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This article is written by Ilika Grover, a 2nd-year law student at Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University.


From custodial violence to women prisoners confined in the police lock-up to unearthing the mother of all scams, the 2G Scam; the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) has been able to pick grievances from the public and route to improving the system.

PIL is a juristic revolutionary concept picked up from American jurisprudence For the first time, the term Public Interest Litigation was actualized from the United States in the mid-1980s by American academic Abram Chayes. In India, the Hon’ble Supreme Court (SC) pioneered the PIL through the case Mumbai Kamgar Sabha Vs. Abdul Thai led by widely acclaimed Justice Krishna Iyer in the year 1976, and thereby threw the portal of courts to the common man. The Supreme court gave all individuals in the country easier access to the law and introduced in their work a broad public interest perspective.

Need of Public Interest Litigation

PIL is litigation to cinch the public interests and demonstrate the availability of justice to socially pauperized parties. In simple terms, if one feels that a lack of, or misguided government decisions and policies are hampering the greater common good and creating below par situation related to abuse and violence of basic human rights, social justice, environment then one can access the judiciary and obtain legal redress.

Public Interest Litigation has idiomatic characteristics which allow its purpose of estranging the suffering of all those who have borne the brunt of insensible treatment at the hands of the fellow human being.

Jurisdiction and Public Interest Litigation

PIL is an oddity of locus standi. Though articles 12 to 35 of the constitution of India guarantees fundamental rights which obligates the government to provide equal rights and minimum living standards to all citizens irrespective of class, caste, gender and race, the promise has not been fulfilled. Myriad people are not aware of their constitutional rights and obligations. Even if one comprehends them, one cannot afford to represent themselves. Therefore, the SC responded to the demands for justice and acknowledged the adversely affected interest of the invertebrate elements. On this approach to advance the rights of the poor, the notion of locus standi was widened.

According to the jurisprudence of Article 32(1) of the constitution of India "the right to move the Supreme Court by appropriate proceedings for the enforcement of the right conferred by this part is guaranteed". This statement affirms every citizen has the right to move to the Supreme court for commencement and maintenance of proper suit or action with competent jurisdiction for the enforcement of the rights conferred in part III of the constitution. Ordinarily, only the malcontent party has the right to seek redress under Article 32. However, the articulation of the concept of PIL in the case of S.P. Gupta Vs. Union of India in 1981 by Justice PN Bhagwati, the rule of locus standi was relaxed and a person acting bonafide and having sufficient interest in the proceeding of PIL will alone have a locus standi and can approach the court to wipe out violation of fundamental rights and genuine infraction of statutory provisions.

The articulation was as follows, “where a legal wrong or a legal injury is caused to a person or determinate class of persons by reason of violation of any constitutional or legal right or any burden is imposed in contravention of any constitutional or legal provision or without the authority of law or any such legal wrong or legal injury or illegal burden is threatened and such person or discriminate class of persons by the reason of poverty, helplessness or disability or socially or economically disadvantaged positions unable to approach the court for relief, any member of the public can maintain an application for an appropriate direction, or writ in the High court under article 226 and file a case of breach of fundamental rights of such persons or determinate class of people, in court under article 32 seeking judicial redress for legal wrong or legal injury caused to such person or determinate class of persons". This extensive liberalization of the rule of locus standi opened horizons for the people of lower strata and asserted people that rule of law is not only for the fortunate few.

PIL has another aberrant feature of Epistolary jurisdiction. It is a court power by which the Supreme court can convert any letter which has been addressed to it by any person into a writ and hear the matter. Through this PIL acquired a new dimension. This doctrine originated with the decision in the case of Sunil Batra v Delhi administration. It was initiated by a letter written by a prisoner lodged in jail complaining brutal assault committed by the head warden on another prisoner to judge of the Supreme Court.


In the end, Public Interest Litigation is a sword everyone uses only for taking justice. The innovation of this legitimate instrument proved benignant for developing countries like India. It is a break away from legal imperialism perpetuated for centuries. PIL has been used as a strategy to combat the atrocities prevailing in society. It is an initiative towards the welfare of the needy class of society. The judicial activism gets its highest bonus when its orders wipe some tears from some eyes.

It would be appropriate to conclude by quoting Cunningham, Indian PIL might rather be a Phoenix: a whole new creative arising out of the ashes of the old order.

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