
Public Interest Litigation - Survey
1997 - 1998
The marked increase in the number of reported decisions in PIL
cases, both in the High Courts as well in the Supreme Court, is
testimony to the ever expanding jurisdiction of the court in this
branch of the law. While issues that have been dealt with in the past
continued to engage the courts, new ones appeared too. The issue
of public accountability continued to engage the courts’. Continuing
mandamus' was forged by the court in monitoring the progress of
criminal investigations. There was also a decided departure from
the past where the court would conclude a case hoping that the
government would pick up the thread thereafter. The PILs in the
years under review witnessed a `law making' and `policy delineating'
Public Interest Litigation
Peoples Union for Democratic Rights
Union of India
( A.I.R.. 1982 , S C 1473). The court now permits Public Interest Litigation or
Social Interest Litigation at the instance of " Public spirited citizens" for the
enforcement of constitutional & legal rights of any person or group of
persons who because of their socially or economically disadvantaged
position are unable to approach court for relief. Public interest litigation is a
part of the process of participate justice and standing in civil litigation of that
pattern must have liberal reception at the judicial door steps.

In the Judges Transfer Case - AIR 1982, SC 149: Court held Public Interest Litigation
can be filed by any member of public having sufficient interest for public injury arising
from violation of legal rights so as to get judicial redress. This is absolutely necessary
for maintaining Rule of law and accelerating the balance between law and justice.

It is a settled law that when a person approaches the court of equity in exercise of
extraordinary jurisdiction, he should approach the court not only with clean hands but
with clean mind, heart and with clean objectives.
Shiram Food & Fertilizer case

AIR (1986) 2 SCC 176 SC through Public Interest Litigation

directed the Co. Manufacturing hazardous & lethal chemical

and gases posing danger to life and health of workmen & to

take all necessary safety measures before re-opening the plant.

M.C Mehta Vs Union of India

AIR (1988) 1 SCC 471 - In a Public Interest Litigation brought

against Ganga water pollution so as to prevent any further pollution
of Ganga water. Supreme court held that petitioner although not a
riparian owner is entitled to move the court for the enforcement of
statutory provisions , as he is the person interested in protecting
the lives of the people who make use of Ganga water.
Parmanand Katara Vs Union of India

AIR 1989, SC 2039 :- Supreme Court held in the Public Interest Litigation
filed by a human right activist fighting for general public interest that it is a
paramount obligation of every member of medical profession to give
medical aid to every injured citizen as soon as possible without waiting for
any procedural formalities.
PIL Cases in the 1970s

Kamgar Sabha vs Abdul Bhai

In Mumbai (1976) 3 SCC 832 court gave a soothing

decision in this historic case, introducing the doctrine
of Judicial Activism. Justice Krishna Iyer stated: “Test
Litigation, representative actions, pro bono publico and
the like forms of legal proceedings are in keeping with
the current accent on justice to the common man and
a necessary disincentive to those who wish to bypass
the real issues on the merits by suspect reliance on
peripheral procedural short-comings”.
PIL Cases in the 1970s
Sunil Batra vs Delhi Administration

In 1978 4 SCC 494 the Supreme Court dealt with the

right to protection against solitary confinement and
putting undertrials in fetters for an unlimited duration of
time. ”It observed that “the operation of Articles 14, 19
and 21 may be pared down for a prisoner but not puffed
out altogether…So also, locomotion may be limited by
the needs of imprisonment but binding hand and foot,
with hoops of steel, every man or women sentenced for
a term is doing violence to Part III”.
PIL Cases in the 1980s
Municipal Council, Ratlam vs Vardichan

[(1980) 4 SCC 162] is a path-finder in the

field of people's involvement in matters of public
importance. The court accepted the locus standi of the
citizens of a ward to seek directions against the
Municipality for taking remedial action under Section
133 of the Code of Criminal Procedure and putting an
end to the nuisance caused due to open drains, pits
and public excretion in the absence of lavatories.
PIL Cases in the 1980s
Hussainara Khatoon Vs Home Secretary, State of Bihar

