Public Interest Litigation (PIL)


Public Interest Litigation, in Indian law, means litigation for the protection of public interest. It is litigation introduced in a court of law, not by the aggrieved party but by the court itself or by any other private party. It is not necessary, for the exercise of the court's jurisdiction, that the person who is the victim of the violation of his or her right should personally approach the court. Public Interest Litigation is the power given to the public by courts through judicial activism. Such cases may occur when the victim does not have the necessary resources to commence litigation or his freedom to move court has been suppressed or encroached upon. The court can itself take cognizance of the matter and precede suo motu or cases can commence on the petition of any public-spirited individual.

 PIL had begun in India towards the end of 1970s and came into full bloom in the 80s. Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer and Justice PM. Bhagwati, honourable Judges of the Supreme Court of India. They delivered some landmark judgements which opened up new vistas in PIL. According to Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer, PIL is a process, of obtaining justice for the people, of voicing people's grievances through the legal process. The aim of PIL is to give to the common people of this country access to the courts to obtain legal redress under Art 32 & Art 226 of the Constitution. According to Justice Bhagwati :

"PIL is not in the nature of adversary litigation but it is a challenge and an opportunity to the Government and its officers to make basic human rights meaningful to the deprived and vulnerable sections of the community and to assure them social and economic justice which is the significant tune of our Constitution.... when the court entertains PIL, it does not do so in a cavilling spirit or in a confrontational mood or with a view to tilting at executive authority or seeking to usurp it, but its attempt is only to ensure observance of social and economic rescue programmes, legislative as well as executive, framed for the benefit of the have-nots and the handicapped and to protect them against violation of their basic human rights, which is also the constitutional obligation of the executive. The court is thus merely assisting in the realization of the constitutional objective," (AIR 1984 SC 802)


The new and liberal interpretation of the fundamental rights found in Part III and the Directive Principles of State Policy in Part IV of the Constitution of India. They are drawn from the revolutionary documents like the American Bill of Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Articles 32 and 226 of the Constitution that give power to any citizen to move the Supreme Court or High Courts wherever there is an infringement of a fundamental right ? PIL’s are entertained on issues like basic amenities such as roads, water, medicines, electricity, primary school, primary health center, bus service, etc, Rehabilitation of displaced persons, Identification and rehabilitation of bonded and child labourers, Illegal detention of arrested persons, Torture of persons in police custody etc.


 The Supreme Court (SC), through its successive judgement's has relaxed the strict rule of 'locus standi' applicable to private litigation opening the possibility of any organization or even an individual to file PIL’s in large Public Interest. Therefore any person can file a PIL provided:

  • He is a member of the public acting bona fide and having sufficient interest in instituting an action for redressal of public wrong or public injury.
  • He is not a mere busy body or a meddlesome interloper.
  •  His action is not motivated by personal gain or any other oblique consideration.


  • The character of the Indian Constitution. Unlike Britain, India has a written constitution which through Part III (Fundamental Rights) and Part IV (Directive Principles of State Policy) provides a framework for regulating relations between the state and its citizens and between citizens inter-se.
  • India has some of the most progressive social legislation to be found anywhere in the world whether it be relating to bonded labor, minimum wages, land ceiling, environmental protection, etc. This has made it easier for the courts to haul up the executive when it is not performing its duties in ensuring the rights of the poor as per the law of the land.
  • The liberal interpretation of locus standi where any person can apply to the court on behalf of those who are economically or physically unable to come before it has helped. Judges themselves have in some cases initiated suo moto action based on newspaper articles or letters received.
  • Although social and economic rights given in the Indian Constitution under Part IV are not legally enforceable; courts have creatively read these into fundamental rights thereby making them judicially enforceable. For instance the "right to life" in Article 21 has been expanded to include right to free legal aid, right to live with dignity, right to education, right to work, freedom from torture, bar fetters and hand cuffing in prisons, etc.
  • Sensitive judges have constantly innovated on the side of the poor. for instance, in the Bandhua Mukti Morcha case in 1983, the Supreme Court put the burden of proof on the respondent stating it would treat every case of forced labor as a case of bonded labor unless proven otherwise by the employer. Similarly in the Asiad workers judgment case, Justice P.N. Bhagwati held that anyone getting less than the minimum wage can approach the Supreme Court directly without going through the labor commissioner and lower courts.
  • In PIL cases where the petitioner is not in a position to provide all the necessary evidence, either because it is voluminous or because the parties are weak socially or economically, courts have appointed commissions to collect information on facts and present it before the bench.


We at FIGBIRD CONSULTANTS with our panel of Advocates are experts in the area of Public Interest Lawyering and are well equipped in all respects to guide your NGO in espousing and pursuing Public Interest causes. Our services extend from High courts of the respective states and also the Supreme Court of India on a fair and consumerate/reasonable fees.  We have well trained lawyers who can partner with your NGO’s and make every effort you put in a success.

Figbird Consultants © 2014

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