Is Public Interest Litigation the Pill for the ILLs?

By at 22 March, 2010, 12:38 pm

History of Public Interest Litigation:

The last two decades have witnessed the conceptualization of Public Interest Litigation in India. Through it the courts (High Court and Supreme Court) have acquired the power to grant justice to people on humanitarian grounds. It has ensured access to justice for the deprived, under-privileged and neglected segments of the society. Various public spirited persons and NGO’s have approached the court of law through this resort.

Section 32 of the Indian Constitution conferred a right upon every aggrieved individual to move to the Supreme Court or High Court directly on infringement of his fundamental right. However, Justice P.N. Bhagwati and Justice Krishna Ayyer , acknowledged that any individual or organization can approach the Supreme Court if any act is done contrary to the public interest.

Meaning of Public Interest Litigation

According to the Black law dictionaryPublic Interest Litigation 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.” Thus a PIL has following elements:

1. it is a legal action

2. Initiated in a court of law

3. for interest of people


The PIL has given right to the under privileged to voice against the injustice done to them. In past the Supreme Court has considered complaints, newspaper reports and credible letters sufficient evidence for initiating proceedings. The court has empowered even third parties (who have no self interest in the matter) to file such litigation.

However the shield for public protection is misused by people as a sword for personal benefit. Organizations file cases under this ambit to evade heavy court fee. Sometimes people file such litigation to pursue their political ambitions. There have been instances of frivolous PIL like to rename India “Hindustan,” rename the Arabian Sea “Sindhu Sagar,” ban vastu, reiki, feng shui, tarot, palmistry, zodiac signs etc and replace the national anthem for one offered by the petitioner.

It has also infuriated the fight between the three organs of the state( executive, legislature and the judiciary). On one hand the judges like Justice S.B. Sinha advocates the importance of judge-made law on the other hand judges like Justice Markandeya Katju emphasis the importance of self restraint on judiciary. Some jurists have opined that judicial activism has now turned into judicial terrorism. It is alleged that about 20% of judges are corrupt. Thus Judicial Accountability is yet another concern in this regard.

The judiciary is also heavily condemned on absence of adversarial trial in PIL’s. Dr. Upendra Baxi has criticized that decisions in Bhopal Tragedy Case, WTO accession and Narmada Dame were dominated by the influence of the global economic elites on the Indian Judiciary. It is criticized that since there is no cross examination litigants may give inaccurate information to the court. The PIL’s are given predominance over the existing cases by the courts. Thus if there is a false or irrelevant allegation, it would be detrimental to the interests of many people. Recently a PIL was filed by a former MP M Narayana Reddy seeking direction to the Andhra Pradesh Speaker to decide on the resignation of over 139 legislators. The SC out rightly rejected his claim saying he had no locus standi on the issue.

Further it is a grave concern that there is no mechanism by which the court can check the effective implementation of its decision. In Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan, the SC had laid broad guidelines on sexual harassment but till date these guidelines have not been legislated.


Judicial Activism has benefited a considerable number of people. In cases like Sunil Batra, Sheela Barse, Charles Shoobraj, DK Basu and Hussainara Khatoon, Supreme Court took a revolutionary step to safeguard the rights of the accused. Similarly in MC Mehta and Vishaka Case the court evolved directions to protect public interests. The objective of PIL was to over-reach every section of society sadly the same is not happening.  

The Supreme Court records state that only 0.4% cases filed in the SC involve PIL. One hand the data reveals that PIL cases don’t hamper the normal working of the courts, on the other hand it shows that from the millions of letters send by ordinary people are neglected and only those through formal channel are entertained. Most of the cases relate environmental concerns, child labor and caste disabilities. There has been significant increase in cases filed by advantaged class ( 57.9% in 1961-1989 to 73.3% in 2000-2008) where as there is a decrease in that filed by the disadvantaged social class ( 71.4% in 1961 -1989 to 47.2 in 2000-2008).

