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  1. Originating from the US, PIL was introduced in India in the 1970s enables individuals or groups to seek court intervention for public interests.
  2. PIL has evolved as a potent tool for addressing social, environmental issues, promoting justice, and welfare. Legal activism through PIL remains relevant for social justice.
  3. Article 21 plays a pivotal role in safeguarding various fundamental rights in India.


The Public Interest Litigation (PIL) refers to a legal procedure through which one can approach the court on civil matters in the interest of the public while they are not direct victims of the matters in the case. As developed in India, their purpose is to promote justice or welfare of weaker sections of society or environment and other public interests through legal proceedings. As our understanding this guide on PILs, it contains topics such as; history of PILs, how to launch an application, special cases, anti-fans, comparisons with other countries, and some questions.

Public interest Litigation (PIL) means litigation filed in a court of law, for the protection of “Public Interest”. Any matter where the interest of the public at large is affected can be redressed by filing a Public Interest Litigation in a court of law such as Pollution, Terrorism, Road safety, Construction hazards, etc.

The expression ‘Public Interest Litigation’ has been borrowed from American jurisprudence, where it was designed to provide legal representation to previously unrepresented groups like the poor, racial minorities, unorganized consumers, citizens who were passionate about environmental issues, etc.

PIL is not defined in any statute or in any act. It has been interpreted by judges to consider the intent of the public at large. It is the power given to the public by courts through judicial activism

Some of the matters which are entertained under Public Interest Litigation are Neglected Children, Bonded Labour matters, Atrocities on Women, Non-payment of minimum wages to workers, exploitation of casual workers, food adulteration, Environmental pollution, and disturbance of ecological balance, Maintenance of heritage and culture, etc.


Public interest litigation or PIL is one of the modes of bringing justice to the society which evolved with the course of time in India. 

Introduction to PIL in the USA 

On this line of thought, it is noteworthy that PIL has roots in the United States in the 1870 being an off shoot of the Legal Aid Movement which’s objective was to assist the poor. Smith’s, Reginald Heber Smith, effort towards the creation of administrative movement for legal aid for the needy began in 1876. Finally, two key factors were decisive for the movement’s evolution: the decision of several law firms, which used to represent the interest of legal clients, to specialize on creating legal aid programs. This led to the creation of ‘Public Interest Law’ in the USA; familiar to India as ‘Public Interest Litigation’ (PIL). 

Introduction to PIL in India

PIL is not a new phenomenon and its evolution in India was long due in the larger interest of justice delivery system. 

The notion of PIL was for the first time conceived in India in the year 1976 by Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer through the case of Mumbai Kamagar Sabha Vs. Abdul Thai 1976 AIR 1455. However, it was a case of Hussainara Khatoon vs State of Bihar conducted in 1979 that paved way for PIL in India. Kapila Hingorani being a Supreme Court lawyer, filed a petition in the court to release around 40 thousand undertrial prisoners from Patna jail. This case was heard by the chamber consisting of the Justice P. N. Bhagwati who was among the significant leaders in introducing the PILs in India as well as Hingorani. due to the effects of this case Hingorani did have a lot influence and is therefore referred to as the ‘Mother of PILs’. 

P. N. Bhagwati was very much involved in outlining the boundaries of PILs to enforce justice on the common mass particularly the suppressed section of the society. He was routinely regarded to have had a rather liberal approach as far as strict adherence to legal formalities was concerned and may even turn letters from public spirited individuals into public interest writ petitions. This caused the rates of attaining justice decrease to a considerable level, which enabled those in the socially vulnerable position to seek justice in courts.

Phases of PIL in India Perry Legal Aid and the India Legal Aid Organisation, this period was characterized by the establishment of an apparatus whose function is to spearhead the promotion of public interest litigation in India.

The development of PIL in India can be understood through four distinct phases, each characterized by specific parameters:

1.  Initiation of PIL Cases (First Phase): 

In this phase, those who wanted to help the society by exercising their legal rights as citizens and lending their voices for the voiceless started filing PILs. This was quite a departure from the past where the common or civil law system only allowed those with a personal interest in a matter to institute legal proceedings. This started the process of the judiciary accepting these petitions as they realized that there was required activism in the judicature to address the issues being faced by the disadvantaged in the society.

2. Subject Matter of PIL Cases (Second Phase):

The concentration during this phase entailed a broad categorization of what can be considered as vices for example, infringements on the rights of individuals and minorities, violation of environmental standards and social injustice. Using PILs, law students started addressing structural injustices that had an impact of large populations like problems to do with bonded labour, environmental problems, women, and children. During this phase the judiciary was more open to a lot of public interest matters and thus was a bit more embracing of justice a broader concept.

