Misuse of Public Interest Litigation

PIL stands for Public Interest Litigation. It plays a very important role in a Civil Justice System. It helps to achieve the goals which are difficult to achieve through private litigation. PIL offers a step towards attaining justice to the disadvantaged sections of society. It provides an avenue to enforce diffused or collective rights. Further, it enables civil society to not restrict the spread of awareness about human rights and participate in the decision-making process of the government. PIL also contributes to a good administration system by keeping the government accountable to common citizens as well.

PIL has been an innovative judicial technique for enhancing the socially and economically weaker sections of the society in India. There are several cases present where the system of PIL has been misused in matters concerning separation of powers, judicial capacity, and inequality. In this article, the author attempts to provide critical analysis in the context of using PILs as a tool to suppress the weaker section or the marginalized population by the richer section of the society. This article further deals with the cases in which PIL has been admitted and created a positive impact in the society, as a result. In short, this article addresses the pros and cons of PIL.


PIL is a legal proceeding in the interest of the general public or to shield the interest of the public at large. It is a process of litigation introduced in a court of law not by the aggrieved party, but by the court itself or by any other private party. If a person fails to approach the court of law then a person can file the PIL on behalf of that person for the benefit of the public.

PIL is concerned with providing access to justice for all citizens of India. PIL in India has been a part of the inherent legal action and not secular legal action.[1] It also facilitates an essential awareness of the collective, diffused rights for which individual litigation is neither practicable nor an efficient technique.

In India, for the very first time, this concept was introduced in the case of Mumbai Kamgar Sabha v. Abdul Bhai Faizullah Bhai[2].TheSupremeCourt in this matter allowed the filing of a PIL by a group of people on behalf of others.

PIL is related to public interest but it does not mean that a mere stranger can come and file a PIL on behalf of someone else. Public interest is defined as a matter of public or general interest. It does not mean that which is fascinating as satisfying interest but that in which a class of the community have a pecuniary interest or some interest by which their legal rights and liabilities are affected.

The concept of PIL is in relation to the concept enshrined in Article 39A of the Constitution of India to safeguard and implement the rise of equality and human rights with the help of law. After the emergency period, the High Court reached out to the people and came up with a method for any individual of the public to approach the court seeking legal remedy in cases where the public interest is at stake. Justice P. N. Bhagwati and Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer were among the first judges to admit PILs in court.  Filing a PIL is not as inconvenient as a normal legal case. There have been many cases where letters and telegrams addressed to the court have been taken up as PILs and deliberated on.

 In the case of Citizens for Democracy through its President v. State of Assam and Others[3], the court entertained a letter from Shri Kuldip Nayar (a journalist, in his capacity as President of Citizens for Democracy) to a judge of the court alleging human-rights violations of Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) detainees. It was treated as a petition under Article 32 of the Constitution of India.

Public interest cases could be filed without spending a lot of money in the form of court fees as required in private civil litigation. The Court had to find out new remedies as a basic step for providing relief to the disadvantaged who resort to filing PILs. This action of the Courts to find new measures to provide justice is known as Judicial Activism. The purpose of Judicial Activism is to make justice available to the marginalized people of the society.

Advantages of PIL

By taking up the issues affecting the people, PIL truly became an essential means to bring social revolution through constitutional means, something that the founding fathers had envisioned.

PIL develops as a method to encourage rationality, honesty, and transparency. Therefore, it is a fight against the corruption present in the system, aimed at strengthening the comprehensive accountability of the government agencies. The underlying justification for these public demands and judicial interference is strengthening of constitutionalism, a constant desire of the civil society to keep government power under surveillance. This resulted in the judiciary giving directions to the government to follow its constitutional obligations.[4]

The two main ways in which PILs have helped the general public are-

  1. In Public Interest Litigation (PIL) individuals of the country who belong to marginalized classes of the society are provided an inexpensive legal remedy. This is so because there is only a reasonable fixed court fee involved in PIL.
  2. Through PILs, the litigants pay attention to and achieve the outcome concerning larger public issues, especially in the fields of human rights, consumer welfare, and the environment.

It is because of this that PILs have helped the Indian judiciary to achieve the public’s trust and belief in the judicial system and uphold justice in the society.  Therefore, it becomes critical for the judiciary to be seen by the public to be not only independent but also in touch with social realities.

Disadvantages of PIL

In the present context, PILs have been brought not only for the violation of Fundamental Rights but also for numerous other issues. The judiciary, for instance, has self-addressed the issues such as the constitutionality of the Government’s privatization and disinvestment policies, the danger to the Taj Mahal from a refinery, pollution of rivers, lack of access to food, deaths due to starvation, use of environment-friendly fuel in Delhi buses and regulation of traffic, out of turn allotment of government accommodation, the prohibition of smoking in public places, employment of children in hazardous industries, rights of children and bonded labours, sexual harassment in the workplace, and female foeticide and infanticide through modern technology.

PILs become Private Interest

Courts encourage PILs through relaxed jurisprudence and lack of rigorous mechanisms for their enforcement. PIL is being misused by individuals asking for relief to independent hardships under the guise of public interest and searching for attention rather than accepting public causes.[5]

The PIL has the ability to contribute to the effective disposal of people’s grievances. But considering that the number of judges in India is much less hence the Indian Supreme Court as well as High Courts is facing a huge backlog of cases,[6] it is quite amusing why the courts have not done enough to stop faulty PIL cases. In fact, by entertaining superficial PILs, the plaintiffs are wasting the time and energy of the courts. Also, the judiciary might be violating the right to a speedy trial for those who are waiting for the acquittal of their private interests through ordinary adversarial prosecution.


PIL has a vital role in the civil justice system as it affords a step to justice to marginalized sections of the society. It provides access to enforce subtle rights that are ordinarily difficult to achieve and to determine the aggrieved person who hasn’t any enticement to knock at the doors of the Courts. PILs additionally empower civil society to play a good role in spreading awareness concerning human rights, in raising voice to the marginalized sections of the society, and in granting their support in the deciding process.

Several opinions on PIL have been raised in recent years, together with issues associated with the separation of powers, judicial capability, and difference. Though critics are plausible once revealing to specific cases, the alteration in tendencies over time and among court benches has created reaching a general conclusion tough.


  1. What’s a Public Interest Litigation?
  2. How are PILs being misused?
  3. Where is the Right to a Speedy Trial outlined in the Constitution?
  4. What areas unit the results of the misuse of PIL?
  5. How is a PIL filed?


  1. www.lawoctopus.academike.in
  2. http://www.legalservicesindia.com/article/1844/Public-Interest-Litigation—A-Critical-Evaluation.html
  3. https://blog.ipleaders.in/misuse-public-interest-litigation/

  • [1]  Surya Deva, PublicInterestLitigationinIndia: ACriticalReview, 28 Civil Justice Quarterly 1 (2009)
  • [2] 1976 (3) SCC 832.
  • [3] 1979 AIR  1360
  • [4] Article 32(2) of the Constitution of India.
  • [5] Raz, The Morality of Freedom,1986
  • [6]  Shubhankar Dam, LawmakingBeyondLawmakers: UnderstandingtheLittleRightandtheGreatWrong(AnalyzingTheLegitimacyoftheNatureofJudicialLawmakinginIndia’sConstitutionalDynamic) (200) 13 Tulane Journal of International and Comparative Law 109, 115–116.

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