One of the earliest cases in the subject of Public Interest Litigation is the
famous Hussainara Khatoon case. There were a series of cases entitled
Hussainara Khatoon Vs. Home Secretary, State of Bihar reported in 1980 (1)
SCC 81, 1980 (1) SCC 91, 1980 (1) SCC 93, 1980 (1) SCC 98, 1980 (1) SCC
108 and 1980 (1) SCC 115. These were filed by an advocate in the Supreme
Court of India by way of a writ petition, in which the plight of helpless
undertrials, who were behind bars for decades, for a period much more than
they would have undergone in case of conviction, was brought to the notice of
the court. It observed that “even under our Constitution, though speedy trial is
not specifically enumerated as a fundamental right, it is implicit
in the broad sweep and content of Article 21”.
PIL Cases in the 1990s
Subhash Kumar Vs State of Bihar

In Subhash Kumar Vs State of Bihar [(1991) 1 SCC

598] the Supreme Court held that the “right to live is
a fundamental right under Article 21 of the
Constitution and it includes the right of enjoyment
of pollution-free water and air for full enjoyment of
life. If anything endangers or impairs that quality of
life in derogation of laws, a citizen has right to have
recourse to Article 32 of the Constitution for
removing the pollution of water or air which may be
detrimental to the quality of life.”
PIL Cases in the 1990s
Vishaka Vs State of Rajasthan

In Vishaka Vs State of Rajasthan [(1997) 6 SCC 241], which is

the celebrated case laying down guidelines for the prevention of
sexual harassment of women in the workplace, the court
focused its attention in “assisting in finding suitable methods for
realisation of the true concept of 'gender equality'; and to
prevent sexual harassment of working women in all work places
through judicial process, to fill the vacuum in existing
PIL Cases 2000 onwards
Balco Employees’ Union Vs Union of India

In Balco Employees’ Union Vs Union of India and Others (2002)

2 SCC 333 dealing with the question of judicial interference in
economic policy decisions, the Supreme Court emphasised that
“in the sphere of economic policy or reforms the court is not the
appropriate forum… Courts will interfere only if there is a clear
violation of constitutional or statutory duties.” It also clarified that
Public Interest Litigation was intended to mean nothing more
than what the words themselves said, namely,
"litigation in the interest of the public”.
PIL Cases 2000 onwards
Dattaraj Nattuji Thaware Vs State of Maharashtra

In Dattaraj Nattuji Thaware Vs State of Maharashtra 2005 (1)

SCC 590, the Supreme Court of India reiterated the recent trend
to the following effect: “Public Interest Litigation which has now
come to occupy an important field in the administration of law…
(should not become)…'publicity interest litigation' or 'private
interest litigation' or 'politics interest litigation' or the latest trend,
i.e. 'paise income litigation'. In order to discourage
the practice,the court stressed the necessity of
imposing ‘exemplary” costs on people
for bringing frivolous petitions.
PILs on Civil Liberties

T.V. Vatheeswaran Vs State of Tamilnadu

In T.V. Vatheeswaran Vs State of Tamilnadu [(1983) 2 SCC 68]

the Supreme Court held a prisoner on death row has a right to
move the court for quashing of the sentence in case of
unreasonable delay in the carrying out of the sentence.
PILs on Civil Liberties

Paschim Banga Khet Mazdoor Samiti Vs State of West Bengal

In Paschim Banga Khet Mazdoor Samiti Vs State of

West Bengal [(1996) 4 SCC 37] the Supreme Court observed
that “Article 21 imposes an obligation on the State to safeguard
the right to life of every person. Preservation of human life is
thus of paramount importance. The government hospitals run by
the State and the medical officers employed therein are duty-
bound to extend medical assistance
for preserving human life.”
PILs on Civil Liberties

M.H. Hoskot Vs State of Maharashtra

The principle that free legal services to the poor and the needy
was an essential element of any reasonable, fair and just
procedure under Article 21 was upheld in M.H. Hoskot v. State of
Maharashtra 1978 (3) SCC 544
Thank You

M.Madhu Prakash