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What is PIL, And Why Does It Matter?

PIL is the authority granted to the public by the courts through the judicial. To learn more about judicial review, continue reading.


Public interest litigation (PIL) has grown in popularity in India, not only as an essential tool of lawful activism but as a means of obtaining replies from the public institutions that are frequently unreachable to the general public. PIL is a system of law in which law courts can begin and impose steps to defend any substantial public or overall interest that is being affected or is likely to be negatively affected by the activity of any organisation, publicly or privately.

PIL Aspects 

The main aspect of PIL is that it is a structure of administering justice that does not necessitate the individual involved to claim compensation from a legal proceeding on their own. Social and legal activists could petition the court to secure remedy for the poor and devastated by the loss segments of society in the public’s interest. Judges can function on their initiative after reading newspaper stories or other source materials.

PIL entails a mixture of classicism associated with the legal system and functionalism associated with a tribunal and/or a different department system. PIL ignores formally using the judicial process. Its inception doesn’t necessitate filing a formal plea in the format prescribed and method with the court. Individuals or organisations demanding retribution could even send a card to the court, and if the courts find it is a suitable case, they can take measures. This is known as the higher courts’ epistolary jurisdiction.

Another new aspect of the PIL system is the consultation of solicitors or others to determine whether or not the judge’s decision has been followed. They could also be selected to head the necessary research into the referred/assigned specific instance.

The basic idea behind public interest litigation has existed for a long time, but it only gained traction in India in 2005. That year, a reputable legal firm filed a PIL against widespread corruption in India. PIL had become a tool for directing bureaucracy to address aspects of public significance that their elected officials had ignored, at least till they were on trial.

The Indian Supreme Court evaluated usage, concluding that good corporate governance cannot be accomplished by restricting activist judges, and court ruling cannot be alleviated in the face of threats faced by a misuse of power. Other lawsuits filed under these regulations have included a ban on women entering the Sabarimala temple in Kerala, rescue operations following the Muzaffarnagar riots, and issues relating to the mandatory testing of Aadhaar cards, among others. In brief, people have taken advantage of this situation to fight for equality and social justice before the law.

Who Is Eligible to File a Pil?

Any individual or organisation could file a PIL with their right, i.e. to safeguard or impose a right owed to them by the government, or in the best interests of a segment of society that is deprived or victimised and is unable to impose their privileges.

Just a person negotiating in good faith and with a considerable interest in the litigation, even so, will have locus stand to submit a PIL. Anyone confronting the Hon’ble Court for personal benefit, profit-making, political advantage, or any other ambiguous concern will be ignored.


PIL in India refers to a complaint brought to a High Court or lower court to impose a fair and equal public interest. These would be introduced by any citizen who lacks the legal validity to document such a case. Legal Services authorities such as non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and voluntary organisations also file such cases in the public interest when they believe there’s been an abuse of the trial system or when there are strong reasons to overturn a judgment by a government department or private entities that impact a large number of people. For example, Nav Nirman Trust v Union of India was filed against the creation of state assets by Parliament through statutory powers enacted without the involvement of Parliament. It ruled that article informs under Article 14 were arbitrary.

Public Interest Litigation (PIL) Guidelines are accessible on the Supreme Court of India’s webpage. It says, among other things, that some letter petitions that fall under certain classifications alone will normally be handled as PILs, such as petitions relating to environmental polluted air, disruption of the ecological system, drugs, food impurity, culture and heritage preservation, vintage items, forest and wildlife preservation, and other issues of common importance.

Public interest litigation can be classified into three major categories:

  • Judicial intervention – Judicial intervention applies to the case in which the government’s policies are directly challenged in court.
  • Policy transformation through legislation – Instances that attempt to improve the law through Parliament are examples of change in policy through legislation.
  • Administrative changes are cases in which a governmental agency either creates a new strategy or refuses to enforce a previous policy (for instance, on the age limit).

