Public Interest Litigation (PIL) are litigations are writ petitions brought before the High Court or Supreme Court of India to protect basic human rights of the weak and the disadvantaged. Court has interfered and given directions in while entertaining PIL it has mainly been where there has been an element of violation of Art.21 of the Constitution of India or of human rights or where the litigation has been initiated for the benefit of the poor and the under privileged who are unable to come to court due to some disadvantage. The Courts are of the view that right to life conferred under Art. 21 includes the right to have the clear air,water and atmosphre. Thus anyone brings a petition to protect the enviornment is treated as PIL.
Locus standi (the person who can sue ) for filing a litigation is normlly available only to a person who has suffered a legal injury by reason violation of his legal right or legally protected interest by the impugned action of the State or a public authority or legally protected interest by the impugned action of the State or a public authority or any other person or who is likely to suffer a legal injury by reason of threatened violation of his legal right or legally protected interest of any such action. This rule has gone a radical change when for the first time the Government decided to transfer the judges of the High Court for the first time. The said proposal was challenged by an advocate called "S.P.Gupta". The rule of locus stand has been widened and the Supreme Court of India for the first time held that any member of the public having sufficient interest can maintain an action for judicial redress for public inquiry arising from breach of public duty or from violation of some provision of the Constitution or the law and seek enforcement of such public duty and observance of such constitutional or legal provision. This is absolutely essential for maintaining the rule of law, the court held. It is an historical judgment which opened the Pandora's box for litigations by any person.
An interesting question first arose before the Supreme Court of India when M.C.Mehta filed a public interest litigation to protect the Ganga River from pollution. In common law the Municipal Corporation can be restrained by an injunction in an action brought by the riparian owner who has suffered on account of pollution of the water in a river caused by the discharging into the river insufficiently treated sewerage from discharging such sewage into the river. It would not be reasonable to expect any particular person to take proceedings to stop it as a public interest litigation, it is objected by the opposite parties. But the court held that nuisance caused by the pollution is a public nuisance, which is widespread in range and indiscriminate in its effect and it would not be reasonable to expect any particular person to take proceedings to stop it as distinct from the community at large. The petition filed by M.C.Mehta has been entertained by the Court and issued orders. Thereafter several litigations were were entertained in public interest.
The development of the public interest law, especially the locus standi, has started to be misused in many litigations. A PIL was filed to compel judge to vacate office on the basis of resolution passed by the Bar Association. The SC explained the procedure for making complaint against a judge and held that if the complaint relates to the Judge of the High Court, the Chief Justice of that High Court , after verification, and if necessary , after confidential enquiry from his independent source should satisfy himself about the truth of the imputation made by the Bar Association through its office-bearers against the judge and consult the Chief Justice of India where deemed necessary by placing all the information with him. The Bar Association could remain a useful arm of the judiciary and in the case of sagging reputation of the particular judge, the Bar Association could take up the matter with the Chief Justice of the High Court and await his response for the action taken thereafter for a reasonable period.
Later on when a PIL is filed challenging the transfer of a Judge from the High Court , the SC made it clear that no one other than the transferred Judge himself can question the validity of a transfer, it is unnecessary.
Enactment having disastrous effect of giving shelter and protection to foreign nationals who have illegally transgrassed international border and are residing in India has been challenged before the SC. When the locus standi of the Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) court has held that any citizen is entitled to bring to the notice of the court by filing a writ petition. Petition by MLA cannot be rejected on ground that he is trying to achieve a purpose which his party could not achieve politically.
If there is any allegation of violation of statutory rules which have been brought to the notice of the authorities and if the concerned authorities do not perform their statutory obligation any aggrieved citizen can always bring to the notice of the High Court about the inaction of the statutory authorities and in such event it would always open to pass appropriate orders as deemed fit and proper in the facts and circumstances of the case. The fact that it has been filed by business rival is irrelevant.
When valuable property was doled out at the behest of those who are duty bound to protect the same, PIL is maintainable. SC has held that in such cases where public interest has been given a complete go-by and haste decision at the behest of others public interest litigation is maintainable .
