PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION  : THE INNOVATIVE APPROACH OF JUDICIARY

INTRODUCTION

Public Interest Litigation under Article 32 of Indian Constitution means litigation for the protection of the public interest. PIL 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 to file Public Interest Litigation by the aggrieved person who is a victim of violation of his or her right personally. PIL is the power given to the public by courts through judicial activism. However, the petitions should not be a frivolous litigation by a busy body, the person filing the petition must prove to the satisfaction of the court that the petition is being filed for a public interest.

There are situations in which the victim does not have the necessary resources to commence litigation or his freedom to move court has been suppressed or encroached upon. In such cases the court can itself take cognizance of the matter and proceed suo motu or cases can commence on the petition of any public-spirited individual. Public interest litigation is the use of the law to advance human rights and equality, or raise issues of broad public concern. It helps advance the cause of minority or disadvantaged groups or individuals. Public interest cases may arise from both public and private law matters. 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. The seeds of the concept of public interest litigation were initially sown in India by Justice Krishna Iyer, in 1976 in Mumbai Kamgar  first reported case of PIL was registered, in 1979, focused on the inhuman conditions of prisons and under trial prisoners.  Public interest litigation is not defined in any statute or in any act. It has been interpreted by judges to consider the intent of the public at large.  The first reported case of PIL was 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 new era of the PIL movement was heralded by Justice P.N. Bhagawati in the case of S.P. Gupta vs. Union of India. 

NATURE AND SCOPE OF PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION

It protects the rights and interest of the underprivileged and the weaker section of the society who are oppressed, socially or economically or otherwise and are unable to approach the court themselves. PIL is different from the usual method of litigation. Locus standi is mandatory in traditional litigation, but a genuine interest or legitimate concern about the issues of the public will act as a substitute for local standi in a PIL.  Filing a PIL is not as cumbersome as any other legal case and there have been instances when even letters and telegrams addressed to the court have been taken up as PILs and heard by the court. Remedial nature of PIL departs from the traditional locus standi requirements. It indirectly incorporated the principles enshrined in the Part IV of the Constitution of India into Part III of the Constitution. By riding the aspirations of part IV into part III of the Constitution, the Indian Judiciary had changed the procedural nature of the Indian law into a dynamic welfare one.

PIL involves a combination of formalism that stands attached with the judicial system, with an in formalism that characterizes a tribunal and/or a departmental system.  Its initiation does not require that a formal petition in a prescribed format and manner be presented to the court.The persons/agencies seeking justice can write even a postcard to the court and in case the court considers it a fit case, it can initiate action.

Initially, only petitions relating to habeas corpus were recognized as the subject matter of PIL. Now the scope of PIL extends to many issues of public importance such as:

1.Child abuse and child labour

2.Cases of neglected children

3.Bonded labor cases

4.Atrocities against woman, rape cases, kidnapping and murder

5.Refusal to pay minimum wages to workmen

6.Persecution of the socially and economically backward sections of the society – especially children and women

7.Complaints against police

8.Cases relating to environmental protection

The object of a PIL is for addressing the concerns about the public, individuals use PIL as a cover to accomplish their selfish goals. The petitioner must act in good faith, keeping in mind the interest of the public and not to attain his political, economic, or personal motives. 

CASES RELATED TO PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION

1.Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India and Others – The Supreme Court gave directions to end child labour. The orders eventually led to enactment of Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act 1986.

2.M. C. Mehta & Another v. Union of India & Others AIR 1987 SC 1086– This PIL was filed after the oleum gas leak from Shriram Food and Fertilizers Ltd. complex at Delhi. The Court laid down the concept of absolute liability. 

3.Anil Yadav v. State of Bihar – This was a case that exposed barbaric and inhuman brutalities of the police. Many criminals went blind as needles were pierced in their eyeballs. The SC ordered the guilty policeman to be prosecuted and punished and medical treatment to be rendered to these blinded men. It held it was the fundamental right of the accused to get access to free legal aid. This case leads to the growth of investigative litigation.

4.Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corporation

This case came before the Supreme Court as a writ petition. 5 judge-bench gave a decision allowing petitioners who live on pavements and in slums in the city of Bombay to stay on the pavements against their order of eviction. The court also held that the right to livelihood is a right to life as per Article 21.