Factors Responsible for the Growth of PIL in India

The Indian Constitution’s character is unique, defined by its written nature. It establishes a framework for regulating relations between the state and its citizens, as well as interactions among citizens themselves, primarily through Part III (Fundamental Rights) and Part IV (Directive Principles of State Policy)

India boasts some of the most progressive social legislations globally, covering areas like bonded labor, minimum wages, land ceiling, and environmental protection. These laws empower the courts to hold the executive accountable for upholding the rights of the underprivileged as mandated by the law

The broad interpretation of “locus standi,” where anyone can approach the court on behalf of those who may be economically or physically incapable of doing so, has been instrumental. In some instances, judges have taken the initiative to act suo moto based on newspaper articles or received letters

While the social and economic rights outlined in Part IV of the Indian Constitution are not legally enforceable, the courts have creatively incorporated them into fundamental rights, rendering them subject to judicial enforcement. For instance, Article 21’s “right to life” has been expanded to encompass the right to free legal aid, the right to live with dignity, the right to education, the right to work, freedom from torture, and protections against restraints and handcuffing in prisons

Judicial innovations aimed at assisting the poor and marginalized have been notable. In the Bandhua Mukti Morcha case, the Supreme Court shifted the burden of proof to the respondent, presuming every case of forced labor to be bonded labor unless proven otherwise by the employer. Similarly, in the Asiad Workers judgment, Justice P.N. Bhagwati ruled that anyone receiving less than the minimum wage could directly approach the Supreme Court without navigating the labor commissioner and lower courts

In cases of Public Interest Litigation (PIL) where the petitioner may not possess all the necessary evidence, either due to its volume or the social or economic vulnerability of the parties involved, the courts have appointed commissions to gather factual information and present it to the bench.

Certain Weaknesses of PIL

Public Interest Litigation (PIL) actions can sometimes create a dilemma involving conflicting rights. For instance, when a court orders the shutdown of a polluting industry, it may not adequately consider the well-being of the workers and their families who lose their means of livelihood

This situation could result in an excessive influx of frivolous PILs in the courts, often initiated by parties pursuing vested interests. Presently, PILs are utilized for corporate, political, and personal gains, extending beyond the realm of addressing issues faced by the impoverished and marginalized

Instances of judicial overreach by the judiciary in addressing socio-economic or environmental concerns may emerge through PILs

PIL cases related to exploited and disadvantaged groups have remained pending for extended periods. Excessive delays in the resolution of PIL cases could diminish the practical impact of many landmark judgments, relegating them to mere academic significance.

Genesis and Evolution of PIL in India: Some Landmark Judgements

The concept of public interest litigation (PIL) was initially introduced in India by Justice Krishna Iyer in 1976 through the case of Mumbai Kamagar Sabha vs. Abdul Thai. The first notable PIL case, Hussainara Khatoon vs. State of Bihar (1979), highlighted the deplorable conditions in prisons and the release of over 40,000 undertrial prisoners, establishing the right to speedy justice as a fundamental right that had been denied

This approach set a precedent for subsequent cases. Justice P.N. Bhagawati played a pivotal role in advancing the PIL movement with the case of S.P. Gupta vs. Union of India, wherein it was determined that “any member of the public or social action group acting in good faith” could invoke the Writ Jurisdiction of the High Courts (under Article 226) or the Supreme Court (under Article 32) to seek redress for the violation of legal or constitutional rights of individuals who, due to social, economic, or other disadvantages, could not access the courts

This judgment empowered PIL as a potent tool for enforcing “public duties” whenever executive actions or misconduct caused harm to the public. Consequently, any Indian citizen, consumer group, or social action group gained the ability to approach the country’s highest court to seek legal remedies in cases affecting the general public or a specific segment of it

Justice Bhagwati’s contribution was significant as he emphasized the importance of clarifying PIL concepts, disregarding procedural technicalities, and even considering ordinary letters from public-minded individuals as writ petitions

The Supreme Court’s decision in Indian Banks’ Association, Bombay & Ors. vs. M/s Devkala Consultancy Service and Ors established that, in certain situations, a petitioner who initially sought redress for a personal grievance could be recognized as acting in the public interest, furthering the cause of justice

Notable cases like M.C Mehta vs. Union of India addressed issues such as Ganga water pollution, allowing individuals with a genuine interest in safeguarding public health to petition the court, even if they weren’t riparian owners

In the case of Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan, the judgment recognized sexual harassment as a violation of fundamental constitutional rights, paving the way for the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013.


A PIL is an essential judicial aid, particularly for safeguarding anyone unable to reach the courts independently. They are among the most popular ones in judicial proceedings, especially in legal litigation. The court system has tried to standardise PIL regulations to avoid PILs from being filed in the public interest or the best interests of the poor, disabled, or disadvantaged. Even so, there were several instances where people used PILs to further their agendas. As a result, courts must proceed to exercise caution to make sure that PILs aren’t abused.


