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Introduction

  • Public Interest Litigation(PIL) is a legal measure that can be initiated in a court of law in the interest of nebulous entity or case in which the public or class of the community have 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 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.

Objectives

  • 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.

Challenges

  • 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.

Landmark cases

  • 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.

Way Forward

  • Court need to keep in mind that under the guise of redressing grievances, PIL does not breach the separation of power principle set by 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.

Conclusion

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.

The document Public Interest Litigation (PIL) | Indian Polity for UPSC CSE is a part of the UPSC Course Indian Polity for UPSC CSE.
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FAQs on Public Interest Litigation (PIL) - Indian Polity for UPSC CSE

1. What is Public Interest Litigation (PIL)?
Ans. Public Interest Litigation (PIL) is a legal mechanism that allows any individual or organization to file a petition in the court on behalf of the public interest or welfare. It enables citizens to raise concerns about issues that affect a large section of society, even if they are not personally affected. PIL plays a crucial role in addressing social, environmental, and administrative issues, and it aims to protect the rights of marginalized groups and ensure good governance.
2. How does Public Interest Litigation differ from other types of litigation?
Ans. Public Interest Litigation (PIL) differs from other types of litigation in several ways. Unlike traditional litigation that involves disputes between two parties, PIL focuses on issues that impact the public at large. PIL allows any individual or organization to file a petition on behalf of the public interest, even if they are not personally affected by the issue. Additionally, PIL enables the court to take suo motu cognizance, meaning the court can initiate proceedings on its own accord if it deems the matter to be of public importance.
3. What types of issues can be addressed through Public Interest Litigation?
Ans. Public Interest Litigation (PIL) can be used to address a wide range of issues that impact the public interest. Some common areas where PIL is frequently used include environmental concerns such as pollution and deforestation, protection of human rights, access to education and healthcare, corruption, gender equality, and administrative inefficiencies. PIL serves as a powerful tool to bring attention to systemic problems and seek remedies to safeguard the rights and well-being of the public.
4. How does Public Interest Litigation contribute to social change?
Ans. Public Interest Litigation (PIL) plays a significant role in driving social change by providing a platform for citizens to challenge unjust practices and bring attention to systemic issues. PIL petitions often result in landmark judgments that establish new legal precedents, setting the stage for policy changes and reforms. By highlighting issues of public importance, PIL creates awareness, mobilizes public opinion, and puts pressure on the government and other stakeholders to take necessary actions. It empowers marginalized groups and strengthens democracy by ensuring accountability and transparency in governance.
5. What are the challenges faced in Public Interest Litigation?
Ans. Public Interest Litigation (PIL) faces several challenges in its implementation. One of the primary challenges is the issue of locus standi, which refers to the legal right or standing to bring a case. In PIL, anyone can file a petition on behalf of the public interest, but this often leads to concerns about frivolous or motivated litigation. Additionally, PIL cases often require extensive research, resources, and expertise, making them inaccessible to marginalized communities. The backlog of cases in courts and delays in the judicial process also pose challenges in timely resolution of PIL matters. However, despite these challenges, PIL continues to be an important tool for social justice and change.
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