3. Targets of PIL Relief (Third Phase): 

During this phase, PILs were frequently brought to various institutions in connection with government departments/organisations and some nonprofit organisations, with pray for the affected section of society. This meant the broadening of the availably of PILs where they were applied as tools to have certain powerful organizations answer for their actions and negligence. There was an increased expansion in the role of judiciary because it had started to interfere more often in enforcing its directives as well as judgements.

4. Judiciary’s Response to PILs (Fourth Phase): 

Indian judiciary acknowledged the PILs on a positive note in contrast to many other common law judiciaries and sometimes compromised substantial justice for the mere formalities. This phase can therefore be characterized as one in which the judiciary made immense efforts at broadening the parameters of PILs and establishing it as a key institution of Indian law. The courts increasingly engaged as active moulders of social policies, asserting their authority to shape the legal landscape and to establish rights.

PIL in India as seed of litigation: In order to understand the reasons for the emergence of PIL in India, one has to look at the following facts.

Several factors contributed to the development and acceptance of PIL in India: 

1.    Judicial Activism: Finally, there are the exceptional lords such as Justices P. N. Bhagwati and Krishna Iyer who took an active part in fighting social injustices. They made provisions in the constitution which within their implementation gave the courts an expanded realm of jurisdiction to handle more problems of the society.

2.    Access to Justice: There was also awareness that many people had been rendered helpless by poverty and illiteracy to pursue their rights in court. Through the means of PIL, the affected individuals and groups gained the chance of seeking justice by allowing the public interest litigation wherein individuals and organizations can petition for change and justice on behalf of the marginalized.

3.    Flexibility in Procedure: By increasing the access of justice, the flexibility that the judiciary has placed in this case to offer a broad scope to the public interest litigations means that procedural rigidity was given a wide berth. This flexibility meant that essentially anything – letters, even what informal complaints that may have been made – could be defined as a PIL, thus substantially reducing the entry barriers to case filing.

4.    Public Awareness: Primacy of public rights to sue when their rights have been infringed on also boosted public action significantly. Through the use of PIL, the social movements/advocacy groups realized it as a way to ensure certain problems affecting the public were brought to light hence partake in the course of legal procedures.

5.    Support from Legal Fraternity: Continuous involvement and support from the bar and bench in launching and continuing PILs were crucial. Some of them acted as activists pointing out problems to be heard in the courts, others were filing petition and or arguing cases in court and still others in formulating the PIL jurisprudence.

6.    Media Attention: Media coverage was crucial to the exposure of PIL cases, which brought into focus social problems while also involving people in the cases. Besides enhancing visibility on the cases filed, this coverage also exerted influences on the judiciary and other related parties to take actions which in turn PLAYED up the effectiveness of PILs.

This paper on Public Interest Litigation in India demonstrates that the addition of Public Interest Litigation into Indian law has been a progressive development into the terrain of Indian Law. Evolved from the foundational in United States, PIL in India has metamorphosed into a stringent tool for the delivery of justice to the society. Over the years and through different developmental stages and most importantly the proactive role played by the judiciary on the one hand and the civil society on the other hand, PIL has indeed become a veritable means of addressing some of the vitiating social problems and then and there providing remedy to the exploited segments of the society hence undergirding the fabric of democracy in the nation.

PIL has become a revolutionary tool to change the existing traditional law practice by making it open to the public, and more accommodative of their needs. It has so equipped the man on the street to fight wrong and even defeat Goliaths of society. The overall journey of PIL in India proclaims, the constant and progressive rapport of judiciary to the social justice. Therefore, PIL remains a relevant tool of advocacy for the needy and a continuous advocacy for equal protection of the law and not merely equality for equity.


Public interest litigation (PIL) refers to cases where lawyers and individuals can approach the court seeking a legal action to address public issues without any personal interest. Below is the guide on how to file PIL in India.

PIL is a unique concept in Indian legal system and has significant social relevance and utility that empowers the common man, socially deprived and needy and disadvantaged sections of the society to seek justice against the socially untenable practices affecting the society. Here is a comprehensive guide on how to file a PIL:

Who can File a PIL?

PIL can be filed by a group of individuals, a worker or employee of a trade union, a trade union, a company, a society or an association and a government department/organization.

