All you need to know about Public Interest Litigation

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This article was written by Maahi Mayuri, a student of New Law College, Bharati Vidyapeeth Deemed University, Pune

When individuals or a group of individual feel that their rights or interests have been undermined by the government, they can file a PIL directly in the Supreme Court of India. Public good is upheld by the apex court in such a situation and a PIL provides for the same. The definition of a PIL is upon the courts to interpret and hence, there exists no statutory definition for the same. A PIL cannot exclusively be filed against a private party and needs to be filed against the state or municipal authorities. A private party, however, can be included as the respondent after the concerned authority is made a party to the PIL.

The following four heads indicate the importance of Public Interest Litigation:

  • Article 21: It goes on to be a part of Art. 21 of the Indian Constitution which enshrines the right to life and personal liberty.
  • Writs: Some reliefs under writs have been introduced due to it.
  • Public Welfare:It works towards the effective implementation of public welfare.
  • Uplifting oppressed classes:The oppressed or suppressed classes could be uplifted as anyone can seek relief on their behalf.

Who can you file a PIL against?

A Public Interest Litigation can only be filed against the state, i.e, the union or the central government, the state government, or a municipal authority. A PIL cannot be filed against private parties. But, a private party can be included as a respondent after the concerned state authority.

Relevant Provisions under which you can file a PIL:

  • 32 of the Indian Constitution in the Supreme Court and Art. 226 of the Indian Constitution in the High Court
  • 133 of the Code of Criminal Procedure in the Court of the Magistrate

How do you differentiate between a PIL and a writ petition?

Both PILs and petitions are forms of writs but they differ on the point that petitions are concerned with private interest while a PIL is concerned with general public welfare at large. Also, all PILs and petitions are writs, but all writs are not PILs or WP.

Misuse of PIL

A PIL cannot be filed with an intention of pecuniary gain and as a frivolous litigation. The court should be satisfied that the same is filed for the public good. Former CJI, S. H. Kapadia had stated that fines would be imposed in the case of frivolous litigation.

Difference between a PIL and a Private Litigation

  • The main point of difference is the purpose of litigation.
  • A PIL is for public good at large while a private litigation, it is for a personal purpose.
  • In case of private litigation, the locus standi preceeds (i.e is retrospective) the litigation while in case of a PIL the locus standi is preceded (i.e is perspective) by the litigation. The right claimed or the remedy to be obtained does not depend on the person who files a PIL while in case of private interest litigation, it depends upon the person who files such petition. Private interest litigation is comparatively expensive and complicated as to PIL.

Steps for Filing a PIL:

Step 1: To start, an informed decision about the case is to be taken. Various aspects are to be looked into. The analysis as to whether it is a subject under which a PIL can be filed is to be done. The statutes and legislations for the same are to be looked into and well analysed. It is to be checked whether the same does not come under the purview of prohibited subjects under which a PIL can be filed. As stated above, a Public Interest Litigation is a remedy only when a legal right is violated by the government.

Step 2:Affected interest groups should be consulted so as to facilitate planned measures.

Step 3:When it is final that a PIL is to be filed, the following is to be done:

  1. All relevant information is to be collected.
  2. Though not mandatory, it would be better if written to relevant authorities about the concern and clarity of thoughts should be reflected in the same.
  3. Engaging and consulting a competent lawyer would be beneficial. Even if the matter is handled yourself, some advice on dating becomes necessary.
  4. Issuing of a legal notice to concerned parties or authorities might be necessary. When the action is initiated against the government, a two months prior notice regarding the same might be deemed necessary.

Step 4: When it is the High Court in which the petition is filed, two copies of the petition are necessary to be filed and an advance copy of the same is to be handed over to the opposing party.

Step 5:When it is the Supreme Court in which the petition is filed, five sets of copies of the petition are necessary to be filed and a copy of the same is to be handed over to the opposing party only when a notice is issued.

Step 6: There are two ways by which a petition can be filed: either like any other case in the court or by the way of a written petition.

Step 7:A commissioner may be appointed to investigate into the allegations by a judge even in the middle of the case.

Step 8:In the final hearing, the judge delivers his final decision after the opposite part has filed replies and the petitioner has filed a rejoinder.


In addition to the above procedure, certain documents arr to be enclosed with the PIL filed in the Apex Court:

(i) Affidavit of the petitioner

(ii) Annexure as referred to in the Writ Petitioner, with court fees of Rs.2/- per annexure

(iii) 1+5 copies of the Writ Petition duly bound is to be filed.

(iv) Court fee of Rs.50/- per petitioner when the matter is civil. No court fee is required in the case of criminal matters.

(v) Index of the papers.

(vi) Cover page.

(vii) Application for interim relief, stay, exemption etc.

(viii) Memo of appearance, Rs. 5/- Court fee.

Vishakha v. State of Rajasthan and MC Mehta v. Union of India are some examples of PILs which lead to a landmark decision by the court.

To conclude, the concept of PIL has been introduced with the main purpose of public welfare. It is a tool in the hands of the citizens which facilitates them to exercise their rights and interests to the fullest. PIL contains the essence of national interest and is an excellent judicial element.

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