14 January 2011

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What is Public Interest Litigation? Know Guidelines on Public Interest Litigation given by Supreme Court of India –

What is Public Interest Litigation? Know Guidelines on Public Interest Litigation given by Supreme Court of India –


Public Interest Litigation has been defined in the

Black's Law Dictionary (6th Edition) as under:-

"Public Interest - 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...."

Advanced Law Lexicon has defined `Public Interest Litigation' as under:-
"The expression `PIL' means a legal action initiated in a Court of law for the enforcement of public interest or general interest in which the public or a class of the community has pecuniary interest or some interest by which their legal rights or liabilities are affected."

The Council for Public Interest Law set up by the Ford Foundation in USA defined "public interest litigation" in its report of Public Interest Law, USA, 1976 as follows:

"Public Interest Law is the name that has been given to efforts provides legal representation to previously unrepresented groups and interests.
Such efforts have been undertaken in the recognition that ordinary market place for legal services fails to provide such services to significant segments of the population and to significant interests.
Such groups and interests include the proper environmentalists, consumers, racial and ethnic minorities and others." (M/s Holicow Pictures Pvt. Ltd. v. Prem Chandra Mishra & Ors. - AIR 2008 SC 913, para 19).

People's Union for Democratic Rights & Others v. Union of India & Others (1982) 3 SCC 235 defined
`Public Interest Litigation' and observed that the "Public interest litigation is a cooperative or collaborative effort by the petitioner, the State of public authority and the judiciary to secure observance of constitutional or basic human rights, benefits and privileges upon poor, downtrodden and vulnerable sections of the society".


The origin and evolution of Public Interest Litigation in India emanated from realization of constitutional obligation by the Judiciary towards the vast sections of the society - the poor and the marginalized sections of the society. This jurisdiction has been created and carved out by the judicial creativity and craftsmanship.

In M. C. Mehta & Another v. Union of India & Others AIR 1987 SC 1086, this

Court observed that Article 32 does not merely confer power on this Court to issue direction, order or writ for the enforcement of fundamental rights.

Instead, it also lays a constitutional obligation on this Court to protect the fundamental rights of the people.
The court asserted that, in realization of this constitutional obligation, "it has all incidental and ancillary powers including the power to forge new remedies and fashion new strategies designed to enforce
The fundamental rights".

The Court realized that because of extreme poverty, a large number of sections of society cannot approach the court.

The fundamental rights have no meaning for them and in order to preserve and protect the fundamental rights of the marginalized section of society by judicial innovation, the courts by judicial innovation and creativity

Started giving necessary directions and passing orders in the public interest.

The development of public interest litigation has been extremely significant development in the history of the Indian jurisprudence.

The decisions of the Supreme Court in the 1970's loosened the strict locus standi requirements to permit filing of petitions on behalf of marginalized and deprived sections of the society by public spirited individuals, institutions and/or bodies.
The higher Courts exercised wide powers given to them under Articles 32 and 226 of the Constitution.
The sort of remedies sought from the courts in the public interest litigation goes beyond award of remedies to the affected individuals and groups.
In suitable cases, the courts have also given guidelines and directions.
The courts have monitored implementation of legislation and even formulated guidelines in absence of legislation.
If the cases of the decades of 70s and 80s are analyzed, most of the public interest litigation cases which were entertained by the courts are pertaining to enforcement of fundamental rights of marginalized and deprived sections of the society.
This can be termed as the first phase of the public interest litigation in India.

In The Mumbai Kamgar Sabha, Bombay v. Abdulbhai
Faizullabhai & Others AIR 1976 SC 1455, this Court made
Conscious efforts to improve the judicial access for the
Masses by relaxing the traditional rule of locus standi.

In Anil Yadav & Others v. State of Bihar and Bachcho Lal Das, Superintendent, Central Jail, Bhagalpur, Bihar (1982) 2 SCC 195, a petition was filed regarding blinding of under- trial prisoners at Bhagalpur in the State of Bihar.
According to the allegation, their eyes were pierced with needles and acid poured into them. The Court had sent a team of the Registrar and Assistant Registrar to visit the Central Jail, Bhagalpur and submit a report to the Court. The Court passed comprehensive orders to ensure that such barbarous and inhuman acts are not repeated.

In Sheela Barse v. State of Maharashtra AIR 1983 SC 378, Sheela Barse, a journalist, complained of custodial violence to women prisoners in Bombay. Her letter was treated as a writ petition and the directions were given by
The court.
In Avinash Mehrotra v. Union of India & Others (2009) 6 SCC 398, a public interest litigation was filed, when 93 children were burnt alive in a fire at a private school in Tamil Nadu. This happened because the school did not have the
Minimum safety standard measures.
The court, in order to protect future tragedies in all such schools, gave directions that it is the fundamental right of each and every child to Receive education free from fear of security and safety, hence the Government should implement National Building Code and comply with the said orders in constructions of schools for children.

Where the court relaxed the rule of locus standi is the first phase of the public interest litigation.

The public interest litigation is the product of realization of the constitutional obligation of the court.

