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Do you believe that a lack of, or misdirected government policies and actions are impeding the greater good and causing intolerable conditions such as abuse and violation of basic human rights, social injustice, and corruption, among other things?

Are you, above all, expecting somebody to step forward and fix things? In many circumstances, the good news is that you don’t have to. The Public Interest Litigation (PIL) is a powerful instrument for socially conscious persons who want to change the system through the courts.


Public interest litigation in simple words means that any public-spirited citizen can approach the court for a public cause or public interest or public welfare by filing a petition in the Supreme Court under Article 32 of the constitution or in the High Court under article 226. 


The expression ‘Public Interest ’ is borrowed from American jurisprudence, where it was designed to provide legal representation to that group of people of the society who had no access to justice due to economic disability, illiteracy, and people belonging to minorities.

Prior to the 1980s, the principle of ‘locus standi’ was observed meaning, only the affected party could personally knock on the doors of justice to seek redress for his grievance, and no one else could do so as a substitute for the victim or the affected party.  

All of this began to change once the post-Emergency Supreme Court addressed the issue of people’s access to justice by making drastic revisions and alterations to the standards of locus standi and party aggrieved.

The seeds of the concept of public interest litigation were initially sown in India by Justice Krishna Iyer and subsequently, Justice Bhagwati is regarded as the champion on PIL. 


 The Supreme Court in D.S.Nakara v. Union of India (1983 1 SCC 305) said that: 

‘Any member of the public having sufficient interest can maintain an action for judicial redress for public injury arising from breach of public duty or from violation of some provision of the constitution or the law and seek enforcement of such public duty and observance of such constitutional or legal provision.’

It’s also worth noting that the individual or people filing the petition should have no financial stake in the outcome of the case. In other words, the petitioners should not launch a lawsuit with a personal goal in mind. Only when the plea stems from a significant public interest can the Court accept the case.


All letter petitions received in the PIL Cell will be screened, and only those that fall into one of the categories specified below will be forwarded to a Judge designated by the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India for instructions, after which the case would be stated before the appropriate Bench.

Letter-petitions that fit into one of the following categories will usually be considered Public Interest Litigation:-

  • Bonded Labour matters. 
  • Neglected Children. 
  • Non-payment of minimum wages to workers and exploitation of casual workers and complaints of violation of Labour Laws (except in individual cases). 
  • Petitions from jails complaining of harassment, for premature release and seeking release after having completed 14 years in jail, death in jail, transfer, release on personal bond, speedy trial as a fundamental right.
  • Petitions against police for refusing to register a case, harassment by police and death in police custody. 
  • Petitions against atrocities on women, in particular harassment of bride, brideburning, rape, murder, kidnapping etc. 
  • Petitions complaining of harassment or torture of villagers by co- villagers or by police from persons belonging to Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes and economically backward classes. 
  • Petitions pertaining to environmental pollution, disturbance of ecological balance, drugs, food adulteration, maintenance of heritage and culture, antiques, forest and wildlife and other matters of public importance. 
  •  Petitions from riot -victims. 
  •  Family Pension.

Cases falling under the following categories will not be entertained as Public Interest Litigation and these may be returned to the petitioners or filed in the PIL Cell, as the case may be: 

  • Landlord-Tenant matters. 
  • Service matters and those pertaining to Pension and Gratuity. 
  • Complaints against Central/ State Government Departments and Local Bodies except those relating to item Nos. (1) to (10) above. 
  • Admission to medical and other educational institutions. 
  • Petitions for early hearing of cases pending in High Courts and Subordinate Courts.


The petitioner should extensively investigate the linked topic before filing a PIL. If the PIL affects a large number of persons, the petitioner should consult with all of them. After deciding to submit a PIL, a person should gather all relevant material and documents to support his case. The person who files the PIL has the option of debating himself or hiring a lawyer.

A public interest lawsuit is filed in the same way as a general writ in the High Court or Supreme Court.

In High Court:

If a person files a PIL in a High Court, they must file two copies of the petition. In addition, each responder, i.e. opposing party, must get an advance copy of the petition, with proof of service affixed to the petition.

In Supreme Court:

“If a PIL is filed in the Supreme Court, five sets of petitions must be submitted; the opposing party is served first, with the copy following notice.”

Court fees:

The petition must be accompanied by a court fee of Rs 50 per respondent.

