How to file a Public Interest Litigation(PIL)

Overview: A public interest litigation, simply put means initiation of litigation in a court of law for a cause that adversely affects the public at large such as environment damage, pollution, traffic, road safety, public health and safety etc. In contrast to other filings, a PIL can be filed by anyone- a person need not have direct interest in the matter.


Purpose: It was introduced to give the common man access to raising issues of public importance before the court through a legal process. The court may itself take cognizance of a matter concerning public importance or could take it up through PIL’s.


PIL’s are filed to raise awareness and seek justice against public causes and are seen to be usually filed in numerous cases by activists, social action groups, non-government organizations protecting certain interests, public spirited individuals.


Areas of Application of Law: Article 32 and 226 of the Constitution of India.


Process: Below are the important steps to be kept in mind for filing a public interest litigation:


  1. A PIL can be instituted by an individual/organization who may be directly affected or on behalf of affected persons in the high court or the Supreme Court.
  2. It can only be filed against the state, the Centre, Municipal body and not against any private party or individual.
  3. A PIL is filed at the high court under Article 226 of the Constitution and under Article 32 of the Constitution at the Supreme Court.
  4. The petitioner should engage a lawyer who will understand the public interest being sought to be brought before the court and accordingly draft it.
  5. The petition should amply explain the need for the court to hear the matter by highlighting the adverse affect to public rights. Ex: if it is regarding pollution being caused by certain types of vehicles then its effect on air pollution must be made part of the petition.
  6. It must be seen that a legal notice to the concerned parties/authorities is issued before filing a PIL. For instance- filing a suit against the government would require issuing a notice to the concerned officer department at least two months prior to filing.
  7. A court fee of Rs. 50 each (for the number of opposite parties) has to be affixed on the petition.
  8. If the petition is filed in a high court, two sets of the petition would need to be filed. An advance copy also needs to be served to the opposing party and this proof of service has to be affixed on the petition.
  9. If the petition is filed in the Supreme Court, then five sets of petition would need to be filed. The opposite party would be served a copy of the petition only when notice is issued by the court.
  10. Once the court agrees that the PIL is indeed filed in public importance and needs to be heard it will follow the regular process where it will call upon authorities and seek status from them on issues raised in the petition.
  11. The court may even appoint a committee in certain matters to ascertain the degrading effect to public. A committee consisting of environment experts may be constituted by the court to ascertain the effect of rampant deforestation on environment. Similarly, a panel of medical experts may be formed where public health and safety is concerned.
  12. Based on its findings, the court will issue appropriate directions to the concerned authorities to tackle the issues of public concern raised under the petition. In addition, it could ask the concerned authorities to take steps to check the problem and submit a report within few months.

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