Public Interest Litigation

The Constitution of India has always had a strong opinion concerning the freedom it grants to its citizens intending to resolve their problems. One of the key divisions of the government is the authority that provides justice using the existing laws of the nation, that is the Judiciary. However, this comes with a huge unjust form of a caveat: Only those who have the money, power and time have been able to use the Judiciary to the fullest for their benefit. Incidentally, the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) as a process of approaching the Court, has opened the doors for several needy, saving them huge expenses in terms of both monetary and concerning time. It has also opened up opportunities for civil society organizations having bona fide interests and legitimate concern in other people’s needs to step up and take actions on their behalf, whether that be concerning farmer’s rights or any violence against womenfolk.(1)

Despite all the positives of this beneficial provision in the courts, there are several exemptions to this law, not to mention several malfunctions of this unique form of “Fast-Track court” system which shall be discussed below. Some of the key parts that will be covered are:

  1. History of PIL
  2. Significance of PIL
  3. Demerits of PIL
  4. Amendments to PIL
  5. Steps to apply for a PIL

History of PILs

Until the 1960s and well into the 70s, there was no presence of any equitable right of litigation. It was a fairly unheard concept because most litigants were understood to have entered the process of litigation for personal benefit. Additionally, it did not help a vast majority of marginalized people who could not afford the litigation process as it was too expensive or inaccessible due to their illiteracy.(2)

However, things took a drastic turn in the late 70s during the emergency period with the case of Hussainara Khatoon v. the State of Bihar[3)], Justice PN Bhagwati and Justice VR Krishna Iyer which changed the entire dynamics of the concept of Locus Standi (which essentially means the right or capacity of an action to be brought into court) and broadened the term.[4] This changed allowed for 3rd parties to represent an individual who could not or chose not to represent themselves and for the sake of public benefit, for example, consumer forums, social-action forums, etc.

Significance of PILs

PILs have indeed given the common people the capability to access the courts to obtain the justice they deserve. It has become an essential instrument of social progress and a new lease of sustaining the rule of law to stimulate a balance between the law and justice.

PILs have interestingly become an important tool in enforcing human rights to those who have been refused such rights. It democratizes the access of justice to all and allows for a tertiary representation for those who cannot or do not have the means to do. It has also proven useful in legally monitoring state institutions like prisons, asylums, protective homes, etc., to ensure no violation of fundamental rights.

Finally, one of the major uses of PILs has been as a medium on which the concept of judicial review can be implemented. It enhances the public support in judicial review of legislative action as the people, along with critics and jurists tend to accept the decisions of the Judiciary to a large extent.(5)

Demerits of PILs

There are some key demerits of having PILs in the legal system as well, with some of the disadvantages showing a real lacuna in a system that had a lacuna in the first place. Some of the key differences are as follows:

  • Opportunity for Frivolous cases: The PILs have unfortunately garnished a name for themselves as a source for frivolous cases to be charged, leading to disarray in the socio-political environment.[6] 
  • Shows Immobility and Inefficiency of courts: The very nature of PILs begin to question the process in which cases are being dealt with within the courts. Having a system of PIL clearly shows the weakness of the judiciary is unable to resolve legal matters more swiftly.
  • Causes State-Centre friction: One of the more disturbing aspects concerning the PILs is how this law can supersede some of the state high courts and jump to central supreme courts. This tends to cause issues between the two, especially if the government in the centre and the state are not the same.[7] This issue was majorly seen with the Vishakha case[8] but fortunately, the victims were given sufficient relief and the guidelines continue to set a benchmark
  • Withering away of Separation of Powers: Several jurists claim that though Judicial activism is done with bona fide intentions by the judges, particularly with PILs, have stepped on the toes of the executive and legislature and can be presumed to violate the separation of powers doctrine. This is extremely dangerous, as one of the key aspects of a Democracy like India is the fact that the Legislature, Executive and Judiciary are all distinct in their roles and functions, however, the role of the Judiciary in the case of suo moto PILs are of an Executive approach.

