In this blogpost, Mr.Sreeraj.K.V, Student, Government Law College, Ernakulam, Kerala writes an article on the topic Public interest litigation in India. This article covers areas like definition and scope of Public Interest Litigation, its objectives as well as procedures, merits and demerits and various major cases dealing with the issues relating to the topic.


The definition regarding the term ‘public interest litigation’ is that it is the litigation for the public interest. In India, Article 32 of the Constitution contains provisions regarding the involvement of public in the judiciary.  A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) may be introduced in a court suo moto, rather than the aggrieved party or any other third party. In such a suit, the right to file the suit is given to the member or by the Court through judicial activism. The member of the public may be a non-governmental organisation (NGO), an institution or an individual.[1]

Even though Public Interest Litigation (PIL) is not defined in any statute or any Act, it has been interpreted by the judges to consider the intend of the public at large. There are certain objectives of PIL which, according to Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer, “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”[2] According to the Supreme Court’s guidelines regarding the filing of Public Interest Litigation, it complies of the following letter petitions such as:

  1. Bonded labour matters
  2. Neglected children
  3. Non-payment of minimum wages to workers and their exploitation
  4. Petitions from jails complaining of harassments, release on personal bond, speedy trial as a fundamental right
  5. Petition against police for refusing to register a case, harassment at police station
  6. Petition on harassment of women, rape, kidnapping or murder
  7. Petitions on harassment of scheduled caste, scheduled tribe and other economically backward classes.
  8. Petitions pertaining to environmental pollution, disturbance of ecological balance, maintenance of heritage and culture, forest and wildlife etc.
  9. Petitions from riot victims
  10. Family pensions.[3]

Procedures to file a PIL in the Court

Any citizen can approach the court for public case (upon the interest of public) by filing a petition:

  • In Supreme Court under Article 32 of the Constitution
  • In High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution
  • In the Court of Magistrate under Section 133 crPC.

At present, a court can treat a letter as a writ petition and take action upon it. In such cases, the court has to be satisfied that the writ petition complies the following:
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  1. Where the letter is addressed by the aggrieved person
  2. A public spirited individual
  3. A social action group for the enforcement of legal or Constitutional rights to any person who, upon poverty or disability, are not able to approach the court for redress.[4]

There are certain merits as well as demerits of the Public Interest Litigation (PIL). They are:


  • Vigilant citizens can find an inexpensive remedy because there is only a nominal rate of court fees.
  • Litigants can focus attention on and achieve results pertaining to larger public issues especially in the field of human rights, consumer welfare and the environment.


  • Many people started handling PIL as a tool for harassment because frivolous cases can be filed without heavy court fee as compared to private litigations.
  • Due to the flexibility of character of the PIL, the opposite party gets an opportunity to ascertain the precise allegation and respond to specific issues.
  • The judiciary has been criticised due to the overstepping of its jurisdiction and that it is unable to implement its orders effectively.
  • PIL is being misused by the public agitating for private grievances in the grab of public interest by seeking publicity rather than supporting the public cause.[5]

Justice Krishna Iyer in the case of Fertilizer corporation Kamgar union v. Union of India[6] enumerated the following principles on Public Interest Litigation such as:

  • The exercise of State power to eradicate corruption may result in unrelated interference ‘s of individuals right.
  • Social justice want’s liberal judicial review administrative action
  • Restrictive rules of standing are an antithesis to an effective system of administration.
  • Activism is essential for participative public justice.

There are many famous personalities who dedicated their life in serving the people and the society. One among them were M.C. Mehta, a lawyer by profession, acted in such a way that by looking to the number of PIL filed by him, it will be clear that many landmark judgments in various fields mainly environment was obtained by him. Some of them include:

  1. Child labour case
  2. Oleum gas leakage case
  3. Delhi vehicular pollution case
  4. Gamma rays case
  5. Ganga pollution case etc.[7]

There are a lot of other cases which involved public participation or Public Interest Litigation as one of the main causes for the case and its judgment. In the case of Sheela Barse v. State of Maharashtra[8], the case dealt with a historical judgment on the issue of custodial violence against women. The Court held that there must be separate police lockups for women convicts to protect them from further trauma and brutality. In the case of M.C. Mehta v. Union of India[9], it lead to the landmark judgment which lashed out at the civic authorities allowing untreated sewage from Kanpur tanneries making its way into the Ganges.  In the case of Paramanand Katara v. Union of India[10] , Supreme Court held that in the field of Public Interest Litigation, which was filed by a human rights activist for general public interest that it is a paramount obligation of every member of medical profession to give medical aid to injured person as soon as possible without waiting for any procedural formalities.[11]


Public Interest Litigants, all over the country, has not taken very kind towards various court decisions. It is a welcome move from the part of the judiciary that no one in the country even PIL activists must be responsible and accountable. Now a day, PIL are increasing in number as there are a number of incidents which curtails or hurts the feeling of people as well as their rights as the citizens of the country. For instance, mass petitions were filed in many rape cases as well as murder cases in our country due to the lack of interest from the part of investigating agencies and even from the part of Government. The Supreme court has also set up  legal aid in favour of the millions of people in India, and it also plays an inevitable role in the field of PIL in expanding its scope so that it turns to be a counter balance to the lethargy as well as inefficiency of the executive.[12] Hence, the machinery governing Public Interest Litigation is undergoing a serious reconstruction or rethinking for possible developments in this field so that the people deserved will be awarded justice as well as the people who abuses it will be punished accordingly.


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[5] Retrieved on:                                                                   b4201b77a8bd&txtsearch=Subject:%20Jurisprudence

[6] Fertilizer corporation Kamgar union v. Union of India 1981 AIR 344

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[7] Retrieved on:

[8] Sheela Barse v. State of Maharashtra JT 1988 (3) 15

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[9] M.C. Mehta v. Union of India 1988 AIR 1115

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[10] Paramanand Katara v. Union of India AIR 1989, SC 2039

[11] Retrieved on:

[12] Retrieved on:

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  1. 3) In the wake of the growth of PILs, the SC has to weigh the imperatives of public debate against the objective of discouraging frivolous PILs. Critically Comment.(250 words)  – INSIGHTS

    […] Reference […]

  2. please….. do hare me some more informarion on pil as i am newly atrached on it and i’m working on an assignment …….based on this topic….