Legal consequences of filing PIL for publicity

In this article, Sarthak Modi discusses the legal consequences of filing PIL for publicity.

Understanding PIL

  • Public interest litigation (PIL) is litigation for any public interest. Public interest litigation is a litigation which can be filed in any court of law by any public-spirited person for the protection of “public interest.”
  • Public interest litigation is the power given by the courts to the public through judicial activism. However, the petitioner must prove to the satisfaction of the court that the petition is submitted to a public interest and not merely as an unlawful litigation by a busybody.
  • The social and economic rights given in Part IV of the Indian Constitution are not legally enforceable, courts have read it creatively in fundamental rights to enforce their rights. For example, the “right to life” in Article 21 has been extended for the right to live with dignity, right to education, right to work, freedom of torture and imprisonment in prisons, etc.
  • In the Bandhua Mukti Morcha case in 1983, the Supreme Court imposed the burden of proof on the respondent and declared that it would treat any case of forced labor as a case of bound labor unless otherwise proved by the employer. Similarly, in the Asiad workers’ statement, Justice P.N. Bhagwati found anyone to be less than the minimum wage can approach the Supreme Court directly without going through the labor commissioner and army courts.
  • In PIL cases where the petitioner is unable to provide all necessary evidence either because it is voluminous or because the parties are socially or economically weak, the courts have appointed commissions to gather facts and submit to the bench.
  • PIL is not defined in any law. It is the outcome of judicial activism to raise a case in the case of any person, even though it does not affect it personally, but affects the public as a whole.

Publicity Interested Litigation: A serious concern

  • First thing first, PIL should be filed keeping in mind the interest of the public at large. Irresponsible PIL activists across the country began to play an important but not constructive role in the arena of litigation.
  • Many of the PIL activists in the country found PIL as a useful means of harassment as frivolous cases could be filed without the investment of heavy court fees as required in private civil proceedings.
  • The Framers of the Indian Constitution did not include a strict doctrine of divorce but planned a system of checks and balances. Policy preparation and implementation of policies are conventionally regarded as the exclusive domain of the executive and the legislature. Vishaka v State of Rajasthan, which was a PIL about sexual harassment of women in the workplace. The court declared that until the legislature had passed a law in accordance with the Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women who had signed, the guidelines set out by the court would be enforceable.
  • The flexibility of procedure that is a character of PIL has given rise to another set of problems. It gives the opposite parties the opportunity to determine the exact statement and respond to specific issues.
  • It has also been increasingly felt that PIL is being misused by the people agitating for private grievance in the garb of public interest and seeking publicity rather than espousing the public cause.

Guidelines in reference to the governance, management, and disposal of PILs.

The court has to be satisfied with:

(a) The credentials of the applicant

(b) The prima facie correctness or nature of information given by him.

(c) The information is not vague and indefinite.

The information should show gravity and seriousness involved. Court has to strike balance between two conflicting interests

(i) Nobody should be allowed to indulge in wild and reckless allegations besmirching the character of others.

(ii) Avoidance of public mischief and to avoid mischievous petitions seeking to assail, for oblique motives, justifiable executive actions. In such case, however, the court cannot afford to be liberal.

Remarks of High court on misuse of PIL

  • In Dr. B. Singh vs Union Of India & Ors on 11 March 2004, the Bench said “it is shocking to note that courts are flooded with a large number of so-called PILs, whereas only a minuscule percentage can legitimately be called PILs”.
  • The Bench made it clear that a PIL should be aimed at redressal of genuine public wrong or public injury and not publicity oriented or founded on a personal vendetta. It observed that it should not be allowed to become “publicity interest litigation or private interest litigation or political interest litigation or, the latest trend, praise income litigation.
  • The laudable concept of PIL was for extending the long arm of sympathy to the poor, ignorant and oppressed”, the Bench said and added the “brand name” should not be allowed to be used by imposters and meddlesome interlopers impersonating as public-spirited holy men.
  • It passed the order while dismissing a PIL by Dr. B Singh who questioned the propriety of a person appointed as a Judge. Dr. Singh, who did not have any personal knowledge of the allegations made against the judge by Ram Swarup, had earlier unsuccessfully moved the Punjab and Haryana High Court.
  • Observing that the petitioner had moved the court for publicity and there was no trace of public interest, the Bench said he deserved a fine of Rs. 50,000. It, however, imposed a fine of Rs. 10,000 in the hope that he would mend his ways.