1.    Any Indian Citizen: that means anybody, including any group of individuals, can move the court by way of Public Interest Litigation even if the party concerned has not suffered any personal injury.

2.    Public Interest Focus: The petition must be in the interest of all the parties involved and not a selfish individuals’ interest.

Where can a PIL be filed?

A PIL can be file in:

3.    Supreme Court: An application can be made under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution which is commonly known as a PIL.

4.    High Court: Article 226 of the Indian Constitution allows for a petition in the nature of certiorari to be lodged.

Filing Process:

1. Identifying the Issue:

Explain one of the public interest issues that warrants the emerge of judiciary to address. This could pertain to any issue that has an impact on the surrounding environment, social injustice experienced by the public or any administrative malfeasance or issue experienced by a large segment of the population.

2. Gathering Information and Evidence:

Gather and compile information and evidence taken as legal basis to the points enumerated in the PIL. This could be any document, photograph, report, affidavit or expert opinion as provided by the law.

3. Legal Research:

Many steps have to be taken, among which the most important one is conducting legal research in order to find relevant case law and statutes. It would assist in developing the claims and possibly outline legal procedures that could be pursued.

4. Drafting the Petition:

It should be noted that the petition should be prepared very thoroughly wherein the clients set out the facts of the matter, relevant issues, and the reliefs being sought from the court. Key components of the petition include:

a.    Title: More so, full names of the court involved, the petitioner(s) and respondent(s) must be mentioned.

b.    Introduction: The public interest aspect of the case has to do with the fact that the petitioner has a right to challenge administrative or executive acts, decisions or proceedings from which the public may be able to have certain benefits.

c.    Facts: Highlighting the events which led to filing of the PIL and revealing the reason of such action.

d.    Grounds: Stating the logical legal basis as well as the constitutional references used as justifications.

e.    Relief: The relief or direction sought for the court to provide Or Fail

f.    Affidavit: An affidavit attests to the truthfulness of the petition.

5. Filing the Petition:

In filing Petition the case to be lodged in the right court, either the supreme court or High court. It is also important to ensure that all documents that may be prerequisite to the filing of the petition and the necessary fees are attached to the petition.

6. Admission Hearing:

Since the court has not issued a notice in the PIL, the petitioner’s main platform, they will have to go through an admission hearing to decide if the PIL deserves an examination or not. Depending on defence put by the petitioner, if the court feels that prima facie case has been made out it entertains PIL and serves the notice to respondents.

7. Court Proceedings:

Upon admission of an issue, the court will then have an opportunity to hear the evidence, to hear submissions from the respective parties and consider evidence and submissions from Amicus Curiae if any. The court can also assign the formation of commissions or panels of experts to examine the issue more closely.

8. Judgment:

Lastly every angle in the given case will be fully examined this is followed by the verdict of the court. The court might give the prayer as prayed for, give ruling or directive to the government or other relevant authorities or reject the petition if the court finds it incompetent.

Public Interest Litigation and its influence reflect the responsibility and supervise the violation of fundamental human rights and justice for the general public. Indeed, following the provided steps, citizens can use PILs for addressing major societal concerns and fighting for right of the vulnerable persons or groups. On the same note, if there is a course you feel strongly about, this might just be the legal way of making change happen.


     Hussainara Khatoon & Ors vs Home Secretary, State of Bihar, Patna, 1979

       1979 AIR 1369, 1979 SCR (3) 532

Hussainara Khatoon & Ors vs Home Secretary, State of Bihar, Patna, 1979 (1979 AIR 1369, 1979 SCR (3) 532) is one of the cases that shed light on several crucial concerns that include the conditions and entitlement of under-trial prisoners in Bihar. In one way, the Supreme Court’s directions have pointed out several areas that warrant urgent attention. Firstly, the Court observed that the State of Bihar has not compiled with its directions to file a revised chart of under-trial prisoners showing their classification both in terms of severity of the offences for which they were arrested and the imprisonment undergone to stress upon the fact that this data needs to be submitted within three weeks. It was necessary to analyse and mitigate the issue of under-trial prisoners detained in jails which is clearly depicted in this chart. Another significant area of concern was the observance of the provisions of Section 167(2) as read with Section 121 of the Constitution. The Affidavit deposed by Bageshwari Prasad Pande supported that some of the petitioners have been produced in the court as ordered but failed to provide specific remand periods of these prisoners. The Court took two weeks’ time for the State of Bihar to file a detailed affidavit about the dates on which the under-trial prisoners were remanded to judicial custody. Hazards were outlined to the authorities regarding the non-prosecution of remand prisoners in Ranchi Central Jail, and the Hon’ble Patna High Court was ordered to randomly select certain cases dealing with Section 167(2).

