Public Interest Litigation (PIL)
“Law without justice is wound without care.”
- Public Interest Litigation(PIL) is a legal measure that can be initiated in a court of law in the interest of a nebulous entity or case in which the public or class of the community has a pecuniary interest or some interest by which their legal rights or liabilities are affected. It is the power given through judicial activism.
- Any citizen can approach the court by filing litigation under Article 32 of the Constitution to the Supreme Court, under article 226 of the Constitution to the High Court and under Section 133 of CRPC to the Court of Magistrate.
- The efforts of Justice P.N.Bhagwati and Justice V.R.Krishna Iyer played a key role in bringing this juristic revolution.
- The principles enshrined in Article 39A (Equal justice and free legal aid) of the Constitution are in consonance with the concept of PIL.
- PIL can be filed against the state or central government, municipal authorities, and not any private party. Definition of the state is as given in Article 12 of the Constitution.
- To secure equal access to justice for common people, especially destitute, underprivileged masses.
- To broaden the issue that affected classes of consumers and the public at large.
- Rejecting the laissez-faire notion of the traditional justice system.
- To make the judicial process more democratic through awareness, assertiveness and resources for judicial redressal.
Categories that will be entertained as PIL
- Matters related to bonded labour.
- Matters related to neglected children.
- Non-payment of minimum wages to workers.
- Complaints related to harassment, death in jail, speedy trial etc.
- Petitions against police for not filing a case, harassment of bride, rape, murder, kidnapping etc.
- Litigation against atrocities on women.
- Complaints related to harassment of SC/ST people.
- Petition pertaining to the environment.
Pros of PIL
- It is a measure that instrumentalises free legal right by giving inexpensive remedy at a nominal rate of court fees.
- The court can focus on larger public interests involving issues related to human rights, environment and consumer welfare.
- When the executive is not performing its duties properly, the judiciary can haul up them.
- Provides check and balance against arbitrary and mala fide use of executive discretion.
- Court orders appointed commission can investigate the matters where the petitioner is socially or economically weak and unable to provide evidence to support his case.
- Poor and exploited people can obtain justice because of radical changes and alterations made in locus standi requirements.
- Provides legal representation to previously unrepresented voices.
Cons of PIL
- It became an instrument of harassing innocents because of frivolous cases that can be filed at nominal fee charges.
- Because of relaxation in locus standi requirements, privately motivated interests pose as public interests.
- Criticism against the judiciary, for judicial overreach and passing of orders that are unable to implement effectively.
- Delayed justice because of the addition of frivolous PIL to already overburdened judiciary.
- Abuse by political pressure groups, NGOs influenced with external interests etc. blocking the developmental process.
- Rampant misuse of PIL than its genuine use has generated suspicion in the disguise of so-called public interests.
- Delay in legitimate administrative actions for obtaining political gain by some political pressure groups.
- No clear way to find out vested aims and interests.
- Still, many people are unaware of the mechanism and procedure to file it, limiting its utility.
- Hussainara Khatoon vs. the State of Bihar: It is considered as the first case of PIL in India. It was filed by various prisoners of Bihar jail. Supreme court bench headed by Justice P.N.Bhagwati upheld that prisoners should have access to free legal aid and fast hearing.
- People’s Union for Democratic Rights vs. Union of India: In this case, the Supreme court held that a third party could seek intervention directly through a letter or other means in case another party’s fundamental rights are violated.
- DC Wadhwa vs. State of Bihar (1986): Petition was filed by a professor of political science to ensure proper implementation of Constitutional provision. He challenged the practice of re-promulgation of ordinances without getting it passed by the legislature.
- C.Mehta vs. Union of India(1988): PIL was filed to prevent Ganga water pollution. Supreme Court, in this case, recognized the right to a healthy environment as a fundamental right under Article 21.
- Shreya Singhal vs. Union of India: This was a landmark case for freedom of speech. Supreme Court quashed section 66A which had some arbitrary provision acting against free speech.
- Court need to keep in mind that under the guise of redressing grievances, PIL does not breach the separation of power principle set by the Constitution.
- Introduce punishment for those who abuse the power given by PIL.
- The petitioner should be taken into account and proper mechanism should be drawn to ensure responsibility.
- The long-pending decisions should not hinder the development process or be responsible for red-tapism.
- The fast-tracking mechanism can be availed for pending litigations.
PIL is playing key role in bringing social change. It is an institutional innovation for the welfare of society. Looking at changing needs of the time, PIL machinery is undergoing reconstruction or rethinking for development prospects so that deserving people should be awarded justice and those who misuse should be punished.