What is Public Interest Litigation? What are the issues considered in PILs? What is the importance and the issues associated with PIL? To answer these questions, read further.
Public interest litigation (PIL) is defined as a legal action brought in a court of law for the enforcement of a public interest in which the general public or a class of the community has some interest and which could have an effect on their legal rights or responsibilities.
The term “public interest litigation” was taken from American law, where it was intended to give legal representation to previously unrepresented groups like the underprivileged, members of racial minorities, unorganized consumers, and people who were enthusiastic about environmental issues, among others.
- Justice Krishna Iyer first introduced the idea of public interest litigation in India in Mumbai Kamagar Sabha vs. Abdul Thai in 1976.
- Hussainara Khatoon v. State of Bihar (1979) was the first PIL case to be publicly known. It focused on the inhumane treatment of prisoners and those awaiting trial and resulted in the release of more than 40,000 such prisoners. It became clear that these convicts had been denied one of their most basic rights: the right to swift justice. In succeeding cases, the same predetermined pattern was used.
- In the case of S.P. Gupta v. Union of India, Justice P.N. Bhagawati marked the beginning of a new phase in the PIL movement. In this case, it was decided that “any member of the public or social action group acting bona fide” could use the Supreme Court’s (Article 32) or the High Court’s (Article 226) Writ Jurisdiction to seek redress against the violation of a person’s legal or constitutional rights if they are unable to approach the court due to a social, economic, or other disability. By virtue of this decision, PIL became a powerful tool for the enforcement of “public duties” where an executive action or wrongdoing caused harm to the public.
Justice Bhagwati worked hard to ensure that the idea of PILs was articulated clearly.
- M.C. Mehta v. Union of India: In a Public Interest Litigation initiated against Ganga water pollution in order to stop future contamination of Ganga water, t he Supreme Court ruled that the petitioner, who is not a riparian owner but is interested in safeguarding the lives of those who utilize Ganga water, is allowed to petition the court for the execution of statutory restrictions.
- In the case of Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan, the court found that sexual harassment violated Article 14, Article 15, Article 16, and Article 21 of the Constitution.
Some of the issues considered in PILs includes
- Bonded labor
- Children that have been neglected
- The exploitation of temporary workers and failure to pay them the minimum wage
- Brutal acts against women
- Pollution of the environment and disruption of the ecological equilibrium
- Adulteration of food
- Preservation of culture and legacy
Successful PIL Cases
- Vishaka Guidelines, published in 1997, provided employers with a definition of sexual harassment, a list of preventative strategies, and information on how to file complaints.
- M.C. Mehta v. Union of India, 1987: In an article for the constitution branch, Justice P.N. Bhagwati emphasizes the need for India’s sustainable development to incorporate the polluter pays principle.
- The SC ordered the release of 40,000 undertrials who had served the maximum amount of time in Hussainara Khatoon v. the State of Bihar.
- In the Parmanand Katara case, the court provided hospitals total discretion to handle an emergency without concern for pending police investigations.
- In the Sheela Barse case, the SC ordered that women prisoners be housed in separate police cells to protect them from additional abuse and suffering.
- In the 1988 Supreme Court MC Mehta case , the court chastised local officials for allowing untreated sewage.
- The SC emphasized the right of undertrials to be protected from being held in solitary confinement in the Sumit Batra Case.
- The PIL assisted the SC in canceling 122 2G licenses that had been improperly granted.
- In the Indira Sawhney case, the court ruled that once a certain group is sufficiently represented in society, the tenure of such a system should not exceed ten years.
- In the 2014 NALSA case, the court acknowledged that those who identify as the third gender or who are transgender are entitled to fundamental rights.
- The Shreya Singhal Case invalidated the unconstitutional detentions undertaken under Section 66A of the IT Act as a result of internet material posting.
Importance of PIL
- PIL empowers individuals to exercise their rights and obtain justice for any wrongs.
- Citizens have the authority to file petitions and take part in the administration of justice in a participatory democracy. Because there is only a small fixed court cost associated with this, it is less expensive than the standard process.
- PIL supports the protection of a section, community, or group of people in comparable circumstances. For example, the SC prohibited private corporations from leasing forest and tribal land to others in the Samatha case in Andhra Pradesh.
- Justice is made more democratic by allowing any individual or group with the necessary resources to submit petitions on behalf of those who are unable to or lack the means to do so. For example, an ordinary citizen named Parmanand Katara brought up the problem of hospitals refusing to treat accident victims to the SC.
- Through the judicial review, decisions made by a public authority may be contested. For instance, in the Shreya Singhal case, the SC overturned arrests made under Section 66A of the IT Act for publishing content online.
- It aids in creating the checks and balances necessary to redress any improper executive or legislative Accountability of the government and can be used to enforce the wrongdoer’s legal responsibility.
- Litigants can concentrate and produce results concerning significant societal issues.
- It assists the judiciary in monitoring and keeping an eye on institutions for the elderly, orphanages, and prisons. Example: In the Hussainara Khatoon case, the court released defendants who had already spent the maximum amount of time allowed for their offense.
Issues with the PIL
- Petitions without a significant issue waste the time of the courts and prolonged delays in PIL case resolution may reduce many leading judgments to purely academic status.
- The judiciary is going beyond the scope of its authority and is unable to monitor how well its directives are being carried out.
- In some cases, the court showed its unwillingness to take on legislative duties; in others, it provided specific instructions for formulating policy. It has been observed that PILs are given higher priority than lengthy standing cases.
- The Judiciary already has a heavy caseload due to pending cases, and PIL petitions add to that. instead of championing public causes, PIL is being abused by those pushing for personal grievances, and thus from public interest litigation, it has become private interest litigation.
- Political parties frequently file petty petitions to get political attention. A decision on one topic may have a substantial impact on the rights of another group. For example, the livelihood of employees may be impacted by the decision to close a polluting industry.
Recommendations of Former Attorney General Soli Sorabjee
He emphasized that the judiciary should not waste its time on instances involving fictitious petitions and advises against accepting situations in which a private party has a direct financial stake.
He also suggested allowing a claimant who has no connection to the case to serve as the locus standi.
The court must always consider the impact of the PIL on such interests while determining the appropriate remedy since it may affect the rights of people who are not parties to the case.
The SC may only intervene in cases of fundamental rights abuses involving parties unable to represent themselves in court. The courts must give cases involving the rights of several people priority over those involving the rights of only one person, according to the utilitarian approach.
Those who attempt to submit frivolous petitions must face penalties. Those who file baseless claims must make restitution to the opposing parties.
Limitations must be placed on petitions that seek personal interests.
Through judicial intervention, degraded bond laborers, tortured defendants, and women prisoners, humiliated residents of protected women’s organizations, blinded prisoners, exploited children, beggars, and many more people have received relief. The biggest benefit of PIL has been to increase government accountability for the poor people’s human rights.
Article written by Chetna Yadav.