The Court expressed severe displeasure over an act of holding prisoners beyond their sentence for more than the actual legal term as dictated by their charges and ordered their release as they have been detained unlawfully violating the Article 21 of Constitution of India ensuring Right to Life and Personal Liberty. Speaking about the remaining questions Free legal aid is one of the questions that has to be solved. A lot of under trial prisoners were detained for bailable offenses due to some form of inability to approach or obtain a bond. The Court further declared that the State Government should provide adequate means to these prisoners for engaging legal professional services at State expenses and in that regard, the magistrates were directed to dispose of the bail application of these prisoners within thirty days from the delivery of the judgment of the Court on February 12, 1979.

The detention of the under-trial prisoners was also very much undesirable as they have to remain in jail for a long time. The Court further contended that prisoners who are detained beyond half the possible years a man can spend behind bars for the alleged offences ought to be subjected to legal aid services during subsequent remand hearings. According to this direction, the State Government was ordered to respond to this effect within six weeks from today and file a compliance report before the Honourable Patna High Court.

In addition, concerning the specific aspects of that case, the Court acknowledged the issue of socioeconomic differences that determine access to justice as well. The executive cast spells on the GOI & State Governments legal services authorities and encouraged them to establish effective and efficient legal services programs for supporting the needful clients. The constitutional right to speedy trial under Article 21 was invoked and the State urged to elaborate ways and means of conducting trials before the court despite the high costs associated with the process. This was considered as a basic force that has to be protected by the Court, meaning that it was important to enhance the ability of judiciary and investigation to provide a chance for trial.

The Court called upon the State to submit a report regarding the living status and the treatment of under-trial prisoners in the shortest time possible, which was three weeks. Respondents counter-affidavit underscored that there is the need to strike out delay and highlighted that right to speedy trial is under article 21 a basic right. The Court elaborated on the constitutional obligations to provide this right by giving directions thus making it obligatory for the State to improve its judicial and investigative mechanisms to protect under trial prisoners’ rights which are intents of the Constitution. As the case illustrated that prisoners also have some rights protected by law and established that judiciary plays a significant role in protecting the human dignity and searching for truth for the benefit of the society, particularly for those people who doesn’t have anyone to protect their rights – prisoners.

Direction Summary:

  1. Revised Chart: Report of the State of Bihar along with their responses relating to the audit observations and paragraphs given herein above shall be filed within three weeks from the date of this order.
  2. Compliance with Section 167(2): Affidavit proving less than two weeks remand date.
  3. Under-trial Prisoners in Ranchi Central Jail: Affidavit, and in any case such affidavit should be filed within three weeks.
  4. Release of Unlawfully Detained Prisoners
  5. Provision of Free Legal Aid: On next remand/adjourned dates: File and serve report within 6 weeks.
  6. Legal Services Program: Amendments are required on an urgent basis and must be implemented on a national level.
  7. Speedy Trial Measures: ‘Specific details must be provided within three weeks,’ says the state.

The constitutional rights include legal representation, humane treatment, and reasonable time to trial and sentencing; the lack of these including the detainee’s prolonged detention requires prompt corrective action.

This case is quite relevant in the matter on PIL as the facts of this case reveal the problems with the judiciary and prison system in Bihar, especially the problems associated with under-trial prisoners. Therefore, when this PIL was brought before the court, the court reminds the government of the need to protect some of these rights as contained in the constitution of India under Article 21 which includes the right to a speedy trial and legal representation. Thus using their powers of judicial review and giving specific directives to the State of Bihar the court tries to meet the objective of corrective justice and so deals with policy/macro procedural deficiencies. In addition to being an effective means of seeking POSH for the concerned under trial prisoners, the PIL also acts as a call for the citizens and society at large to wake up and start raising voices for the under-trial prisoners who are equally important for seeking justice and fairness under the laws of India.

     Vishaka & Ors vs State of Rajasthan & Ors 1997

       AIR 1997 SUPREME COURT 3011

As we know that our society still does not leave a stone unturned in violating the basic rights especially of the working women so in order to bring the enforcement of the right which is available under Article 14, 19 & 21 of the Constitution of India a Writ petition was filed. The petition sought awareness of the acts of sexual harassment as well as violence against women and come up with appropriate measures to embody the real essence of gender equity. The precursor to this petition was a heinous gang rape in Rajasthan and how vulnerable working women are while in the process of seeking legislative reform to protect them the journey is often arduous and dangerous.

