Saturday, 13 December 2014 11:43





The words 'Public Interest' mean "the common well being or public welfare and the word 'Litigation' means "a legal action including all proceedings therein, initiated in a court of law with the purpose of enforcing a right or seeking a remedy." Thus, the expression `Public Interest Litigation' means "some litigation conducted for the benefit of public or for removal of some public grievance."

According to the jurisprudence of Article 32 of the Constitution of India, “The right to move the Supreme Court by appropriate proceedings for the enforcement of the rights conferred by this part is guaranteed”. Ordinarily, only the aggrieved party has the right to seek redress under Article 32.

The emergency period (1975-1977) witnessed colonial nature of the Indian legal system. During emergency state repression and governmental lawlessness was widespread. Thousands of innocent people, including political opponents were sent to jails and there was complete deprivation of civil and political rights. The post emergency period provided an occasion for the judges of the Supreme Court to openly disregard the impediments of Anglo-Saxon procedure in providing access to justice to the poor. Notably two justices of the Supreme Court, Justices V. R. Krishna Iyer and P. N. Bhagwati recognized the possibility of providing access to justice to the poor and the exploited people by relaxing the rules of standing.

In 1981 Justice P. N. Bhagwati in S. P. Gupta v. Union of India, 1981 (Supp) SCC 87, articulated the concept of PIL as follows, "Where a legal wrong or a legal injury is caused to a person or to a determinate class of persons by reason of violation of any constitutional or legal right or any burden is imposed in contravention of any constitutional or legal provision or without authority of law or any such legal wrong or legal injury or illegal burden is threatened and such person or determinate class of persons by reasons of poverty, helplessness or disability or socially or economically disadvantaged position unable to approach the court for relief, any member of public can maintain an application for an appropriate direction, order or writ in the High Court under Article 226 and in case any breach of fundamental rights of such persons or determinate class of persons, in this court under Article 32 seeking judicial redress for the legal wrong or legal injury caused to such person or determinate class of persons."

The rule of locus standi have been relaxed and a person acting bonafide and having sufficient interest in the proceedings of Public Interest Litigation will alone have a locus standi and can approach the court to wipe out violation of fundamental rights and genuine infraction of statutory provisions, but not for personal gain or private profit or political motive or any oblique consideration.

The first reported case of PIL in 1979 focused on the inhuman conditions of prisons and under trial prisoners. In Hussainara Khatoon & others v. State of Bihar, AIR 1979 SC 1360, the PIL was filed by an advocate on the basis of the news item published in the Indian Express, highlighting the plight of thousands of undertrial prisoners languishing in various jails in Bihar. These proceeding led to the release of more than 40, 000 undertrial prisoners. Right to speedy justice emerged as a basic fundamental right which had been denied to these prisoners. The same set pattern was adopted in subsequent cases.

Evolution of PIL in India:

In the first phase—which began in the late 1970s and continued through the 1980s—the PIL cases were generally filed by public-spirited persons (lawyers, journalists, social activists or academics). Most of the cases related to the rights of disadvantaged sections of society such as child labourers, bonded labourers, prisoners, mentally challenged, pavement dwellers, and women. The relief was sought against the action or non-action on the part of executive agencies resulting in violations of FRs under the Constitution. During this phase, the judiciary responded by recognizing the rights of these people and giving directions to the government to redress the alleged violations.

The second phase of the PIL was in the 1990s in which the PIL cases became more institutionalized as several specialized NGOs and lawyers started bringing matters of public interest to the courts on a much regular basis. The length and breadth of issues in PIL also expanded tremendously—from the protection of environment to corruption-free administration, right to education, sexual harassment at the workplace, relocation of industries, rule of law, good governance, and the general accountability of the Government. It is to be noted that in this phase, the petitioners sought relief not only against the action/non-action of the executive but also against private individuals, in relation to policy matters and regarding something that would clearly fall within the domain of the legislature. The courts enforced FRs against private individuals and granted relief to the petitioner without going into the question of whether the violator of the FR was the state. The second phase was also the period when the misuse of PIL not only began but also reached to a disturbing level, which occasionally compelled the courts to impose fine on plaintiffs for misusing PIL for private purposes.

The third phase—the current phase, which began with the 21st century—is a period in which anyone could file a PIL for almost anything. The current phase is going on.

Through the mechanism of PIL, the courts seek to protect human rights in the following ways:

• It creates a new regime of human rights by expanding the meaning of fundamental right to equality, life and personal liberty. In this process, the right to speedy trial, free legal aid, dignity, means and livelihood, education, housing, medical care, clean environment, right against torture, sexual harassment, solitary confinement, bondage and servitude, exploitation and so on emerge as human rights.

• It democratizes access to justice. This is done by relaxing the traditional rule of locus standi. Any public spirited citizen or social action group can approach the court on behalf of the oppressed classes. Courts attention can be drawn even by writing a letter or sending a telegram. This has been called epistolary jurisdiction.

• It judicially monitors the State institutions such as jails, women’s protective homes, juvenile homes, mental asylums, and the like. Through judicial invigilation, the court seeks gradual improvement in their management and administration. This has been characterized as creeping jurisdiction in which the court takes over the administration of these institutions for protecting human rights.

• It has devised new techniques of fact-finding. In most of the cases the court has appointed its own socio-legal commissions of inquiry or has deputed its own official for investigation. Sometimes it has taken the help of National Human Rights Commission or Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) or experts to inquire into human rights violations.







Last Updated on Saturday, 07 February 2015 06:06