Author: Vaibhavi Chaturvedi


In India, legal system is not equally accessible to all. Its complex procedure and adversary character, the high-priced lawyer, the traditional rules of locus standi, the inordinate delays in hearing of the cases even where life and personal liberty are at stake, frighten away the poor man who is incapable of protecting them through law courts because of economical, geographical, psychological, language barriers.

In India Public Interest Litigation emerged due to the need of a great amount of people who individually lacked the fiscal resources or operational capability to justify their objection and their exact interest through court. In India, the courts perform their power of judicial review trace to its alarm that the poorest of the deprived, depraved, the uneducated, women, children and other downtrodden have either no access to justice or had been denied righteousness. A new branch of lawsuit known as PIL was evolved with a view to deliver complete justice to the aforementioned classes of persons.


Litigation filed in a court of law, for the safety of ―Public Interest (nebulous entity), such as pollution, Terrorism, Road safety, environmental hazards etc. can be termed as ―Public interest Litigation (PIL), Article 32 of the Indian Constitution contains the instrument which straightforwardly joins the public with the judiciary. Public Interest Litigation is not described in any Act or in any statute. It has been understood through judges to consider the motive of public at mass.

 Although, the principal cognizance of such lawsuits is only “Public Interest” there are numerous areas in which a Public Interest Litigation may be filed. It is litigation which can be introduced in a court, not only by the affected or aggrieved person but also by the court itself (suo moto) or by any private party. Meaning of ―Public Interest Litigation is unknown but, “legal action initiated in a court of law for the enforcement of public interest”

It was held in the case of People’s Union for Democratic Rights vs. Union of India,

Public Interest Litigation which is a strategic arm of the legal aid movement and which is intended to bring justice within the reach of the poor masses, who constitute the low visibility area of humanity. Public interest litigation is brought before the court not for the purpose of implementing the right of one person against another as take place within the case of ordinary litigation, however it intended to promote and vindicate public interest which needs that violations of constitutional or legal rights of bi numbers of individuals who are poor, ignorant or in a socially or economically disadvantaged position should not go unnoticed and un-redressed.



The word “PIL” was begin in the U.S in the mid of 1980‘s. In the 19th century, a variety of activities in that country had contributed to public interest law, which was part of the legal aid movement. The first legal aid office was established in New York in 1876. In the 1960‘s the Public Interest Litigation movement started to receive financial assistant from the office of Economic Opportunity, this optimistic approach encouraged advocates and public-spirited persons to take up cases of the underprivileged and fight opposition to dangers to environment and public health and utilization of consumers and the downtrodden.

Before 1980s the aggrieved party could approach the court of justice and seek remedy for his complaint and every other person who was not personally affected could not approach the court of justice as a proxy for the sufferer or the aggrieved party. In other words, only the affected parties had the locus standi (standing required in law) to file a case and continue the litigation and the non-affected persons had no locus standi to do so. And as a result, there has been rarely any link among the rights guaranteed by the Constitution of Indian Union and the laws made via way of means of the legislature on the one hand and the sizeable majority of illiterate citizens on the other.

M. C. Mehta & Another v. Union of India & Others, Supreme Court observed that Article 32 of the Indian Constitution not just confers the power to issue direction, order or writ for the enforcement of fundamental rights to the courts. As an addition, it also gave a constitutional compulsion on this Court to protect the fundamental rights of the people.

If analyze the cases of 70s and 80s, the majority of the PIL cases which were entertained by the judiciary are pertaining to enforcement of fundamental rights of marginalized and deprived sections of the society. This can be said that the first phase of the public interest litigation in India.

The Indian Supreme Court widened the conventional rule of status and also the definition of “person aggrieved”. In M. C. Mehta & Another v. Union of India judgment, deem it suitable to broadly separate the public interest litigation in three phases.

 1. Courts where gave directions and orders were passed principally to guard fundamental rights under Article 21 of the vulnerable groups of the society who for the reason that of intense poverty, illiteracy and lack of knowledge cannot approach the Courts.                                                                                                         

2. It deals with the cases relating to protection, preservation of ecology, environment, forests, marine life, wildlife, mountains, rivers, historical monuments etc. etc.                                                                                  

3. It deals with the directions issued by the Courts in maintaining the probity, transparency and integrity in governance.

Thereafter, it is proposed to deal with the characteristic of abuse of the PIL and remedial procedures by which its misuse can be disallowed or curbed.

Hon’ble Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer and Hon’ble Justice P.N. Bhagwati acknowledged the possibility of providing access to justice to the underprivileged, poor and the exploited people by relaxing the regulations of standing. In the post emergency period when the political situations had changed, investigative journalism also started to expose gruesome scenes of legislative lawlessness, repression, custodial violence, drawing attention of attorneys, judicial members, and social activists. Public Interest Litigation emerged as a result of an informal nexus of pro-active judges, media persons and social activists.

Ever first reported lawsuit of Public Interest Litigation in 1979 was focused on the inhuman conditions of prisons and under trial prisoners. In Hussainara Khatoon v. State of Bihar, the Public Interest Litigation was filed by an advocate for the basis of the news which published in the Indian Express newspaper, which stressed the plight of thousands of under trial prisoners suffered in various jails in the state of Bihar. These proceeding led to the let go of more than 40,000 under trial prisoners.


