By Fen Mathew
India is a country of diversity with people belonging to the richest going down to very poor condition. Where the rich or the well-off have everything sorted out as they are in a respectful position in the society and they have a voice and stand to give out their concerns and opinions, the poor class have been and are still suffering to have a voice to stand out and bring up their concerns to the authorities.
But with the change in the Indian legal system and development of the judiciary, the tool of Public Interest Litigation (hereinafter as PIL) has proven to be helpful to bring up their concerns.
Where the poor or less privileged are unable to approach the judiciary to safeguard their rights, any individual or organization who cares for them can approach the judges through PILs on behalf of them.
This article will elaborate on how a PIL can be filed in the Supreme Court of India.
What is PIL?
Public interest litigation has not been defined in any statute or law but the Courts time and again have given meaning to it as litigation that is done with the intent to safeguard the rights of the public.
The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India has, in the case of Janata Dal Vs. H.S.Chaudhary, held that the expression ‘PIL’ means a legal action started in a Court of law for the enforcement of public/general interest where the public or a particular class of the public some interest (including pecuniary interest) that affects their legal rights or liabilities.
The expression Public Interest Litigation has been adopted from American culture where it was originally designed to provide representation to unrepresented groups such as the poor, minorities, people who were interested in the betterment of the public, environmental enthusiasts and this practice gained more popularisation in the Indian legal system.
What is the history of PIL?
The inception of public interest litigation was in the case of Mumbai Kamgar Sabha Vs. Abdul Thai. The case dealt with the payment of customary bonuses to the workers of a hardware store in Mumbai. The landmark judgment by Justice Krishna Iyer not only changed the industrial laws but also was the first step in recognizing public interest litigations.
The first-ever of public interest litigation was Hussainara Khatoon Vs. State of Bihar which focused on the inhuman conditions of trial prisoners in Bihar. It led to the release of 40,000 under-trial prisoners and laid down the foundation for PILs.
Justice P.N Bhagwati started a new era related to PILs in the case S.P. Gupta Vs. Union of India. In this case, it was held that “any member of the public or social action group acting Bonafide” can invoke writ jurisdiction of the Supreme Court under Article 32 and of High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution seeing redressal against violation of fundamental rights of persons who are unable to approach court due to financial or social disabilities.
By this judgment, any individual, organization, social action group could approach the court seeking legal remedies in all the cases where the interest of general public or any section of society was compromised.
Justice Bhagwati even gave away with procedural technicalities and stated that letters from individuals can also be treated as a writ petition.
After the establishment of PILs as a clear procedure that was accepted by the courts, many landmark judgements came into existence which started as a Public Interest Litigation.
Landmark judgements relating to PIL
- Vishaka Vs. State of Rajasthan – The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013
This case became a landmark to prevent sexual harassment of woman at workplace. Bhanwari Devi, a woman belonging from Bhateri, Rajasthan raised her voice against the illegal practice of child marriage and she faced criticism from her village and her own family.
Following that she was brutally raped by some men of her village. Her rapists were acquitted without proper investigation and there was backlash from many groups that stood for women rights.
Later an organisation called Vishaka filed a PIL raising the issue of protection of women at workplace and the protection of fundamental rights mentioned under Articles 14, 15 and 21. This was later enacted into The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.
- M.C Mehta Vs. Union of India – Cleaning the Ganga River
M.C Mehta, an attorney who started his career during the 80s made the best use of PILs in fighting the case that mainly focused on environmental issues. His case of M.C Mehta Vs. Union of India, against the tanneries in Kanpur that used to throw their waste in river Ganga and the civic authorities had no check on the same had a huge effect.
This judgment deemed useful in many cities where the big tanneries would flow the was the into rivers harming the environment.
- Parmanand Katara Vs. Union of India – Accident victims not attended by Doctors
In this case, a human right activist, Parmanand Katara filed a PIL in Supreme Court after reading a news talking about the death of scooterist who was hit by speeding car and he was not attended by the doctors due to the fear of legal proceedings.
After this case, the Court held that human was life is of paramount importance and it is the duty of doctors and other public servants to make sure nothing comes between it. The Court made sure that the injured got immediate help and there was no need of legal procedures.
Who can file a PIL and against whom it can be filed?
PIL can be filed by an individual or a group of activists or any other organisation who works for the welfare of people who are lacking resources and require help to raise their concerns to apex Court of the country.
The only factor that matters is that they should be filed with Bonafide intention and not to waste the time of the Court.
The PIL can be filed against a State/ Central Govt., Municipal Authorities, and not any private party. The state will include all the authorities that are mentioned under Article 12 of the constitution which include central government and parliament of India, state governments and their legislatures, all local or other authorities within the territory of India or under the control of the Government of India.
What is the procedure of filing a Public Interest Litigation?
PILs are mainly filed to protect the fundamental rights of the citizens or to seek redressal of fundamental rights that have been infringed by the state which includes all the bodies that come under the definition of state given in Article 12 of the Constitution.
Since the intent of PIL is the safeguard of fundamental right, it can be filed at the Supreme Court under Article 32 of the Constitution and at High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution.
Before filing a PIL, the petitioner should thoroughly investigate the matter and if it is related to many people, he should consult all the people. Once he has decided to file the PIL, he should collect all the relevant evidences and documents that will strengthen his PIL.
If the PIL is filed in Supreme Court, then five copies of the petition have to be submitted in the Court. The copy of the PIL is sent to the respondent only when a notice is issued by the court for it. Each defendant mentioned in PIL has to pay Rs 50 as Court fee and it has to be mentioned in the PIL.
Once it is filed, it is only the Chief Justice of India that can accept the PILs that are presented before the Supreme Court.
PILs have proven to be effective in many cases which involve the question of fundamental rights of under privileged people of the society and they continue to give justice to them. But with the increasing popularity of PILs, they many a times are used in frivolous manner which tend to waste he time of Courts and deviate them from real and important matters.
There are many times that they create conflicting interests where the betterment of one section of group might affect another under privileged grip in adverse manner.
- Janata Dal Vs. H.S.Chaudhary 1992 4 SCC 305 ↑
- Mumbai Kamgar Sabha Vs. Abdul Thai 1976 (3) SCC 832 ↑
- Hussainara Khatoon Vs. State of Bihar 1979 AIR 1369, 1979 SCR (3) 532 ↑
- S.P. Gupta Vs. Union of India 1981 Supp SCC 87 ↑
- Vishaka Vs. State of Rajasthan (1997) 6 SCC 241 ↑
- M.C Mehta Vs. Union of India  4 SCC 463 ↑
- Parmanand Katara Vs. Union of India (1995) 3 SCC 248 ↑