Public Interest Litigation

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By: Kiran Sona Puthan


Public Interest Litigation (PIL) is a method or technique that tends to focus on the country’s citizens. PIL is to protect the people of the country, which is the primary goal of this line of jurisprudence.

PIL is a process that allows a single person or a group of people, to file for litigation. This person or group of people may directly file interest litigation with the Supreme Court. In addition to the Supreme Court of India, the High Courts and Judicial Members can also accept litigation files.

Furthermore, it is critical to note that the person or people filing the petition should have no vested interest in the litigation. In other words, the petitioners should not file a litigation petition with a personal agenda in mind. Only when there is a strong public interest does the Court accept the case.

The Supreme Court has recently relaxed the traditional ‘locus standii’ rule that a person whose right is infringed alone can file a petition. In India, the court now allows PIL at the request of public-spirited citizens for the enforcement of constitutional legal rights. Any public-spirited citizen can now move/approach the court for a public cause by filing a petition:

  1. in the Supreme Court under Article 32 of the Constitution;
  2. in the High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution; and
  3. in the Court of Magistrate under Section 133 of the Cr. P.C.

It is essentially a new legal framework within which a court of law can initiate and enforce action to serve and secure significant public interest. This judicial activism initiative has provided new opportunities for the poor and destitute. This is unquestionably a low-cost means of judicial consolation for those in need.


In December 1979, Kapila Hingorani petitioned the court about the conditions of the prisoners detained in the Bihar jail, whose cases were pending. This petition was unique in that it was not filed by a single prisoner, but rather by a group of prisoners from the Bihar jail. The case was heard in the Supreme Court by a bench led by Justice Krishnam Malhotra. As, the petition was filed in the name of one of the prisoners, Husnara Khatoon, the case became known as Husnara Khatoon vs. the State of Bihar. The Supreme Court ruled that prisoners should be entitled to free legal representation and expedited hearings. As a result, 40,000 prisoners whose cases were pending in court were released.

The Supreme Court of India defined the term “public interest litigation” in the Indian context in the case of SP Gupta vs Union of India. The concept of PIL in India is consistent with the principles enshrined in Article 39A of the Indian Constitution to protect and deliver prompt social justice through the use of the law. Before the 1980s, only the aggrieved party could seek justice in the courts.

Following the end of the emergency, the high court reached out to the public, establishing a procedure for any member of the public (or an NGO) to approach the court seeking legal redress in cases where the public interest is at stake.

Importance of PIL

Public interest litigation has a broader scope in terms of promoting the right to equality.

  • It not only promotes equality but also ensures the right to life and personal identity.

  • PIL is solely responsible for providing writ jurisdiction, relief, and remedies.
  • The practice of public interest litigation serves as an effective tool for changing society and ensuring welfare.
  • Furthermore, anyone can seek redress on behalf of the underprivileged class by filing a PIL.

Scope of PIL

  • Make the Indian societal law clear.
  • Holding the public accountable by requiring them to make appropriate decisions, act fairly and transparently within their legal authority.
  • Assist in the development of the law by allowing judges to accurately interpret the legislation.
  • Giving vulnerable people a platform to protect and exercise their rights.
  • Raise public awareness of societal issues, encourage public debate, and improve media accuracy.

Setbacks of PIL

Genuine causes and cases of public interest have indeed receded into the background, and irresponsible PIL activists all over the country have begun to play a significant but non-constructive role in the arena of litigation. Many activists have discovered the PIL to be a useful tool of harassment because frivolous cases could be filed without the investment of large court fees required in private civil litigation, and deals could then be negotiated with the victims of stay orders obtained in so-called PILs.

The procedural flexibility that characterises PIL articles in India has given rise to a new set of issues. It allows opposing parties to determine the specific allegation and respond to specific issues. The credibility of the PIL process is now being harmed by an increase in the number of PILs filed by people agitating for private grievances in the name of public interest and seeking publicity rather than the public cause.


To prevent the abuse of the PIL article, the Supreme Court has issued guidelines on the governance, management, and disposal of PILs. The court must exercise caution to ensure that the petitioner who approaches it is acting in good faith and not for personal gain, private profit, political or other oblique considerations. The court should not allow politicians and others to use its process to delay legitimate administrative action or to satisfy malicious or personal political intentions.

There may be cases where the PIL affects the rights of people who are not before the court; therefore, when crafting the relief, the court must consider its impact on those who are not before the court and must follow a procedure that ensures adequate notice to all interests that are likely to be affected.

Although public litigation in India is an exceptional remedy that is available at a lower cost to all citizens of the country, it should not be used by all litigants as a substitute for ordinary ones or as a means to file insignificant complaints.

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