Good To Know : How To File A Public Interest Litigation Bill In Indian Courts?

Pavan Manikanta Kumar

August 23rd, 2016


In a good democracy, the role of a citizen is not limited to just electing its representative and expecting him to fulfil all the promises. After exercising the ‘right’ to elect, the citizen must also take up the ‘responsibility’ of ensuring that the elected government is performing its duties properly. Two judges of the Indian Supreme Court (Bhagwati and Iyer JJ.) prepared the groundwork,from the mid-1970s to early 1980s, for the birth of Public Interest Litigation in India. This included modifying the traditional requirements of

  • locus standi,
  • liberalising the procedure to file writ petitions,
  • creating or expanding Fundamental Rights,
  • overcoming evidentiary problems, and
  • evolving innovative remedies.

Public Interest Litigation,which is available to cheaper cost to all citizens of the country, can be beneficial in issues that can make a difference in the interest of a large group people.

While the much popular RTI is a powerful tool for accountability and transparency, the lesser known Public Interest Litigation(PIL) is an effective measure to bring into light pressing issues and force the administration to act upon them.


What Is Public Interest Litigation Bill?

The Public Interest Litigation (PIL) is a petition filed with the judiciary that seeks to redress a public grievance which affects a community or a group of people. It is filed just like a regular court case either in the High Court or in the Supreme Court, depending upon the gravity and ambit of the issue.

The meaning PIL  has evolved out of various judgements. It simply means that any public spirited person can approach the court for a public cause or public interest or public welfare by filing a petition.

PIL can be filed by any member of the public even an NGO, an institution or an individual.


How to File a PIL?

1Who can file a Public Interest Litigation Bill ?

  • In normal cases, the victim has to file his case in a court of law. That person should have an interest in the dispute.
  • But in the filing of Public Interest Litigation, there is no such condition, any person can file a Public Interest Litigation(PIL), the only condition is that the PIL has to be filed in Public Interest .

2Issues you can file a petition,no petition involving individual/ personal matter shall be entertained as a PIL matter except as indicated here.

PIL’s can be filed in case of PIL’s cannot be filed in case of

Petitions from riot -victims.

Landlord-Tenant matters

Non-payment of minimum wages and violation of labour laws Admission to medical and other educational institution
Neglected Children and against atrocities on Women Petitions for early hearing of cases pending in courts.
Bonded Labour matters. Service matter and those pertaining to Pension and Gratuity
Petitions against police for refusing to register a case, harassment by police and death in police custody. Note:
If on scrutiny of a letter petition, it is found that the same is not covered under the PIL guidelines and no public interest is involved, then the same may be lodged only after the approval from the Registrar nominated by the Hon’ble the Chief Justice of India
Petitions complaining of harassment  persons belonging to SC and ST and Economically Backward Classes.
Family Pensions
Petitions pertaining to environmental pollution, disturbance of ecological balance,drugs, food adulteration, forest and wildlife and other matters of public importance.
Petitions from jails complaining of harassment and seeking release after 14 years in jail, death in jail, transfer, release on personal bond, speedy trial as a fundamental right.

3It is advised to take an informed decision basing on various factors, do the background work required before filing a PIL since PIL deals with issues with larger public audiences. Consult all affected interest groups who can be possible allies.

  • Consult all the affected groups on whose behalf or for whom the PIL is being filed.
  • Litigation does not yield quick results and any wrong decision can affect the cause.
  • Litigation can take away decision-making capability/strength from communities.
  • An adverse decision can affect the strength of the movement.
  • Litigation involvement can divert the attention of the community away from the real issues.

4If you have taken the decision to file a PIL

  • Be meticulous in gathering detail for use in the case.
  • Collect all the relevant information .
  • Write to the relevant authorities and be clear about your demands.
  • Maintain records in an organized fashion.
  • Consult a lawyer on the choice of forum.
  • Engage a competent lawyer. If you are handling the matter yourself make sure you get good legal advice on the drafting.
  • You may have to issue a legal notice to the concerned parties/authorities before filing a PIL.

5Filing a suit against the government would require issuing a notice to the concerned officer department at least two months prior to filing.

6PIL can be filed in the form of a written petition in the High Court or the Supreme Court under Article 32 of the Constitution.

7Even letters to the court or the Chief Justice of India can act as initiators of the PIL, although they have to be followed up by written petitions.

8PIL can be filed either in Supreme Court of India or in High Court of respective states where the problem lies.

a. At High Court: If PIL is filed in a High Court, then two copies of the petition have to be filed. Also, an advance copy of the petition has to be served on the each respondent, i.e. opposite party, and this proof of service has to be affixed on the petition.

b. At Supreme Court: If the PIL is filed in the Supreme Court, then five sets of the  petition has to be filed. The opposite party is served the copy only when the notice is issued. A Court fee of Rs. 50, per respondent (i.e. for each number of opposite party), has to be affixed on the petition if it is filed in High Court or the Supreme Court.

c. It is pertinent to be noted that once a PIL has been filed, it cannot be withdrawn. The courts might also take Suo Motu cognizance of matters involving public interest. Suo Motu is the power of the court to initiate proceedings against a party by its own motion. However, the procedure to file a PIL is similar to that of a writ petition

d. Follow up: Once a PIL is filed, the court may set up a commission to probe into the issue and may call the petitioner and respondents from time to time. It is important to respond to all the calls made by the court and the case must be followed up diligently. After all, so many lives are affected by the verdict and that comes as a great responsibility on the

e. Some terms used during the application process:

  • The writ is simply a written petition filed in the court demanding action.
  •  Writ of Mandamus is a writ issued against inaction, inactivity of the State or any statutory body or any Government body in any manner.
  • Writ of Certiorari is issued for quashing of any judicial or quasi-judicial proceedings or any other irregular proceedings being conducted by any wing of the State.
  • Writ of Prohibition is issued against any wing of the State or any statutory body if it is exercising its powers beyond its jurisdiction i.e. beyond the legal powers vested in it.
  • Writ of Quo Warrant is issued against any wing of State or any statutory body if it does not enjoy the legal authority to act, or his appointment to the post is illegal or is irregular.
  • Writ of Habeas Corpus is issued for producing the body of a missing person. This is the only writ which can be issued against a private body or individual also.

The PIL is an effective tool in the hands of enlightened citizens to address social issues and inactivity of government departments, but it is to be used responsibly. The Logical Indian hopes that more and more citizens and organisations would use the PIL to move towards a country of their dreams.


Disclaimer : *This information is subject to periodic government policy / process change. Kindly contact the concerned department to cross check for recent updates, if any.


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