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What is PIL and How Do You File It?

In this piece we take a closer look at what exactly is the meaning of Public Interest Litigation or PIL and how one goes about it.

There are times that each one of us has noticed something in a public space that causes public nuisance to everyone and yet nothing is being done about it. People have just adjust to the nuisance and carry on with their lives, accepting all of it as a part and parcel of the way the world works. And even if someone wants to take action, what can they do? Where can they file a complaint? Who is going to address their problems? Is it the government? Is it the police? Or is it the courts? In this blog we’ll discuss what is Public Interest Litigation, who can file it, when to file it and the procedure,

Fortunately, the law has had the foresight with regards to this and has provided a remedy for such cases. This remedy is called Public Interest Litigation or PIL where an ordinary citizen can take up a cause on behalf of the general public to the courts and seek from the courts a directive to the relevant authorities to remedy the issue.

What Is A PIL Exactly?

PIL or Public interest litigation is legal action taken by a an individual citizen or a group of individual citizens on behalf of a section of the public, such as disadvantaged groups and minorities, or the public in general. PIL is a mechanism of using the law deliberately to effect social change. In judicial terms PIL is a petition that is filed in a court by an individual citizen, a group of individual citizens or a non-government organization in the pursuit of justice for a social issue with the broader public interest in mind. The main aim of PIL is to give ordinary people to stand up for causes that may not affect them personally but resolving the matter would mean justice and upliftment for someone who may not have access to any legal and judicial recourse. It is not defined in any statute. It is the consequence of judicial activism to pick up a cause which affects the public at large but not affecting a single person personally.

Who Can File PIL?

Any individual who is an Indian citizen can file a PIL. And the issue regarding the PIL is not restricted to any specific list or subject. It can be regarding anything. The only condition that validates a PIL is that the issue being raised should bear significant public interest and not for private gain alone. On reviewing the petition, if the court finds that the PIL filed has public significance, then it will allow the case. If the individual(s) who have filed the PIL have filed it through a lawyer, then that lawyer will take the case forward. But if the individual(s) have filed the petition of their own accord, then the court will appoint a lawyer.

A PIL is important because it not only addresses public issues but also helps raise awareness amongst the common man about their legal rights and the legal tools available to them that they may not yet be aware of.

How Does One Decide When To File A Public Interest Litigation?

There is no formal method or procedure that one has to follow before deciding to file a PIL. However, it is always wise to put forth the issue that you intend to address across with the party or parties you intend to challenge in the PIL and give them time to respond. There are two advantages to doing this. First, there is a good chance that the defendant might not be aware of the matter you are challenging and might be willing to resolve it without going to court. And in the even the defendant does not accept your terms and is willing to fight it out in court, by establishing a line of communication before filing the PIL, you have put on record that there is not mala fide intent involved and the case is bona fide and genuinely in the interest of the public in general.

For instance, if you have an issue with traffic congestion in your street at a certain time of the day, you can first contact the traffic police authorities and see what they have to say about it. They may very well ensure that a policeman is stationed at the relevant junction at that time of the day to regulate the traffic. But if they refuse to act on it or promise to act on it and yet do not act on it, then it would be completely justified to file a PIL.

Where Are Public Interest Litigations Filed?

Unlike other cases where you have to first file an FIR at the police station and then proceed to judicial enquiry, a PIL has to filed directly at the court. There is no need for an FIR in this instance. Albeit, it must be noted that PILs are usually filed at the high court.

Procedure For Filing A PIL?

The procedure for filing a PIL is as follows:

  1. Before filing a PIL one has to do the complete research about the issue. When a PIL is filed concerning many people, the petitioner needs to consult all the individuals and groups which are affected.
  2. Once you are sure of filing a PIL, collect all the vital information and documents as evidence to support your case. You can argue the case on your own or appoint a lawyer to argue on behalf of you.
  3. It is always advisable to consult a lawyer before filing the PIL. If you are interested in arguing the case on your own then be prepared to explain the problem and convince the court in the time you have been allotted.
  4. Once the PIL copy is ready to be filed in the High Court, then submit two copies of the petition to the court. Along with this, one copy of the petition needs to be served to the respondents in advance. This proof of serving the petition copy to the respondents has to be affixed in the petition.

If the PIL is filed in the Supreme Court, then five copies of the petition need to be submitted to the court. Respondent is served with the petition copy when the court issues the notice regarding the same.

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PIL is a powerful tool that many are either not aware of or think of it as too much of a hassle. ‘Why should I care if no one else cares?’ is the general attitude when it comes to social issues. 

And this attitude is not out of lethargy or nonchalance. But the effort and resources that go into collecting evidence and documenting the case may seem very tedious and not worth the effort.

But today there are so many other tools that can obscure all these obstacles. You can use your phones to collect photographic evidence. You can file an RTI application to collect any data on the record that can help prove your case. Social media is a great way to call out and reach out to other people in public who relate with your sentiments and can help strengthening the PIL. But it is always advisable to consult a lawyer in the process because a trained lawyer can tell you certain aspects of the process and due procedure that may not be common sense but have a role to play in the larger judicial machinery. So if you have any queries with regards to PILs or are looking for legal assisstance to file a PIL, then get in touch with us and our team of lawyers will get in touch with you to get a better understanding of your requirements and help you with your needs.

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