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This article is written by Shreya Tripathi of Banasthali Vidyapith, Jaipur. She discusses the concept of Public interest litigation, procedure related to it and format of PIL.


There is no question mark that the idea of PIL has been fruitful, to a large scale, in permitting the unheard view or opinion to be heard at the way of justice. So, lets us know more about the concept of PIL and how it works.

Public interest litigation means litigation in the interest of the public or to protect the interests of the public at large. In general sense, we can say that it is litigation which can be filed in any Court of law and by any person in public interested and especially for the person who fails to approach the Court.

Further, we can understand the act of public interest as: “when an act is done with an intention to protect or benefit of the public”. Such as to take action regarding the pollution, roadways safety, terrorism and industrial safety etc. Public Interest Litigation is a term which is not defined under any statute or law but it has been interpreted by the judges and is almost similar like writs available under Article 226 and Article 32 of the Constitution of India.

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When can a PIL be filed?

To file PIL it is necessary to note that the interest of the public is being affected at large.

Some of the examples related to filing a PIL are as followed:

  • When air pollution is caused by the factory or industrial unit and affected at a large scale.
  • Where there is no street light in an area causing inconvenience to the people living over there.
  • When some banquet hall or any other hotel play loud music at night creating noise pollution.
  • When trees are cut down by any company causing environmental pollution.
  • When poor people are affected by the decision of the government such as imposing a tax.
  • Directing the police or jail authority to take care in case of delay of the trial, the conviction of a person and suggestion in regard to the reformation of jail.
  • When the right of women is violated by the act of sexual harassment at a workplace.
  • For maintenance of roads, sewers and public properties.
  • For removal of big holdings and banners causing traffic problem.

Note: This is not an exhaustive list, only some of the basic examples which explain that on certain issues a Public Interest Litigation can be filed in a Court.

In India, for the very first time, this concept was introduced in case Mumbai Kamgar Sabha vs. Abdul Bhai Faizullah Bhai Justice Krishna Iyer allowed to file a PIL by a group of people on behalf of others. J. Iyer said an individual of a group of people can approach the Court on behalf of others.

As in case Hussainara Khatoon vs. the State of Bihar PIL was filed for the rights of prisoners and the attention of the Court was drawn to the trail pending upon them which resulted into an excess of detention period which was far exceeding the maximum punishment available under the law for which they were charged with.

Where can a PIL be filled?

It is important to know where a person must approach to get his rights and remedies as per the law. As stated above PIL is similar to a writ, therefore a PIL can be made under the High Court or Supreme Court as stated in Article 226 and 32 of the Constitution of India.

Also, a PIL can be made to the Court of Magistrate under Section 133 of the Criminal Procedure Code.

It is important to note that, we can approach the Supreme Court under Article 32 only when there is any Fundamental Right being violated and not any other right. But if a person wants to approach for not only Fundamental right but some other basic rights available to the nature of the case will be taken into consideration.

If a PIL filed is only affecting a small group of people then it can be filed under Article 226 as in High Court.

Illustration: Street light problem affecting 50 to 60 families of the locality, it is better to approach the High Court in such cases. In the case where a large number of people are been affected either by the state government or the central government then it can be made to the Supreme Court.

Who can file a PIL?

Any public spirited person can file a PIL in the Court of law, it can be a foreigner also but it is important that the person filing the PIL should not be get benefited from it, but it should be merely the public who gets the benefit from it.

There are some essential points which must be considered before filing a PIL and they are:

  • He must be a member of the public acting in a Bonafide interest.
  • His action is not motivated by personal gain.

In the case of M.C. Mehta vs. UOI, an industry name Shriram food fertilizers industry was producing chlorine and caustic as a subsidiary of Delhi cloth mills limited. A major leakage of oleum gas took place from the industry on 4th to 6th December 1985 which resulted in the death of several innocent people and an advocate practising in Tis Hazari Court died.

The leakage was caused due to many mechanical and human errors in the unit. The district magistrate directed the Shriram Fertilizer to move the chemical out of Delhi region within 7 days. M.C. Mehta filed a PIL in the Supreme Court to get compensation for the people who have suffered loss in the matter and requested to shut down the unit and not to grant permission for restart.

