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Introduction to

Public Interest Litigation

(from Health Care Case Law in India A Reader by CEHAT and ICHRL - pg. 199-200- edited by Adv. Mihir Deasi and Adv. Kamayani Bali Mahabal)


Public Interest Litigation is not defined in any statute or act. It has been interpreted by judges to consider the intent of public at large. Although, the main and only focus of such litigation is only `Public Interest' there are various areas where a Public Interest Litigation can be filed


Who can file:

Any public-spirited person can file a Public Interest Litigation case (PIL) on behalf of a group of persons, whose rights are affected. It is not necessary, that person filing a case should have a direct interest in this Public Interest Litigation. For example: A person in Mumbai can file a Public Interest Litigation for malnutrition deaths in Orissa. Someone can file a PIL in the Supreme Court for taking action against a cracker factory that's employing child labour. Any person can file a PIL on behalf of a group of affected people. However, it will depend on the facts of the case, whether it should be allowed or not.

The Supreme Court (SC), through its successive judgments has relaxed the strict rule of `locus standi' applicable to private litigation.


A PIL can be filed when the following conditions are fulfilled:

  • There must be a public injury and public wrong caused by the wrongful act or omission of the state or public authority.
  • It is for the enforcement of basic human rights of weaker sections of the community who are downtrodden, ignorant and whose fundamental and constitutional rights have been infringed.
  • It must not be frivolous litigation by persons having vested interests.



Against Whom :

A Public Interest Litigation can be filed only against a State j Central Government, Municipal Authorities, and not any private party. However a "Private party" can be included in the Public Interest Litigation as a "Respondent", after making the concerned State authority a party. For example, in the case of a private factory in Delhi, causing pollution, then people living in its vicinity or any other person can file a PIL against the Government of India, the State Pollution Board and also against the private factory.

However, a PIL cannot be filed against the private party alone; the concerned State Government, and State authority has to be made a party


Procedure in High Court:

A PIL is filed in a High court, and then two copies of the petition have to be filed. Also, an advance copy of the petition has to be served on the each respondent, i.e. opposite party, and this proof of service has to be affixed on the petition. In Supreme Court: If a PIL is filed in the Supreme Court, then (four + one) (i.e. five) sets of petition have to be filed. The opposite party is served the copy only when notice is issued


Court Fee:

A Court fee of Rs. So, per Respondent (i.e. for each number of opposite party, court fees of Rs. So) has to be affixed on the petition.


Steps Involved:

  1. Proceedings, in the PIL commence and carry on in the same manner, as other cases
  2. However, in between the proceedings if the judge feels he may appoint a commissioner, to inspect allegations like pollution being caused, trees being cut, sewer problems, etc
  3. After filing of replies, by opposite party, and rejoinder by the petitioner, final hearing takes place, and the judge gives his final decision.

How to file a PIL:

A PIL may be filed like a write petition. However, in the past the SC has treated even letters addressed to the court as PIL. In People's Democratic Union vs. Union of India, a letter addressed by the petitioner organization seeking a direction against the respondents for ensuring observance of the provisions of famous labour laws in relation to workmen employed in the construction work of projects connected with the Asian games was entertained as a PIL.

The SC has encouraged the filing of PIL for tackling issues related to environment, human rights etc.


Can a Letter Explaining Certain Facts to the Chief Justice be treated as a PIL?

In early ig9o's have there been instances, where judges have treated a post card containing facts, as a Public Interest Litigation For example a letter alleging the illegal limestone quarrying which devastated the fragile environment in the Himalayan foothills around Mussoorie, was treated as a PIL.


Present Scenario:

In the past, many people have tried to misuse the privilege of Pill's and thus now the Court generally requires a detailed narration of facts and complaint, & then decides whether to issue notice and call the opposite party. However, as there is no statute laying down rules and regulations for a PIL; the Court can treat a letter as a Public Interest Litigation, The letter should bring the true & clear facts, and if the matter is really an urgent one, the court can treat it is a PIL But still it depends upon facts and circumstances, and court has the entire discretion.


Strategies for PIL:

  1. The allegations against state and private party should be backed by reliable evidence, for eg in a PIL on malnutrition deaths you need reports indicating it and data of the state regarding child mortality rates from various government surveys. Research based evidence will hold well in a PIL.
  2. It will be good to make an NGO working on the issue a party to the petition, if there can be more than one organisation agreeing on an issue it will hold more ground in the court.
  3. A good lawyer with an experience in PILS will add advantage for the success of the PIL.