Public Interest Litigation (PIL) and Its Objectives


By-Vastu Sharma


Public interest litigation (PIL) has proven to be a valuable method in achieving one of the overarching goals of law and legal systems, which is to achieve justice in society. PIL, for example, expands the scope of the justice system to vulnerable parts of society by focusing on issues of general public concern rather than private interests. It also makes it easier to effectively realise collective, diffused rights for which individual litigation is neither feasible nor productive.

In India, public interest litigation (PIL) dates back to the late 1970s. For the first time, judicial consideration was given to the interests of inmates, bonded labourers, and other marginalised communities and concerns. A few Supreme Court and High Court judges used their inherent powers under Articles 32 and 226 of the Constitution to make access to justice simpler. Anyone acting in the public interest was allowed to file a petition on behalf of those who were unable to do so themselves, or for serious public issues. The courts were approached by lawyers, social advocates, concerned citizens, and even judges.

Public interest litigation (PIL) plays an important role in the civil justice system because it can accomplish goals that are difficult to achieve by traditional private litigation. PIL, for example, provides vulnerable parts of society with a path to justice, provides an outlet for enforcing diffused or collective rights, and encourages civil society to not only raise consciousness about human rights but also engage in government decision-making. PIL could also help to improve governance by holding the government to account. 

Nature of Public Interest Litigation (PIL):

PIL is not adversarial in nature, but it is a challenge and an opportunity for the government and its officers to make basic human rights relevant to the poor and disadvantaged parts of the population and to ensure them socio-economic justice, which is our constitution's signature song.

Scope of Public Interest Litigation (PIL):

In Swaraj Abhiyan-I v. Union of India[1], the Supreme Court heard a petition about potential drought-like conditions in Bihar, Gujarat, and Haryana, which the states were reluctant to recognise, much less discuss. The declaration of drought, according to the court, was a matter of extreme humanitarian distress. The court also expressed concern about the fact that PILs had devolved into no-holds-barred adversarial litigation over time.

"Public interest litigation presents the court with an issue-based problem concerning society, and solutions to that problem must be found within the legal framework," the court said, emphasising the importance and desirability of PIL in a welfare state like India. Sometimes the problem is caused by bureaucratic inactivity and apathy; sometimes the problem is caused by executive excesses; and sometimes the problem is caused by the executive's ostrich-like reaction. These circumstances reflect the broad contours of public interest concerns brought to the court's attention, and these are the kinds of problems we need to solve. The active search of acceptable solutions, as well as the resulting assumptions and directions, is often and regrettably referred to as judicial activism." In the current PIL, the court ordered the Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India, to convene a meeting with the chief secretaries of these states within a week to assess the apparent drought situation and, if necessary, persuade the state government to declare a drought in whichever district, taluka, tehsil, or block is required.

 In Federation of NOIDA Residents Welfare Association v. NOIDA Toll Bridge Company Ltd,[2] the PIL filed in the Allahabad High Court challenged the NOIDA Toll Bridge Company's levy and collection of tolls in the name of user fees from commuters for using the eight-lane DND Flyway, which runs for 9.2 kilometres from NOIDA to Delhi. Members of the petitioner association who used the DND Flyway were irritated by the demand for a user fee, so they inquired. It turned out that the NOIDA Authority had authorised the private company to enforce and collect the user fee under a concession agreement with the said company, known as the NOIDA toll bridge company. NOIDA Toll Company has been granted the authority to raise toll charges at any time under the terms of the agreement. Apart from trying to justify the 'User fee' levied and collected by NOIDA Toll Bridge Company, the respondents challenged the extent of judicial intervention in matters of public contracts. 

The high court alluded to the case law for the suggestion that each action of the government encompasses a open component in it and it must in this manner, be educated with reason and guided by open intrigued, and so in case the government grants a contract or leases out or something else bargains with its property or awards any other largess, it would be at risk to be tried for its legitimacy on the touch-stone of sensibility and open intrigued and on the off chance that it comes up short to fulfill either test, it would be unlawful and invalid. To avoid arbitrariness or favouritism, the standards of judicial review will extend to the exercise of contractual powers by government bodies.

Objectives of Public Interest Litigation (PIL):

PILs were created with the aim of making justice more available to the disadvantaged and oppressed.

  1. It is a critical tool for bringing human rights to those who have been denied them.
  2. It improves everyone's access to justice. Any person or organisation that is capable of doing so can file petitions on behalf of those who are unable or lack the resources to do so.
  3. It aids in the judicial oversight of state facilities such as jails, asylums, and protective homes, among others.
  4. It's a crucial method for judicial review.
  5. PIL is a critical tool for social reform, preserving the rule of law, and accelerating the balance of law and justice.
  6. The introduction of PILs ensures increased public interest in judicial review of administrative action.

Some Landmark Judgements in the History of PIL in India:

Kamagar Sabha vs. Abdul Thai[3], Justice Krishna Iyer sowed the seeds of public interest litigation for the first time in India in 1976.

Hussainara Khatoon vs. State of Bihar (1979),[4] the first recorded case of PIL, focused on the inhumane conditions of prisons and under trial prisoners, and resulted in the release of over 40,000 under trial prisoners.

MC Mehta V. Union of India [5] : In a Public Interest Litigation brought against Ganga water contamination in order to avoid further pollution of the Ganga. The Supreme Court ruled that petitioner, despite not being a riparian owner, is entitled to petition the court for the compliance of statutory provisions because he is concerned about the lives of those who use Ganga water.

Sexual assault was accepted as a violation of the basic constitutional rights of Article 14, Article 15, and Article 21 in Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan[6]  The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act of 2013 was also addressed in the guidelines.


Various court rulings have not been received well by Public Interest Litigants around the world. It is a positive step by the judiciary that no one in the country, including PIL activists, is exempt from responsibility and accountability. In many rape and murder cases in our country, for example, mass petitions have been filed due to a lack of interest on the part of investigation agencies and even the government. The Supreme Court has also established legal aid in the interests of India's millions of citizens, and it plays an unavoidable role in the field of public interest litigation, expanding its scope so that it becomes a counterbalance to the executive's laziness and inefficiency. As a result, the machinery regulating Public Interest Litigation is undergoing a serious reconstruction or rethinking in preparation for future changes in this area, ensuring that those who deserve justice are given it and those who misuse it are punished appropriately.


  1. (2016) 7 SCC 498 at 50
  2. 2016 SCC Online A11 952
  3. 1976 AIR 1455, 1976 SCR (3) 591
  4. 1979 AIR 1369, 1979 SCR (3) 532
  5. 1987 AIR 1086, 1987 SCR (1) 819
  6. (1997) 6 SCC 241


  • Constitution of India