The petition also pointed out on examples of how the rights of women, the right to life, liberty, and the right to practice any profession or occupation has been violated and denied by the presence of sexual harassment and violence. It said that cases of such violations called for intervention under Article 32 of the Constitution.

The court noted that no legislation had been passed to protect women from receiving sexual advances from their male colleagues at workplace and realised that actions should be taken without any delay considering sexual harassment as a social ailment. They cited several sections of the constitution, internationals laws and acts that tackled and embraced provision for protection of women form any form of sexual harassment.

Since there was no legislation passed to address the problem, especially on the heels of the Kelly Creators’ victory, the court proceeded to outline measures and parameters to forestall sexual harassment of women in all workplaces. These guidelines involved the responsibilities of the employers, the definition of sexual harassment, measures of prevention, procedures on the filing of complaints, punishments and penalties, and educational sessions and campaigns.

This case operates as a guiding example in understanding how PIL can be used to address a relevant and highly debated social problem. By outlining the guidelines in the s absence of legislative measures in USA, the Supreme Court brought immediate relief to the working women and paved the way for the future cases related to gender equality and sexual harassment. The present case is a classic example whereby PIL performs the function of enforcing a constitutional principle of fairness and didn’t recognize social injustices where there are no regulatory policies. It also reflects judiciary’s sense of responsibility towards adherence to gender equality standards and portrayal and protection of women’s rights with special focus on their right to work in safe and dignified conditions.

Direction Summary:

  1. Petition Filed: So, there's this writ petition that was filed to enforce the rights of working women under Articles 14, 19, and 21 of the Indian Constitution. Basically, they're seeking protection against sexual harassment and violence.
  2. Background: This all started when a gang rape happened in Rajasthan, which really brought attention to how vulnerable working women are and how there's a need for some changes in the law.
  3. Issues Raised: In the petition, they really emphasized how women's rights to life, liberty, and the freedom to do any job are being violated because of sexual harassment and violence.
  4. Court's Observation: The Supreme Court looked into this and they noticed that there's no specific law protecting women from sexual harassment at work. It's kind of shocking, really.
  5. Guidelines Established: Since there's no law, the court stepped in and gave some guidance to employers. They defined what counts as sexual harassment, talked about ways to prevent it, outlined complaint procedures, punishments, and even suggested educational campaigns.
  6. International Influence: The court even mentioned some international laws and acts that are there to protect women.
  7. Outcome: This case kind of changed the game. It set a precedent for using Public Interest Litigation (PIL) to tackle social issues, and it really showed how the judiciary can play a big role in promoting gender equality and making sure women can work in safe conditions.
  8. Impact: Thanks to these guidelines, working women got immediate relief, and it also opened the door for more cases in the future that deal with gender equality and sexual harassment.

     People's Union for Democratic Rights ... vs Union of India & Others 1982

       1982 AIR 1473

Case Background:

The given case for discussion is the People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) vs the Union of India, a very significant case in the Indian legal system dealing with the rights of those workers that were engaged in construction activities of ASIAD-82 infrastructural projects in Delhi. It may also be noted that the PUDR sought the intervention of the court on a PIL claiming that the workers were subjected to severe violations of sundry labour laws and their fundamental rights.

Key Issues:

1. Maintainability of Writ Petition Against Private Individuals:

 Whether the fundamental rights of the parties can be enforced through Article 32 of the Constitution against private contractors who were not state actors but had been active in the projects with the help of contracts with the government.

2. Right to Life and Human Dignity under Article 21:

That the right to life under Article 21 carved out two aspects of the right to life namely, right to live with human dignity and the right to earn to live.

Petitioner's Arguments:

Violations by Contractors:

  1. It is found that even the contractors engaged directly by the authorities for laying the sewerage lines had hired labourers through middlemen known as ‘jamadars’, who received the wages instead of the actual workers, which was expressly illegal under the Minimum Wages Act.
  2. Women workers were comparatively paid less than the male workers, and there is an absolute violation of Equal Remuneration Act, 1976.
  3. Some are as follows, child labour laws were breached since children under fourteen years were engaged in construction work, which was deemed to be dangerous contrary to Article 24 and the Employment of Children Acts.
  4. Other provisions of law such as Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970, and the Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979 were also not complied with.