Assignment of Government Land to private persons, can it be questioned by a private person. Kerala High Court has held that in case where authorities are taking steps to assign government property to private persons discarding and by-passing statutory inhibitions and mandatory provisions a petition brought under Art.226 of the Constitution to interdict the perpetuation of the illegality and resultant injury to public cannot be thrown overboard by conducting an investigation into the juristic existence of the petitioner . In such cases, petitioners' role get transformed into that of a mere informant enabling the court to take cognizance of the issue.
Whether a third party can question the conviction under Cr.P.C or any law in a PIL ? SC answering the question negatively held that no fundamental right of the petitioner is violated; if at all, the case sought to be made out is that the fundamental right of the two convicts have been violated. If that were permitted any and every person could challenge convictions recorded day in and day out by courts even if the persons convicted do not desire to do so and are inclined to acquiesce in the decision. Therefore the petitioner not authorised by any body and no allegation of violation of their fundamental right he has no Locus Standi. Third party can be allowed to represent the convict only if they are under some disability recognised by law, the court clarified.
If the State fails to appeal against the acquittal of a criminal, a citizen can move an appeal in the Supreme Court, and that court can take action through its extraordinary jurisdiction under Art.136 of the Constitution, SC held in another case.
A Public Interest Litigant has no right to question the mode of collection of evidence of the investigating agency, SC held. Neither an accused nor a public interest litigant has right to question the mode of collection of evidence of investigation agency and interfere in the progress of investigation.
A writ petition by representative body like Sub-Committee on Judicial Accountability and Supreme Court Bar Association for directions to the Union of India to take immediate steps to enable Inquiry Committee constitution under the Judges (Enquiry) Act to discharge its functions under the Act and to restrain the concerned judge from performing judicial functions during pendency of proceedings before the Committee is maintainable. The Constitutional protection to judges is not for their personal benefit, but is one of the means of protecting the judiciary and its independence and is therefore, in the larger public interest. The law as to standing to sue in public interest action has undergone vast change over the years and recognised liberal standards for locus standi, expanding the principle of locus standi SC held.Now the Government of India has proposed to constitute National Judicial Council (NJC) with powers to investigate complaints including powers to search and seizure.
A PIL was filed for the removal from office of a sitting judge of the SC initiated by the notice of motion given to the Speaker by some members in Lok Sabha. The concerned judge was not made a party. Since the petitioner persisted in not impleading the concerned Judge, Court dismissed the proceedings. Cases may arise where there is undoubtedly public injury by the act or omission of the state or a public authority but such act or omission also causes a specific legal injury to an individual or to a specific class or group of individuals. In such cases , a member of the public having sufficient interest can certainly maintain an action challenging the legality of such act or omission. But if the person or specific class or group of persons who are primarily injured as a result of such act or omission, do not wish to claim any relief and accept such act or omission, do not wish to claim any relief and accept such act or omission willingly and without protest, the member of the public who complains of secondary public injury cannot maintain the action, for the effect of entertaining the action at the instance of such member of the public would be to foist a relief on the person or specific class or group of person primarily injured, which they do not want.
The authority of the bankers to round up the existing interest rates to 0.25 % has been questioned by a firm of Chartered Accountants in a Public Interest Litigation before the Karnataka HC. The HC allowed the writ petition and held that rounding up of interest rates to the next higher 0.25% is illegal , arbitrary and untenable. The same was questioned in appeal before the SC. On the question of locus of the petitioner, SC ruled that while entertaining a public interest litigation, Supreme Court in exercise of its jurisdiction under Art. 32 of the Constitution of India and the High Courts under Art.226 thereof are entitled to entertain a petition moved by a person having knowledge on the subject matter of lis and, thus having an interest therein as contra distinguished from busy body, is the welfare of the people. The rule of locus has been relaxed by the Court to vindicate legal injury or legal wrong caused to a section of people by way of violation of any statutory or constitutional right. Petitioner, a chartered accountants firm has got locus to maintain the PIL or writ petition filed by him pro bon publico before the High Court was thus found to be maintainable.
