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All You Need To Know About Public Interest Litigation, or PIL

All You Need To Know About Public Interest Litigation, or PIL
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All You Need To Know About Public Interest Litigation, or PIL

Over the years, PILs have become an important avenue for social change in the country.

The Supreme Court of India on Monday asked the Centre for a response after hearing a PIL that challenged amendments to the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act 2010.

The Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in question was filed by the Association for Democratic Reforms, a non-governmental organisation.

PILs represent a unique feature of the Indian judicial setup, allowing for cases which involve public interest at heart to be taken up by the court itself or to be filed by a third party.

Origin And Legal Basis

The origin of the PIL lies in the expansion of locus standiLocus standi, referring to the right to participate in a case before the court, requires that the party seeking to participate has a definitive stake in and connection to the case at hand.

The first PIL to be heard, Hussainara Khatoon v. State of Bihar, came up in 1979. Filed by an advocate on the basis of a newspaper report about hardships being suffered by under-trial prisoners in Bihar, it represented an expansion of locus standi to accommodate the notion of general public interest.

In 1981, Justice P.N. Bhagwati, often referred to as one of the pioneers of the PIL, said in S.P. Gupta v. Union of India that any member of the public could approach the court on behalf of aggrieved individuals who are unable to do so due to barriers such as socioeconomic disadvantage, helplessness, or disability.

PILs can be filed in the Supreme Court under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution (Right to Constitutional Remedy), and in the High Court under Article 226 (powers of the High Court). They can also be filed in lower courts under Section 133 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (Cr. P. C.).

Landmark PIL Cases

Over the years, PILs have become an important avenue for social change in the country. Several cases filed as PILs have led to judgments that held large-scale impact for Indian society.

Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan came about from a PIL petition that demanded better enforcement of fundamental rights for working women. It resulted in the creation of the Vishaka Guidelines, a set of guidelines pertaining to sexual harassment in the workplace.

In M C Mehta v. Union of India, filed in 1986, redressal was sought for a gas leak from a food and fertilisers company’s building in Delhi. This case led to the evolution of the principle of absolute liability. Under this, a person or entity can be held criminally liable for causing harm merely due to the hazardous nature of their actions, whether or not they were carried out with an intention to cause harm.

The Supreme Court, in Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corporation, stayed an eviction order given out to individuals living on pavements and slums in Bombay. In a landmark judgment, it also held that the right to livelihood falls under Article 21 of the Constitution (Right to Life).

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