5.Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration

The apex Court here dealt with the right to protection against solitary confinement and putting undertrials. It observed that the operation of Article 14, 19 and 21 may be pared down for a prisoner but not puffed out altogether and every man or woman sentenced for a term is committing violence to Part III”.

 6.Shreya singhal v. Union of India

The apex Court held section 66A of the Information Technology Act which allowed arrests for objectionable content posted on the internet as unconstitutional and hence, struck down by the impugned section.

7.Naz foundation v. NCT

The court decriminalized sexual activities “against the order of nature” which included homosexual acts, as per Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code.  But this judgment was overruled in 2013 by the Supreme Court of India.

8.Damodar Rao v. Special Officer, Municipal Corporation, Hyderabad. 1987:

In this case, the writ petition was filed by some of the residents who lived around the Park claiming that construction of a residential colony in an area reserved for recreational purposes amounts to violation of their Right to Life u/A 21. The court in this case held that any construction of residential houses on the land allotted for recreational park would upset the environmental balance of the area. It directed the Government to remove any such construction on recreational zones.

9.Citizen for Democracy v. State of Assam

The Supreme Court in the present case which was a PIL had declared that while lodged in jail or while in transport or transit from one jail to another or to the court or back handcuffs and other fetters should not be forced upon a prisoner.

10.Municipal Council, Ratlam v. Vardichan

This landmark case is a path-finder in the field of people’s involvement in matters of public importance. The court accepted the locus standi of the citizens of a ward to seek directions against the Municipality for taking remedial action under Section 133 of the Code of Criminal Procedure and putting an end to the nuisance caused due to open drains, pits and public excretion in the absence of lavatories.

11.Rural Litigation Entitlement Kendra (RLEK) v. Union Of India,  1988:

This was the first environmental PIL in India. The Supreme Court acting promptly prohibited the mining operations with a view to determine if the mines were operated with the safety standards. It appointed the Bhargava Committee- to assess the total effects of the mines in the ecology of the area. On the recommendations of the Bhargava Committee, the court ordered that these operations in such an ecologically sensitive area had to be stopped. The court further observed that preservation of ecology is a task which not only the States but also the Citizens must undertake under article 51 A (g).

MISUSE OF PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION

People have started misusing the PIL to settle a personal vendetta and serve political or business interests. The court has warned that PIL should be treated as a public interest litigation and not a private interest litigation.

[Central Vista Verdict] Supreme Court laments misuse of PIL after transferring case from Delhi High Court to itself citing “public interest” 

CONCLUSION

PIL is thus a mechanism which helps the poor get justice. The innovation of this legitimate instrument proved beneficial for developing countries like India. PIL has been used as a strategy to combat the atrocities prevailing in society. It would be appropriate to conclude by quoting Cunningham, “Indian PIL might rather be a whole new creative arising out of the ashes of the old order.” The great strength of the judiciary must be utilized for public good and always in public interest in the service of the people. In order to curb frivolous litigation by proper check at entry and quick disposal is the main remedy.  Judicial system can suffer no greater lack of credibility than a perception that its order can be flouted with impunity. This court must refrain from passing orders that cannot be enforced, whatever the fundamental right may be and however good the cause. It serves no purpose to issue some high profile mandamus or declaration that can remain only on paper. Although usually the Supreme Court immediately passes interim orders for relief, rarely is a final verdict given, and in most of the cases, the follow-up is poor. The courts therefore, need to keep a check on the cases being filed and ensure the bona fide interest of the petitioner and the nature of the cause of action, in order to avoid unnecessary litigations. Vexatious and mischievous litigation must be identified and struck down so that the objectives of PIL aren’t violated. The founding fathers of our country envisaged the judiciary as “a bastion of rights and justice.” The tools of judicial review, activism and action in public interest through PILs are the tools to achieve complete independence of justice machinery and due discharge of duties. 

Aishwarya Says:

I have always been against Glorifying Over Work and therefore, in the year 2021, I have decided to launch this campaign “Balancing Life”and talk about this wrong practice, that we have been following since last few years. I will be talking to and interviewing around 1 lakh people in the coming 2021 and publish their interview regarding their opinion on glamourising Over Work.

If you are interested in participating in the same, do let me know.

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In the year 2021, we wrote about 1000 Inspirational Women In India, in the year 2022, we would be featuring 5000 Start Up Stories.

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