The term refers to litigation for protecting the public interest in Indian law. In this type of lawsuit, the court itself or any other private party files the lawsuit, not the aggrieved party. An individual who has been violated of his or her rights does not need to personally appear in court to exercise the court’s jurisdiction. Through judicial activism, the courts give the public power in Public interest litigation.
A victim may be unable to commence litigation when he lacks the financial resources, or his right to move court has been encroached upon or suppressed. It is possible for the court itself to take cognizance of the matter and proceed suo motu or for any individual with public interest to bring a suit on their own petition.
Public Interest Litigation – What is?
According to the petitioners, this is not public interest litigation, and therefore, the present petitions have no locus standi. In this case, we cannot accept the submission. Environmental issues are more important to all than anything else. This is something that is available to all residents of an area for free, and maintaining such an environment is essential for ensuring a healthy life. Res integra is no longer applicable to this issue. A Supreme Court decision, Subhash Kumar v State of Bihar*, stated the following:
As part of the right to life under article 21 of the constitution, we have the right to enjoy pollution-free air and water for a full and healthy life. Article 32 of the Indian Constitution provides a remedy to citizens if anything endangers or impairs that quality of life, contrary to laws, by removing pollutants in water or air detrimental to that quality of life…
It is the judiciary’s role in the constitutional scheme to protect the constitutional statutory rights of citizens. A constitutional law court has the power to review legislation and administrative action or decisions. A petition for the enforcement of fundamental rights must be filed directly with the Supreme Court or the High Court by claiming Writ Jurisdiction. As a result of the high costs and complicated procedures involved in litigation, however, equal access to justice is nothing more than a slogan in respect of millions of poor, illiterate, and ignorant people. By introducing Public Interest Litigation (PIL), the Supreme Court opened the doors of courts to the general public.
India’s litigation concept was rudimentary until the 1960s and 1970s, when it was seen primarily as a private pursuit to promote private interests. There was a lot of litigation in those days because individuals instituted and continued their own lawsuits, usually to resolve grievances or problems.
A party who has been injured or aggrieved can initiate or continue a lawsuit at their discretion. There was still a great deal of limitation due to the limited resources available to those individuals. Few organized efforts were made to address broad issues affecting classes of consumers or the general public. As a result of the Supreme Court of India leading the public interest litigation movement in the 1980s, all these circumstances changed. The Supreme Court of India made law more easily accessible to all individuals in the country and to newly formed consumer and social action groups.
The Indian Public Interest Law is an improved version of the Public Interest Law of the U.S.A. According to the Ford Foundation of America, Public interest law refers to efforts to provide legal representation to groups and interests that were previously unable to obtain it. In other words, these efforts are based on the recognition that the ordinary market for legal services does not adequately serve significant segments of the population and interests. In addition to environmentalists, consumers, racial and ethnic minorities, and others, there are other groups and interests to consider.
In the period of emergency (1975-1977), the Indian legal system was colonial by nature. Repression and lawlessness were widespread during times of emergency. A large number of innocent people, including political opponents, were imprisoned and their civil and political rights were completely deprived. In the post-emergency period, Supreme Court judges openly disregarded the limitations of Anglo-Saxon procedure when providing justice to the poor.
Litigation in the public interest, or PIL, is one of the most common forms of litigation used today. It can be broadly defined as litigation in the interest of that nebulous entity: the public at large. Any person not personally affected by the grievance could not knock on the door of justice on behalf of the victim or aggrieved party before the 1980s. Therefore, only the parties affected had locus standi (legal standing) to file a case and continue the litigation, and the non-affected parties did not. Because of this, there was hardly any link between the Constitution of Indian Union and the laws made by the legislature on the one hand, and the vast majority of illiterate citizens on the other. According to the traditional view, locus standi applies only to those persons who: a) Have suffered a legal injury resulting from a violation of their legal rights or legally protected interests; or b) Are likely to suffer a legal injury resulting from a violation of their legal rights or legally protected interests. Prior to acquiring locus standi, a person had to have a right that had been violated or threatened. A person aggrieved by prejudice, whether monetary or otherwise, should have been aggrieved in the sense of it.
These scenarios, however, gradually changed when the post-emergency Supreme Court addressed the problem of access to justice by people through radical changes and alterations in the locus standi and aggrieved party requirements. As part of this juristic revolution of the eighties, P N Bhagwati and V R Krishna Iyer helped transform the Apex Court of India into a Supreme Court for all Indians. Several of the judiciaries, including V. R. Krishna Iyer and P. V. N. Bhagwati, recognized the need to provide access to justice for the poor and exploited. As the political situation changed post-emergency, investigative journalism also began exposing gory scenes of governmental lawlessness, repression, and custodial violence, attracting lawyers, judges, and social activists. Several pro-active judges, journalists, and activists converged to form the PIL. In this trend, the traditional justice delivery system and the modern informal justice system show stark differences. Traditionally viewed notions of laissez faire jurisprudence must be rejected as part of PIL.
PILs first came to light in 1979 as a result of inhumane conditions in prisons and under trial prisoners. A PIL was filed by an advocate in Hussainara Khatoon v. State of Bihar, based on news articles in the Indian Express that revealed the plight of thousands of undertrial prisoners languishing in jails across Bihar. Under those proceedings, more than 40,000 prisoners who were awaiting trial were released. Deficiencies in speedy justice have been a fundamental right denied to these prisoners. In subsequent cases, the same set of rules was followed.
Justice P.N. Bhagawati ushered in a new era of PIL movement with His Lordship’s judgement in the case of Gupta versus the Union of India. In this case, it was held that any member of the public or social action group acting bonafide can invoke the Writ Jurisdiction of the High Courts or the Supreme Court seeking redress against a violation of a legal or constitutional right for persons who cannot approach the Court because of social or economic hardships. A PIL became an effective tool for enforcing public duties where an action or misdeed causes harm to the public. Therefore, any citizen of India or group of consumers or social action groups may now approach the apex court of the country to seek legal remedies whenever their interests or those of a section of the public are at stake.
There was a case in 1981 where Anil Yadav v. State of Bihar exposed police brutality. An article in a news paper revealed that the police in Bihar blinded 33 suspected criminals by injecting acid into their eyes. The State government was ordered by the Supreme Court to bring the blinded men to Delhi for medical attention. Furthermore, the policemen who were guilty of this crime were ordered to be prosecuted promptly. Additionally, the court deemed the right to free legal aid a fundamental right. Social activism and investigative litigation were on the rise thanks to Anil Yadav.
In Citizen for Democracy v. State of Assam, the Supreme Tribunal ordered that handcuffs or other fetters cannot be imposed on a prisoner while he or she is in jail, en route to the court, or in transit from one jail to another.