• Legis Scriptor

Public Interest Litigation- Problems and Perspectives

Authored by - Divyanshi Pathak

Keywords - PIL, Public Interest, Societal Benefits, Litigants.


India has opted for relaxation on the rule of ‘locus standi’ which essentially means that only the person whose rights have been legally violated can file a suit. The Apex Court has broadened the concept of Public Interest Litigation. A PIL is litigating before the Court for the interest of the society at large. PIL can be filed by any citizen willing to litigate, on behalf of the society for the public good.


Public Interest Litigation is an act done for the benefit of public interest and societal gain. Any public-spirited person who wishes to bring a change in the society can file Public Interest Litigation before the Court. You do not have to be an aggrieved party or a victim to file a PIL. Any individual, organization, NGO, a citizen group or anyone else can file a PIL.

Public Interest Litigation

Any citizen can file a PIL, the prerequisite being that it should not be of private interest but public interest, as the name suggests. PIL's can be filed before the Supreme Court or High Court of India. Article 226[1] of the Indian Constitution allows a person to file a PIL in the High Court, while article 32 allows PIL in the Supreme Court of India.

There have been many cases in the past that sow the seeds of the concept of Public Interest Litigation in India. The first reported case of PIL was seen in Hussainara Khatoon vs State of Bihar[2] that focused on the inhuman living conditions of prisons and prisoners who are under trial.In the case of SP Gupta vs Union of India[3], it was held that any member of a public or social action group can invoke the writ jurisdiction of High Court or the Supreme Court seeking redressal against violation of constitutional rights on behalf of a party, who due to social or economic instability could not approach the Court. This judgement leads to PIL becoming a major weapon to seek remedies for infringement of legal rights. Slowly and gradually the concept of PIL evolved in India with case jurisprudence ruling in favor of the validity of PILs. Landmark judgements like Vishakha vs the State of Rajasthan[4] where the guidelines for sexual harassment at workplace were established. This is regarded as a landmark case since it recognized the need for having laws against sexual harassment at workplace. Initially, there were no laws regarding women at workplaces because the Indian society did not have recognize problems faced by working women.

MC Mehta vs Union of India[5], also known as the oleum gas leak case has increased the scope of environmental laws. It is one of the landmark judgements by the Supreme Court, in regard to the blatant violation of already existing environmental laws. All these judgments were made as a result of PIL, which has ultimately helped to shape the society in many ways.


But like any other law or statute, PIL also faces problems in its implementation. Certain issues that transform this instrument into a weapon and disturb the harmony of the society.

Publicity and the name of PIL had been a major factor in disturbing public harmony. Many search PILs have been rejected by the Court stating it merely as a publicity stunt. Judicial adventurism is another problem faced while addressing a PIL. It interferes in the domain of the Executive and the Legislature, thus resulting in the violation of the principle of separation of power. For example, in a PIL relating to road safety, the Supreme Court banned the sale of liquor along the state and national highways. It exceeded its jurisdiction while entertaining a plea that was meant for road safety only. A tremendous increase in litigation has been seen due to the flexibility and the non-complex method of filing a PIL. It creates tremendous pressure on the judicial system and increases the number of pending cases.

A lot of time, PIL reflects a symbolic justice system that the Judiciary has laid down. The direction issued in a PIL is not implemented and it leads to questioning of the credibility of the Judiciary. For example, the Supreme Court issues directions in cases of sexual harassment, the procedure of arrest but is unable to check its compliance and execution properly.


Despite several flaws, PIL has helped many NGOs and litigants to bring out social issues and bring a societal change with the help of the Judiciary. It has a very simple procedure and a minimal amount of fees which makes it feasible for anyone to file a PIL. Furthermore, it continues to expand the scope of Judiciary and promotes the right to equality. It provides everyone with an equal and fair chance to file a case in the Court of law. It ensures the rights provided by the Constitution of India in Part III are being promoted. It not only promotes Right to Equality but also right to life and liberty.

Since the implementation of PIL, it has provided a voice to the voiceless and helps the vulnerable by highlighting the important social issues that ought to be addressed. It not only provides a judicial interpretation to societal issues but also brings awareness and encourages the public to take part in the changes happening in their surroundings.

In the past, many people have tried to misuse the privilege of Public Interest Litigation which led to a lot of positive and negative changes. The Court requires a detailed narration of facts and then decides the issue, in accordance with the law. No clear procedure or statute has laid down the rules for a PIL. A simple letter sent to the Court can be treated as Public Interest Litigation.


PIL is a process to put any public problem in front of the eyes of law with its fair share of advantages and disadvantages. There are two sides to every coin and so does a PIL. Public Interest Litigation is the power given to the public, by the Courts, which in turn, helps the society to grow.

[1] The Constitution of India [2]1979 AIR 1369 [3] AIR 1982 SC 149 [4] AIR 1997 Sc 3011 [5] (1997)11 SCC 312