Evolution of Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in India

Evolution of Public Interest Litigation in India.


Litigation in India has been practiced from archaic times and has provided legal recourses and remedies to individuals and parties from time immemorial. Judiciary being the guardian of justice and an avid advocate for human rights has always considered the dire need of some of the pertinent issues to be addressed. Litigation in India originally conformed to private individuals using legal aid for their own vested motives and interests.

Also Read: The Genesis and the Proliferation of Public Interest Litigation in India

Vague efforts were made in the areas .of bigger public interest. The judiciary has been vested with the power of actions taken against the derogation of fundamental rights. However ‘Justice for all’ has become a mere adage ignoring the plight of several destitute and poverty-stricken communities. With the intervention of the Supreme court, it was comprehended that the portals of the court need to be made available to the common man.

With the advent of Public Interest Litigation in the 1980s, an easier way to access law keeping in mind broad public interest brought about fundamental changes in history. It is driven by the term ‘judicial activism’ where the public is granted power and authority for the protection of larger interests. However, an individual or a community had to prove in the court that the petition is for greater public welfare and not some frivolous charge for their own ulterior motives.


Public Interest Litigation today has acquired immense power and stood still on the principle of Access to justice for all. PIL was used as a strategy to combat social atrocities. This is an institutional initiative for the welfare of society’s needy class. It has become a powerful tool to fight against social oppression and lawlessness. It paved a way for the common man and opened to door to justice [2]. It has brought instrumental and radical changes in the present milieu.

A PIL can be filed in the Supreme court under article 32 of the Indian constitution whereas it can be filed in the High court under article 226 of the Indian constitution. The Supreme Court held at Bodhisattwa Gautam v Subbra Chakraborty that “the affected individual doesn’t need to approach the Court personally to exercise his jurisdiction under Article 32. The Court itself can take note of the matter and proceed suo motu or on a petition from any public person or entity.”

Also, a case of private interest can be treated as a case of public interest. v State of Bihar, which focused on the inhumane conditions of prisoners and those on trial.

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Justice Krishna Iyer is considered an avid proponent of public interest litigation and has sowed the seeds of PIL in the books of history. It was in the case of Mumbai kamgar Sabha vs Abdul Thai, the rudimentary stone of PIL was laid. One of the first cases on Public Interest Litigation was Hussainara Khatoon the current case, an advocate filed a petition under Article 32 to highlight the plight of under-trial prisoners held in various jails throughout Bihar and to protect their personal liberty.

The Supreme Court ruled that in matters affecting the public interest, the right to speedy justice is a Fundamental Right that falls under the scope of ‘life’ and ‘personal liberty’ guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution. Justice P.N Bhagwati emphasized the need for Public Interest Litigation and stated that it is significant for a nation to prosper. Public Interest Litigation is a strategic branch of the movement for legal aid aimed at bringing justice. Rule of law does not mean that only a fortunate few are allowed to protect the law and that the vested interest in allowing the law to be abused and misused.


Courts have often taken suo moto cognizance to address larger public good. The judiciary system of the country witnessed a radical change after the 1980s. Now in its literal sense, “justice” was achieved through PILs. [3]The court answered the clarion call for justice and changed the face of litigation that was rather individualistic. This opened the door to a multitude of NGOs and human rights organizations, which recognized and represented the constitutional rights of the poor and underprivileged masses in the Court of Justice.

They relied on the wide power of fundamental rights and the Directive Principles of the state policy. Broadly PIL’s were filed in the cases of digression from human rights, environmental violation, cultural and heritage issues, etc.


Though will the augmentation of filing of PIL’s, there has been a subsequent rise in the critiques too. It has been argued that private individuals have sought their own vindictive motives hidden clandestinely behind the noble image of PIL. There have been rising speculations about the enforcement of PIL’s, courts have been laggard in entertaining a vast number of PILs, and thus arises the pendency in cases.

PILs have disassociated from their very motive to reach out for the marginalized and have become the vicious tool in the hand of the middle class to fulfill their own interests. PILs paved the way for frivolous cases and soon became a harassment tool for large politicians and corporations. Fake cases were burdened on courts because of the low investment costs.

Recently the solicitor general Tushar Mehta called for thwarting the PIL’s as they were” Self-employment generation petitions.” This called for certain guidelines to be made available for this purpose. The Apex Court has thus clarified that the driving force behind the petition should be “bona fide.” It should not be a result of personal gain or a subsequent cause. The regulations for Public Interest Litigation entertainment must be established to eliminate the judges’ subjective choices to entertain everything under the sun.

Only to uphold victims’ rights of governmental lawlessness and social oppression should Public Interest Litigation be limited. Issues relating to political governance, misrule or the arbitrary use of power, etc. are also important, but still should be dealt with in the traditional litigation model. The nomenclature of PIL must not be borrowed for such cases.


But over time, numerous PIL’s have been filed in cases of gross injustice like corruption, sexual harassment, and caste/religion issues. The DPSPs has been an important stimulus for the PILs in the constitutional context of fundamental rights (FRs) and directives (DPSPs). The courts have permitted the expansion of locus standi in the process of protecting rights, and Public Interest Litigation growth is enormous.

The Court supported the development of innovative and unconventional remedies, which in turn raised social expectations, through several constitutional provisions relating to the powers of the Supreme Court. Article 142, for example, addresses the power of the court to act in such a way as to guarantee “full justice” for the victims.

The increase in the number of PILs is also equivalent to the scope and level of judicial activism. Public Interest Litigation has played a significant role in the enforcement and protection of the rights that have generally been ignored and the abuse of justice prevented. PILs, which are ridden with injustice, is necessary for the Indian context.



This Article is written by Mr. Shivam Shukla, a 3rd-year law student at the Institute of Law, Nirma University. In this article, the author explained the evolution of Public Interest Litigation in India.


[1] https://lawcirca.com/PIL-genesis-and-evolution/

[2] https://www.repository.law.indiana.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1492&context=ijgls

[3] https://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/handle/10603/208765

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