How is a PIL filed?

To register the case, contact the interest of the public lawyer or organisation. Gather all necessary documents, such as title deeds, proof of residence, proof of identity, notice, resettlement policy, and eviction photographs.

What are PIL's constraints?

The following are the drawbacks of public interest litigation: There is still the chance that the PIL instrument will be abused by someone claiming to be pursuing the case in the public interest.

What are the benefits of PIL?

Accepting letters and text messages as PILs reduces the costs of such court action and inspires public-spirited groups and individuals to bring to the court's attention any situation that needs the court's intervention.

Why is Public Interest Litigation (PIL) considered important in the Indian legal system?

Public Interest Litigation (PIL) is a unique feature of the Indian legal system that allows any citizen or organization to file a petition in court on behalf of a group of people whose interests are being affected by the actions of the government or other public authorities. PIL is important because it gives a voice to the marginalized and disadvantaged sections of society and helps to ensure that their rights are protected.

Could you provide a concise definition of PIL for those seeking a quick answer?

Public Interest Litigation (PIL) is a legal proceeding in which a person or group of people files a petition in court on behalf of a public interest. PILs are typically filed to challenge the actions or omissions of the government or other public authorities.

What is the relevance of PIL and its importance, especially for Class 8 students?

PIL is relevant to Class 8 students because it is a powerful tool for promoting social justice and protecting the rights of all citizens. PIL cases have led to significant improvements in the lives of millions of people in India, such as the abolition of bonded labor, the provision of free education to children, and the protection of the environmen

What are some key characteristics that define PIL as a legal concept?

Some of the key characteristics of PIL include: PIL is a public interest litigation, meaning that it is filed on behalf of a group of people whose interests are being affected by the actions of the government or other public authorities. PIL is a flexible and adaptable legal tool that can be used to address a wide range of social issues. PIL is a relatively inexpensive and accessible form of legal redress. PIL is based on the principle of judicial activism, which means that the courts play a proactive role in protecting the rights of the people.

What are the primary benefits and advantages of PIL in addressing societal issues?

PIL has a number of benefits and advantages in addressing societal issues, including: PIL can help to give a voice to the marginalized and disadvantaged sections of society. PIL can help to promote social justice and equality. PIL can help to ensure that the government and other public authorities are accountable to the people. PIL can help to raise awareness of important social issues. PIL can lead to the development of new laws and policies to address social problems.

Are there specific rules and regulations governing the practice of PIL in India?

Yes, there are a number of rules and regulations governing the practice of PIL in India. These rules and regulations are designed to ensure that PILs are only filed in genuine cases of public interest and that they are not used for frivolous or personal purposes.

Who is eligible to initiate a PIL, and is it possible to do so without legal representation?

Any person or organization can initiate a PIL in India. It is not necessary to have legal representation to file a PIL, but it is advisable to do so, as PIL cases can be complex and require specialized legal knowledge.

Is there a financial cost involved in filing a PIL in India?

There is a nominal court fee involved in filing a PIL in India. However, there are a number of legal aid organizations that can provide financial assistance to people who cannot afford to file a PIL on their own.

Can you clarify the distinctions between a writ petition and a PIL in the legal context?

A writ petition is a legal procedure through which an individual or organization submits a petition to a court, requesting the issuance of a writ such as habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibition, or certiorari. These writs are court-issued directives that instruct the government or public authorities to either perform or abstain from specific actions. Within this context, Public Interest Litigation (PIL) constitutes a specific form of writ petition, initiated to safeguard public interests. PILs are typically employed to contest government actions or inactions that infringe upon the fundamental rights of the populace. The principal distinction between a standard writ petition and a PIL lies in their scope; the former is presented on behalf of an individual petitioner, while the latter represents a collective of individuals whose interests are adversely affected by the government's or other public authorities' actions.

How does PIL differ from the Right to Information (RTI) Act in terms of their objectives?

The Right to Information (RTI) Act is a legal framework granting citizens the right to access government-held information, aiming to enhance transparency and accountability in government. Public Interest Litigation (PIL), on the other hand, is a legal avenue to safeguard public interests by challenging government actions or omissions that infringe upon fundamental rights. While the key distinction lies in their purposes – PIL challenges specific government actions, whereas the RTI Act facilitates information access – they can be employed in conjunction to foster social justice and government accountability.

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