Respondent's Arguments:

Locus Standi and Maintainability:

  1. The respondents’ special defence was that the petitioners acted ILLEGALLY in bringing the case since their alleged rights had not been infringed.
  2. The respondents were not workmen of the state and JKB as employees, thus any claim may be against the contractors and not the state or its agencies.
  3. They also asserted that no Article 32 writ petition can be filed for infringement of provisions of labour laws as the latter had relief mechanisms in them.


The Supreme Court of India, led by Justices P. N. Bhagwati and Baharul Islam, delivered a historic judgment:

1. Extension of Article 21:

a.    The court further expanded the meaning given under Article 21 of the Constitution and it added two more rights: The right to life includes the right to live with dignity and another right it adds is the right to life includes the right to have ability to earn to live.

b.    Short payment of wages was also considered as a violation of these rights which was aimed at partly extending labour issues under Article 21.

2. Article 23 and Forced Labour:

a.    Furthermore, the increased focus has been placed on Art. 23 of the Crime Code that bans trafficking and forced labour; thus, the notions of labour that undermines human worth and that are performed under force, coercion, or in any other forced manner either through physical force or economic pressure.

b.    This had the effect of equating non-payment and underpayment of wages with forced labour, and thereby a contravention of the rights of individuals.

 3. Enforceability Against Private Individuals:

a.    The judgment provided a clear affirmation that one can obtain protection for his/her fundamental rights in cases where there is a violation by private individuals where the state is found to have violated the provisions of the Constitution by directly or indirectly engaging private individuals/entities in contracts.

b.    As the court indicated, all branch of the state power and its agencies is defined by the Constitution to guarantee compliance with labour legislation including in relation to private contractors.

4. Appointment of Ombudsmen:

It becomes imperative to explain why in 1997 the Supreme Court nominated three ombudsmen to supervise the enforcement of labour laws and safeguard the interests of the workers which is exceptional in the history of Indian judiciary.

PIL is a significant documented importance to the relation with the populace, having its roots in the early 1980s when the cat was let out of the legal bag.

Significance of PIL in The People's Union for Democratic Rights ... vs Union of India & Others 1982

1. Empowerment of Marginalized Groups:

a.    The case illustrates how PIL is often effective in standing up for the rights of groups, particularly poor workers, who would otherwise not be able to access justice on their own.

b.    The public interest litigation (PIL) was filed by a non-governmental organization, People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR), on behalf of the plight of the workers that signifies an important involvement of civil society for protection of constitutional rights of citizens.

 2. Broadening Access to Justice:

a.    Thus, by admitting the PIL, the Supreme Court expanded the scope of justice for the public where literally everyone could turn to courts for the protection of their rights or demanding that their rights had been violated.

b.    PIL further enabled the course of important matters where the affected masses could seek remedy in one go rather than each and every person approaching the court.

 3. Judicial Activism:

a.    The case is one of the conventions of activist judges who tried to promote constitutional and statutory rights and loosen their interpretation and enforcement to be more socially just.

b.    The testament of this arrangement of ombudsmen and enlargement of the principles of the fundamental rights confirm the court’s more comprehensive task of enshrine public interest and the rule of law.

Thus, the PUDR versus Union of India case is one of the most important cases of Indian history of law because of its broad approach to the fundamental rights and because of the tremendous example it sets for the power of public interest litigation. It provided a basis for subsequent legal precedents concerning labour rights and protection of articulated constitutional rights against other individuals or companies. The quality of the judiciary in protection of common and special status of each citizen is reflected in the present case which shows that through legal creativity such as Public Interest Litigation the judiciary has an important role in protection of human dignity and rights of vulnerable groups.


Despite its many successes, the PIL mechanism has faced criticism on various grounds: 

  1. Judicial Overreach: As it will be described in detail below, critics of PILs have pointed to concerns such as abdication of the legislator’s role by the courts and judicial imperialism, where the act of the courts in granting PILs oversteps their mandates belonging to the executive and legislative branches of the government. This is a matter of concern because it erodes the doctrine of the separation of powers and can result in issues of governance.
  2. Frivolous and Vexatious Litigations: This is due to the fact that through the recent times, there have been mechanical filings of PILs and at times, inconsequential and an abusive process, taken by litigants without any serious intent on the true spirit of PILs. Such petitions can harm genuine cases in the public interest since people mostly associate big money with the manipulation of the legal system.
  3. Implementation Challenges: However, orders passed by the courts in PILs may be progressive and bold, but executing these judgments is an issue. politician will, and poor funding may undermine the implementation of the court orders through organizational resistance, rigidity, and incompetence.
  4. Dilution of Original Purpose: Critics have argued that PILs have been diverted from their core values of providing remedy to disadvantaged citizens as the conceived goal of the PILs. Thus, it is seen that having one’s own interest or to seek publicity, more PILs are being filed now by the applicants.