What happens when a frivolous PIL is filed? Can the bench order a probe of professional misconduct against lawyers who especially file PIL for publicity?

A bench can order a probe against a lawyer of professional misconduct and breach of the code of ethics if he is found to file a PIL for publicity. The Bar Council of the state to which the accused lawyer is associated is given the responsibility to look into the matter and act accordingly.

In a case, The Madras High Court directed its Registrar (Administration) to “instruct” media not publish or broadcast names of lawyers while reporting court news since, in the opinion of the court, it would amount to the indirect advertisement of their professional capabilities.

Observing that the lawyer had filed the case to gain publicity, the judges directed the Registrar (Judicial) of the High Court to take up the matter with the Bar Council of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry for initiating necessary action against him for breach of Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct.

What are the issues that cannot be filed under PIL?

The Supreme Court has issued a set of PIL guidelines according to which the following matters will not be allowed as PILs:

  • Landlord-tenant matters.
  • Service matters.
  • Matters pertaining to pension and gratuity.
  • Complaints against Central and State government departments and Local Bodies except those relating to items 1 to 10 mentioned in the list of guidelines.
  • Admission to medical and other educational institutions.
  • Petitions for early hearing of cases pending in High Court or subordinate courts.

Public Interest Litigation and Judicial Activism

  • Public interest litigation or social interest litigation today has great significance and has come to the attention of all concerned. The rule of “Locus Standi” that a person, whose right is infringed alone can file a petition, has been considerably relaxed by the Supreme Court in its recent decisions.
  • The concept of PIL was first implemented in the case People’s Union for Democratic Rights v. Union of India (A.I.R. 1982, SC 1473). The court first permitted Public Interest Litigation or Social Interest Litigation at the instance of ” Public spirited citizens” for the enforcement of constitutional & legal rights of any person or group of persons who because of their socially or economically disadvantaged position are unable to approach standing in civil litigation of that pattern must have liberal reception at the judicial doorsteps.

Any public spirited citizen can move/approach the court to the public cause by filing a petition

  1. In Supreme Court under Art 32 of the Constitution.
  2. In High Court under Art 226 of the Constitution.
  3. In the Court of Magistrate under Sec 133, Cr. P.C

Who can file a PIL?

Any Indian citizen may submit a PIL, but the only condition is that it should not be filed with a private interest but in greater public interest. Sometimes even the court can take notice of a matter if it is of the greater public interest, and appoint an advocate to handle the matter.

What is the procedure for filing the PIL?

  • One must do thorough research before submitting a PIL. When submitting a PIL about several individuals it is important and the best course for the submitter is to consult all relevant interest groups.
  • Once you decide to lay a PIL, gather all the relevant information and documents to restore your case. You can personally argue or appoint an advocate to fight the matter. In any case, it is advisable to consult a lawyer before submitting a PIL. If you intend to personally argue, be better prepared to explain the problem and convince the court in the short time you are given.
  • Once you are ready for the PIL copy and intend to file it in the Supreme Court submit two copies of the petition to the court. A copy of the petition must also be served in advance to each respondent. And this proof of the copy to the respondents must be made in the petition.
  • If you submit a PIL to the Supreme Court, five copies of the petition must be submitted to the court. Respondent is only served with the copy when the notice of the court is issued.


There have been many instances when the case falls under private interest, yet the case was filed as a Public Interest Litigation which is against the very objective of a PIL, where the matter complained about must relate to wider public interest and not merely the interests of a private party. This has often led to a distasteful waste of crucial time and limited resources at the disposal of the judiciary, weakening the urgency and importance of the very concept of PIL itself while making a mockery of the responsive justice system at the same time. There have been many instances when the case falls under private interest, yet the case was filed as a Public Interest Litigation which is against the very objective of a PIL, where the matter complained about must relate to wider public interest and not merely the interests of a private party. Hence there is a dire need to make adequate laws that are strict enough to restrict people from filing malicious PILs.



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