Article 32 of the constitution guarantees the citizens the right to move the Supreme Court by appropriate proceedings for the enforcement of Fundamental Rights. The U.S.A witnessed Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the 1960s. In India, PIL has been initiated by some of the judges of the Supreme Court. PIL promotes public interest thereby protecting the constitution, legal, and basic human rights of a large number of people who because of being poor, uneducated, ignorant, or socially and economically disadvantaged are not able to raise their voice against injustice done to them.
PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION:
Any public-spirited person or group on behalf of any person or group of aggrieved persons who because of any socio-economic handicap cannot file a case before the Court can initiate social action litigation to vindicate the rights of the aggrieved. In exceptional cases, the Courts have even acted suo-moto on some cases of violation of rights. The Courts have accepted PIL as an instrument to render justice to weaker and indigent sections of society who otherwise cannot approach the Court for implementation or vindication of their rights.
The Council for Public Interest Law defined it as an effort made to give legal representation to earlier unrepresented groups and interests of such groups like poor, environmentalists, consumers, racial and ethnic minorities, etc.
The basic postulates of PIL are as under–
- The subject of litigation may be either a person or a class of persons who because of poverty, the disadvantageous social and economic position cannot claim relief before the Court.
- Anyone can give an application for appropriate direction on behalf of that person of a class of persons. There is no need for the petitioner to be himself be the aggrieved party.
- The High Court can be moved for violation of any right and the Supreme Court can be moved for violation of the Fundamental Right only.
- The Court can issue any direction order or writ for the redressal of the grievances of the aggrieved.
- The Court can be moved by any person from the common public even by addressing a letter which the Court can convert into a writ petition.
The Courts have given several important directions to the Legislature and the Executive to enforce its public duties at the instance of the PIL in matters relating to bonded labor, custodial torture, fake encounters, inhuman treatment, child welfare, rape cases, sexual harassment of working women, environment protection, right to life and personal liberty, etc. PIL is the best way to protect the interests of the weaker sections of our society.
WHO CAN INVOKE PIL-
Any pubic spirited person or group of persons or social action groups or institutions who are neither directly connected nor affected with the violation of the rights which form the issues of the litigation nor beneficiary of the outcome of the litigation. Thus, any person or group who has no personal benefit in the issue of the litigation acting bonafide for the enforcement of any fundamental right can invoke a PIL.
CRITICISM OF PIL:
PIL is a controversial issue, not all judges agree with it. Some judges have expressed their apprehensions of the practice of treating letters as petitions without any further legal proceedings. Moreover, it is argued that if suomoto intervention by a judge is allowed based on a letter of the Editor, there will be no limit to such interventions. Some of the stringent critics of PIL have pointed out that the Courts are already overburdened with pending cases. The addition of PIL will eventually overburden the Judiciary and hamper them from performing their duties effectively.
- People’s Union for Democratic Rights v. Union of India– In this case, Justice Bhagwati observed that this Court is moved for this PIL purpose by a member of the common public by addressing a letter drawing the attention of the Court to such legal injury or legal wrong. The Court shall for this purpose keep aside all technical rules of procedure and entertain the letter as a writ petition and take action upon it.
- Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India and others- In this case, the petitioners raised the issue of laborers working in stone quarries. Justice Bhagwati while giving judgment reminded the non-petitioners of their fundamental and inalienable constitutional obligation not to deprive any class of persons of their right to live with human dignity enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution and benefits of the Directive Principles of the State Policy derived from article 39 (e) and (f). Further, the learned judge added that the poor and the weak bandhua mazdoor were humans and under the Constitution article 42 expects the State to make provisions for just and humane conditions of work. The State had to ensure that the vulnerable sections of the community were not denied health and opportunity to develop conditions of freedom and dignity. The State has to ensure that the rights of the poor and the helpless were not violated. Therefore, any formalistic, conventional, or hyper-technical procedural objections against taking social action proceedings would be futile.
The complaints on behalf of the vulnerable weaker people such as bandhua mazdoors were permitted to be brought before the Court through a letter, or just a postcard or a telegram. The newspaper article could also be put on the record and the person writing them could be treated as the petitioner
- Neerja Chaudhary V. State of Madhya Pradesh– In this case, Justice Bhagwati held that Article 21 and 23 of the Constitution would require not only identification and release of bonded laborers but also their rehabilitation after their release.
From the above discussion, we can conclude that PIL depends largely on the discretion of the judges. There is some valid criticism of PIL but there are many judges who have undertaken to deliver justice by using PIL as an opportunity to give directions in the public interest and enforce public duties. A PIL becomes very effective when it is supported by a social movement. There are many instances of application of PIL through a letter addressing the Chief Justice Of India which has resulted in reforms of laws like rape, custodial violence, etc.