I have personally met the victims of Bhopal Gas Tragedy. They write thousands of letters each day hoping that it would be entertained as a Public Interest Litigation. Their letters are till now unnoticed. It is disgrace that the benefits of P.I.L are not reaching the people for whom it was coined. Although the courts have been instrumental in protecting rights of people. There is a duty vested upon individuals too, lodging of frivolous complaints must be discouraged.

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Categories : Legal Mirror

Ayush Sharma March 22, 2010

The piece exhibits brilliant argumentation.
I would jus like to add that PIL can be filed in a high court
under Art. 226 of the constitution.
I think that by and large PILs have been a gr8 success in dispensing justice.I agree to your point that frivolous PILs are indeed becoming a menace to the already over burdened courts.
One actually feels sorry when the court turns a blind eye to issues as important as BGT. Perhaps, the courts don’t want to open the Pandora’s Box yet again.

meghna March 22, 2010

Thank you so much…
You are right, the court is itself scared to touch upon issues that relate to public morality.

Pukhraj Mittal March 23, 2010

Even though it is a subject for Sociologists, it will be interesting to investigate the reasons behind low level of PILs from under-privileged. Is it due to high cost of retaining good lawyers or poor support such PIL get from the Society? If this is not, why PILs are not pouring on account of poor road conditions and very poor driving skills? Let us not forget, it is on record that almost 100,000 people are killed on Indian roads.

meghna March 23, 2010

You have a very pertinent point. The issue must be taken seriously. I think a part from affordability; awareness also plays an important role. Most of the people specially the disadvantaged are unaware of their rights.

Vera Heuer July 14, 2010

I am very intrigued by this post. Where did you get the numbers from, though?

meghna July 14, 2010

Thanks Vera Heuer.. you may like to see this research paper


I am a social activist and public spirited citizen. I filed a PIL in AP High court in for an enquiry by ACB in to disproportionate assets of Mr.D.S.Murthy a retired IAS officer who illegally acquired more than Rs 100 crores of assets.D.S.Murthy being 9th respondent respondent filed counter affidavit alleging the close relationship with me. He falsely attributes malafides to me to divert the attention of the court. I have been pursuing the corrupt for the last 3 decades. And he is one of them and he happened to be my close relative. I showed the inaction of the ACB very effectively by filing my representations in material papers sent to ACB who is second respondent. But 2nd respondent badly undervalued the properties and showing marginal disproportionate assets of Mr.D.S.Murthy in their counter.D.S.Murthy retired IAS is trying to get the court prejudiced by questioning my locus standi by mentioning irrelevant matters in his counter. There are very specific details with documentary evidence in my PIL.The subject matter and contents of PIL are more important than the fact that who the petitioner is.
The matter is posted after 8 from 11–08-2010 weeks. This is case of corruption. I would to see that PIL is perused completely by the AP High court before disposing. Kindly advise me in the matter

meghna August 14, 2010

Devendra, I need some time to research on this specific issue. I ll consult some lawyers and professors in this regard and then advise you accordingly. Anyways its nice to know that people like you exist who are committed to make a difference.

aradhana August 16, 2010

hi can anybody here help me with som citations on da P.I.Ls filed under Bhopal gas tragedy or any other link to da cases decided or pending on this issue.

meghna August 16, 2010

You may refer:-

1. Charan Lal Sahu v. UOI Citation: AIR1990SC1480, (1990)1CompLJ125(SC), JT1989(4)SC582, 1991(2)SCALE841, (1990)1SCC613, [1989]Supp2SCR597
2. Bhopal Gas Peedith Mahila Udyog Sanghathan and Anr. Vs. Union of India (UOI) and Ors. Citation 2007(6)SCALE507, (2007)9SCC707
3.Union Carbide Corporation, etc., etc. Vs. Union of India, etc. etc. AIR1992SC248, (1991)3CompLJ213(SC), JT1991(6)SC8, 1991(2)SCALE675, (1991)4SCC584, [1991]Supp1SCR251, 1992(1)UJ505(SC)

These are some of them. You may search at Manupatra for more or if you don’t have access to it, let me know I’ll mail you the cases.

aradhana August 27, 2010

hay meghna thanks a lot for the help…actuallly i dont have access to manupatra so i u can then u pls mail me some ,more pils filed under the Bhopal Gas tragedy preferrebly recent ones…i will be really obiliged…thanks again…

meghna August 27, 2010

I just mailed the cases to you, kindly check them.

