Know all about Public Interest Litigation (PIL)

This article covers information on what is Public Interest Litigation, How to file a PIL, who can file a PIL – History and Objectives, procedure to file a Public Interest Litigation in the High Court.


Public interest Litigation“, in simple words, means, litigation filed in a court of law, for the protection of “Public Interest”, such as Pollution, Terrorism, Road safety, Constructional hazards etc. Any matter where the interest of public at large is affected can be redressed by filing a Public Interest Litigation in a court of law.

PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION is not defined in any statute or in any act. It has been interpreted by judges to consider the intent of public at large. Although, the main and only focus of such litigation is “Public Interest” there are various areas where a PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION can be filed.


In normal cases, it is seen that the aggrieved party i.e. the victim, who is affected has to file his case in a court of law. That person should have an interest in the dispute. But in filing of Public Interest Litigation there is no such condition. Any person can file a Public Interest Litigation. The only condition being that the same has to be filed n Public Interest. Public Interest Litigation is litigation introduced in a court of law, not by the aggrieved party but by the court itself or by any other private party. It is not necessary, for the exercise of the court’s jurisdiction, that the person who is the victim of the violation of his or her right should personally approach the court. Public Interest Litigation is the power given to the public by courts to protect interest of public at large.

Such cases may occur when the victim does not have the necessary resources to commence litigation or his freedom to move court has been suppressed or encroached upon. The court can itself take cognizance of the matter and precede suo motu or cases can commence on the petition of any public-spirited individual.


The term “PIL” originated in the United States in the mid-1980s. Since the nineteenth century, various movements in that country had contributed to public interest law, which was part of the legal aid movement. The first legal aid office was established in New York in 1876. In the 1960s the PIL movement began to receive financial support from the office of Economic Opportunity, This encouraged lawyers and public spirited persons to take up cases of the under-privileged and fight against dangers to environment and public health and exploitation of consumers and the weaker sections.



PIL had begun in India towards the end of 1970s and came into full bloom in the 80s. Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer and Justice PM. Bhagwati, honourable Judges of the Supreme Court of India delievred landmark judgements which opened up new vistas in PIL.


According to Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer, PIL is a process, of obtaining justice for the people, of voicing people’s grievances through the legal process. The aim of PIL is to give to the common people of this country access to the courts to obtain legal redress.


Any public spirited citizen can move/approach the court for the public cause (in the interests of the public or public welfare) by filing a petition:

  1. In Supreme Court under Art.32 of the Constitution;
  2. In High Court under Art.226 of the Constitution; and
  3. In the Court of Magistrate under Sec.133, Cr. P.C.

With the view to regulate the abuse of PIL the apex court it has framed certain guidelines (to govern the management and disposal of PILs.) The court must be careful to see that the petitioner who approaches it is acting bona fide and not for personal gain, private profit or political or other oblique considerations. The court should not allow its process to be abused by politicians and others to delay legitimate administrative action or to gain political objectives.

At present, the court can treat a letter as a writ petition and take action upon it. But, it is not every letter which may be treated as a writ petition by the court. The court would be justified in treating the letter as a writ petition only in the following cases-

(i) It is only where the letter is addressed by an aggrieved person or

(ii) A public spirited individual or

(iii) A social action group for enforcement of the constitutional or the legal rights of a person in custody or of a class or group of persons who by reason of poverty, disability or socially or economically disadvantaged position find it difficult to approach the court for redress.

Even though it is very much essential to curb the misuse and abuse of PIL, any move by the government to regulate the PIL results in widespread protests from those who are not aware of its abuse and equate any form of regulation with erosion of their fundamental rights. Under these circumstances the Supreme Court of India is required to step in by incorporating safe guards provided by the Civil Procedure Code in matters of stay orders /injunctions in the arena of PIL.

 PIL is a tool in hands of public spirited citizens who have a good motive behind the PIL and to prevent it from becoming a weapon in the hands of those litigants who want to either misuse this concept for either commercial gain or publicity the apex court has time and again laid down various guidelines and by imposing costs on the frivolous public interest litigation the courts have only strengthened their stance.

by Shweta Kaushik – Advocate, Punjab and Haryana High Court


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