In the case of  Banwasi Seva Ashram vs. the State of U.P. the NGO filed a PIL for tribal people of the affected area.

Against whom can it be filed?

After considering the primary features of Public Interest Litigation it is very important to know that against whom the person can claim? So, the solution for the question is that against State government, Central government or any Municipality PIL can be claimed in a Court of law.

A private party can also be filed for the PIL when he is respondent in the matter after concerning with State or Central government.

Illustration: In a situation where private industry is creating pollution then affected people can file PIL against the State or central government along with the industry. Separately, PIL cannot be filed against the Private industry for their act.  

Can a letter be treated as PIL?

Initially, a letter was also considered as PIL by the Court in some of the cases where the situation was not providing an opportunity to party to approach the Court then PIL can be filed by mentioning all the necessary details of the case.

This particular idea was originated from landmark case D.K. Basu vs. State of West Bengal, a letter brought the focus of the Court about the custodial death in the Court premises of the West Bengal. And it is one of the duties of police authority to inform the family members or relatives of the accused person about the arrest and failure of the act on behalf of police authority will consider as Contempt of Court.

Hindustan times vs. Central Pollution Board is another leading case where a newspaper cutting was considered a PIL by the Court
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Procedure to File a PIL

The Procedure for filing a PIL is as simple and similar to the filing of the writ in the High Court of the Supreme Court. One has to go through a lot of research about the filing of PIL. Then collect all the relevant matter and documents required in the filing of PIL.  

In the High Court:

When a PIL is filed in the High Court then 2 copies of the petition have to be submitted. And a copy of the petition has to be provided in advance to the respondent. And proof regarding serving of copies to be attached in the petition.

In the Supreme Court:

If PIL is filed in the Supreme Court the total 5 copies of the petition have to be submitted, and when notice is served from the Court then copies should be given to the opposite parties.

Court Fee:  

A PIL itself is very affordable as compared to other matters. Court fee is Rs. 50/- as per each respondent has to be attached in the petition.

Difference between Writ and PIL



Filed by institutions or individual for their own purpose.

PIL can be filed by any person for the benefit of the public at large scale.

Process of Writ is complex, time taking and expensive in nature.

Whereas PIL is very cheap and simplified.

In case or writ, shreds of evidence are examined in a strict manner.

But in PIL, evidence has a very narrow concept and doesn’t affect a lot.

Role of Judiciary in Development of PIL

Judiciary has played a major role in the development of PIL. Through many cases, the Indian judiciary has propounded the Indian various doctrines and Principle such as Absolute Doctrine in the case of M.C.Mehta vs. Union of India  Public Trust Doctrine in M.C. Mehta vs. Kamal Nath case.

Further, the apex Court of India has given various Guidelines in the majority of cases like Taj Trapezium case, Bhopal Gas Tragedy case, Ganga pollution and Ratlam Municipality case and many more on the list.

Justice Bhagwati. One of the activist judges in the supreme Court has made the validity of public interest litigation in S.P.Gupta vs. Union of India 1982 case, popularly known as Judges transfer case due to which more PIL are being approached by the citizens to the Court.

In the landmark case of Vishaka vs. the State of Rajasthan the victim was not getting any justice under criminal trial, failures to tangible remedies and restore dignity Naina Kapoor a lawyer made a petition of PIL in this case and challenged the sexual harassment in the workplace. A writ petition was also filed for the same on the name of five NGO against the state government. The judgement clearly depicted and stated that sexual harassment is a clear violation of the fundamental rights of equality, non-discrimination, life and liberty. And given certain guidelines which must be followed in every workplace by the employer and employees. The case has thus described the path-breaking judgment and legacies of PIL and created a revolution.

In the case of Parmanand Katara vs. Union of India a writ petition was filed in the supreme Court on the basis of newspaper report where a person on a scooter was hit by a car and doctors refused to treat him and attend him. They directed him to go to another hospital which was 20 km away from that place which could handle the medico-legal cases. In this case, the apex Court issued certain guidelines and held that:

“Preservation of human’s life is of paramount importance. Every doctor has an obligation to save the life of a person and extend his service to protect his life. ”

In a country like India majority of people are been ignored of their rights and keep this in mind the Indian Supreme Court held that any person acting bona fide and having sufficient interest of public can approach the Court making the grievances or redressal on their part, especially when such class of people cannot approach the Court due to any disability or poverty or any other such means.

