As a law student, the word Public Interest Litigation or PIL was first read by me in semester 1 while reading about environmental laws. A very famous advocate & environmentalist, M. C Mehta, must have filed so many PILs that it becomes difficult to understand sometimes that the person had so many problems against the government as well as some private bodies discharging public duties. Almost all of the PILs filed by this person is named ‘ M.C Mehta vs Union of India’. It is sometimes difficult to understand that which case was filed when & what was the issue. PIL is filed in Court of Law in public interest, issues such as corruption, malpractices Bonded Labour matters, neglected Children, non-payment of minimum wages to workers and exploitation of casual workers, atrocities on women, environmental pollution and disturbance of ecological balance, food adulteration maintenance of heritage and culture[1].

Basically, any matter which affects the public at large. A PIL can be filed by anyone, the only condition is that it needs to be filed in public interest. The concept of locus standi does not apply here, which means that the person filing the PIL may or may not be directly connected to the case in question. The first reported case of PIL was that of Hussainara Khatoon vs. State of Bihar (1979) that focused on the inhuman conditions of prisons and under trial prisoners that led to the release of more than 40,000 under trial prisoners.

A PIL can be filed in a simple letter addressing the issue and it will be considered by the Court if deemed fit. However, the seeds of the idea of public interest prosecution were at first planted in India by Justice Krishna Iyer, in 1976 in Mumbai Kamagar Sabha versus Abdul Thai. Articles 21,48A and 51(g) of the Indian Constitution take measure to guard the right to healthy environment. Article 32 and 226 of the Constitution has been used time to time and again to raise the issue of environmental protection PIL has proved to be an effective tool.

In a Public Interest Litigation brought against Ganga water contamination to forestall any further contamination of Ganga water, the HC held that the candidate albeit not a riparian proprietor is qualified for move the court for the requirement of legal arrangements, as he is the individual keen on securing the existences of individuals who utilize Ganga water. In another case, the court held that anybody getting not exactly the lowest pay permitted by law can move toward the Supreme Court straightforwardly without going through the work official and lower courts. In the case of M.C. Mehta v. State of Tamil Nadu and Ors[2], the Supreme Court banned child labour by ordering that no children below the age of 15 years can be engaged in any hazardous type of work in any factory or mine.

Gradually, PIL passed the test time and proved to be a potent weapon in the hands of public for enforcement of legal rights and public duties, non-enforcement of which may result or have resulted in public injury[3]. As on 2019, the case of Aarey colony or popularly known as the green lung of Mumbai came into the picture. The lovely region had more than five lakh trees combining the Sanjay Gandhi national park. While a project for a construction of a new car shed was on the way, a lot of trees were being cut to give room for the same. The law students had written a letter to C.J.I Ranjan Gogoi, urging him to direct the state government to stop cutting trees. The Supreme Court registered the letter as a PIL and took sup motu cognizance of the matter. The supreme Court directed the Maharashtra government not to cut any more trees at the Aarey forest in Mumbai. The Court made, it clear that if the trees cannot be cut legally, it cannot be done at all.

In the end, the court decides if a case deserves a hearing and how serious the offence is. PIL, on the other hand, plays a critical role in providing justice not only to those involved in the case, but also to the entire community by safeguarding the rights of all[4].

[1] Andreadsilva-PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION ( PIL), PUblic Interest Litigation (PIL) – Aishwarya Sandeep, visited on 09-08-2021 at 18:56hrs.

[2] 1991 AIR 417.

[3] Tamoghna Pramanick-PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION: A BRIEF INTRODUCTION AND HISTORY, Public Interest Litigation: A Brief Introduction and History – Aishwarya Sandeep, visited on 09-08-2021 at 19:23hrs.

[4] Atharva Kulshrestha-ENVIRONMENTAL PIL – EFFECTIVE OR NOT, environmental pil – effective or not – Aishwarya Sandeep, visited on 09-08-2021 at 19:57hrs.

Aishwarya Says:

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