Public Interest Litigation

Public Interest Litigation

06-Jul-2021 | Article by Legal White Official

Public Interest litigation refers to litigation that advances in securing the public interest at large. It generally focuses on minorities and socially disadvantaged groups. Most of the cases that approach the bench are from people who have experienced injustice towards society. For example, pollution, construction hazard or road safety, etcetera; One of the best examples can be the case of M.C Mehta Vs. The Union of India highlighting the pollution of the Ganga River and the requirements needed to prevent it. History of PIL The concept of Public interest litigation was first introduced in Mumbai Kamgar Sabha v. Abdul Thai by Justice Krishna Iyer in 1976. But the first actual case reported was in Hussainara Khatoon V. State of Bihar in 1979; The PIL filed by the lawyer observed the inhuman and unhygienic conditions of prisoners both serving sentences and under trial. The PIL represented the plight of thousands of prisoners scattered around in various jails of Bihar. Under this provision, more than 40,000 under trial prisoners got released. In the famous case, S.P Gupta vs Union of India, Justice P.N Bhagwati held that any public, acting bonafide, can invoke the writs in the high court and Supreme Court seeking relief against violation of their constitutional rights. Type of Writs Our constitution provides us with five writ petitions under Article 32 and 226 of the Constitution. Article 32 empowers the Supreme Court & Article 266 empowers the high court to issue writs. Both articles deal with protecting an individual’s fundamental right. However, there is a slight difference between a WRIT and a PIL. A Writ is issued to people that have suffered a personal loss, whereas PIL is for the sake of the general public. Aggrieved people seeking relief can file these writs. The five writs are:

  • Habeas corpus- Habeas corpus is issued when a person has detained illegally. The person himself or his family can issue this writ.
  • Mandamus- The writ of mandamus is issued by a superior court to an inferior court ordering them to either perform an act or abstain from doing an Act.
  • Quo warranto- Quo warranto means “by what authority”. A private person who has held an office that he has no right over is issued such a writ.
  • Certiorari- Certiorari is a writ of correction. It’s usually issued by a superior court to an inferior court requiring them to show records of cases. Its purpose is to recheck and correct the error in judgements.
  • Prohibition - This writ is the writ of prohibition.

Prohibition allows the Supreme Court to ask any inferior court to stop deciding a case that they don’t have jurisdiction over.

How to file a PIL

1. The petitioner should investigate the matter and gather relevant information regarding the case.

2. If there are many people involved, then statements and evidence of these people are added to the document.

3. It should also contain the list of names and addresses of the aggrieved people. Further, it should consist of a list of government agencies from whom they want to seek relief.

4. If filed in the high court, then the petitioner needs to submit two copies of the petition in the court & one advance copy of the petition has to be served to the respondent.

5. If filed in the Supreme Court, then five copies of the petition must be submitted in the court and one copy to the respondent only after serving the notice.


Although public interest litigation is a gateway for people to be one step closer to justice, it has often been misused and seen as a growing concern in India. Many PIL petitions are still pending in the courts, making it overwhelming and tiring for the people. To overcome this obstacle, its necessary that petitions vested in self-interests should be disbarred or discouraged & public interest should be the main priority.

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