Landmark cases of Public Interest Litigation in India

PIL (Public Interest Litigation) is a legal action brought in a court of law to protect a community’s legal rights. In a politically structured society or political institution, the expression refers to a specific human claim. The concept of public interest litigation (PIL), which has been and continues to be promoted by judicial activism, has become increasingly important in terms of establishing valuable and respectable records, particularly in the area of the constitutional and legal treatment of “unrepresentative and under-represented” groups. judicial activism is required to make the constitution’s aspirations meaningful and a reality. In basic terms, “public interest litigation” refers to lawsuits filed in a court of law to safeguard “public interests” such as pollution, terrorism, road safety, construction dangers, and so on.

Let’s take a look at the landmark cases that changed the landscape of PIL in India.

Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan (1997)

           Bhanwari Devi, a Rajasthan state government employee who attempted to prevent child marriage as part of her duties as a Women Development Programme worker in the 1990s, was repeatedly raped by Gujjar landowners. The rape victim received no justice from the Rajasthan High Court, and the perpetrators were freed. This prompted numerous women’s organisations and non-governmental organisations to submit a petition at the Supreme Court under the Vishaka umbrella. “The absence of domestic legislation occupies the area, to create effective measures to combat the evil of terrorism,” the Supreme Court of India said in this case.

           The Supreme Court issued a major decision in 1997, laying forth criteria for businesses to follow when dealing with sexual harassment accusations. The Supreme Court of India issued the “Vishaka Guidelines” regulating sexual harassment at work in the case of Vishaka and others v State of Rajasthan in 1997. According to the court, these instructions must be followed until legislation to address the problem is approved. The court found that “International Conventions and standards are relevant for interpreting the guarantee of gender equality, right to work with human dignity in Articles 14, 15 and 19(1)(g) and 21 of the Constitution, as well as the implicit safeguards against sexual harassment.”

          It has pushed for stronger enforcement of women’s rights and a broader application of international law at the highest levels of justice. As a result, the case has been dubbed “ground-breaking,” “one of the most potent legacies” of the PIL case, and a “trendsetter” who “started a revolution.”

MC Mehta v. Union Of India 1986 – Oleum gas leak

            The Bhopal gas tragedy is widely regarded as one of the world’s worst industrial disasters. This tragedy occurred in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, in 1984. The tragedy was caused by a methyl isocyanate (MIC) leak that occurred in December at Union Carbide India Ltd, a pesticides manufacturing factory (UCIL). The MIC is thought to be the most dangerous chemical utilised in industry. A MIC gas leak occurred in the facility on the nights of December 2-3, 1984. This leak had grown and tainted the air, causing different symptoms such as coughing, vomiting, acute eye irritation, and suffocation in those who were exposed to it. This resulted in the deaths of thousands of individuals and the lifelong impairment of lakhs of others as a result of the calamity. The lawsuits were brought against UCC, a US-based majority shareholder. These criminal and civil lawsuits were brought in federal courts in the United States. To deal with the claims emerging from the Bhopal Gas tragedy catastrophe, the Indian government created the Bhopal Gas tragedy disaster Act. The UCC initially approved a sum of around 470 million dollars as part of a compensation deal with the Indian government. This disaster wreaked devastation, and as a result, attention was drawn to the necessity for numerous regulations governing environmental preservation. The notion of total responsibility was recognised by the Court. The exemption available in this instance was a third-party act or natural tragedy, but the court determined that because the leakage was caused by human and mechanical mistakes, the possibility of a third-party act or natural calamity is out of scope, and so the concept of total culpability applies. An industry that participates in hazardous operations that might endanger the health and safety of individuals who work and live nearby has a responsibility to guarantee that no one is harmed. This industry must operate by the strictest safety standards, and it must be fully liable for any harm caused by its activities.

The decision is still regarded as one of the most significant in our country’s environmental law. The decision addressed several novel scenarios and interpretations of legislation and fundamental rights. The court continues to employ the arguments made in this case. As a result, this case became a watershed moment in Indian legal history.

Sheela Barse v. State of Maharashtra 1983 

               Sheela Barse, a former freelance journalist, requested permission from the jail officials to interview female inmates at the Maharashtra State Jails. The petitioner began tape-recording her conversations with the detainees after receiving permission to interview the Inspector-General of Prisons, and when the jail authorities learned of this, the licence to interview was revoked. The journalist filed a writ petition with the court, claiming that a citizen has a right to know under Articles 19(1)(a) and 21 of the Indian Constitution. Later, when the matter came up for hearing before the court, the Inspector-General of Prisons stated in his counter-affidavit that the permission granted to the petitioner was cancelled by the competent authorities it had been granted in violation of the Maharashtra Prison Manual and was therefore illegal and that the respondent had stated that the Articles of the Constitution referred to by the petitioner were not applicable in this case and that the petitioner was not entitled to uncontrolled interviews and the factual information gathered as a result. Further, the respondent’s counsel said that the convicts’ desire to participate in the interviews cannot be compelled.

                In ruling on the application and deciding the case, the court stated that prisoners should be granted public access because they have a fundamental right under Article 21 of the constitution, and as a result, interviews are required because otherwise accurate information about the prison and the conditions of the prisoners may not be collected. The court also held that, while prisoner interviews are permitted, they are not uncontrolled, and that the information gathered must be verified with competent authorities to ensure that no false information is disseminated, and that, in some cases, prisoner interviews may be prohibited by the authorities. Finally, the court decided that the petitioner is free to make an application to the prescribed authority for an interview of inmates and that such an application will be handled appropriately by the jail authorities, subject to public order, decency, and morality.



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.


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