Expansion of Locus Standi: A Path for Development of PIL

 In law, standing or locus standi is the term for the ability of a party to demonstrate to the court in sufficient connection to and harm from the law or action challenged to support that party’s participation in the case. Otherwise, the court will rule that the plaintiff “lacks standing” to bring the suit and will dismiss the case without considering the merits of the claim. But the public interest litigations developed the concept of public interest standing which is a form to widen the scope of the locus standi. Public Interest litigation demanded for objectivity, forensic skill, procedural gamesmanship and socio-legal perception. Access to justice and narrow locus standi were the greatest road blocks in the advancement of Public interest litigation but by the dilution of the scope of the locus standi the mechanism of PIL was developed. Basically the principle of locus standi is introduced by Anglo-Saxon system of Jurisprudence. Requirements of Locus Standi: The survey of important relevant cases on public interest by class action shows a mixed trend; at times make a narrow view and at times a liberal view in different countries. Basically there are three standing requirements. They are:-

1. Personal Injury

2. Causation

3. Redressability

1. Injury: - The plaintiff must have suffered or imminently will suffer injury- an invasion of a legally protected interest that is concrete and particularized. The injury must be actual or imminent, distinct and palpable, not abstract. This injury could be economic as well as non-economic.

2. Causation: - There must be a casual connection between the injury and the conduct complained of, so that injury is fairly traceable to the challenged action of the defendant and not the result of the independent action of some third party who is not before the court.

3. Redressability: - It must be likely, as opposed to merely speculative, that a favorable court decision will redress the injury. Prudential Limitations of Locus Standi:- Additionally there are three major prudential limitations or judicially created standing principles. Those principles were widened depending on the circumstances:

1. Prohibition of Third Party Standing:- A party may assert his or her own rights and cannot raise the claims of a third party who is not before the court exceptions exist where the third party has interchangeable economic interests with the injured party, or a person unprotected by a particular law sues to challenge the over sweeping of the law into the rights of others.

2. Prohibition of Generalized Grievances: - A plaintiff cannot sue if the injury is widely shared in an undifferentiated way with many people. Only personal injuries were considered as a matter of suit.

3. Zone of Interest Test: - The party must be within the zone of interest protected by the statute or constitutional provision. Steady Expansion of Locus Standi:- One of the most important issues confronting the public interest litigation was the problem of locus standi which stood in the way of the weaker sections of the society. Who should have standing or legal capacity to challenge an administrative act or omission or commission which was productive of public mischief or public inquiry without affecting any private right law litigation which was of ancient vintage and insisted on direct injury to the aggrieved person, who alone could bring an action. It was designed to protect individual against specific injury caused to him by the state. The state was taught to be the sole guardian of public interest and individual has no role to play in overseeing the administration. Individual as such, exercised no general control over the administration to check its illegal actions or abuse of power by acitivising the judicial process against them. a.Restrictive Rule:- Under the restrictive rule of locus standi only a person aggrieved could go to the court for relief other members of the public has no access to the court, unless they also suffered an additional or special injury. b. Flexibility Introduced in Narrow Concept:- In course of time courts had shown some flexibility in their narrow approach to locus standi by broadly interpreting words “aggrieved personâ€. But they did so without any conscious desire to liberalize the rules. Even before the advent of public interest litigation the courts had evolved some exceptions to strict and traditional requirements of standing. A few exceptions to traditional view of locus standi were accepted in different cases by different jurists. In K.R.Shehnoy vs. Udipi Municipality , it was stated that residents in the area could object the action of municipality sanctioning a cinema house. In Municipal Corporation vs. Govind Laxman Savant , It was held that right of a tax payer against local bodies even in the absence of any personal injury had been permitted because the tax payer had a special interest in the functioning of a local body. Thus a rate payer could prevent a Corporation from acting against the law. In Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 under order XXXII the rule of locus standi is exempted in such a way that on behalf of a minor or unsound mind or person having some disability his next friend could sue in representative capacity. Also under Order 1 Rule 8, one or more of the several persons interested in some subject matter could institute suit with the permission of the court. Under Section 91 of the same code, for a public nuisance or like wrong, suit could be brought by Advocate General or two or more of the persons likely to be affected for declaration or injury. c. Need for Liberalization of Locus Standi:- In the year 1976, Mr. Justice Krishna Iyer, noted for his unconventional approaches and iconoclastic spirit in the cause of social justice and developed public interest litigation, advocated liberal interpretation of locus standi in Public Interest Litigation in Dhabolkar’s Case. It was felt by the court that it must be possible for some public spirited individual to seek remedy on behalf of poor disadvantaged, deprived and dispossessed people. Though in this case a process of steady expansion of doctrine of locus standi was set in, the standing of Bar Council of State was held as ‘person aggrieved’ for the purpose of appeal to the Bar Council of India against the decision of disciplinary Committee of State Bar Council for public interest in the maintenance of professional conduct and morality of legal profession. Community Orientation of Locus Standi:- Public Interest litigation took a new dimension in 1980 when the Supreme Court came forward to protect public interest against common injury, danger, annoyance, or obstruction to people in general by local authority, public undertaking or municipal corporations. In Ratlam Municipal Council vs. Vardichand the plea of municipality of lack of funds to carry out the amenities was rejected as an invalid defence and suggested several schemes to bring reliefs to the residents of the locality. Besides, broadening the locus standi, the affirmative action is invoked by the court in this case opened up infinite possibilities for creative approaches in judicial action in the service of large group of people. Locus Standi in its long march from ancient tradition to the modern trend has covered many a mile stones from the requirement of injury to legal rights, the concept of individual interest, then to special interest, again to class interest and now to sufficient interest.