In the Judges Transfer Case the Court held that:

‘‘Where a legal wrong or a legal injury is caused to a person or to a determinate class of  persons by reason of violation of any constitutional or legal right and such person or determinate class of persons is by reason of poverty, helplessness, or disability or socially or economically disadvantaged position, unable to approach the Court for relief, any member of the public can maintain an application for an appropriate direction, order or writ.’’

The Court justified it for the application of Rule of law and to provide justice to the disadvantage people of society.

The 3 Phases of Public Interest Litigation

In India, the PIL has gone through three phases which vary from each other in some particulars.


The first phase started in the late 1970s and continued until the 1980s. In this phase, the PIL was usually filed by the public-spirited people such as Lawyers, journalist, social activist etc. For the poor or weaker section of society who was unable to get an advantage and suffer injustice on their part. Usually, the cases were related to child labour, bonded labour, women’s, prisoners, dwellers etc. the relief sought was against the violation of Fundamental rights guaranteed under the Indian constitution and for this the judiciary made remedies through guiding the government and its agencies to bind with the guidelines and directions made by it. Therefore the adoption of PIL was up to the mark and as expected by the constitutional framers fulfilling and recognizing the rights of the citizens.


The second phase of PIL started in the 1990s where the chemistry of PIL was a bit different than the earlier phase. Many recognized and specialised NGO’s and Lawyers stated to file a petition on the basis of PIL on a regular basis. The issues raised or considered under PIL were also expanded as sexual harassment at workplace, free education to children, environment pollution, and corruption-free government, Rule of law, industries setup and their acts were taken into consideration by the Court.

Under this phase, the petitioner not only sought remedies for action or no action of executive’s authorities but also against the private bodies and demanded compensation and permanent relief for the problems arising out of it. The judiciary came up with more widely form of remedy for the petitioners and did not hesitate to fill the gaps between the legislatures and executives actions. The judiciary also made private parties to pay compensation to the affected citizens without going into the question of whether the state is responsible with it or not just by looking into violation of Fundamental rights. In certain cases, the Court also punished the civil servants for not fulfilling their duties due to which such situations were raised.

In this phase, the misuse of PIL increased to a certain level due to which the Court imposed fine on the plaintiff’s if any misuse is been done by them for the private purpose.


The third phase which is the current phase stated in the 21st century, where anyone can file PIL if there is any violation of Fundamental right. The issued rose has been more expanded and it seems like now PIL can be made for anything. The development and free market considerations might dominate the part of the third phase of PIL. It shows that the judiciary has acted as the people wanted at any point of time for the protection of their rights.

Problems regarding Public Interest Litigation

It seems like the misuse of PIL has reached a certain level where it is going to overshadow the bright side, the very own purpose of the PIL for which it was made. The time has come to re-examine the misuse of PIL. There are numerous cases where the misuse of public interest litigation can be clearly depicted such as;

In the case of Subhash Kumar vs. the State of Bihar, parole was fired by the director of the company and he filed a PIL against the company stating that it is involved in bad and wrongful practices and it should be tried for the same. The facts clearly show us the misuse of PIL.

Cautioning the High Court on the misuse of PIL the bench said that:

PIL is a weapon which must be used with care and depending on the circumstances and the judiciary has to be extremely careful to see whether there is no publicity or malice intention behind the beautiful veil of PIL. The Court stated that PIL must be redressal for public wrong and injury and no publicity or private interest must be available for it.

In the case of Chhetriya Pradushan sangharsh Samiti vs. the State of U.P. a land was purchased by the jhunjhunwala mills from the member of Samiti due to increasing price. The heirs of the land who sold the property asked to return it and when they did not return it they started to make criminal offences complaints against them that the mill is polluting the environment. The apex Court held that Samiti has not come up with clean intention and therefore the PIL has been rejected by the Court. Due to many of such cases, the Supreme Court gave certain guidelines regarding the institution of PIL.