Comparing Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in India with Foreign Laws:

Public Interest Litigation in India


In India, Public Interest Litigation, or PIL, is a way for individuals or groups to raise public concerns by filing petitions in the Supreme Court or High Courts. This powerful tool is granted by Articles 32 and 226 of the Indian Constitution, which empower these courts to issue writs for the enforcement of fundamental rights. PIL gained popularity in the late 1970s and 1980s, thanks to activist judges who aimed to make justice more accessible, especially for marginalized communities.

Key Features:

1.    Locus Standi: The beauty of PIL in India lies in its relaxed approach, allowing any concerned individual or organization to file petitions on behalf of those who may not be able to approach the courts themselves.

2.    Judicial Activism: In India, the judiciary plays an active role in interpreting and enforcing constitutional rights, often stepping into the legislative and executive domains to ensure justice prevails.

3.    Socio-Economic Rights: PILs in India have addressed a wide array of issues, ranging from environmental protection and human rights to labour rights and gender equality.

Comparison with the United States


Unlike India, the United States legal system does not have a specific provision for Public Interest Litigation (PIL). Instead, public interest cases are usually pursued through class action lawsuits or civil rights litigation.

In the US, strict rules regarding standing (locus standi) require the plaintiff to demonstrate a direct injury.

Key Features:

  1. Locus Standi: In the United States, the concept of locus standi is much stricter, as plaintiffs must show personal harm or injury. The Supreme Court has consistently maintained that plaintiffs must have a concrete and particularized injury.
  2. Class Actions: In the US, class action lawsuits are often utilized to address public interest matters, where one or several individuals sue on behalf of a larger group. These lawsuits are commonly used to tackle civil rights, consumer rights, and environmental issues.
  3. Civil Rights Movement: The civil rights movement brought about some important court cases that had a huge impact. One of the most significant decisions was the Brown v. Board of Education (1954) case, which ended racial segregation in public schools.

Comparative Points:

  1. Standing: In India, it's easier to file Public Interest Litigations (PILs) on behalf of disadvantaged groups because they have a more relaxed requirement for proving a direct personal injury. In contrast, the United States has a stricter rule.
  2. Judicial Activism: Indian courts are often more proactive in shaping policies through PILs, while U.S. courts tend to be more cautious and stick to a strict interpretation of the separation of powers.
  3. Scope: In India, PILs cover a wide range of socio-economic issues, while public interest cases in the United States are mainly focused on civil liberties and consumer rights.

Comparison with the United Kingdom


  1. In the UK, there isn't a specific PIL system, but they have something called "judicial review" and "public law actions" that serve similar purposes.
  2. The Human Rights Act 1998 allows individuals in the UK to challenge public authorities if they violate their rights protected under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Key Features:

  1. Judicial Review: This allows individuals in the UK to challenge the legality of actions or decisions made by public bodies. However, the claimants must have a sufficient interest in the matter.
  2. Human Rights Act 1998: This law gives the UK courts the power to review cases involving human rights violations, and it has a significant impact on public interest litigation.
  3. Ombudsman: In the UK, they have a system of ombudsmen who deal with public complaints against government actions. It's an alternative to going through the judicial review process.

Comparative Points:

  1. Judicial Review: Both India and the UK use judicial review to address public grievances, but India's PIL system is broader and more accessible.
  2. Human Rights: The UK's Human Rights Act provides a strong legal framework for dealing with rights violations, while in India, PILs cover a wider range of socio-economic issues.
  3. Ombudsman: In the UK, we have an ombudsman system that acts as an extra way for the public to address their grievances. It works alongside the judicial review process, unlike in India where Public Interest Litigations (PILs) directly handle such issues in the courts.

Comparison with South Africa


  1. South Africa's Constitution explicitly encourages public interest litigation and has broad rules for who can bring cases, similar to India.
  2. The legal framework after apartheid supports an active judiciary in addressing socio-economic rights.

Key Features:

  1. Constitutional Provisions: Section 38 of the South African Constitution allows anyone who acts in the public interest to approach the courts to enforce their rights.
  2. Socio-Economic Rights: The South African Constitution includes extensive socio-economic rights that the courts actively protect.
  3. Public Interest Law Firms: Organizations like the Legal Resources Centre and Section 27 play a significant role in taking public interest cases to court.

