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Public interest litigation

Law-making has assumed new dimensions through judicial activism of law courts. Public Interest Litigation (PIL) or Social Action Litigation introduced by the Supreme Court of India in the Constitutional jurisprudence is a major example of Supreme Court’s judicial activism.

Hitherto, the rigidity of the locus stand rule deprived the poorer sections of the society from approaching the courts for enforcement of their fundamental rights against the rich and affluent class of society but now the public interest litigation has liberalized the locus standee rule to such an extent that it has opened new vistas for the redressed of the social problems.

About the PIL the Supreme Court has written, “The question “What PIL means and is”? has been deeply surveyed, explored and explained not only by various judicial pronouncements in many countries, but also by eminent judges, jurists, activist lawyers, outstanding scholars, journalists and social scientists etc. with a vast erudition. Basically, the meaning of the words ‘Public Interest’ is defined in the OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY, as “the common well being is also public welfare”.

PIL means a legal action initiated in the Court of Law for the enforcement of public interest or general interest in which the public or a class or community have pecuniary interest or some interest by which their legal rights or liabilities are effected.

PIL originated from the United States where it was firmly established around 1965. In England, it was started in the name of Citizens’ Action wherein any citizen could file a writ against public authorities for the cause of common man.

In India, the seeds of PIL were sown by the Justice Krishna Iyer in 1976 in the case of Mumbai Kamgar Sabha v. Abdulbhai. In this case, while disposing of an industrial dispute in regards to the payment of bonus, he observed:

“Our adjectival branch of jurisprudence by and large deals not with sophisticated litigants but the rural poor, the urban lay and the weaker societal segments for whom law will be an added terror if technical mis-descriptions and deficiencies in drafting pleadings and setting out the cause title create a secret weapon to non-suit a party. Where foul play is absent, and fairness is not faulted, latitude is grace of procedural justice. Test litigations, representative actions, pro-Bono public and like broadened forms of legal proceedings are in keeping with the current accent on justice to the common man and a necessary disincentive to those who wish to by-pass the real issues on the merits by suspect reliance on peripheral procedural shortcomings. Even Art 226, viewed on wider perspective,may be amenable to ventilation of collective or common grievances, as distinguished from assertion of individual rights although the traditional view, backed by precedents has opted for the narrower alternative. Public interest is promoted by a spacious construction of locus standi in our socioeconomic circumstances, and conceptual latitudinarian-ism permits taking liberties with individualization of the right to invoke the higher courts where the remedy is shared by a considerable number, particularly when they are weaker. Less litigation, consistent with fair process, is the aim of adjectival law”.

The court permits public interest litigation at the instance of ‘public spirited citizens’ for the enforcement of the Constitutional and legal rights of any person or groups of persons who because of their poverty or socially or economically disadvantaged position are unable to approach the court for relief.

In A.B.S.K. Sangh (Rly) v. Union of India, it was held that the Akhil Bhartiya Soshit Karamchari Sangh (Rly) though an unregistered association could maintain a writ petition under Art 32 for the redressal of a common grievance. KRISHNA IYER, J, declared that access to justice through ‘class actions’, ‘ public interest litigation’ and ‘representative proceedings’ is the present Constitutional jurisprudence. In the Judges Transfer Case the rule regarding the PIL was firmly established. The court held that any member of the public having “sufficient interest” can approach the court for enforcing Constitutional or legal rights of other persons and redressal of a common grievance. BHAGWATI, J., observed:

“Where a legal wrong or legal injury is caused to person or to a determinate class of persons by reason of violation of any Constitutional or legal right and such person or determinate class of persons is by reason of poverty, helplessness or disability or socially or economically disadvantaged position unable to approach the court for relief, any member of the public can maintain an application for an appropriate direction or order or writ in the High Court under Article 226 or in case of breach of any Fundamental Right to this court under Article 32. Where the weaker sections of the community are concerned such as under-trial prisoners languishing in jails without trial, inmates of the Protective Home in Agra or Harijan workers engaged in road construction in the District of Ajmer, who are living in poverty and desolation, who are barely eking out a miserable existence with their sweet and toil, who are helpless victims of an exploitative society and who do not have easy access to justice, the Supreme Court will not insist on a regular writ petition to be filed by the public spirited individual espousing their cause and seeking relief for them. The Supreme Court will readily respond to a letter addressed by such individual acting pro bono public. It is true that there are rules made by the Supreme Court prescribing the procedure for moving it for relief under Article 32 and they require various formalities to be of one through by a person seeking to approach it. But it must not be forgotten that procedure is but a handmade of justice and the cause of justice may never be allowed to be wasted by any procedural technicalities. The Court will therefore unhesitatingly cast aside the technical rules of procedure in the exercising of its dispensing power and treat the letter of the public minded individual as a writ petition and act upon it”.

Main grounds on which PIL is available are as follows: 1. Protection of weaker sections of society.

2. Protection of ecology and environmental pollution.

3. Securing human rights and human dignity.

4. Matters of public interest.

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