Public Interest Litigation


Public Interest Litigation, as it has developed in the recent years, marks a significant departure of the traditional judicial proceedings. It was not a suddenly emerging concept. It was an idea, which was in the making for a long time, before it came into existence, resulting in vigorous growth in India. The Supreme Court takes over the main control of PIL. The court is considered as an institution which not only provide relief to the citizens, but also as a governing body which formulated the policy for PILs which the State has to follow.

The purpose of Public Interest Litigation is to make the basic fundamental rights meaningful to the deprived and vulnerable group of community and to assure them the social, economic and political justice, which is enshrined in the preamble of the constitution. It has been remarked in the case of “Bandhu Mukti Morcha vs. Union of India[1]”, that the number of people who are aware of the legal rights is very large than those who are aware of it. Therefore, the phenomenon of Public Interest Litigation plays a major role in serving the general public of India, as it helps them to safeguard their fundamental rights as provides them justice.

The concept and procedure has been kept simpler as the purpose which it serves is of great importance and much required. The idea of Public Interest Litigation has been widely appreciated, and has also been successful to the maximum in order to serve its purpose. As the scope of PIL widened, the misuse of PIL has taken an entry in the frame. The simple procedure so framed, has started to corrupt now and then.

There are number of cases which have been recorded as a misuse of PIL. Therefore, the Supreme Court, in a landmark case has laid down various guidelines, which are to be followed by the courts before entertaining a PIL.


The term “Public Interest” in the phrase Public Interest Litigation means the interest of the public at large, whereas the term “litigation” in the phrase means a legal action. Therefore, the general meaning of the term PIL can be extracted from its legal sense alone. It is nothing but a legal action taken, covering the issue of the public at large, for the welfare of the society. The definition of “Public Interest” can be extracted from Black’s Law Dictionary.

It defines Public Interest as “Something in which the public, the community at large, has some pecuniary interest, or some interest by which their legal rights or liabilities are affected. It does not mean anything so narrow as mere curiosity, or as the interests of the particular localities, which may be affected by the matters in question. Interest shared by citizens generally in affairs of local, state or national government”. [2]Therefore, PIL is nothing but litigation filed before the court of law to serve the welfare to the public at large.


The concept of PIL was introduced as instrument in order to safeguard the rights of public at large. Therefore, whenever, a violation of fundamental rights or any other legal rights are being violated of the public at large, the PIL can be filed before the High Court or the Supreme Court. In other words, when there is a public injury or harm caused by any public or state authority or when it is a question of basic human rights of the weaker section of the society, the PIL can be filed.


A Public Interest Litigation can be filed by anyone as the rule of Locus Standi‟ has been relaxed by the Supreme Court in various numbers of cases. By the term Locus Standi, it is stated that only the aggrieved person can file up a case before the court and this rule is kept silent in PIL as it questions the welfare of the public at large.


1. With regard to filing of a PIL, there is no statutory procedure of filing a PIL, but it has to be filed in a similar way as that of writs.

2. A PIL can be even in the form of letters or telegrams to the Chief Justice directly or through the PIL lawyer.

3. A PIL to be filed should be filed under Article 226 of Indian Constitution, if it is being filed before High Court and under Article 32, if it is filed before the Hon’ble Supreme Court.


i. The concept of PIL carries a lot of merits, but at the same time, India has faced various demerits in it and in order to find a solution to those demerits, appropriate steps have been taken.

ii. The main benefit of Public Interest Litigation is that it helps to serve the people at large. It is does not benefit the individual but instead it benefits the public and mainly the weaker section of the society, who cannot afford to move to the court in order to protect the Fundamental Right.

iii. Another benefit of PIL is that, it does not restrict any person to file a PIL. With regard to PIL is concerned, the Supreme Court has relaxed the rule of locus standi by which, any person can file a PIL irrespective of whether the person is an aggrieved person or not.

iv. The very next merits, which lies in this concept is that, a PIL can be filed directly to the High Court under Article 226 and to the Supreme Court under Article 32 and thus it lead speedy remedy rather than wasting time going through all the court as per the hierarchy.

v. Another benefit that can be identified on behalf of this concept is that the cost of filing a PIL is nominal in nature and therefore, even the poor people can file a PIL in case there is a violation of human rights or fundamental rights at large.

vi. One important benefit that lies with this concept is that, there are no limits or boundaries for the issue to be dealt with. A PIL can be for any purpose for example, environmental protection or for the welfare of the labours, provided the issue put forth should not be for personal gain instead it should be for the group of people at large.


Though, this doctrine has been of utmost importance, the misuse of it, is much obvious as it has a simple and cheaper procedure, but the Supreme Court has reduced the misuse of this doctrine by framing suitable guidelines, which are to be strictly followed by the courts before entertaining a petition of PIL. Thus, the doctrine of PIL has been preserved from being misused, and its efficacy is again retained.


[1] (1984) 3 SCC 161 [2] Black, Henry Campbell, “Black‟s Law Dictionary”, 6th edition, p.1229