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Sansad TV: Milestones Series- PIL (Public Interest Litigation)





In simple words, means litigation filed in a court of law, for the protection of Public Interest, such as pollution, terrorism, road safety, constructional hazards 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 the public at large.

Public interest litigation:

  • It is the use of the law to advance human rights and equality, or raise issues of broad public concern.  It helps advance the cause of minority or disadvantaged groups or individuals.
  • Public interest cases may arise from both public and private law matters.  Public law concerns the various rules and regulations that govern the exercise of power by public bodies.
  • Private law concerns those cases in which a public body is not involved, and can be found in areas such as employment law or family law.
  • Public interest litigation is most commonly used to challenge the decisions of public authorities by judicial review.  Judicial review is a form of court proceeding in which a judge reviews the lawfulness of a decision or action, or a failure to act, by a public body.

PIL as a check on corruption, nepotism and bias:

  • The Supreme Court of India, in a case has iterated that “In an appropriate case, where the petitioner might have moved a court in her private interest and for redressal of the personal grievance, the court in furtherance of Public Interest may treat it a necessity to enquire into the state of affairs of the subject of litigation in the interest of justice. Thus a private interest case can also be treated as public interest case.
  • The first reported case of PIL, in 1979, focused on the inhuman conditions of prisons and under trial prisoners. In Hussainara Khatoon v. State of Bihar (AIR 1979 SC 1360) the PIL was filed by an advocate on the basis of the news item published in the Indian Express, highlighting the plight of thousands of undertrial prisoners languishing in various jails in Bihar.
    • These proceeding led to the release of more than 40, 000 undertrial prisoners. Right to speedy justice emerged as a basic fundamental right which had been denied to these prisoners. The same set pattern was adopted in subsequent cases.
  • In 1981, the case of Anil Yadav v. State of Bihar (AIR 1982 SC 1008) exposed the brutalities of the Police. Newspaper reports revealed that about 33 suspected criminals were blinded by the police in Bihar, by putting acid into their eyes.
    • Through interim orders, the Supreme Court directed the State Government to bring the blinded men to Delhi for medical treatment. It also ordered speedy prosecution of the guilty policemen. The court also read right to free legal aid as a fundamental right of every accused. Anil Yadav signalled the growth of social activism and investigative litigation.

Significance of PIL:

  • By creating a new regime of human rights by expanding the meaning of fundamental right to equality, life and personal liberty. In this process, the right to speedy trial, free legal aid, dignity, means and livelihood, education, housing, medical care, clean environment, right against torture, sexual harassment, solitary confinement, bondage and servitude, exploitation and so on emerge as human rights.
  • These new reconceptualized rights provide legal resources to activate the courts for their enforcement through PIL.
  • By democratization of access of justice. This is done by relaxing the traditional rule of locus standi. Any public spirited citizen or social action group can approach the court on behalf of the oppressed classes.
  • Courts attention can be drawn even by writing a letter or sending a telegram. This has been called epistolary jurisdiction.
  • By judicial monitoring of state institutions such as jails, women’s protective homes, juvenile homes, mental asylums, and the like. Through judicial invigilation, the court seeks gradual improvement in their management and administration.
  • This has been characterized as creeping jurisdiction in which the court takes over the administration of these institutions for protecting human rights.
  • PIL is working as an important instrument of social change. It is working for the welfare of every section of society. The innovation of this legitimate instrument proved beneficial for the developing country like India.
  • PIL has been used as a strategy to combat the atrocities prevailing in society. It’s an institutional initiative towards the welfare of the needy class of the society.
  • In Bandhu Mukti Morcha v. Union of India, SC ordered for the release of bonded laborers.
  • In Murli S. Dogra v. Union of India, court banned smoking in public places.
  • In a landmark judgement of Delhi Domestic Working Women’s Forum v. Union of India Supreme Court issued guidelines for rehabilitation and compensation for the rape on working women.
  • In Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan Supreme court has laid down exhaustive guidelines for preventing sexual harassment of working women in place of their work.


                In essence, 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. We may end with the hope once expressed by an eminent judge “The judicial activism gets its highest bonus when its orders wipe some tears from some eyes.


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