When public functionaries are involved and matter relates to the violation of fundamental rights or the enforcement of public duties , etc., the remedy in PIL would like, under the public law notwithstanding that damages are also claimed in such petition. Such an observation was made while considering a writ petition challenging the allotment of petrol outlets by the Minister of State in Union Cabinet.
A writ petition in the nature of PIL was filed seeking certiorari to quash the resignation of Governors and Jt Governors. The SC rejected the petition on the statement of the Government that none of them objected to the resignation or made any protect.
The appointment of the President of CEGAT has been questioned in SC. A third party , not being a candidate not appointed, has no locus standi to challenge the appointment. Choice of selection is not open to judicial review once a candidate is found to be qualified and eligible for appointed, SC added. But later the Court has interferred with the selection of Chief Vigilence Commissioner later on .
PIL is a weapon which has to be used with great care and circumspection and the judiciary has to be extremely careful to see that behind the beautiful veil of public interest an ugly private malice. Court has to be satisfied about (a) the credentials of the applicant; (b) the prima facie correctness or nature of information given by him ; (c) the information being not vogue and indefinite . The information should show gravity and seriousness involved. Court has to strike balance between two conflicting interests; (i) nobody should be allowed to indulge in wild and reckless allegations besmirching the character of others; and avoidance of public mischief and to avoid mischievous petitions seeking to assail, for oblique motives, justifiable actions. In such cases, the Court cannot afford to be liberal . It has to be extremely careful to see that under the guise of redressing a public grievance , it does not encroach on the sphere reserved by the Constitution to the executive and the Legislature. The Court has to act ruthlessly while dealing with imposters and busy bodies or meddlesome interlopers impersonating as public spirited holy men. They pretend to act in the name of Pro Bono Publico, though they have not interest of the public or even of their own to protect, SC laid down the rule.
Writ Petition filed by a third party as "Next Friend" on the ground of disability of the aggrieved person .Mere obsession based on religious belief or personal philosophy cannot be treated as legal disability. Therefore the Court held that no writ is maintainable, SC held
A foreign lady was raped by the Railway employees in Delhi . An Advocate has filed a PIL for damages. Repelling the argument that PIL by a private person is not maintainable , SC has held that the petition for damages or compensation for the victim is maintainable.
A PIL was filed before the Madras HC for redressal of public injury suffered by a section of community on account of arson and looting in the wake of assassination of Prime Minister Smt.Rajiv Gandhi . HC has held that wherever there is public wrong or public injury caused by an act or omission of the State or a public authority which is contrary to the Constitution or the Law, any member of the public acting bona fide and having sufficient interest can maintain an action for redressal of such public wrong or public injury. The public minded persons or organisations have to be allowed to be allowed to move the Court and act for a general or group interest.
The rule of law constitutes the core of our constitution and it is the essence of the rule of law that the exercise of the power by the State whether it be the legislature or the executive or any other authority should be within the constitutional limitations and if any practice is adopted by the executive which is in flagrant and systematic violation of its constitutional limitations, petitioner as a member of the public would have sufficient interest to challenge such practice by filing a writ petition, Kerala HC observed
Pointing out clandestine felling and smuggling of timber from Forests any citizen can file writ petition. Such petitioner was performing a laudable public duty; no technicalities should stand in the way of his approach to this Court seeking implementation, at least, in some small measure, of the promises which from the basis of Arts. 48A and 51A of the Constitution of India, Kerala HC openly declared.
Any citizen in the State should be able to question any illegal or ultra vires action of the Government. Before intervening in any such manner, the court will exercise that discretion vested in it by the law and the constitution only taking the relevant factors like the nature of the harm that might be the consequence of the impugned action, the difficulties that might crop up consequent on the courts' decision in the matter, the extent and nature of the complainants' interest in the matter made before the court.
The question of locus standi of public interest litigation would not be material, if the impugned action is violative of any of the fundamental rights, or the action complained of is palpably illegal or Malafides and affects the group of persons who are not in a position to protect their own interest on account of poverty, incapacity, or ignorance of law, or that such person or group of persons is not busy body or meddlesome inter-lopper and have not approached with Malafides intention of vindicating their personal grievance or that the public interest litigation was not being abused by politicians or that the State action was being tried to be covered under the carpet and intended to be thrown out of technicalities; and the person approaching the court has come with clean hands, and the court must be satisfied that its forum was not being misused by any unscrupulous litigant, the Punjab and Haryana HC held.