In S.P.Gupta vs. Union of India J. Bhagwati laid down certain specific cases where PIL cannot be filed as:

  • If any person is engaged in socio-economic crime; &
  • If the offence is against any women, no PIL must be filed by the criminal.

In the recent scenario, there are various cases related to PIL which have come up into the Court. In the year 2008 a case named Common Cause(A Regd. Society) vs. Union of India  came up to the Supreme Court in this a PIL petition was filed before the Court praying to the Court to enact a road safety Act in relation of various road accidents occurring in Indian society, the Court held that they cannot direct the legislatures to do any act which shows that the petitioner wants the Court to amend the legislatures and perform an act which is not into its ambit and therefore the petition was dismissed.

Petitions can be filed through letters, electronically as well as now it’s possible to file online or just by simply writing an Email to Chief Justice of India.  

Sample format of PIL or Writ

Please have a look at the rough draft for the purpose of the idea. You need to act after consulting with any certified Legal Practitioner. This PIL is related to the issue regarding lack of water in a village and people are dying nearby Mumbai, from where water is supplied for drinking purpose.


In the High Court of ___________

Writ Petition (Civil) PIL No. …..of 2014

In the matter between:


Group of Person, through




The Water Supply Authority

Through, Chairman,


_________ Respondent

A PIL or Writ Petition filed under Article 14, 21 and 226 of the Constitution of India.


The Hon’ble Chief Justice and his

Companion Justices

In the High Court of _______

More Respectfully show:


1. Petitioner is an on profit-making and public-spirited organisation. This petition is filed by the secretary of the institution. The credentials and authority letters are annexed herewith at A and .A

2. The petition is filed for the benefit of poor people of the village who are denied to have drinking water which is their Fundamental right.

The petitioner and all the person for whose benefit this PIL is filed is a citizen of India and hence they are entitled to approach the Hon’ble High Court for the protection of their fundamental rights under Article 14, 21 and 226 of the Constitution of India.

3. The situation faced by villagers relating to shortage of drinking water__

4. Detailed Representation made by petitioner to various authorities for making a request for the availability of  drinking water and their response regarding the request if received any:

The correspondence is annexed as Annexure B

5. It is submitted that Right to Drinking water is Fundamental Right under Art.21 of the Constitution of India. Because of the inaction of respondent authority right under Art.21 is violated and this Hon’ble Court may be pleased to issue appropriate directions to protect Art 21

6.That, the inaction of the respondent is arbitrary and without any just excuse and therefore Art.14 is violated.

7. That petitioner has no other efficacious remedy except to approach this Hon’ble Court by way of this writ petition under Art.226 of the Constitution of India.

8. That the petitioner has not filed any other petition on the same subject matter either in Supreme Court or in this Hon’ble High Court except this present petition.

9. The annexures, photographs, CD, Video film etc are true and correct copies.

10. The petitioner reserves the right to amend, add, modify or to rescind any contents of this petition if so required in the interest of justice.

11. In the above facts and circumstances, the petitioner humbly prays that

A) Your Lordship may be pleased to issue the writ of mandamus or any other writ or direction or order under Art.226 of the Constitution of India to protect the rights of the petitioner under Art. 14,21, by directing the respondent to forthwith provide drinking water to village___ District_____

B) Pending hearing and final disposal of this petition, Your Lordship may be pleased to direct respondent supply drinking water by at least 3 Tankers per day to village______ District_____C) Any other relief, or order which Your Lordship may deem fit to pass


Advocate for Petitioner




PIL has an important role to be played in the civil justice system which provides as a ladder to justice to disadvantaged people of the society which are even unaware of their rights.

PIL can also contribute to good governance by keeping the government accountable. At last, PIL also helps in spreading social awareness to people and informing and protecting their human rights, providing a voice to the weaker sections of the society, to the vulnerable ones or people who are poor and cannot approach the Court due to lack of economic or social resources.

The Indian judiciary has also played a vital role in keeping and recognizing the rights of the citizens by directing the government and its bodies to not misuse their power and protect the constitutional rights of the people. But it must be ensured that the PIL should not be misused by the people for their own publicity or for any other malice intention and must work as per the term in the interest of the public.



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