The public interest litigation is an extremely important jurisdiction exercised by
The Supreme Court and the High Courts.

Large section of the society because of extreme poverty, ignorance, discrimination

And illiteracy had been denied justice for time immemorial and in fact they have no access to justice.

Pre-dominantly, to provide access to justice to the poor, deprived, vulnerable,
Discriminated and marginalized sections of the society, this court has initiated, encouraged and propelled the public interest litigation.

The High Courts exercised similar jurisdiction under article 226 of the Constitution.
The courts expanded the meaning of right to life and liberty

Guaranteed under article 21 of the Constitution.
The rule of locus standi was diluted and the traditional meaning of
`Aggrieved person' was broadened to provide access to justice to a very large section of the society which was otherwise not getting any benefit from the judicial system.

This as the first phase or the golden era of the public interest litigation.

In case of Akhil Bharatiya Soshit Karamchari Sangh (Railway) v. Union of India & Others AIR 1981 SC 298 at page 317, held that our current processual jurisprudence is not of individualistic Anglo-Indian mould.
It is broad-based and people-oriented, and envisions access to justice through `class actions', `public interest litigation', and representative proceedings'.
Indeed, little Indians in large numbers seeking remedies in courts through collective proceedings, instead of being driven to an expensive plurality of litigations, is an affirmation of participative justice in our democracy.
We have no hesitation in holding that the Narrow concepts of `cause of action', `person aggrieved' and individual litigation are becoming obsolescent in some jurisdictions.

Public interest litigation 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 signature tune of our Constitution.

In Fertilizer Corporation Kamagar Union (Regd., Sindri & Others v. Union of India & Others AIR 1981 SC 844, this court observed that "public interest litigation is part of the process of participative justice and `standing' in civil
Litigation of that pattern must have liberal reception at the judicial doorsteps".

In Ramsharan Autyanuprasi & Another v. Union of India
& others AIR 1989 SC 549, this court observed that the public
Interest litigation is for making basic human rights
Meaningful to the deprived and vulnerable sections of the
Community and to assure them social, economic and political justice.

The second phase of public interest litigation started sometime in the 1980's and it related to the courts' innovation and creativity, where directions were given to protect ecology and environment.

As a matter of fact, the Supreme Court has a regular Forest Bench (Green Bench) and regularly passes orders and directions regarding various forest cover, illegal mining, destruction of marine life and wild life etc.

In the second phase, the Supreme Court under Article 32 and the High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution passed a number of orders and directions in this respect.

The recent example is the conversion of all public transport in the Metropolitan City of Delhi from diesel engine to CNG engine on the basis of the order of the High Court of Delhi to ensure that the pollution level is curtailed and this is being completely observed for the last several years.
Only CNG vehicles are permitted to ply on Delhi roads for public transport.

In Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra, Dehradun & Others v. State of U.P. & Others AIR 1985 SC 652 the Supreme Court ordered closure of all lime-stone quarries in the Doon Valley taking notice of the fact that lime-stone quarries and
excavation in the area had adversely affected water springs and environmental ecology.

Environmental PIL has emerged because of the court's interpretation of Article 21 of the Constitution.
The court in Chhetriya Pardushan Mukti Sangharsh Samiti v. State of U.P.& Others AIR 1990 SC 2060 observed that every citizen has fundamental right to have the enjoyment of quality of life and living as contemplated by Article 21 of the Constitution of India.
Anything which endangers or impairs by conduct of anybody either in violation or in derogation of laws, that
quality of life and living by the people is entitled to take recourse to Article 32 of the Constitution.

Subhash Kumar v. State of Bihar & Others AIR 1991 SC 420 observed that under Article 21 of the Constitution people have the right of enjoyment of pollution free water and air for full enjoyment of life.
If anything endangers or impairs that quality of life in derogation of laws, a citizen has right to have recourse to Article 32 of the Constitution for removing the pollution of water or air which may be detrimental to the quality of life.

The courts because of vast destruction of environment, ecology, forests, marine life, wildlife etc. etc. gave directions in a large number of cases in the larger public interest. The courts made a serious endeavour to protect and preserve ecology, environment, forests, hills, rivers, marine life, wildlife etc. etc.
This can be called the second phase of the public interest litigation in India.


In the 1990's, the Supreme Court expanded the ambit and scope of public interest litigation further.
The High Courts also under Article 226 followed the Supreme Court and passed a number of judgments, orders or directions to unearth corruption and maintain probity and morality in the governance of the State.
The probity in governance is a sine qua non for an efficient system of administration and for the development of the country and an important requirement for ensuring probity in governance is the absence of corruption.
This may broadly be called as the third phase of the Public Interest Litigation.