Amendments to PIL Rules

A very complex part about a PIL is the fact that there is no law or legislation of any kind for it to be effective.[9] It is mostly via a precedent or the discretion of a judge to provide for the PIL Litigation process. Due to the increasing number of frivolous, unnecessary or incorrect types of PILs, there have been some amendments to the existing process of deciding which are the cases that can be accepted, in the form of guidelines The Court, to permit a PIL has to be in order with the following details within their case:

  • The credentials of the applicant: The court will conduct a thorough credential check of the applicant to ensure that not only the individual coming through is legitimate but also their allegiance concerning the case. If they are in a position to gain or lose from the result of the case, their application will not be considered.[10]
  • The clear accuracy or nature of the knowledge submitted to the court: Another important aspect is the detail and depth of the application provided by the applicant of the PIL. If the applicant is bringing in already known facts about a case, bringing in frivolous or non-urgent into the court or/and factual inaccuracy in the case, then their application too may not be considered.[11]

Steps to Apply a PIL

  • Where can you file a PIL?: A PIL can be filed both in the High Court or the Supreme Court. It majorly depends on the circumstances and preferred jurisdiction of the concerned 3rd party. Both the levels of courts can take up the reviewing of a PIL Application.
  • If the case is filed in High Court: Here, the person would be required to submit two separate copies, having to submit one copy to the judge and another to the respondents, along with an attached copy of the grounds for petition.
  • If the case is filed in the Supreme Court: In this situation, the applicant will have to make five copies of the same post the acceptance of the notice in the first place.[12]
  • For what purposes can the PIL be filed?: There are mainly 4 major reasons for which a PIL can be filed, they are as follows:
      1. If there is a violation of moral rights or a violation of one of the Fundamental Rights.
      2. If there is a violation of the basic Human rights, concerning the needy, poor or illiterate etc
      3. If there is an order that needs to be issued for a municipal, district or state authority to conduct a public duty.
      4. If there is a need for an approved and accepted policy of the government to be executed.
  • Steps in the process of PIL application in the courts?: There has been no such precedent in a sense for a PIL as compared to that of any other case in a court. The judge will then look into the selected law or case at hand, for example, the process of requesting the government to pass an order for removing clutter from a sewer that has been due for a while. After looking into the PIL application, the court will either reject or accept the PIL. Once the case is held, the judge/s will look into the facts of the case, look into the laws and then provide the judgement accordingly.[13]


As discussed above, the benefits and significance of having PILs weigh the same as the demerits of PILs. Despite all the negativity that surrounds PILs, the nation should continue to have PILs. It is derived from one of the key parts of the constitution and scrapping PILs will not only show a sense of mistrust in the constitution but will also come with a backlash of pressure from regional, national and international well-wishers for the Indian constitution and its judiciary. The intentions of the Judges have always been for the best of the society as a whole, it has been majorly understood to be for the better. Hence, in the same sense, PILs deservedly need to be an integral part of the judiciary.


    1. Zachary Holladay, “Public Interest Litigation in India as a Paradigm for Developing Nations”, Volume 19, Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies (2012).
    2. Role of Environment in PIL protection in India, Legal Services India, available at: (last visited on 8th December 2020).
    3. 1979 SCR (3) 532.
    4. Id. at 2.
    5. Public Interest Litigation, VakilSearch, available at: (last visited on 8th December 2020).
    6. Express News Service, “Temple in the capital: Court dismisses PIL against Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam”, The New Indian Express, 1st December 2018, available at: (last visited on 9th December 2020).
    7. Ibid.
    8. Vishaka & Others v. State of Rajasthan, AIR 1997 SC 3011
    9. Id. at 7.
    10. Changes in Indian legal system with the introduction of Public Interest Litigation, Legal Services India, available at: (last visited on 9th December 2020).
    11. Supreme Court of India, Compilation of Guidelines to be followed for entertaining letters/petitions received, available at: (last visited on 9th December 2020).
    12. Id. at 5.
    13. Id. at 5.


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