July 27, 2016

Nature of Public Interest Litigation

The term Public Interest Litigation (hereinafter referred as “PIL”) is not defined in any statutes or legislations. In general terms PILmeansa legal action initiated in the court of law for the protection of Public Interest. It includes the various public nuisances viz. Pollution, failure of Safety measures like Road Safety, constructional hazard, terrorism etc.

It may be a legal action initiated either by;
  1. the Court itself (Suo moto action), OR
  2. the aggrieved party, OR
  3. any third party

In case of Public Interest Litigation, it is not necessary that, the aggrieved party shall initiate the legal proceedings all the time. There may be occasions where the victim or the aggrieved party may not have proper guidance or resources to initiate or proceed with legal action to seek appropriate remedy.Considering these aspects, the concept of Public Interest Litigation was introduced. It is the power given to the general public by the courts through judicial activism.

In India, Article 32 of the Indian Constitution guarantees a right to move the Supreme Court by appropriate proceedings for the enforcement of the rights conferred by the Part III of the Indian Constitution. Though only the victims has the right to approach the court seeking remedy under Article 32, Justice PN Bhagwati, in his judgement S. P. Gupta v. Union of India, 1981 (Supp) SCC 87, articulated the concept of Public Interest Litigation as follows;

Where a legal wrong or a legal injury is caused to a person or to a determinate class of persons by reason of violation of any constitutional or legal right or any burden is imposed in contravention of any constitutional or legal provision or without authority of law or any such legal wrong or legal injury or illegal burden is threatened and such person or determinate class of persons by reasons of poverty, helplessness or disability or socially or economically disadvantaged position unable to approach the court for relief, any member of public can maintain an application for an appropriate direction, order or writ in the High Court under Article 226 and in case any breach of fundamental rights of such persons or determinate class of persons, in this court under Article 32 seeking judicial redress for the legal wrong or legal injury caused to such person or determinate class of persons.

Public Interest Litigation is not in the nature of adversary litigation but it is a challenge and an opportunity to the Government and its officers to make basic human rights meaningful to the deprived and vulnerable sections of the community and to assure them social and economic justice which is the significant tune of our Constitution.

Importance of Public Interest Litigation

  1. Public Interest Litigation paved way to a new regime of human rights by giving a wider interpretation to the right to equality, life and personal liberty guaranteed under Part III of the Indian Constitution. Some of the human rights emerged as a result of Public Interest Litigation are;Right to education, Right to live with dignity, Right to Clean environment, right to free legal aid and speedy trial, protection against sexual harassment at workplace etc.
  2. Introduction of Public Interest Litigation democratize the access of justice to common man. This was made by liberalizing the traditional rule of locus standi that, only aggrieved party can approach the court for seeking remedy. Now any public spirited person can seek remedy on behalf of the oppressed class by initiating a Public Interest Litigation.
  3. Public Interest Litigation has introduced new kinds of remedies OR reliefs under Writ Jurisdiction, such as interim compensation to the victim. Further, it may be noted that, initiating a Public Interest Litigation does not bar the aggrieved party from seeking any remedy under civil suit.
  4. Public Interest Litigation also functions as a tool for social change. In a developing country like India, PIL functions as an effective tool for the social welfare. It also functions as a monitoring tool to combat the atrocities existing in the society.


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