M. C. Mehta v. Union of India & Others (2007) 1 SCC 110, a project known as "Taj Heritage Corridor Project" was initiated by the Government of Uttar Pradesh.
One of the main purpose for which the same was undertaken was to divert the River Yamuna and to reclaim 75 acres of land between Agra Fort and the Taj Mahal and use the reclaimed land for constructing food plazas, shops and amusement activities.
The Court directed for a detailed enquiry which was carried out by the Central Bureau of
Investigation (CBI).
On the basis of the CBI report, the Court directed registration of FIR and made further investigation in the matter.
The court questioned the role played by the concerned Minister for Environment, Government of Uttar Pradesh and the Chief Minister, Government of Uttar Pradesh. By the intervention of this Court, the said project was stalled.

In M. C. Mehta v. Union of India & Others (2007) 12 SCALE 91, in another public interest litigation, a question was raised before the court whether the Apex Court should consider the correctness of the order passed by the Governor of Uttar Pradesh refusing to grant sanction for prosecution of the Chief Minister and Environment Minister after they were found responsible in `Taj Heritage Corridor Project". It was held that the judiciary can step in where it finds the actions on the part of the legislature or the executive to be illegal or unconstitutional.

USA and Public Interest Litigation - in short

The US Supreme Court realized the constitutional obligation of reaching to all segments of society particularly the black Americans of African origin. The courts' craftsmanship and innovation is reflected in one of the most
celebrated path-breaking judgment of the US Supreme Court in Oliver Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka 347 U.S. 483, 489-493 (1954). Perhaps, it would accomplish the constitutional obligation and goal. In this case, the courts have carried out their own investigation and in the judgment it is observed that "Armed with our own investigation" the courts held that all Americans including Americans of African origin can study in all public educational institutions. This was the most significant development in the history of American judiciary.

The Supreme court has devised a number of strategies to ensure that the attractive brand name of public interest litigation should not be allowed to be used for suspicious products of mischief.

Firstly, the Supreme Court has limited standing in PIL to individuals "acting bonafide."

Secondly, the Supreme Court has sanctioned the imposition of "exemplary costs" as a deterrent against frivolous and vexatious public interest litigations.

Thirdly, the Supreme Court has instructed the High Courts to be more
selective in entertaining the public interest litigations.

Court has excluded two groups of persons from obtaining
standing in PIL petitions. First, the Supreme Court has
rejected awarding standing to "meddlesome interlopers".

Second, the Court has denied standing to interveners bringing public interest litigation for personal gain.

In Neetu v. State of Pubjab & Others AIR 2007 SC 758, the Court concluded that it is necessary to impose exemplary costs to ensure that the message goes in the right direction that petitions filed with oblique motive do
not have the approval of the Courts.

In J. Jayalalitha v. Government of Tamil Nadu & Others (1999) 1 SCC 53, this court laid down that public interest litigation can be filed by any person challenging the misuse or improper use of any public property including the political party in power for the reason that interest of individuals cannot be placed above or preferred to a larger public interest.

Case law in Canadian Courts and U.S. Federal Courts exhibits that the imposition of monetary penalties upon frivolous public interest claims is not unique to Indian jurisprudence.

Supreme court has issued following directions regarding Public Interest Litigation –

In order to preserve the purity and sanctity of the PIL, it has become imperative to issue the following directions:-

1. The courts must encourage genuine and bona fide PIL and effectively discourage and curb the PIL filed for extraneous considerations.

2. Instead of every individual judge devising his own procedure for dealing with the public interest litigation, it would be appropriate for each High Court to properly formulate rules for encouraging the genuine PIL and discouraging the PIL filed with oblique motives. Consequently, we request that the High Courts who have not yet framed the rules, should frame the rules within three months. The Registrar General of each High Court is directed to ensure that a copy of the Rules prepared by the High Court is sent to the Secretary General of this court immediately thereafter.

3. The courts should prima facie verify the credentials of the petitioner before entertaining a P.I.L.

4. The court should be prima facie satisfied regarding the correctness of the contents of the petition before entertaining a PIL.

5. The court should be fully satisfied that substantial public interest is involved before entertaining the petition.

6. The court should ensure that the petition which involves larger public interest, gravity and urgency must be given priority over other petitions

7. The courts before entertaining the PIL should ensure that the PIL is aimed at redressal of genuine public harm or public injury. The court should also ensure that there is no personal gain, private motive or oblique motive behind filing the public interest litigation.

8. The court should also ensure that the petitions filed by busybodies for extraneous and ulterior motives must be discouraged by imposing exemplary costs or by adopting similar novel methods to curb frivolous petitions and the petitions filed for extraneous considerations.

Reality views by sm –
Friday, January 14, 2011

Source –
CIVIL APPEAL NOS.1134-1135 OF 2002
State of Uttaranchal .. Appellant Versus Balwant Singh Chaufal & Others .. Respondents


raji January 14, 2011  

a very nice ,detailed information.I am usually unaware or seem to ignore all this even though i read in news papers.But this one about public litigation with examples was good.I think the baccha yadav case has also been picturised in a movie form "ganga jal".

sm,  January 14, 2011  

ganga jal is good movie saw 2 times.

Irfanuddin January 14, 2011  

very informative post dear.... thnx for sharing...

("if i could..." my new post)

Arti January 14, 2011  

So very well explained.. Nice post.

sm,  January 14, 2011  


sm,  January 14, 2011