A PIL for every ILL

This is the era of PILs. A PIL (Public Interest Litigation) is the modern legal first aid to the sickening society for various reasons. It acts as a medicine pill which treats or prevents diseases in human body likewise each PIL is a drug to cure the illnesses of the societies caused by various lawlessness. Nowadays advocate is not merely a court officer but he has become a society doctor also. When a family doctor administers medicine to an ailing patient, an advocate files PIL petition for social welfare as a whole.

If Hippocrates was the father of medicine, Justice P.N.Bhagwati was the man behind the idea of PIL in India. The framers of Indian constitution did not incorporate a strict doctrine of separation of powers but envisaged a system of checks and balances. Policy making and implementation of policy are conventionally regarding as the exclusive domain of the executive and the legislature. The PIL has a great role to play in equalizing the activities of the three organs of the government, viz; legislature, executive and judiciary.

The Public Interest Litigation emerged in S.P. Gupta and Others Vs. President of India and Others, (AIR 1982 SUPREME COURT 149). A PILs can be filed on various matters touching the society in general and important issues must be flagged in each PILs, larger public issues, such as human rights, consumer welfare and environmental, etc.

Here are some of the famous Public Interest Litigation cases which have changed our society tremendously. Sheela Barse Vs. State of Maharashtra, Sheela Barse’s PIL (AIR 1983 SC 378). It was one of the many milestones of the PILs that dealt with the issue of custodial violence against women. That was for separate lock-ups for women convicts from their male counterparts. It was a land mark judgment by which separate police lock-ups for women convicts were allowed in Indian prisons. The next famous PIL was M.C.Mehta Vs. Union of India (Pollution in the Ganga) (AIR 1997 SUPREME COURT 378) filed on the basis of environmental issues. It was the beginning of green litigation in India.

When the court kept its distance from policy decisions was challenged by the Supreme Court in 2001.The disinvestment season initiated by the government to sell 51% stake in BALCO (Bharat Aluminium Company Limited). The Supreme Court in its decision said that PIL is not a pill or a panacea for all wrongs.

A PIL is an extraordinary remedy available at a cheaper cost to all citizens of the country who are denied basic human rights to whom freedom and liberty have no meaning otherwise. It ought not to be used by all litigants as a substitute for ordinary ones or as a means to file frivolous complaints. The advocates have to mention new issues and grievances affecting the society in common before the courts from time to time to provide valuable judgments from the courts. One may not get profited from the judgment individually, but which will be directly or indirectly benefited to one by one way or other without any demur.  

The judiciary has chosen not to encroach on the authority of the government and its policy decisions. The judges have also drawn a line distinguishing between the domain of the executive and the judiciary in a bid to avoid the clash between the two. Thus the PIL judgment read that the Public Interest Litigation was not meant to be a weapon to challenge the financial or economic decisions which are taken by the government in exercise of their administrative powers. But the Supreme Court subsequently chose to step into and criticized the policy decision first-come-first-served as the basis to allocate natural resources. The court’s advice was to use auctions for all allocations. Even though some saw it through the prism of judicial overreach that did not stop the top court from scrapping of 122 2G licenses.

The Public Interest Litigation means litigation for safeguard of interest of public in general. It is a system of ligation in a court of law, not by the aggrieved party but by the court itself or by any other private party, for a general cause or grievance. It is not necessary that the person who is the victim of the violation of his or her right shall personally approach the court. Usually advocates are the mediums between the petitioner and the court. But, the litigant filing the petition shall prove before the court that the petition being filed for a public interest than that of a personal grievance.

The Public Interest Litigation has to go a long way and let it have a good future considering the people from diverse backgrounds in India. The traditional rule of right of a party to appear and be heard before a court has been considerably relaxed by the Supreme Court in its recent decisions. Now, the courts permit Public Interest Litigation for the enforcement of constitutional or legal rights. Any public welfare minded citizen can approach the court for the general cause in the interests of the public by filing a PIL petition in Supreme Court under Art.32 of the Constitution or in High Court under Art.226 of the Constitution.

Justice V.R.Krishna lyer in Fertilizer Corporation Kamagar Union (Regd.) Sindri and Others Vs. Union of India and Others, (AIR 1981 SUPREME COURT 344) enumerated the following reasons for liberalization of the rule of locus standi that the exercise of state power to eradicate corruption may result in unrelated interference with individuals’ rights. Social justice warrant liberal judicial review administrative action. Restrictive rules of standing are antithesis to a healthy system of administrative action. So, activism is essential for participative public justice. Therefore, a public minded citizen must be given an opportunity to move the court in the interests of the public.

Public Interest Litigation is the power given to the public by the courts through its judicial activism. That a person, whose right is infringed alone, can file a petition, is the gone are the days now.

Three have been in recent times increasingly instances of abuse of PILs. Such cases may occur when the victim does not have the necessary resources to commence litigation or his freedom to move court has been suppressed or encroached upon. The court can itself take cognizance of the matter and precede suo motu or cases can commence on the petition of any public spirited individual. Therefore, there is a need to re-emphasize the parameters within which PIL can be resorted to by a petitioner and entertained by the court. Sometimes the Courts are in a fix that the PIL(s) may be like a bittersweet pill at times that the Judge(s) can neither spit nor swallow it at the same time because of its dual taste. Any how, in either case, in the interest of general public, long live for PILs.     

 

Subash M R  
on 26 December 2016
Published in Constitutional Law
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