Public Interest Litigation, as the name suggests, means litigation for the protection of the public interest. This kind of lawsuit may not necessarily be introduced in a court of law by the aggrieved party but by the court itself or any other private party. It is the power given to the public by courts through judicial activism. However, it must be proved that such a petition is filed for the interest of the public and is not frivolous litigation.
The need for such kind of litigation may arise when the aggrieved party or victim does not have the required resources to commence litigation or the freedom to move court as it may have been suppressed or encroached upon. Such cases may commence on the petition of any public-spirited individual or the court can itself take cognizance of the matter and proceed suo motto.
Origin of the Concept of PIL
Justice Krishna Iyer initially introduced the concept of PIL in India in 1976 in Mumbai in a case wherein an unregistered association of workers was permitted to institute a writ petition under Article 32 of the Constitution for redressal of common grievances. Justice Krishna Iyer expressed the reasons for the liberalization of the rule of Locus Standi in Fertilizer Corporation Kamgar V. Union of India [AIR 1981 SC 149; 1981 (2) SCR52], and the idea of ‘Public Interest Litigation’ blossomed in S.P. Gupta & Ors. V. UOI [AIR 1982 SC149].
PIL and Judicial Activism:
Public Interest Litigation or social interest litigation has great significance and draws the attention of everyone concerned. The Supreme Court in its recent decisions has reasonably relaxed the traditional rule of “Locus Standi” that, a person, whose right has been infringed alone can file a petition since the courts now allow public interest litigation which may be initiated by public-spirited citizens for the enforcement of constitutional or legal rights.
Now anyone can approach the court for the interest of public or public welfare by filing a petition to:
- The Supreme Court under Article32 of the Constitution
- The High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution; and
- The Court of Magistrate under Section 133, CrPC.
The following are the most Iconic Farticle cases in Indian history:
In 1992, a woman named Bhanwari Devi was gang-raped for trying to stop the marriage of a one-year-old girl in rural Rajasthan as part of a government campaign against child marriage.
She had to face numerous obstacles while trying to seek justice. A lawyer named, Naina Kapur who had attended Bhanwari’s criminal trial, initiated a PIL action in the Supreme Court to challenge ‘sexual harassment at workplace’. The Vishaka writ petition was filed in 1992 in the names of five NGOs against the State of Rajasthan, Women and Child Welfare Department [Rajasthan], Department of Social Welfare [Rajasthan], and the Union of India.
The judgment of this case recognized sexual harassment as a clear violation of the Fundamental Rights of equality, non-discrimination, life, and liberty, as well as the right to carry out any occupation. The guidelines issued towards employers included a definition of sexual harassment, steps for preventing harassment, a description of complaint procedures to be strictly observed in all workplaces for the prevention of sexual harassment and enforcement of the right to gender equality.
This case has been described as one of the most powerful legacies of PIL and one that created a revolution.
This was another landmark judgment through a PIL. In Haryana, a person having more than two living children was disqualified from holding any offices in Panchayats. The purpose was to promote family planning. The petitioners and appellants in the case were individuals who had been disqualified from holding an office in panchayat due to the reason that they had more than two children.
The Court upheld the provision, as it was a provision in public interest. The PIL indirectly promoted family planning in India even though the judgment did not do anything to evaluate it critically.
In this case, the attention of the Courts was brought to the incredible situation of undertrials in Bihar who had been in detention pending trial for periods in excess to the maximum sentence for their offenses. The Court proceeded to make the right to a speedy trial the central issue of the case and passed the order to release close to 40,000 under-trials who had undergone detention beyond the maximum sentence.
The judgment was passed against civic authorities for allowing untreated sewage from tanneries in Kanpur to make its way into the Ganges.
The court passed three landmark judgments and numerous orders against the polluting industries. Apart from industries, more than 250 towns and cities also had to set up sewage treatment due to this case.
The ruling shifted 600 tanneries out of the city and relocated them toa planned leather complex in West Bengal, which earlier operated in a highly congested residential area of Kolkata.
Several industries were shut down and only allowed to reopen after setting up effluent treatment plants that controlled pollution.
Parmanand Katara, a human rights activist, filed this writ petition. It was based on a newspaper report regarding the death of a scooterist after an accident. Doctors refused to attend to him and directed him to another hospital around 20 km. away that could deal with medico-legal cases.
Based on the petition, the apex Court held:
- That preservation of human life is of paramount importance.
- Every doctor has the professional obligation to extend his/her services to protect life.
- The effort to save the person should be the top priority. This applies not only to the legal profession but also to the police and other citizens’ part of the matter
This was a case relating to the IT Act, 2000, on the issue of online speech and intermediary liability in India. Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, relating to restrictions on online speech, was struck down by the Supreme Court as it was unconstitutional and violated Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India which guarantees the freedom of speech. The Court further held that the Section was not saved by being ‘reasonable restrictions’ on freedom of speech under Article 19(2). This case was a landmark moment for online speech in India.
(This article was submitted by Gobin Phoolka of Panjab University as a part of B&B Associates’ internship program.)