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Which Jurisdiction of the Indian Judiciary Covers Public Interest Litigation?

Public Interest Litigation is a powerful tool in the Indian judiciary system, but it faces limitations and challenges. Learn how it works and its impact on promoting access to justice.

In India, Public Interest Litigation (PIL) allows individuals or associations to approach the courts and address public grievances or uphold public interest. This has helped promote social equity and accountability by empowering citizens to bring up matters affecting the community.

However, there is a concern about the scope of PILs. Several courts and tribunals in India have the authority to entertain PILs, but each has its own limitations. This article will examine the various jurisdictions of the Indian judiciary that cover Public Interest Litigation.

Overview of the Indian Judiciary System: Hierarchy and Jurisdiction

India’s judicial system consists of the Supreme Court, High Courts, and other courts. The High Courts oversee their states or union territories, while the Supreme Court is the highest court in the country. The subordinate courts, like district courts, tribunals, and other specialty courts, are lower in the hierarchy.

The Indian Constitution grants these courts various powers, including the ability to conduct judicial reviews to assess the constitutionality of laws and executive actions. The Public Interest Litigation (PIL) process is crucial for exercising this authority.

PIL and the Supreme Court of India: Writ Jurisdiction Under Article 32 of the Constitution

Article 32 of the Indian Constitution gives people the right to constitutional remedies. This allows them to directly petition the Supreme Court to uphold their fundamental rights. The Supreme Court can issue writs of habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibition, quo warranto, and certiorari under this clause.

Thanks to PIL legal innovation, introduced in the 1980s, individuals can now petition the Supreme Court to uphold public rights and interests. This has become critical for advancing justice access and ensuring political accountability.

Using PIL, the Supreme Court has addressed many issues like environmental protection, corruption, human rights, and public health. Some landmark PIL cases include the Bhopal gas tragedy, the Delhi Vehicular Pollution case, and the Vishaka case on sexual harassment in the workplace.

Public Interest Litigation and the High Courts of India: Writ Jurisdiction Under Article 226 of the Constitution

The High Courts in India can issue writs like the Supreme Court under Article 226 of the Constitution. They use it to enforce legal rights and fundamental rights using writs such as habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibition, quo warranto, and certiorari.

To solve state or union territory-specific problems, High Courts have used PIL. For instance, the Bombay High Court used PIL to solve Mumbai’s slum redevelopment issue, and the Allahabad High Court solved Uttar Pradesh’s child labor problem using PIL.

Expansion of Public Interest Litigation Jurisdiction: Lower Courts and Tribunals

Before, only the Supreme Court and High Courts had PIL jurisdiction. But, now it has expanded to lower courts and tribunals. This change happened due to public interest litigation provisions added in laws like the Environment Protection Act, 1986, and the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010. Citizens can use these provisions to go to lower courts and tribunals to safeguard public rights and interests.

Limitations and Challenges of PIL Jurisdiction: Separation of Powers, Judicial Overreach, and Forum Shopping

PIL is useful for justice and accountability, but has some issues. One concern is that it may interfere with the separation of powers between the judiciary, legislature, and executive. This can cause conflicts. Another problem is judicial overreach, where the judiciary goes beyond its powers and undermines its legitimacy. Also, forum shopping is criticized, which can lead to delays and backlogs in certain courts. To address these concerns, guidelines have been set for using PIL. These require that PIL be used only in genuine public interest cases, that the petitioner has standing to file, and that the petition is not motivated by personal gain or malice.


In India, Public Interest Litigation allows citizens to seek justice for public rights and interests by approaching courts. The Supreme Court and High Courts have used PIL to address various issues, like environmental protection, corruption, human rights, and public health.

Despite its benefits, PIL has limitations and challenges. Concerns regarding the separation of powers, judicial overreach, and forum shopping have been raised. To use PIL appropriately, the judiciary has set out guidelines and principles that require genuine public interest cases and no personal gain or malice.

Vakilsearch is an online legal services provider that can assist individuals and organizations in filing PIL petitions. With a team of experienced lawyers, they can prepare and file petitions in the right courts or tribunals. They also offer legal advice on PIL’s limitations and challenges. With our support at Vakilsearch, people can promote access to justice and hold the government accountable for public interests and rights through PIL.

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