The following are the subject matters which may be take proceedings under the head of PIL:

 i) The issues of bonded labours                                                                                                                                      

ii) The issues of neglected children                                                                                                            

iii) The issues of exploitation of casual labourers and non-payment of wages to them (individual cases will be applicable)                                                                                                                             

iv) The issues involved in harassment or torture of persons belonging to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Economically Backward Classes, either by co-villagers or by police.

v) The issues relating to environmental pollution, disturbance of ecological balance drugs, food adulteration, maintenance of heritage and culture, antiques, forests and wild life.

vi) The issues of petitions from riot victims


 Any Indian citizen or organisation can move the court for a public interest/cause by filing a petition:

  1. In the SC under Article 32
  2. In the High Courts under Article 226
  3. In the Court of Magistrate under Section 133 of the Code of Criminal procedure

The court can deal with a letter as a writ petition and take charge on it. The court has to be satisfied that the writ petition complies with the following: the letter is addressed through the aggrieved character or a public-spirited person or a social action group for the enforcement of legal or constitutional rights to any person who, upon poverty or disability, are not able to approach the court for redress.


To make ‘access to justice’ a reality, the judiciary is endeavouring to dismantle the barriers of poverty that exist between poor man and the justice system. It was accomplished by liberalizing the scope of “locus standi”, and developing ‘Public Interest Litigation’, i.e., the courts are now allowing even the third parties to vindicate the socio-economic rights of weaker sections.

PIL or social interest litigation nowadays has great significance and drew the attention of all concerned.

Traditional rule– of “Locus Standi” that a person, whose right is violated alone can file a petition./p>

New rule– But after the concept of liberalization. Now, the court allows PIL at the instance of the so called “PUBLIC SPIRITED CITIZENS” for the implementation of Constitutional and lawful rights. Now, any public-spirited civilian can move or approach the court for the public cause (in the interests of the public or public welfare) by file petitions.

In the case of Fertilizer Corporation Kamgar Union v. Union of India Justice Krishna Iyer, specify the following grounds for liberalization or dilute the rule of Locus Standi: –

1. To exercise the State power to eliminate corruption may result in unrelated intervention with individuals’ rights.

2. To Social justice wants laissez-faire judicial review administrative action.

3. Limiting the rules of standing is antithesis to a healthy system of administrative act.

4. In participative public justice Judicial Activism is essential. Consequently, a public minded citizen must be given an opportunity to approach the court in the welfare of the public.

Further, in the case of S.P. Gupta vs. Union of India, Justice Bhagwati J., one who known as the pro poor and activist judges of the Supreme Court, firmly established the validity of the PIL.


Subjects of Public Interest Litigation: Public Interest Litigation is supposed for enforcement of fundamental and other legal rights of the persons who are poor, weak, unaware of legal redressal system or in any other case in a disadvantageous position, because of their social or financial background. Such litigation may be initiated best for redressal of a public injury, enforcement of a public duty or vindicating hobby of public nature. It is essential that the petition is not filed for non-public advantage or non-public reason or different extraneous consideration and is filed bona fide withinside the public interest.

Part III of the Constitution lays down diverse Fundamental Rights and additionally specifies motives for restrictive these rights. “As a right without a remedy does not have much substance”, the remedy to approach the Supreme Court directly for the enforcement of any of the Part III rights has also been made a Fundamental Rights.  The holder of the Fundamental Rights cannot waive them.

The Writ Jurisdiction of Supreme Court can be invoked beneath Article 32 of the Constitution for the violation of fundamental rights assured under Part – III of the Constitution. Any provision in any Constitution for Fundamental Rights is incomprehensible until there are adequate safeguards to make sure enforcement of such provisions.

Indian Constitution, like maximum of Western Constitutions, lays down positive provisions to make sure ensure the enforcement of Fundamental Rights.

 (a) The Fundamental Rights furnished within the Indian Constitution are assured against any government and legislative actions. Any government or legislative action, which infringes upon the Fundamental Rights of any individual or any group of persons, can be declared as void with the aid of using the Courts under Article 13 of the Constitution.

 (b) Also, the Judiciary has the strength to issue the prerogative writs. These are the extra-ordinary remedies furnished to the citizens to get their rights enforced in opposition to any authority within the State. These writs are – Habeas corpus, Mandamus, Prohibition, Certiorari and Quo-warranto. Both, High Courts and the Supreme Court may issue the writs.

 (c) The Fundamental Rights furnished to the citizens by the Constitution can not be suspended with the aid of the State, except during the period of emergency, as laid down in Article 359 of the Constitution. A Fundamental Right will also be enforced by way of normal legal procedures including a declaratory suit or by way of defence to legal proceedings.

[1] C. Raj Kumar & K. Chockalingam (eds.), Human Rights, Justice and Constitutional empowerment (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2007).

[2] AIR 1982 SC 1473 at p. 1496

[3] AIR 1987 SC 1086

[4] Jamie Cassels, ‘Judicial Activism and Public Interest Litigation in India: Attempting the impossible’, 37 American Journal of Comparative Law, p. 495 (1989).

[5] (1980) 1 SCC 81

[6] They are people of this country who do not have direct interest at stake in the PIL filed before a Court but work Pro Bono Publico, i.e., in the larger interests of the public and for their general welfare in good faith. Noted publicspirited citizens in India who have represented mass interests before the Supreme Court and other High Courts are M.C. Mehta and Subhas Dutta

[7] AIR 1981 SC 344.

[8] AIR 1982 SC 149

[9] M.P. Jain, “The Supreme Court and Fundamental Rights” in S.K. Verma and Kusum (eds), Fifty Years of the Supreme Court of India—Its Grasp and Reach (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2000), pp.1 and 76

[10] Art. 32 of the Indian Constitution.

[11] Basheshar Nath v. CIT AIR 1959 SC 149; See also, Nar Singh Pal v. Union of India AIR 2000 SC 1401.