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Public Interest Litigation in India

Last updated date: 23rd May 2024
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What is PIL?

What is PIL is the first question when people know about PIL and its benefits. Public interest litigation advances the rights of the individual or society or brings to light issues of public concern. By advancing the cause of minorities or disadvantaged groups, it helps advance the cause of all individuals. 

Both public law and private law matters can lead to cases of public interest litigation in India. Public law refers to the various rules and regulations governing the exercise of powers by public authorities. Generally speaking, private law refers to cases in which no government agency is involved and may include areas such as family law and employment law. Judicial review is the most common method used by public interest litigants to challenge the decisions of public authorities. Judges review the legality of decisions or actions, or a failure to act, made by public bodies as part of judicial review. In judicial reviews, the law and procedure are analyzed to determine whether they have been applied correctly. There is no definition of public interest litigation in any statute or law. Judges have interpreted this to mean considering the general public's intent.

Origin of PIL in India

In India, litigation was still rudimentary, and we saw it as a private pursuit to vindicate private interests until the 1960s and 1970s. The majority of litigation in those days was initiated and continued by individuals, usually for personal grievances and problems, until the concept of Public Interest Litigation originated in India. A person who has been injured or has been aggrieved is allowed to initiate and continue litigation. However, these individuals had limited resources. There was very little organized effort to address larger issues affecting consumers and the public in general. However, the concept of Public Interest Litigation originated in the 1980s by the Supreme Court of India. In light of the Supreme Court of India's decision, Indian citizens and newly formed consumer groups have better access to the law and are encouraged to focus on broad public interests in their work.

Role of PIL in India

Public Interest Litigation (PIL) is said to be a lawsuit instrument brought in a court of law by the private party or by the court itself and not by the supposedly aggrieved party.

  • Public Interest Litigation or PIL has become a very significant means in order to enforce the legal obligations of the executive as well as the legislature.

  • Justice and the protection of the people's welfare are the underlying objectives of the PILs.

  • These laws are used primarily to protect collective interests and not individual rights, for which we have Fundamental Rights.

  • High Courts and the Supreme Court have the power to issue a Public Interest Litigation.

  • In most cases, courts have used it to review a public body's decisions or actions or the failure to act by it.

  • PILs have significantly shaped India's politics. Their decisions have led to some landmark judgments in India, such as the banning of instant triple talaq, the opening of the Sabarimala and Haji Ali shrines to women, legalizing consensual homosexual relationships, and legalizing passive euthanasia.

First PIL Case in India

P.N. Bhagwati and V.R. Krishna Iyer can be credited for introducing Public Interest Litigation in India into the legal system. An article in a news report that pointed out the hardships undertrial prisoners were facing in Bihar, where they had spent years in prison without being punished, caught the attention of an attorney, who filed a declaration in the Supreme Court to defend these undertrial prisoners. Hussainara Khatoon v. State of Bihar (1979) was the first PIL case to be heard in the Supreme Court.

Who Can File a PIL? 

An individual or a group can file a PIL in their own interest, i.e., to protect or enforce a right owed by the government or for a section of society that is disadvantaged or oppressed and is unable to enforce their own rights.  

In cases of PILs, the concept of "Locus Standi" has been relaxed so that the Hon'ble Court can consider grievances of the poor, illiterate, deprived, or disabled and cannot approach the courts on their own. In good faith, you will have a locus standi to file a PIL only if you are interested in the proceeding. Persons who seek the Hon'ble Court's assistance for their own benefit, private gain, political gain, or other oblique considerations will be turned down.

Procedure to File PIL in India

Citizens and organizations in India who are interested in a specific cause or public interest can file a petition with the court:

  1. In the Supreme Court, under Article 32

  2. In the High Courts, under Article 226

  3. In the Court of Magistrate, under Section 133 of the Criminal Procedure Code

A court can consider a letter to be a writ petition and act accordingly. In order for the court to grant the writ petition, it must comply with the following requirements: 

  • Letter written by aggrieved parties, community-spirited individuals, or social action groups urging legal enforcement, or

  • In the case of poverty or disability, the constitutional rights of those who cannot approach the court for redress. 

As long as the court is satisfied with the case, it can also act on the basis of newspaper reports.

Did You Know?

In India, we have a very important constitutional body that takes care of the recruitment and conducts various exams for government vacancies and that body is the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC). In every competitive exam, Public interest litigation UPSC is one of the important topics of Indian Polity that can help you gain more marks.


Thus, we can say that a PIL is a very important instrument of social change that helps the poor community to seek justice from the courts. Accessibility of the Justice system to all the poor as well as marginalized people is considered as the major objective of this instrument. On the other hand, it also helps in judicial review as well and also helps to throw light on the issues in which aggrieved parties cannot directly access justice or do not know their rights.

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FAQs on Public Interest Litigation in India

1. What is the aim and importance of Public interest litigation PIL?

The aim as well as importance of PIL is:

  • A PIL is meant to provide access to the common people's courts to obtain legal redress.

  • PILs provide an important social innovation instrument and promote law and justice balance.

  • In their original form, PILs were meant to provide a channel for marginalized people to access justice.

  • By using it, people whose rights have been denied are able to enjoy them.

  • By making justice accessible to all, it democratizes the system. Any citizen or organization that is capable of making such a petition can do so on behalf of the ineligible or incapable.

  • Public interest litigation PIL in India is a powerful tool that facilitates judicial review.

2. Are public interest litigation and Public interest legislation the same?

Yes, public interest litigation and Public interest legislation are the same in terms of judicial statements. Although the meaning of legislation and litigation is different, that should not be confused with the word PIL's collective meaning. 

3. Do I need to know about the public interest litigation format before filing a PIL?

Absolutely not. The public interest litigation format is something that the judicial body has designed for its work. Even if you have no idea about the process of PIL in India, your advocate will help you understand everything in detail, and it is their duty to do so. If you know what is PIL and you are well aware of how it can help you, then that's all for proceeding with your case with the advocate.