December 3, 2020



People in India are given a right to file interest litigation in the high court or supreme court even when the cause is not affecting them directly and it is for the benefit of the public at large. It is not accepted when only personal agenda or personal interest is involved. Public Interest litigation can be filled by

  • an individual; or
  • a group of people

It is not generally to be an aggrieved party to file a case. Let us understand this with an illustration. The PIL related to environmental pollution. Pollution is affecting everyone and it is a concern of the public at large. This PIL would be entertained by the court.

It must be noted that PIL is not filled against any private person. It can be filled against state or union government. In case one has to file against a private person, it can be filled by including a private person as a ‘Respondent’ after concerned state ministry or authority. For example, if any industry is causing excessive pollution in the city and no one is regulating it. A person or a group of person can file a PIL against pollution board of that state.


The first PIL was filled by Kapila Hingorani in 1979. The PIL was filed by several prisoners of the Bihar jail, not by only one individual. It was filled in the Supreme Court and bench was headed by P.N. Bhagwati. The petition popularly knows as Hussainara khatoon v. the State of Bihar and it is concerning the condition of the prisoners (whose cases are pending in court) detained at Bihar jail. It has benefited around forty thousand prisoners, whose cases were pending in the court of law and bail was granted to them. This case ensures that prisoners should get free legal aid and speedy hearing. This provision was also added in Article 39A of the Indian Constitution.

The ‘ Public Interest Litigation ‘ term was defined by the Supreme Court of India in SP Gupta v. Union of India case.


Justice P.N. Bhagwati and Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer were among the first judges to accept public interest litigation cases. Before the 1980s only aggrieved party thinks to approach the court for getting justice. But due to the work of NGOs and many responsibilities and aware citizen, the concept of public litigation came forward. Article 39A of the Indian Constitution ensure that justice must be done in a prompt or speedy manner without delaying it. This is in closely related to public interest litigation. Now any person can file a case when public interest is at stake and seek legal help or remedy. Filing case is cumbersome but filing PIL is much easy and it gets huge media coverage given that fact that it is for the larger public good.


PILs are really helpful in clarifying the societal laws and widen the scope of law through interpretation done by the court. It helps to hold public accountable and ensuring that they make appropriate and required decision. It also ensures transparency in government departments. PIL is also called ‘Voice of voiceless’. It acts to act as a platform or alternative to protect vulnerable people. Through PIL remedy can also be claimed for suppressed class. In a larger sense, it ensures social welfare and creates awareness about societal issues. PILs gave a wider interpretation of fundamental rights that are guaranteed under Part III of the Indian Constitution. It also inculcates a conducive environment for discussion and debate upon topics that are concerned with public benefits. PIL acts as a tool to bring positive change in society at large.

Author Details: Dikshi Arora (B.A. LL.B Student, Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Patiala)

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