a. Locus Standi of Fellow Prisoners:- In Sunil Batra vs. Delhi Administration , the locus standi of a fellow prisoner was recognized and the Supreme Court accepted the habeas Corpus of a fellow prisoner complaining a brutal assault by the Head Warden on another prisoner. The court broadened the scope of habeas corpus by making it available to a prisoner not only for seeking his liberty but also for the enforcement of rights to which he was lawfully entitled even during his confinement.

b. Locus Standi to Private Citizen:- In P.S.R.Sadhananthan vs. Sruna Chalarn , the Supreme Court permitted a private citizen to invoke the special power of the Supreme Court under Article 136 for leave to appeal against the acquittal of the murderer and recognized the locus standi of the brother of the decease. Court observed that in cases where the court was “convinced that the public interest justifies,†Court grants locus standi to private persons.

c. Locus Standi to a Private Trust:- In Consumer Education and Research Centre Vs. State of Gujarat decided on June 23, 1981, Court granted locus standi to this centre, a private trust, devoted to the cause of consumer protection, which challenged the order of the government of winding up the Macchu II Doon Enquiry Commission set by the government under the commission of inquiry Act, 1952 to investigate into the collapse of Macchu Dam resulting in serious disaster to the community. Complete Liberalization of Locus Standi: Clearing all impediments obstructing development of public interest litigation, a comprehensive exposition was given to the concept of PIL in the judgment of Judges Transfer Case. In S.P.Gupta vs. Union of India, the Judges has given ultimate farewell to the concept of locus standi, a way for free flow of public interest litigation was proved. The scope of PIL was thus enlarged to a great extent by Justice Bhagwati who proved to be the architect of PIL Jurisprudence in India. Asiad Case:- In People’s Union for Democratic Rights vs. Union of India, the court expanded the doctrine of locus standi by applying the court to allow a civil rights organization. It was stated that removal of hurdle of locus standi gave a great phillip to public interest litigation with the result that no one can be prevented from approaching the court on the ground that he had no direct interest in the outcome of litigation. According to Schwartz and Wade , “Restrictive rules about standing are in general inimical to a healthy system of administrative law. If a plaintiff with a good cause is turned away, merely because he is not sufficiently affected personally, that means that some government agency is left free to violate the law, and that is contrary to the public interest.†In Fertilizer Corporation Kamgar Union vs. Union of India , Justice P.N.Bhagawati stated as under: “In simple terms, locus standi must be liberalized to meet the challenges of the time. Ubi Jus Ibi remedium must be enlarged to embrass all interests of public minded citizens or organizations with serious concerns for the conservation of public resources and the direction and correction of public power so as to promote justice in its triunity facetsâ€. Restrictive rules of standing are antithesis to a healthy system of administrative law. Public interest litigation is a part of the process of participation justice and standing in civil litigation of that pattern must have liberal reception at the judicial door steps.

Conclusion: The weapon of PIL proved a potent weapon in the hands of judiciary in causing the death of the ghost of locus standi. The liberalization of the principle of locus standi make possible for the court to recognize a general interest in any litigant on a matter as sufficient to have locus standi. So the concept of individual interest, changed to special interest, again to class interest and now to sufficient interest.


Laasya Priya 
on 21 January 2011
Published in Constitutional Law
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