Public Interest Litigation (PIL) means a legal action initiated in a court of law for the enforcement of public interest in which the public or a class of community have pecuniary interest or some interest by which their legal rights or liabilities are affected.
PIL is the innovation of Justice N. Krishnaswamy Reddiar, former judge of Madras High Court, in the 1970s. Later, it was legitimatized and given legal sanction by Chief Justice of India P.N. Bhagwati (July 12, 1985- Dec. 20, 1986.)
The concept of Public Interest Litigation is a noble concept which make justice quickly and readily available to the masses in case their life, liberty or security is being threatened. Justice Bhagwati made a provision that any complaint affecting the general public could be written on a postcard and submitted to any of the high courts in the country or the apex court, depending on the urgency with which it could be taken. The courts would then set aside their normal work and take up hearing of that particular PIL on a priority basis and dispose it off immediately. However, PILs multiplied in the various High Courts and the Supreme Court ventilating grievances, real or imaginary, pushing the courts arrears even further. Today, the various High Courts and the Supreme Court are equally burdened with normal litigation as well as public interest litigation with no end in right.
A retired Supreme Court Justice V Krishna Iyer has confined a term court strophe to describe the dangerous malaise that has crept into the Indian Legal system. It denotes the misuse of the PIL against the poor and the under-privileged sections of society. PIL filed by the rich and the influential are being speedily taken up and dispose of by the judiciary. Its total regard and for bias against the vulnerable sections of the society symbolized by the weaker sex, slum-dwellers, dalits, bonded and landless labored has come to the fore with the petitions being relegated to the background. Though anyone can file a PIL but it is ultimately judiciary to see that the PIL remains as empowering tool in the hands of the needy.
In less than three decades, the PIL, it is widely felt, has become an instrument the rich use to further deprive the poor as, says the Indian People’s Human Rights Commission (IPHRC) seen in the court ordered slum demolition in Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Borivil, Mumbai. The Maharashtra Government who has taken a stand against demolitions, can do little against the court’s intractable view that demolitions are not to be linked with rehabilitation.
In 1982, in his ruling in Janta Dal vs H.S. Chaudhary case, former Supreme Court Judge Patnavel Pandian has clearly defined PIL in the following words: “only a person acting bona fide and with sufficient interest in the proceedings of the PIL will have a locus standi and can approach the court to wipe the tears of the poor and needy, who are suffering from violation of their fundamental rights-but not a person for personal gain, private profit, political motive or any oblique consideration. A vexatious petition under the color of the PIL brought before the court deserves rejection at the thershold.”
PIL was and is still noble concept, making justice quickly and readily available to the masses in case their life, livery or security is beign threatened. Though anyone can file the PIL. But it is the judiciary that decides the outcome so the onus is on it to ensure the protective role of the PIL, says Justice N. Krishnaswamy Reddiar, former Judge of the Madars High Court.