In State of Sikkim the Government was not taking steps to pull down buildings which are in deplorable conditions. Buildings in question were hotels. Application by owners of some hotels in the city in the form of a public interest litigation is not liable to be dismissed on the ground that applicants being hotel owners had business rivalry with owners of buildings in question. Applicants are residents of State at the same time having concern for safety of residents of State, the HC added.
Orissa State Chief Minister in a speech called upon the people to beat the corrupt officials. PIL by a practicing lawyer. Adv.General opposed the maintainability of the PIL. Court ruled that his approach is to create a fear psychosis in their minds that Government would not tolerate corruption and to violate the rule of law.
Students union has filed a PIL questioning the teaching standards in Universities. The norms and standard of imparting technical education to the student in the university must get proper teaching by competent teachers. Therefore a PIL by students union challenging such recruitment , would be maintainable, the Gauhati High Court held.
Students council challenging the decision of the Vice-Chancellor permitting certain students to take certain examination which he is authorised to take under the relevant Act. The affidavit not disclosing whether council authorised to file litigation , and if so, by whom, whether it has funds to indulge in litigation. SC has held that such type of litigations should not be allowed lightly to undertake litigation in the name of public interest litigation
Grant of land belonging to the College in favour of Kerala History Association relaxing the conditions has been challenge in a PIL. Petitioners feeling that the said activity would affect academic atmosphere in college campus . Writ petition by public interest litigation is maintainable, though they cannot be described as aggrieved or affected parties, the Kerala HC ruled.
Challenging the allotment of industrial plots, PIL was filed by persons actively engaged in social work on behalf of small entrepreneurs proposing to start new industries. Bulk allotment without inviting applications or notifying the public, that too at a very low price , smacks of colorable exercise of power on the part of the Board. Arbitrary exercise of power is glaring. Petition being filed in public interest cannot be said to have no locus standi to file the petition, Karntaka High Court held.
PIL was filed challenging the grant of licences by Railways to run food stalls at Railway platforms. . People who come within Zone of consideration have legitimate expectation to put in application and compete to qualify to obtain licence. Writ petition by public spirited persons challenging action of railway authorities in awarding catering licences is maintainable, the Madhya Pradesh HC held.
West Bengal Government filed a PIL before the Calcutta HC to protect the interest of millions of small depositors in residuary non-banking companies which were not conducting their business in accordance with directives of the Reserve Bank of India is maintainable. PIL can be brought to court for the purpose of upholding the rights of the people, who are poor and who are under the veil of ignorance of their rights and obligations. Reserve Bank directed to take suitable steps to protect the interests of small depositors so that they get their deposits with interest back within specified time limit
Political parties have also approached the SC to invoke the PIL jurisdiction. Challenging the rejection of petition by Karnataka HC when the matter came, SC has held that in defining the rule of locus standi no "rigid litmus test" can be applied since broad contours of PIL are still developing apace seemingly with divergent views on several aspects of the concept of this newly developed law and discovered jurisdiction of judicial activism with far reaching change both in the nature and form of the judicial process. It depends on circumstances, SC explained.
A Municipal Councilor can file a PIL against the decision of the Municipality . In Gujarat a PIL was filed challengin the allotment of land by Municipal authorities for press of a daily newspaper . Resolution to that effect was passed by the Corporation . Petitioner who was councilor voting for allotment feeling that if newspaper was published from City it might help development of public opinion on various public issues and might contribute to public education. Subsequently petitioner realizing that there was non-compliance with conditions of resolution as no construction was carried out on plot . PIL challenging the allotment is maintainable, the Gujarat HC held.
Challenging the constructions in violation of Coastal Regulation Zone notification a PIL was filed before the Bombay HC. On the question of locus stand standi HC has held that petition by public spirited body working in field of environment with object to maintain ecological balance is maintainable.