Public Interest Litigation

Public Interest Litigation: All You Need To Know

This article on ‘Public Interest Litigation: All You Need To Know’ was written by Akriti Parashar, an intern at Legal Upanishad.


The concept of PIL arose from the necessity to provide access to the legal system to persons who lack sufficient legal expertise or are economically disadvantaged. The primary goal is to protect an individual’s or group’s rights. PIL can be filed when there is a violation of one or more than one fundamental right. PIL is mostly filed in cases where there is no alternate remedy has remained. This article aims to explore the concept and provisions governing Public Interest Litigation in India.

History And Origin

The idea of PIL or Public Interest Litigation first originated in the1960s in the United States, its main purpose was to give legal representation to those who are not represented and their interests like the poor, minorities, unrecognized groups, etc.


Public Interest Litigation or PIL means the legal action taken to protect the public interest. A PIL can be filed in Supreme Court or High Court, in those matters where the public interest is affected at large so that it can be rectified. The concept of PIL is not defined or mentioned in any law or act, it is a product of Judicial Activism by the courts. In India, it was introduced in early 1980, also known as Social Interest Litigation (SIL), Social Action Litigation (SAL) and Class Action Litigation (CAL).

In India, this concept of PIL was first introduced by Justice Krishna Iyer and Justice P.N. Bhagawati. S.P. Gupta vs. Union of India was the first case of PIL which was reported, it is one of the most important cases under Public interest Litigation.

Who can file a PIL?

Any individual or organisation in good faith and to protect the rights and the interest of the public can file a PIL. Any case related to a private matter cannot be filed as a PIL in a court of law. A PIL can only be filed in the public interest and for the enforcement or violation of the legal right or the fundamental right of any person or group of people, and whoever files a PIL must prove the same before the court.

The old rule of ‘Locus Standi’ means “the right to bring an action before the court.”  According to this rule, only that person whose right has been violated can file a case in court and this rule has an exception, in which any person or organisation acting in good faith for the public interest without any personal gain can file a case in a court.

The Apex Court of India has defined PIL as “a legal action initiated in a court of law for the enforcement of public interest or general interest in which the public or a class of the community have pecuniary interest or some interest by which their legal rights or liabilities are affected.”

The court has the power to take Suo moto in cases where the public interest is at risk.

Where can a PIL be filed?

Any citizen of India may file a PIL under Article 32 and Article 226 in the Supreme Court and the High Court respectively and under Section 133 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) under the Court of Magistrate.

A PIL is filed in the same way as a writ petition is filed, as it is an extension of the writ Jurisdiction. The court can also consider a telegram or a letter as a writ petition.

There are 5 types of writs which the court can issue:

  1. Habeas corpus- means “to produce the body.” It is issued to release an illegally detained person.
  2. Quo warranto- means “by what authority,” this writ is issued to the public officer holding a public office over which he has no authority.
  3. Mandamus- means “we command.” The higher court will issue this writ to command the lower court or to any public authority to perform their legal duty.
  4. Certiorari- This writ is issued to the lower court, tribunal, or quasi-judicial body by the higher court to quash any order.
  5. Prohibition- This writ is issued to the lower court by the higher court, to stop the proceeding in case it does not have jurisdiction or exceeds its jurisdiction.
Public Interest Litigation
Public Interest Litigation: All You Need To Know

Subject Matter of PIL

There are certain categories that can be entertained as PIL:

  1. Any matter which is related to bonded labours
  2. Matters related to neglected children
  3. Violations of Labour laws and minimum wages of workers
  4. Petitions from jails alleging abuse, requesting release, and fast trial as a right.
  5. Petitions against police if they refuse to register a case, if there is mistreatment by police and death in police custody.
  6. Petitions against atrocities against women, bride burning, etc.
  7. Petitions regarding harassment or torture of a person belonging to a Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe
  8. Petitions about environmental pollution, wildlife, etc.
  9. Petitions from victims of any rampage
  10. Petition regarding family pensions

There are certain categories in which PIL will not be entertained

  1. Any matters which are related to Landlord-tenant
  2. Matters about annuity and gratuity
  3. Any grievances against the Central or the state government
  4. Admission to medical and other educational organisations
  5. Regarding an early hearing of pending cases

Importance of PIL

  • PIL is filed to provide legal aid to those people who do not have access to justice.
  • It is filed by a group of people who are socially and economically backwards when their constitutional right or fundamental right has been violated.
  • It can be filed on behalf of someone or for a group of people.
  • It is important for the imposition of fundamental rights.
  • PIL is filed in good faith to promote the public interest.
  • It gives weak people a voice by highlighting their issues.
  • It raises awareness of problems that the media might not be covering.
  • It is a significant move towards bringing human and legal rights to those people who have been denied them.
  • It promotes judicial review and the rule of law.
  • It is easy and inexpensive.


  • It is a way to protect the weaker and minorities group, by providing them remedies.
  • PIL is not an expensive way to seek justice, it is affordable so it becomes an easy way for someone to approach the court.


A PIL is filed by someone who approaches the court in good faith and in the public interest to protect the public’s interests. PILs can be brought against the government, the state, or anybody else for violating their constitutional or fundamental rights. It assists the court in providing remedies to people who are unable to afford to go to court. PILs can be filed under Article 32 in the Supreme Court and Article 226 in the High Court, and both courts can issue writs to enforce an individual’s or a group’s legal and constitutional rights.