  • In the case of a PIL, the proceedings begin and continue in the same way as they do in other instances.
  • Between the hearings, the judge can appoint a commissioner to investigate claims such as pollution, tree cutting, sewer difficulties, and so on.
  • The judge makes his final verdict after the final hearing.


PILs have risen to a position of prominence in our legal system. 

The following are a few landmark PIL cases in India:

Vishaka & Ors vs State Of Rajasthan & Ors on 13 August 1997

Bhanwari Devi attempted to prevent the marriage of a one-year-old girl in rural Rajasthan as part of a government campaign against child marriage. Members of the local community replied by threatening Bhanwari Devi and enforcing a socio-economic boycott on her and her family. Then, on September 22, 1992, Bhanwari Devi was raped by five men.

When Bhanwari Devi sought to pursue justice, she faced several challenges. Naina Kapur, a lawyer who had attended Bhanwari Devi’s criminal trial and was frustrated by the criminal justice system’s inability to provide tangible remedies and restore the victim’s dignity, decided to file public interest litigation (PIL) in the Supreme Court to address workplace sexual harassment. In 1992, five NGOs filed the Vishaka writ petition against the state of Rajasthan, its Women & Child Welfare Department, its Department of Social Welfare, and the Union of India.

Sexual harassment, according to the Vishaka decision, is an “obvious infringement” of the fundamental constitutional rights of equality, non-discrimination, life, and liberty, as well as the freedom to engage in any vocation. The recommendations contained a definition of sexual harassment, a list of actions to prevent harassment, and a description of complaint processes that must be “strictly observed in all workplaces for the preservation and enforcement of the right to gender equality,” according to the guidelines.

It promoted greater enforcement of women’s rights and broader application of international law at the High Court level. The case has thus been described as “path-breaking”, “one of the most powerful legacies” of PIL, and a “trendsetter” that “created a revolution”.

Hussainara Khatoon & Ors vs Home Secretary, State Of Bihar, 9 March 1979

This case has also been referred to as the first PIL in India. The Court’s attention was drawn to the extraordinary situation of under-trials in Bihar who had been detained pending trial for periods considerably exceeding the maximum penalty for their crimes. The Court not only made the right to a quick trial the major issue of the case but also issued an order releasing over 40,000 people who had been detained for longer than the maximum period allowed.

M.C. Mehta And Anr vs Union Of India & Ors

The judgment, which was handed down on January 12, 1988, slammed city officials for allowing untreated effluent from Kanpur’s tanneries to enter the Ganges.

From time to time, the court issued three landmark judgments and a number of Orders against polluting enterprises, which numbered more than 50,000 in the Ganga basin. Apart from industry, more than 250 towns and cities were required to construct sewage treatment plants in this instance.

In a densely populated residential neighborhood of Kolkata, 600 tanneries operated. They were moved out of the city and to a planned leather complex in West Bengal as a result of the judgment. Several industries were shut down by the court, and they were only allowed to reopen after installing effluent treatment systems and environmental controls. As a consequence, millions of people in the Ganga basin, which spans eight Indian states, have avoided air and water pollution.


It is heartening to see that in the last few decades, the Supreme Court opened its doors to public-spirited citizens, expanding the frontiers of fundamental rights. The Court has transformed itself, through the exercise of its public interest jurisdiction, into an arena in which political, social, and economic battles are fought and socio-economic justice is delivered.  

The general rule is that PIL can be initiated by any public-spirited person or group. However, this wholesome remedy is also capable of being misused. Courts have not allowed meddlesome interlopers, busybodies, wayfarers or officious interveners to go ahead with frivolous litigation which is often filed for publicity or for personal or political gains. In such cases, the courts have dismissed the petition and imposed heavy costs on the petitioner. 

It is indeed heartening to see that courts have gone all the way to allow access to the public-spirited individuals and NGOs to file a petition on behalf of those who because of poverty, illiteracy, and ignorance cannot go before the court- and thus continue to suffer injustice and deprivation. 



Vishaka & Ors vs State Of Rajasthan & Ors on 13 August 1997  ((1997) 6 SCC 241)

Hussainara Khatoon & Ors vs Home Secretary, State Of Bihar, 9 March 1979 1979 AIR 1369, 1979 SCR (3) 532

M.C. Mehta And Anr vs Union Of India & Ors on 20 December, 19861987 SCR (1) 819; AIR 1987 965

Mridul Kumar vs Unknown on 12 January 2005 2005 (1) ESC 611

D.S.Nakara v. Union of India (1983 1 SCC 305)


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