Comparative Points:

  1. Standing: Both India and South Africa have relaxed rules for who can bring cases, making justice more accessible for disadvantaged groups.
  2. Judicial Activism: Both countries have proactive judiciaries that address a wide range of socio-economic rights.
  3. Constitutional Rights: South Africa's Constitution explicitly endorses public interest litigation, which aligns closely with India's use of PILs.

In India, Public Interest Litigation (PIL) really stands out for being accessible and covering a wide range of socio-economic issues. Compared to the stricter rules in the US and the more procedural focus in the UK, India's PIL system, like South Africa's, provides a strong mechanism for protecting and enforcing fundamental rights. The proactive role of the judiciary in India highlights how PILs promote social justice and fill gaps that legislative and executive actions may leave behind.


After a period of only nineteen years, PIL has contributed greatly to the making of the Indian judicial system and burdening itself to look into the problems of the society as well as making justice available for the being subdued. Some of these cases have been as follows: Some landmark cases that have witnessed progressive reforms in the legal framework and the rights of citizens, these cases have helped in reforming the legal system and safeguarding the rights of its citizens.

Fundamental rights. Nonetheless, it has not been without its implications and drawbacks, which include the following considerations on the essence of the mechanism: Concerns with the Judiciary Excess; meritless Petitions; and On the Implementation of the Mechanism. The examination of trends as well as evaluations of the legal approaches to PIL in a comparative context with other jurisdictions are crucial in a quest for improving the formal PIL system in India. 

In conclusion, legal activism through PIL is a still relevant and significant way of pursuing social justice and democratic values.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on Public Interest Litigation (PIL)

1.    What is Public Interest Litigation (PIL)? 

Answer: Public Interest Litigation (PIL) is a legal mechanism in India that lets regular folks or groups file petitions in court to protect the public interest. It's especially useful for those who can't approach the court themselves. PIL is all about tackling social issues and fighting for the rights of disadvantaged and marginalized communities.

2.    Who can file a PIL? 

Answer: Anybody who cares about the public good can file a PIL. Unlike regular lawsuits where only the affected party can sue, PIL has a more inclusive approach. It allows anyone, even if they're not directly affected, to bring a case to court.

3.    Which courts can hear PILs in India? 

Answer: PILs can be filed in the Supreme Court of India under Article 32 of the Constitution and in the High Courts under Article 226 of the Constitution.

4.    What kind of issues can PIL address? 

Answer: PIL can tackle a wide range of issues including protecting the environment, fighting human rights violations, ensuring consumer rights, combating corruption, promoting labour rights, striving for gender equality, and securing access to basic necessities like food, shelter, and healthcare.

5.    What are the main features of a PIL? 

Answer: Some key features of PIL include a relaxed approach to who can file a case, a focus on the public interest, judicial activism, and the ability to address a wide range of socio-economic issues. PILs aim to make justice accessible to marginalized and disadvantaged sections of society.

6.    How is PIL different from regular litigation? 

Answer: Regular litigation requires the affected party to initiate a lawsuit, while PIL allows concerned individuals or organizations to take up the cause on behalf of those who can't fight for themselves. PIL prioritizes the greater public interest and social justice, rather than individual disputes.

7.    What are some notable PIL cases in India? 

Answer: Some landmark PIL cases include:

  • Hussainara Khatoon v. State of Bihar: Focused on the rights of under-trial prisoners.
  • Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan: Established guidelines to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.
  • MC Mehta v. Union of India: Dealt with environmental issues like pollution in the Ganga River and vehicular emissions in Delhi.

8.    What is the process for filing a PIL?

Answer: The process of filing a PIL involves:

(i)    Drafting the petition: Clearly stating the issue and the public interest at stake.

(ii)    Submitting the petition: Filing it in the appropriate court (Supreme Court or High Court).

(iii)    Notice to respondents: The court notifies the concerned parties (respondents).

(iv)    Hearing: Both parties present their arguments in court.

(v)    Judgment: The court delivers its verdict and may issue directions or orders to address the issue.

9.    What are the benefits of PIL? 

Answer: PIL brings several benefits including providing access to justice for marginalized communities, addressing issues of public interest, promoting judicial activism, and ensuring government accountability and the enforcement of fundamental rights.

10.    What are the criticisms of PIL? 

Answer: Some criticisms of PIL include the potential for individuals or organizations to misuse it for personal or political gain, overburdening the judiciary, and instances where courts may overstep their bounds by interfering with executive

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