Nandan S Nayal August 29, 2010

Hey Meghna it was a good article on PIL…. can u offer some more detailed content on the subject particularly with intro, history, development, merits, demerits, case laws on PILs… if u can… pls send me some detailed and elaborated material on PIL… i will be obliged… thanx in advance….. wtg for ur material…… regards

meghna August 29, 2010

Thanks Nandan.. Due to some prior commitments I might take some time to provide with you the adequate information. However I ll try my best to help.

Natisha Hasty October 4, 2010

Thx for that information and facts. It’s very appreciated! Cheers.

Lt Col retd Haridas Mandal October 5, 2010

Dear Meghna ,
I need your help in filing a PIL in the high court of AP. The case in gist:-
The Hon’ble Fin Minister
Govt of India
New Delhi

Sub – Reporting of corrupt practices by the office of CDA ( Running of URCs)

Respected Sir

Left with no alternative I am approaching your esteemed office to highlight how a watch dog like that of Controller of Defence Accounts (CDA) is compromising on principles well laid down and abusing the power of its offices only to run their own Unit Run Canteens (38 of them) for their own employees though not even eligible for CSD facilities which is meant solely for the troops.

Canteen Stores Department is a solely owned Govt undertaking and functions under the aegis of Min of Defence. Canteen Stores Department is responsible to provide household goods and liquors at rates cheaper than the prevailing market rates to the Unit Run Canteens ( URCs).exclusively for the troops ( It is funded from the consolidated fund of India. Its sole purpose is. It is not to be commercially profitable at any cost. Over the years strength of troops has remain static rather in the decline whereas Canteen Stores Department is on the extreme expansion mode adding Depot after Depot at a huge cost the govt exchequers. This is because CSD is adding clientele from the non-eligible categories .This is resulting into additional expenditures Canteen Stores Departments to cater for the unauthorized Unit Run Canteens selling CSD goods to anybody and everybody. The sale of CSD goods to the non-eligible categories is huge in comparison. It is generating huge profits for private use as URCs are stated to be private enterprises. It is shocking that Min of Finance is allocating a huge chunk of money to the Min of Def simply to generate huge profits for the private enterprises.

Whereas the CSD canteens strategically rechristened as URCs (Unit Run Canteens) are the exclusive Retail Outlets of the Canteen Stores Department run by the respective military units in their unit locations( These were run by contractors earlier ) . For the large military units CSD canteens are auth in their respective PE/WE (Peace Est/ War Est ) and is included in the KLP ( Key Location Plan ) where applicable. A nominal license fee and allied charges is levied to the military unit when a URC start selling CSD goods at a rate cheaper than the prevailing market rates to the troops. For other small and minor units/formation headquarters application to run a URC is initiated by the commanding officer/officer commanding of that unit as per the laid down procedures. It is then recommended by the commanders in the chain of command and approved by the competent authority i.e the formation commander. The application duly approved is then forwarded to the Canteen Stores Depot Adelphi , Mumbai which finally accept or reject the application based on laid down procedures. Once registered the new URC starts functioning drawing CSD goods from the designated nearest CSD depot. Based on the actual built up/open land occupied by the URC License fee and the allied charges are deposited to the govt exchequers. As is common knowledge this facility is extended to serving as well as retired armed forces personnel. Over the years the CSD facility (grocery only ) had been extended to defence civilians paid out of defence estimates with certain conditionalities attached. However there is no mention of this benevolent act in any of the govt order and hence legally unsupported. Profits accrued from the sale of CSD goods by the URCs including the quantitative rebates received from the Canteen Stores Deptt is merged with the respective Regimental Fund of a military unit . A certain portion is then ploughed back for modernisation/ sustenance of the URC. There are well laid down Defence Services Rules for accounting and usage of the Regimental Funds held by a military unit .

