Misuse of Public Interest Litigations


Recently the Supreme Court observed that  Public Interest Litigation(PIL) has become an “industry of vested interests” rather than a powerful tool to espouse the cause of the marginalised and oppressed.

What is a Public Interest Litigation?

1) Public Interest Litigation (PIL), means a legal action initiated in a court of law for the enforcement of public interest or general interest in which the public or class of the community have pecuniary interest or some interest by which their legal rights or liabilities are affected.

2) PIL is a powerful instrument to preserve the rule of law and to ensure the accountability of and transparency within structures of governance.

3) An essential aspect of a genuine PIL petition is that the person who moves the court has no personal interest in the outcome of the proceedings, apart from a general standing as a citizen before the court.

Guidelines to be followed for entertaining letters/petitions received:

Letter-petitions falling under the following categories alone will ordinarily be entertained as Public Interest Litigation:-

1) Bonded Labour matters.

2) Neglected Children.

3) Non-payment of minimum wages to workers and exploitation of casual workers and complaints of violation of Labour Laws (except in individual cases).

4) Petitions from jails complaining of harassment and seeking release after having completed 14 years in jail, death in jail, transfer, release on personal bond, speedy trial as a fundamental right.

5) Petitions against police for refusing to register a case, harassment by police and death in police custody.

6) Petitions against atrocities on women, in particular harassment of bride, bride burning, rape, murder, kidnapping etc.

7) Petitions complaining of harassment or torture of villagers by co- villagers or by police from persons belonging to Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes and economically backward classes.

8) Petitions pertaining to environmental pollution, disturbance of ecological balance, drugs, food adulteration, maintenance of heritage and culture, antiques, forest and wild life and other matters of public importance.

9) Petitions from riot -victims.

10) Family Pension.

All letter-petitions received in the PIL Cell will first be screened in the Cell and only such petitions as are covered by the above mentioned categories will be placed before a Judge to be nominated by Hon’ble the Chief Justice of India for directions after which the case will be listed before the Bench concerned.

Cases falling under the following categories will not be entertained as Public Interest Litigation and these may be returned to the petitioners or filed in the PIL Cell, as the case may be:

1) Landlord-Tenant matters.

2) Service matter and those pertaining to Pension and Gratuity.

3) Complaints against Central/ State Government Departments and Local Bodies except those relating to item Nos. (1) to (10) above.

4) Admission to medical and other educational institution.

5) Petitions for early hearing of cases pending in High Courts and Subordinate Courts.

Famous PILs filed which made a positive impact:

1)A Public Interest Litigation against Ganga water pollution led to the implementation of Ganga Action Plan.

2)Supreme Court held in the Public Interest Litigation to give medical aid to every injured citizen as soon as possible without waiting for any procedural formalities.

3)The court held that there cannot be any classification of convicts on the basis of their social status, education or habit of living .

4)The court declared Section 66A of the IT Act,2006, null and void thus protecting right to freedom of speech.

5)In Vishaka v State of Rajasthan a PIL was filed concerning sexual harassment of women at work place.

How PILs are being misused:

PIL is being used by people to settle

1)Personal vendetta,

2)Business scores, and

3)Political scores.

PILs dismissed by the Court:

1)PIL filed against the sale of a plot of land through public auction.

2)PIL for  increase in the price of onions

3)PIL on the dilapidated condition of railway stations

4)PIL to enquire the death of Justice Loya

5)When the government of India telecommunication policy was challenged by a PIL the court refused to interfere with the matter on the ground that it concerned a question of policy

Consequences of misuse of PILs:

1)The PIL had seriously reduced the  efficiency of the judicial system by detracting from the ability of the court to devote its time and resources to cases which legitimately require attention.

2) Huge backlog of cases.

3) Delayed judgements

4) Right to speedy trial under Article 21 affected.

Way forward:

1) Time for the judiciary to do a reality check on the advent of PIL petitions which flooded the courts.

2) The court must be careful to see that the petitioner who approaches it is acting bona fide and not for personal gain, private profit or political or other oblique considerations.

3) Civil society to play a proactive role in condemning misuse of PILs.

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