PIL (Public Interest Litigation) is a litigation for the protection of public interest. It is a litigation introduced in a court of law, not by the aggrieved party, but by the court itself or by any other private party. The court can itself take cognizance of a matter and proceed suo moto or cases can commence on the petition of any public spirited individual on matters such as:
1. Violation of basic human rights.
2. Content or conduct of Government Policies.
3. To compel Municipal authority to perform a public duty.
4. Violation of religious rights or the basic fundamental rights.
The first petition of its kind was filed in December 1979, by Kapila Hingorani regarding the condition of the prisoners detained in Bihar jail whose suits were pending in court. The case ended with 40,000 prisoners being released.
It was in the case of SP Gupta vs Union of India that the Supreme Court of India defined the term ‘public interest litigation’.
Before the 1980s, only the aggrieved party could approach the courts for justice. The concept of a PIL is in consonance with the principles enshrined in Article 39A of the constitution of India to protect and deliver prompt social justice with the help of law. Filing a PIL is not as cumbersome as a usual legal case; there have been instances where letters and telegrams addressed to the court have been taken up as PILs and heard.
A PIL is a litigation filed when the interest or fundamental right of a person or general public is affected or breached. It can be filed in any High Court or Supreme Court by the following:
1. Any person, as a concerned citizen can file a case against any person, industry or authority whose action or decision has caused harm to the general public or to a certain section of people.
2. If the Court acknowledges a social issue that needs to be represented and challenged in court, it can take suo moto cognizance.
On the basis of current news or reports by authorities like the Human Rights Commission, if the court feels that the human or fundamental rights of a section of people are affected by someone, the court itself files a PIL to either enforce the violated rights or impart any other remedy for it. A PIL may be filed against the state government, central government or municipal authority, but not any private party. But, a private person may be included in the PIL as respondent after the concerned state authority.
However, the court must be satisfied that the writ petition fulfils some basic needs for the PIL. Any citizen can file a public case by filing a petition:
1. Under Act 32 of the Indian Constitution, in the Supreme court.
2. Under Act 226 of the Indian Constitution, in the High court.
3. Under section 133 of the Criminal Procedure Code, in the court of Magistrate.
A PIL is a slightly unconventional method of litigation but a powerful one in the hands of concerned citizens who are willing to fight for the benefit of the public.
At present, a court can treat a letter as a writ petition and take action upon it. In such cases, the court has to be satisfied that the writ petition complies the following:
1. Where the letter is addressed by the aggrieved person.
2. A public spirited Individual or a social action group files a petition for the enforcement of legal or constitutional rights to any person who, upon poverty or disability, are not able to approach the court for redress.
However, with the increasing number of bizarre PIL’s filed everyday, the courts have become wary of accepting them, and any case is now accepted only after careful scrutiny. Courts have started to reject mindless petitions that do not have a substantial motive. It becomes paramount to consult a lawyer before filing a PIL.
Thus, a PIL is a compelling tool provided by the Constitution to access the option of litigation when ones interest is violated – by way of a public interest violation or a direct violation. It is an inexpensive tool which provides an option to anyone who wishes to raise concerns over matters that affect the public interest.