Controller Of Defence Accounts on the other hand is the department under the aegis of ministry of defence which is responsible that every penny allotted to the military unit is judiciously spent. In other words it is watchdog of the govt of India to ensure military commanders maintain financial discipline in the larger interest of the country. It is well known that CDA staff is central govt employees and covered under CCS Rules.CDA staff are paid out of Def Civil Estimates. In no way CDA staff can be termed as troops and hence eligible for CSD facility. As has been highlighted earlier no URC can start functioning in any part of the country in govt or civil hired accommodation in any military/ non military station unless the same is recommended/approved by the local commanders/ formation commanders and then registered by the Canteen Stores Department. Any additional URC has its rippling effect on the staff strength in the respective Depot as well as in the CSD headquarters at Mumbai . Canteen Stores Deptt is a solely owned govt undertaking , hence is has to be additionally funded by the govt of India. Terming a CDA Est a military Unit and recommending its running a URC for selling of CSD goods to their civilian employees covered under CCS Rules (terming them as troops ) by the respective military commanders is a sure sign of decay in the military standard. It is obvious such acts have not been done as an act of benevolence but with vested interest. It is further distressing how the authorities at the Canteen Stores Department had taken shelter under an Army order and admitted those applications from the CDA Staff/Est duly recommended by the military commanders at all level knowing them to be ineligible in all respects.

