Public Interest Litigation (PIL): Meaning, Features, Scope and Guidelines

Monday, September 21, 2020

PIL is a type of litigation, primarily developed in USA in 1960s to provide legal representation to unprivileged and neglected groups or peoples of the society. In India, PIL is a product of Judicial Activism of Supreme court (SC). The concept of PIL in India was first introduced by Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer and Justice P.N. Bhagwati in 1980s. PIL can also be called as Social Action Litigation (SAL) or Social Interest Litigation(SIL) or a Class Action Litigation(CAL). 
Also Read: All About Judicial Activism and Judicial Restraint

Meaning of PIL

PIL was introduced in India by relaxing the traditional litigation procedure of 'Locus Standi' which provides that only an aggrieved person (whose rights are violated) can move to courts for remedies. PIL  is a new form of litigation, in which any Public Spirited Citizen or Social Organisation can file a PIL in place of aggrieved person or victim, especially when he is socially, economically and politically weaker in position to file a petition for himself/herself/themselves.

Thus through PIL, any member of the public having sufficient interest in the concerned matter can file a PIL  for enforcing the rights of disadvantaged people or group and for redressal of common grievances.

Features of PIL

  1. PIL is intended to bring justice within the reach of the poor and disadvantaged sections of society who can not afford expansive and difficult litigation. 
  2. It is totally different than the standard litigation method i.e. of 'Locus Standi'  
  3. Besides above, PIL  can be also filed for redressing grievances related to social and environmental problems. 
  4. In PIL  the role held by courts are more assertive than their role in traditional litigations; it is proactive rather than being passive. 
  5. PIL is essentially a co-operative effort on the part of the petitioner or the state or the Public Authority. 
  6. In a PIL, unlike traditional dispute resolution mechanism there is a determination on adjudication of individual rights.

Scope of PIL

Supreme Court in 1988, 1993 and 2003 set a rule that only petitions falling under the following categories alone will be entertained:-

  1. Matters related to bonded labour. 
  2. Neglected children. 
  3. Riot victims. 
  4. Labour Law Violation(Except individual cases).
  5. Family Pension. 
  6. Petition against Police for not registering FIR, harassment and death in police custody. 
  7. Violence/harassment against SCs and STs. 
  8. Atrocities against women. 
  9. Environmental Problems.
  10. Harassment in jail and related Human Rights violations.

Guidelines for Admitting PIL

Besides many advantages, PIL  has some disadvantages or fears associated with it as well. There always remains a danger that PIL can be used for publicity, personal interest, hidden political motives, etc. Hence it should not be allowed to become Publicity Interest Litigation or Private Interest Litigation or Middle Class Interest Litigation.

Supreme Court observed that PIL is not a pill or panacea for all wrongs. It is essentially meant to protect the basic human rights of weak and disadvantaged people and groups who can not approach the courts for their relief. Hence Supreme Court has fixed certain guidelines to be followed before admitting a PIL. Those guidelines are given below.:-

  1. Verify genuineness of the PIL.
  2. Prima facie verify the credentials of the petitioner. 
  3. Be fully satisfied that substantial public interest is involved before entertaining the PIL. 
  4. Prioritise more important PILs first. 
  5. Ensure that no personal gain, oblique political or private motives are satisfied.
  6. False and extraneous motives behind PIL should be discouraged by imposing exemplary costs(fines).