Want to file a Public Interest Litigation (PIL)? Here is everything you need to know

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This article is written by Soumya Shefali Chandrakar, a first-year law student of Hidayatullah National Law University, Raipur.

Whenever the interest of public at large is affected it is the duty of the government and the courts to look into the matter as soon as possible. However, as there is huge number of cases pending before courts, it becomes challenging for the courts to look into every matter promptly. Whether the problems be related to social injustice, atrocities against vulnerable sections of society or environmental pollution or anything. It should be addressed on time; Therefore, it is indeed a matter of fact that the court needs to establish a way through which interest of public could be protected and, in this way, Public Interest Litigation is an instrument given by judiciary to the people of India. As the name suggests, it is litigation for the betterment or protection of Public interest. Any matter where the interest of public at large is affected can be redressed by filing PIL in the court of law. Thus, here’s a brief of all you need to know about PIL.

Meaning of PIL
Public Interest Litigation is a medium through which any person can seek justice in the court of law provided, it is for the interest/good of people at large. It means that even people, who are not directly involved can file PIL.

Evolution of PIL in India
The concept of PIL has been taken from American Jurisprudence, where it was drafted to give legal representation to the unrepresented groups. In India, the seeds of the concept of public interest litigation were initially sown in India by Justice Krishna Iyer, in Kamagar Sabha vs. Abdul Thai. The first case of PIL was Filed by Kapil Hingorani, his petition was regarding the inhuman conditions in which prisoners in Bihar jail were kept, whose cases were being pending from long time. Which led to the release of more than 40,000 under trail prisoners. This petition was filed by the name of the prisoner, Hussainara Khatoon, hence the petition came to be known as Hussainara Khatoon Vs State of Bihar. This case was filed in Supreme Court before the bench headed by Justice P.N. Bhagwati.
In the case of S.P. Gupta Vs Union of India, Justice P. N. Bhagwati held that “any member of the public or social action group acting bonafide” can invoke the Writ Jurisdiction of the High Courts (under article 226) or the Supreme Court (under Article 32) seeking redressal against violation of legal or constitutional rights of persons who due to social or economic or any other disability cannot approach the Court.

Who can file PIL?
Any individual or group of people or any organization can file PIL provided, they do not posses any personal interest in the litigation.

Against whom PIL can be filed?
A PIL can be filed against the state government, central government and municipal authority and not against any private party. Yet, private person may be included in PIL as ‘Respondent’, after concerned of state authority.
For example- If there is a Private factory in Delhi, which is causing pollution, then people living nearly, or any other person can file a PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION against:
· Government of Delhi
· State Pollution Control Board, and
· Also, against the private factory
But public interest litigation cannot file against only private party without concerning state govt. or central govt.

Under which article/sections a PIL can be filed?
· Under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution, in the Supreme court.
· Under Article 226 of the Indian Constitution, in the High court.
· Under Section 133 of the Criminal Procedure Code, in the court of Magistrate.
However, the court must be satisfied that the Writ petition fulfils some basic needs for PIL as the letter is addressed by the aggrieved person, public spirited individual and a social action group for the enforcement of legal or Constitutional rights to any person who are not able to approach the court for redress.

Epistolary jurisdiction of SC and HC
Many technical and elongated rules of procedure have been relaxed, the burden of the individual fighting the litigation has been reduced by various beneficial principles. Acting on the letters written by or on behalf of the oppressed people is a strategy adopted by the Supreme Court for facilitating access to justice. This is known ‘epistolary jurisdiction.’

How to file a PIL?
· Approach a public interest lawyer or organization to file the case.
· Collect necessary documents such as title deeds, proof of residence, identity proof, notice,
· resettlement policy if any, and photographs of the eviction.
· List names and addresses of all aggrieved parties approaching the court.
· List names and addresses of government agencies from which relief is sought.
· List facts giving rise to violations of Fundamental Rights.
· List dates indicating the duration of stay at the site, when the eviction took place, when and
· if an eviction notice was provided, and other important details related to the eviction.
· Clearly mention the ‘prayers’ or the relief being sought from the court.
· If a 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 each respondent, i.e. opposite party, and this proof of service has to be affixed on the petition.
· If a PIL is filed in the Supreme Court, then five sets of petitions have to be filed. Opposite party is served, the copy only when notice is issued.

· Proceedings, in the PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION commence and carry on in the same manner, as other cases.
· However, in between the proceedings if the judge feels he may appoint a commissioner, to inspect allegations like pollution being caused, trees being cut, sewer problems, etc.
· After filing of replies, by opposite party, and rejoinder by the petitioner, final hearing takes place, and the judge gives his final decision.

What is the court fee for filing a PIL?
A Court fee of RS. 50, per respondent (i.e. for each number of opposite parties, court fees of RS. 50) has to be affixed on the petition.

Fines against Frivolous PILs;⚠️
As PIL turns out to be an important instrument for social change, there was also concern over the misuse of PILs. The person filing the petition must prove to the satisfaction of the court that the petition is being filed for the public interest and not as a frivolous litigation for pecuniary gain. This came after the 38th Chief Justice of India, S. H. Kapadia, stated that substantial “fines” would be imposed on litigants filing frivolous PILs. His statement was widely welcomed, because the instance of frivolous PILs for pecuniary interest was increased; a bench of the high court has also expressed concern over the misuse of PILs. The bench has issued a set of guidelines it wanted all courts in the country to observe when entertaining PILs.

Can PIL be filed online?
There is No such mechanism of e Filing a PIL. There is no such service available now to file a PIL online in Supreme court.
However, you can file a PIL with any High Courts or the Supreme Court by simply sending an email that reaches the chief justice, or a letter by snail mail addressed to the chief justice, or even by sending a postcard.


“Public Interest Litigation.” LawTeacher. LawTeacher.net, November 2013. Web. 16 April 2020. .https://www.lawteacher.net/free-law-essays/litigation-law/public-interest-litigation.php#citethis.


Public interest litigation. Drishti IAS. https://www.drishtiias.com/to-the-points/Paper2/public-interest-litigation. 2019-12-23.

Pooja Natarajan. Public interest litigation. Blog Ipleaders. https://blog.ipleaders.in/public-interest-litigation/. 2013-06-03.

Ramanuj Mukherjee. Can a PIl be filed in India online? https://www.quora.com/Can-a-PIL-be-filed-in-India-online. 2013-10-30.


Want to file a public interest litigation (PIL)? Here’s all you need to know. India today web desk. India today. https://www.indiatoday.in/information/story/want-to-file-a-public-interest-litigation-pil-here-s-all-you-need-to-know-1592174-2019-08-27. 2019-08-27.

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