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The genesis of Public Interest Litigation in listening to the voice of the voiceless and giving access to the poor, the marginalised , and the weak is a unique experiment to lauded.

Litigation at the instance of public spirited person espousing cause of others ,known as public interest litigation or social action litigation. It is notable that Articles 32 and 226 of the constitution deal with writ jurisdiction of supreme court and High courts respectively. Under Articles 32 and 226 ,only an aggrieved party has locus standi (right to approach the court) to get his rights enforced through writs ( though this general rule is subjected to a few exceptions).

But supreme court of India by changing the traditional concept of locus standi brought about a revolutionary change and gave birth to the concept of “Public Interest Litigation” Now, according to this new concept any person or association can file a writ to get the right enforced of any other person if such other person is unable to file the writ due to poverty or any other sufficient reasons supporting the new concept of public interest litigation, the former chief justice supreme court ,Krishna Aiyar J. observed that the narrower concept of cause of action and aggrieved party are being replaced by public interest or public interest litigation.

In the famous case of S.P. Gupta and others Vs President of India and others A.I.R 1982 S.C. 149, lawyers association has right to challenge the transfer of judges of High court under public interest litigation because the lawyers have an interest in the independence of judiciary . In this very case P.N. Bhagwati J. propound the following theory regarding P.I.L :

  1. If the constitutional or legal right of a person or a class of persons in violated and the aggrieved person is unable to approach the court because of poverty or any other reasons then any person of the society or an association has locus standi to move the court on behalf of agreived person.

  2. In such a case any person can pray for relief under writ jurisdiction even by writing a letter would to the court and the letter would be treated a writ petition without following the techanicality of a writs .

  3. But in the the same case Justice P.N. Bhagwati made it clear that nobody should be allowed to take undue advantage of this liberal attitude of the court and the court should entertain such petitions only when it is satisfied that such a petition is in public interest and not filed with malafide intention or for fulfiling the political objects.

In Janta Dal Vs H.S. Chaudhary (1992 US.C.C. 653) and in simran singh Mann Vs Union of India the Supreme court observed that the writ petition are not maintainance as P.I.L because they are not in public interest.


A recent development of great consequence in the Indian Law is sanctioning of Public Interest Litigation by Supreme court .such litigations envisages:

  1. A Court action by an individual or group of individual belongings to a community or an indeterminate class, against an administrative wrong , affecting the members of that community or class.

  2. A court action by public spirituated citizen or a body of devoted to the public cause to vindicate the right of the individual , groups or even the public at a large against the administrative wrong. Though the person or body undertaking the court action may not have suffered any injury .


  1. Hussainara Khatoon v/s Bihar , AIR 1979 S.C.- To vindicate the right of personal liberty under Art.21 of Indian Constitution of Bihar under-trials, started with an Articles written by K.F. Rustumji in Indian Express , where he pointed out how the under trials prisoners undergoing miserable life in jail of Bihar for years together without trials.

  2. An advocate Kapila Hingorani then filled a petition under Art.32 in Supreme Court to protect the personal liberty of under- trials based on report of Sheela Barse v/s Maharashtra.

  3. Premshankar Shukla v/s Delhi Administration AIR1980 SC1535 -A telegram by a prisoner was converted into writ of habeas corpus of alleged hand cuffing of prisoner during transit from prision to court violates Art.14, 19,21.

  4. Fertilizer Corporation Kamgar Union v/s Union of India, AIR1981 SC,344 -In this case was whether the worker in factory owned by the government could question the legality or validity of the sale of certain plants and equipment of the factory by the management. The Court has recognized the standing of the workers.


For the protection of environment is concerned , Indian judiciary has played a significant role and it could be observed that the area of environment protection in India through judicial process has come through public interest litigation to the greater extent. The Supreme Court of India by relaxing the traditional rule locus standi paved the way for non- governmental organisations and public sprituated and socially motivated people to move the courts for the redressal of grievances, connected with environmental hazards under Art. 32 and Art.226 of the Indian Constitution.

In Subah Kumar v. State of Bihar ,AIR 1991 SC 420, the Supreme Court speaking through Mr. Justice K.N. singh held : “ Right to live is a fundamental right under Art.21 of the constitution and air for full enjoyment of life. If anything endangers or impairs that quality of in derogation of laws, a citizen has right to have recourse to Art. 32 of the Indian Constitution for removing pollution of water or air which may be detrimental to the quality of life.”

Supreme court in Dr. Upendra Baxi v. State of U.P. ,1983 , SCC 308, held that right to maintaining the ecological balance is included in Art.21 of the constitution.

In M.C. Mehta v. Union of India, AIR 1997 SC 734 (Taj Mahal Case) – The foundries ,chemical /hazardous industries and the refinery at mathura are the major sources of damage to the Taj . The sulphur dioxide emitted by the mathura refinery and the industries when combine with oxygen with the aid of moisture in the atmosphere – forms sulphuric acid called ‘Acid rain ‘which has corroding effect on the gleaming white marble . Industrial/ Refinery emission .brick kilns ,vehicular traffic and generator sets are primarily responsible for polluting the ambient air around the Taj Trapezium(TTZ).

M.C.Mehta v.Union of india AIR 1988 SC 1037(Ganga Pollution Tanneries Case)-In 1985 Shri M.C. Mehta, an advocate, filled a writ petition under Art. 32 of the Constitution ,which was directed at the kanpur Muncipality’s failure to prevent wastewater from polluting the ganga.


Thus in number of cases the supreme court of India and various High court of states entertained PIL petition, complaining violation of Fundamental Right of individual or class of person and thereby to vindicate their right and provided adequate relief from the state acts.

The concept of PIL can be justified on the ground that as a power of bureaucracy in expanding so it is inevitable that corresponding judicial power should also expand.

In this kind of litigation, the petitioner seeks to enforce or prevent a breach of general public law. PIL is thus of great social relevance to the modern society. There are however few safeguard neccesary subject to which alone such a system can function.In PIL the court scrutinize whether there is sufficient public interest which need to be protected ,and whethe the petitioner is motivated privately or politically and what is sufficient interest to be determined by the court in each individual case.


  1. The Court has to rely upon the report of Commissioner ,which are likely to be manipulated and hence no clear and true aspect of the thing possible.

  2. The Court has no independent investigating machinery to find out correct picture of the case.

  3. The Court has no effective machinery to enforce its order and moreover such orders are against the Government and Administrative authority and not against the individual.

  4. The Government has limited resources and numbers of needs to be fulfilled. These resources are to be utilized for the planned development of the country ,Government has its owns problems and the orders of the court cannot be given fully effect of i.e Olga Tellis case of pavement dwellers of Bombay.

  5. It is difficult to find out whether the petitioner is privately or politically motivated.

  6. Because of Judicial activism numbers of PIL petition were filed before the court and the court concerned on them, thereby wasting a lot of time and energy on them ignoring their traditional function resulting into more pendency of ordinary litigations before it.


The contribution of PIL towards administration of justice cannot be ignored . PIL is of great social relevance to the modern society . There are however few safeguard necessary then only the system can function effectively . The court must take to see that it does not overstep the limits of judicial function and trespass into the area which are reserved to Executive and Legislative.

References :-


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