Public interest Litigation (PIL) means litigation filed in a court of law, for the protection of “Public Interest”, such as Pollution, Terrorism, Road safety, Constructional hazards etc. Any matter where the interest of public at large is affected can be redressed by filing a Public Interest Litigation in a court of law.
The expression ‘Public Interest Litigation’ has been borrowed from American jurisprudence, where it was designed to provide legal representation to previously unrepresented groups like the poor, the racial minorities, unorganised consumers, citizens who were passionate about the environmental issues, etc.
Public interest litigation is not defined in any statute or in any act. It has been interpreted by judges to consider the intent of public at large.
Public interest litigation is the power given to the public by courts through judicial activism. However, the person filing the petition must prove to the satisfaction of the court that the petition is being filed for a public interest and not just as a frivolous litigation by a busy body.
The court can itself take cognizance of the matter and proceed suo motu or cases can commence on the petition of any public spirited individual.
Some of the matters which are entertained under PIL are:
○Bonded Labour matters
○Non-payment of minimum wages to workers and exploitation of casual workers
○Atrocities on women
○Environmental pollution and disturbance of ecological balance
○Maintenance of heritage and culture
Who Can File a PIL and Against Whom?
Any citizen can file a public case by filing a petition:
Under Art 32 of the Indian Constitution, in the Supreme Court.
Under Art 226 of the Indian Constitution, in the High Court.
Under sec. 133 of the Criminal Procedure Code, in the Court of Magistrate.
However, the court must be satisfied that the Writ petition fulfils some basic needs for PIL as the letter is addressed by the aggrieved person, public spirited individual and a social action group for the enforcement of legal or Constitutional rights to any person who are not able to approach the court for redress.
A Public Interest Litigation can be filed against a State/ Central Govt., Municipal Authorities, and not any private party. The definition of State is the same as given under Article 12 of the Constitution and this includes the Governmental and Parliament of India and the Government and the Legislature of each of the States and all local or other authorities within the territory of India or under the control of the Government of India.
Significance of PIL
- The aim of PIL is to give to the common people access to the courts to obtain legal redress.
- PIL is an important instrument of social change and for maintaining the Rule of law and accelerating the balance between law and justice.
- The original purpose of PILs have been to make justice accessible to the poor and the marginalised.
- It is an important tool to make human rights reach those who have been denied rights.
- It democratises the access of justice to all. Any citizen or organisation who is capable can file petitions on behalf of those who cannot or do not have the means to do so.
- It helps in judicial monitoring of state institutions like prisons, asylums, protective homes, etc.
- It is an important tool for implementing the concept of judicial review.
- Enhanced public participation in judicial review of administrative action is assured by the inception of PILs.
Certain Weaknesses of PIL
PIL actions may sometimes give rise to the problem of competing rights. For instance, when a court orders the closure of a polluting industry, the interests of the workmen and their families who are deprived of their livelihood may not be taken into account by the court.
- It could lead to overburdening of courts with frivolous PILs by parties with vested interests. PILs today has been appropriated for corporate, political and personal gains. Today the PIL is no more limited to problems of the poor and the oppressed.
- Cases of Judicial Overreach by the Judiciary in the process of solving socio-economic or environmental problems can take place through the PILs.
- PIL matters concerning the exploited and disadvantaged groups are pending for many years. Inordinate delays in the disposal of PIL cases may render many leading judgments merely of academic value.
Public Interest Litigation has produced astonishing results which were unthinkable three decades ago. Degraded bonded labourers, tortured under trials and women prisoners, humiliated inmates of protective women’s home, blinded prisoners, exploited children, beggars, and many others have been given relief through judicial intervention.
The greatest contribution of PIL has been to enhance the accountability of the governments towards the human rights of the poor.
The PIL develops a new jurisprudence of the accountability of the state for constitutional and legal violations adversely affecting the interests of the weaker elements in the community.
However, the Judiciary should be cautious enough in the application of PILs to avoid Judicial Overreach that are violative of the principle of Separation of Power.
Besides, the frivolous PILs with vested interests must be discouraged to keep its workload manageable.