General Explanations



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Disha Dheeman, Shri Ramswaroop Memorial University


PIL is very clearly defined in the “Black’s Law Dictionary (6th edition) as: something in which the public, the community at large, has some monetary interest, or some interest by which their legal rights or liabilities are affected.

The term PIL is nowhere defined in any statues or legislations. In Indian context, litigation for the protection of the public interest is called public interest litigation, which is introduced in a court of law not by aggrieved party but by the court itself (suo motu) or by any other third party for the public welfare at large. The violation of victim’s rights to personally approach the court is not necessary. As per Article 32 of the Indian Constitution it covers an instrument which directly links the public with judiciary.


PIL had been filed in December 1979, by Kapila Hingorane regarding the condition of the prisoners detained in the Bihar jail and this petition was not filed by an individual rather it was filed by various prisoners. This case was filed in the supreme Court headed by Justice Krishna Malhotra, petition come to be known as Hussainara khatoon vs State of Bihar. And it was held by the Supreme court that prisoners should get benefit of fast hearing and free legal aid. PIL was introduced by Chief Justice P.N Bhagwati to the Indian Judicial System.


  • Public interest litigation gives a wider description to the right to equality, life and personality which is guaranteed under part III of the Constitution of India.
  • It has introduced some kinds of reliefs or remedies under the writ jurisdiction.
  • It also functions as an effective instrument for changes in the society or social welfare.
  • Through public interest litigation, any public or person can seek remedy on behalf of the oppressed class by introducing a PIL.


A PIL may be filed against state government, central government, municipal authority not any private party. But, private person may be included in PIL as ‘Respondent’, after concerned of state authority. i.e. a private factory in Mumbai which is causing pollution then public interest litigation can be file against government of Mumbai, state pollution central board including that private factory of Mumbai.


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. Any citizen can file a public case by filing a petition:

  • Under Art 32 of the Indian Constitution, in the Supreme court.
  • Under Art 226 of the Indian Constitution, in the High court.
  • Under sec. 133 of the Criminal Procedure Code, in the court of Magistrate.


  • Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan

This case was against sexual harassment at work place, brought by Bhanwari Devi to stop the marriage of a one year old girl in rural Rajasthan. Five men raped her. She faced numerous problems when she attempted to seek justice. Naina Kapoor decided to initiate a PIL to challenge sexual harassment at work place, in this supreme court.

The judgement of the case recognized sexual harassment as a violation of the fundamental constitutional rights of Article 14, Article 15 and Article 21. The guidelines also directed for sexual harassment prevention.

  • C. Mehta v. Union of India

In this case, the court passed three landmark judgements and several orders against polluting industries which were more than 50,000 in the Ganga basin. The court shut down numerous industries and allowing them to reopen only after controlled pollution. At the end, millions of people escaped air and water pollution in the Ganga basin, including eight states in India.

PRIVATE INTEREST LITIGATION, litigation means for the protection of public interest. It is a litigation presented in a court of law, not only by the aggrieved party but also by any other private party.


  • Public interest litigation is attached to public interest at large which main aim is to protect public interest. And private interest litigation is attached to interest of specific person which main aim is to protect private interest.
  • In case of public interest litigation, the rule of locus standi is relaxed, prospective in nature whereas, in private interest litigation, the rule of locus standi is followed, retrospective in nature.
  • The rights or remedy does not depend upon each other because remedy seeking person does not fight for his own interest in public interest litigation but in private interest litigation, the rights or remedy depends on each other as the person suing have interest for the enforcement of remedies.
  • The process is very simple, informal, inexpensive and here the case cannot be withdrawn. While, in private interest litigation the process is very complicated, delaying, expensive and here the writ can be withdrawn.
  • In public interest litigation, the subject matter is usually of social and national interest and its evidence is narrow and free from technicalities but in case of private interest litigation, the subject matter is of only private right and its evidence is strictly inspected under it.
  • The work and view of judges in public interest litigation is very important and related to liabilities and national interest. Whereas the work of judges in private interest litigation is limited to examination of evidence.




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