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Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in India

Explore the Impact of Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in India: From Empowerment to Accountability, Unveiling Legal Transformation for Equity.

What Are the Advantages of Public Interest Litigation?

Public Interest Litigation (PIL) carries a plethora of advantages that uplift the marginalised and amplify their voices in the legal realm. These benefits encompass:

Empowerment Through Representation: PIL offers a platform for those previously voiceless and unseen to partake in national decision-making and wield influence.

Enhanced Access to Justice: Procedural hurdles are mitigated, ensuring equitable access to justice, especially for the financially disadvantaged.

Broadened Locus Standi: Representative actions enable individuals or groups with a vested interest to litigate on behalf of those unable to afford legal costs.

Addressing Crucial Issues: PIL facilitates judicial intervention in matters like environmental protection and consumer rights, affecting a wide spectrum of the population.

Affordable Medium: Courts accepting letters and telegrams as PILs reduce litigation costs, prompting public-spirited individuals to bring pertinent issues to court’s attention.

Fact-Finding Commissions: Courts appointing fact-finding commissions for allegations bolsters a new evidentiary mode, aiding cases alleging rights violations.

Vigilance and Monitoring: Courts’ role in periodic compliance monitoring ensures practical realisation of rights, often involving vigilant bodies and social action groups.

Public Interest Litigation transcends barriers, democratising justice and championing causes that resonate with the masses, ultimately fostering a more equitable society.

Procedure to File PIL in India

Filing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in India involves a process that empowers citizens and organisations to champion public causes. Here’s the step-by-step procedure to file a PIL:

Eligibility and Cause:

Any Indian citizen or organisation with a genuine public interest or cause can initiate a PIL. The matter should relate to enforcing legal or constitutional rights of individuals who, due to poverty or disability, cannot approach the court themselves.

Choose the Appropriate Forum:

Depending on the level of court jurisdiction, choose the appropriate forum. PILs can be filed in the Supreme Court (SC) under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution or in the High Courts under Article 226.

Draft the Petition:

Prepare a well-drafted petition outlining the facts, legal points, and the public interest aspect of the case. The petition should clearly state the legal or constitutional rights being violated and the aggrieved parties.

Filing the Petition:

Submit the drafted petition along with supporting documents to the respective court’s registry. Attach relevant newspaper reports, if applicable, to strengthen the case.

Review by the Court:

The court will review the petition to determine if it fulfils the criteria for a PIL. The court may treat letters addressing public grievances as writ petitions and take action based on their content.

Court’s Satisfaction:

The court needs to be satisfied that the petition serves a public interest or cause, and the aggrieved person or a public-spirited individual or a social action group has filed it on behalf of those unable to approach the court due to financial or physical constraints.

Action by the Court:

Once the court is convinced of the legitimacy of the petition, it will take appropriate action. This may include issuing notices, conducting hearings, and passing judgments or orders to address the public concern.

History of Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in India

The emergence of Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in India has brought transformative change to the country’s legal landscape. The significance of PILs is underscored by pivotal cases like the ‘Hussainara Khatoon’ case in 1979, where Kapila Hingorani, a dedicated lawyer, filed a petition that led to the release of thousands of undertrials from Patna’s jails. This landmark case, presented before a bench led by Justice P N Bhagwati, marked a turning point in Indian jurisprudence. Hingorani’s efforts earned her the moniker ‘Mother of PILs,’ solidifying the role of PILs in representing the voiceless and enabling individuals without direct locus standi to pursue cases for public welfare.

The visionary approach of Justice Bhagwati, along with Justice V R Krishna Iyer, elevated PILs, allowing ordinary citizens’ letters to be treated as writ petitions and making public interest litigation a cornerstone of justice in India. Justice Bhagwati did a lot to ensure that the concept of PILs was clearly enunciated. He did not insist on the observance of procedural technicalities and even treated ordinary letters from public-minded individuals as writ petitions. Justice Bhagwati and Justice V R Krishna Iyer were among the first judges in the country to admit PILs.

Significance of Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in India

Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in India holds immense significance:

  • Inclusive Justice: PIL ensures justice for marginalised groups.
  • Human Rights: It extends rights to those denied them.
  • Accessible Justice: Allows anyone to advocate for those without means.
  • Institutional Oversight: Monitors state institutions and promotes accountability.
  • Judicial Review: Facilitates reviewing government actions for legality.

PIL strengthens India’s legal framework, upholding fairness, equality, and social justice.

Criticism of Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in India

Despite its noble intentions, Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in India has faced criticism:

  • Misuse for Publicity: Some PILs are filed for personal publicity, burdening courts with frivolous petitions.
  • Political Manipulation: PILs have been used to further political agendas, delaying genuine administrative actions.
  • Burden on Judiciary: The court’s time is consumed, even if petitions are eventually dismissed.
  • Lack of Accountability: Only judges can dismiss petitions, leading to meritless cases proceeding.
  • Guidelines Needed: PIL activists should act responsibly, with a focus on public interests.
  • Bona Fide Intent: Courts should ensure petitioners act genuinely, not for personal gain.
  • Balanced Relief: The impact on public interests should guide court decisions.
  • Caution in Use: PIL should not replace ordinary litigation or be abused for frivolous complaints.


In conclusion, Public Interest Litigation (PIL) stands as a beacon of hope for the marginalised, ensuring their voices are heard and rights upheld. Its advantages, ranging from empowering the underrepresented to broadening access to justice, make it an indispensable tool in India’s legal arsenal. As we delve into its procedural intricacies, the step-by-step guide underscores the inclusive nature of PIL, enabling citizens to champion public causes and seek redress. The historical evolution, marked by landmark cases like the ‘Hussainara Khatoon’ case, reveals the transformative power of PIL. While criticisms exist, addressing misuse and ensuring accountability can enhance PIL’s efficacy. Embracing its potential, India’s legal framework continues to evolve toward a fairer and more just society.


What is considered a public interest?

It pertains to legal actions taken to assist financially disadvantaged or marginalised individuals, or to bring about modifications in societal policies for the common good, without pursuing profit motives.

Who can file public interest litigation?

Any individual has the right to initiate a PIL. The petitioner is not required to be the directly affected party; even an entity has the ability to submit a PIL.

How much does it cost to file a PIL?

The fee for submitting a Public Interest Litigation to the court is ₹ 50 for each respondent named.

Is PIL a writ?

A writ constitutes a written directive issued by a court, either mandating or restraining certain actions. Within this context, a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) serves as a type of writ, distinguished by its focus on matters concerning the public welfare rather than individual litigants.

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