Coming back to the real issue i.e running of 38 URCs by the CDA Staff/ Est was challenged by the undersigned as unauth and illegal as the Army Order 584/73 was not an appropriate auth for the CDA staff /Est to seek registration from the Canteen Stores Deptt , Mumbai for running their own URCs to sale CSD goods to their own employees. CDA Est are neither a formation Headquarters nor a Military Unit eligible to run their own URCs. CDA staff is not troops and no way under Armed Forces Act.
On my RTI query to the Army auth as to how and under whose order the said Army order empowering CDA staff/Est to run their own URC when the employees of the CDA Est are not even eligible for the canteen facilities I have been provided with the reply vide PIO RTI cell IHQ of MoD New Delhi letter No dated copy att as at appx . I can be seen from the extracts of BOCCA minutes of meeting in 1986 that personnel of audit department were permitted to draw grocery as a goodwill gesture whereas the COAS had published that said AO 584/73 way back in 1973 which is being taken as the most abused auth in the humankind. It also highlights that Military commanders at all levels in collusion with the Canteen Stores Deptt Officials as well the Bureaucrats in the ministry of defence have allowed such clandestine operations to continue for such a long time though the COAS meanwhile continue to publish orders reminding its men in uniform on the exact eligibility criterion for availing CSD facilities from the URCs eg Army Order 32/84. Army Order 32/84 as well as 19/2003 debars any defence paid civilian employees from availing CSD facility from the URC.
In gist Army Order 584/73 and its subsequent avatars if any cannot be regarded as the valid auth for CDA staff/Est to run their own URCs. The expansion of Canteen Stores Department by including those non-eligible categories clandestinely is neither the objective of the Canteen Stores Deptt nor desirable. Unlike the military units which has a Regimental Fund and a settled objectives Canteen Stores Deptt cannot seen allowing a private URC ( 38 of them ) to make huge profits by selling CSD goods to its civilian non-eligible employees . These profits are then paid as dividends to the civilian employees who are ill motivated to neglect their primary role i.e to audit the accounts of the military units and to expand at any cost as it increases the dividend package besides the salary as well as extra pay from the URC.
This has further rippling effects on the defence civilians paid from defence estimates . They contribute to the tune of 600 cores per year to the kitty of Regimental Fund use or mis-used by the military commanders . They are demanding for a long time a similar cut for their welfare. Army auth denying this measure stating those are not even eligible for the canteen facilities in the first hand .Therefore in one hand the auditors are encouraged to run their own URCs ( 38 of them ) in one hand , make profit and get dividends , on the other hand defence civilians who are contributing appx 600 cores per year is denied any return on their purchases.
I have informed the Concerned auth at the Army Headquarters , the Canteen Stores Deptt , The Min of Defence , The Defence audit , The CVC and the CAG about such floundering of rules costing cores to the exchequers to pile up private profits by the CDA Est.
I have made representation to the Deptt of personnel for grievances as well as to the PMO. Reply recd, as applicable is discouraging. It is a sure case of appeasing at the highest level. Mega Scam/ Scandals of the defence will not seize if such wrongful acts are carried out for personal benefits at the cost of govt exchequers . Further expansion of CSD’s domain at any cost to make private profits is not at all desirable
It is my onerous duty to abide by the rule of this land before I take the matter to the court for a legal recourse .I am convinced that Rakshaks the Bhakshaks be exposed . The collusion of the highest ranking officials including the military top brasses is exposed . It is my duty to bring to your kind notice that audit authorities should not be encouraged to remain passive and evasive. We the people of India are no more amused to score the highest in Transparency International Ranking in respect to corruption. It is this artful dodging of rules of this land at the highest level which ensure 75 % of our population remains hapless hopeless and worthless. It is this territory which must be attacked with no mercy shown to those educated thugs. They are our worst enemy within.
The Army orders , Govt orders , the web site referred are available with your govt offices and hence not being att to avoid duplication. Due consideration therefore may kindly given to this aspect.
May I therefore request your august office to ack my submission and issue such directives to stop such wrongdoing forthwith and to act ruthlessly against the wrongdoers at the military ranks and files , MoD, CDA , Def Audit , CAG and Canteen stores Deptt .
I am submitting the details with full faith that the Army Order 584/73 or its amended version to empower CDA staff/Est be immediately withdrawn. All URCs run CDA staff/Est be ordered closed and all funds/assets ordered transferred /merged with the consolidated fund of India .
This should be treated as my last communication to the concerned govt dept and to the constitutional auth. If no action is taken within 20 days of receipt of this communication , the undersigned shall have no further obligation before submitting a PIL to the High Court of AP.

Yours sincerely

I am yet to receive any reply from Fin Min , MOD etc . I may request you to go through & google for CAG reports on URC recently published.
I need some expert advice to file the PIL in AP court or direct to the Supreme Court if it can be send online .
Shall wait
Haridas Mandal

meghna October 5, 2010

Thanks Natisha the pleasure is all ours.

meghna October 7, 2010

Mandal Sir,

The procedure of filling a PIL is similar to that of a writ petition. I’m attaching two links for your reference. However, I would request you to consult a legal counsel in this regard.

Lt Col retd Haridas Mandal October 7, 2010

Dear Meghna
I am going through the links and at the same time searching for a spirited lawyer , type of which is hard to get ( I can not afford to engage very expensive one for obvious reasons).
Many thanks for the inputs .

meghna October 8, 2010

You are welcome.. Don’t worry you’ll get a good lawyer soon.. there are a lot of people who would be willing to fight for the cause.. You may try for that matter.

All the best for your endevour..

sumit November 7, 2010

Maine samaajotthaan ke prayojan se kuch soochnaadhikaar (RTI), Janhityaachikaa(PIL), sting operation, cover-stories ityaadi sambandhi ideas taiyaar kiye haim, kya koi ichchhuk patrkaar, sampaadak, pulis adhikaari, naagrik athva anya koi hai jo inme se kisee ka kriyaanwayan kar sake athva is hetu print/electronic media / social blogging athva anya prakaar se sabke aahwaan hetu kuchh kar sake? Bhopal 91-9425605432 sumit

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