What is a Public Interest Litigation (PIL)?

Last Updated at: Oct 30, 2020
A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) has been filed in the Supreme Court recently against agitation and procession by political parties or any organization all over India. It seeks direction to frame strict rules and form guidelines against such agitations/processions.  The petitioner has further sought a direction to impose a ban on agitations/processions in favour or against the recent farmer bills enacted by the Parliament. 


A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) is a matter introduced in a court of law to protect the interests of the public (usually, negligence by some public institution or large corporate). An affected person doesn’t need to file a PIL; it may be filed by any member of the public (including say, an NGO), so long as it is not just a frivolous matter. Over the past few decades, there have been many victories through PILs. The history of the PIL begins around 1980 in India when Justice Krishna and Justice PM Bhagwati and other judges of the Supreme Court opened the gates for judicial activism in India.

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Who will file this?

A PIL may be filed by any Indian citizen, the only condition being that it can not be filed with a private gain but in the larger interest of the public. Also, the court may sometimes take cognizance of an issue when it is of the fullest public importance, and assign a lawyer to handle the matter.

How to File a PIL

To file a PIL, you need to file a petition. Depending on the gravity of the case, you would file such a matter:

  1. In Supreme Court under Article 32 of the Constitution;
  2. In High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution; or
  3. In the Magistrate’s Court under Section 133 of the Civil Procedure Code

In Supreme Court, you must file five copies of the petition with the court and provide proof that advance notice has been served upon each respondent.

If in High Court & Magistrate’s Court, you must file two copies of the petition with the court and also provide proof that advance notice has been served upon each respondent.

The court fee is Rs. 50 for each respondent is to be paid along with the notice.

Successful PILs

  1. Hussainara Khatoon v. State of Bihar, 1979: Mistreatment of undertrials in Bihar.
  2. Sheela Barse vs State of Maharashtra, 1983: Due to custodial violence, separate cells were established for female convicts.
  3. MC Mehta vs Union of India, 1988: Environmentalist MC Mehta successfully used the PIL to stop tanneries from letting waste flow into the Ganges.

Difference between PIL and Writ Petition  

Writs are submitted for their gain but not with a genuine interest of the public, whereas PILs are submitted for a greater good.

What are the problems which can’t be filed under PIL?

  • The Supreme Court has published a set of PIL Guidelines which do not allow the following matters as PILs:
  • Issues with landlord
  • Service issues
  • Retirement matters and gratuity issues
  • Complaints against central and state departments and local authorities except those referred to in points 1 to 10 of the guidelines
  • Admission into medical institutions and other educational institutions
  • Petitions to hear cases pending in the High Court or lower courts early

Do judges normally acknowledge PILs?

This varies between judges. The chief justice of the court handles the PIL. Hence, it completely depends on how well the sitting judge views the matter. The average admission rate usually varies between 30 and 60 per cent. PILs are normally taken into account if the judges are assured that the subject matter is of importance and is in the public interest.

How long is it necessary to close the case?

It’s up to the situation. The court will take up the issue immediately and conduct the hearing. Also, it will dismiss the matter which holds a serious significance in the lives of people, breach of human rights, etc. However, because of the piling PILs in the courts, it takes years for the trial and resolution of the case. The court can, however, guide the authorities between the hearings to take such steps if and when necessary.

The court will give the judgment only after the final hearing of both parties.