Is Public Interest Litigation the Pill for the ILLs?

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 dictionary “Public 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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An Insight Story on Serial Killers – The Next One Might Be Just Around Your Neighbourhood

Some lawyers are known for their good deeds some aren’t. Ted Bundy, a handsome law student stalked and murdered dozens of college going female who had close resemblance with his former girl friend.

The infamous case of Robert Pictone was not only the longest trial in Canada but the investigation was worth $100 million dollars. It is believed that he was responsible was a death of 60 women and his targets were usually sex workers.

Those who assume that serial killers are only males who are guided by sexual pleasures must look at the recent case of Kempamma (probably the first woman serial killer of India).  Kempamma who resided in Bangalore had poisoned dozens of her victims with cyanide injections. Her modus operandi was very simple. She convinced innocent and distressed women in temples that she knew the art of healing their grievances by performing special religious prays at homes. The gullible women when allowed her at their houses, she would murder them by injecting cyanide and after robbing the place would elope. The court awarded her death penalty. The woman neither had an accomplice nor any sexual abhorrence against males.

Educated and affluent people can’t be serial killers think again. Thrice married Mohan Kumar, a Manglore based teacher had targeted eighteen young women aged 22-35-years. He preyed on young unmarried women convincing them to marry in future and after having sex and killing them by making them take cyanide as an anti-pregnancy measure. His plans were well executed and organised. He usually took the span of two months for his potential victims and scouted for others in the same period. Studies reveal that impersonating methods like poisoning (Mohan Kumar and Kempamma) is infrequently observed among the serial offenders.

British identified Thug Beraham as the first serial killer of the country. It is estimated that he had around 931 victims.  He had an entire gang which befriended tourists and later on killed them. Thug is a word now used to connote a deceit.

Charles Sobhraj is a notorious personality known worldwide. He was also known as the bikini Killer as a few of his victims were found murdered in Bikini. He had a lavish life style and had killed 12 victims.  He was awarded a life imprisonment in Nepal.

In 1995 Auto Shanker was hanged. He had been convicted of murdering 9 teenage girls in a period of 6 months in 1988 in Chennai. His other accomplices including his brother were awarded life imprisonment.

There have been many serials made on the stone man who targeted beggars and homeless on the streets in mid 1980’s. The identity was never established and the murders were stopped in 1987.

Serial Killer is a subject which is both interesting and challenging. The number of victims is used as a criterion for determining whether a crime is serial in nature. Where the North American National Institute of Justice defines serial murder as involving two or more victims, the FBI suggests that serial crime (rape, murder, arson) has at least three victims. The term serial crime evolved post 1980’s, prior to which they were usually known as mass murders. But now mass murders are presumed to occur when the victims are killed in single event. When the murders take place at different places but are in continuation of the same event the same is termed as spree murder.

Various studies have suggested that a serial offender possesses a combination of psychopathic, narcissistic, sadistic, paraphilic and fantasy prone tendency.  It is often seen that serial offenders lack remorse and guilt. Although seldom they are found legally insane they possess personality disorders. They usually have no respect for other person’s rights. They not only kill or rape their victims but also use them as objects of perverse gratification. Where the acts by psychopaths are impulsive it is observed that serial offenders work in an organized and planned manner. The style of victimization is consistent and repetitive. It is observed that they lack apathy towards others. Geberth once said that ” A serial killer, despite of his outward facade, is a very insecure individual. He is without any power until he has a victim under his control.”

Physiologists have propounded that the sadistic tendencies in a serial killer is established in his childhood or adolescence. Sadistic are the people who enjoy the psychiatric suffering of others. Various serial criminals seek to demean or humiliate their victims. In many rape cases nude bodies of the victims were found in open grounds; at times bodies were found in strange locations such as under bedside tables and store rooms. Often the corpus is positioned in a dramatic position to seek the attention of observers.

Where in conventional crimes a relation exists between the victim and the offender the victims of serial crime are strangers. It is argued that the Serial Killers work under delusion or fantasy. Richard Trenton Chase used to kill his victims for their blood assuming that it would prevent his own blood from evaporating. Edward Gein believed that making masks from corpses and wearing them would transform him to a different person.

Various sources like the crime scene data, witness reports and confessions by the offender can help in establishing the evidence. There are varied indicators of victimization. For example in rape cases a violent treatment may be done to the victim (eg. torture, biting, burning etc) or souvenirs may be collected (personal belongings of the victim). In cases of murders cannibalism, sexual assault, souvenir collection, evisceration and dismemberment may occur.

Serial Offenders can chose anybody as their victims. It is difficult to identify a serial killer. He may look normal and may even impress you. A victim of a serial killer is an unfortunate bate who may not be able to judge the ill intentions of an amiable person. Courts grant them sentence after their legal sanity is established. But if they are deemed to be legally insane then medical help is provided to them. Sometimes the offender is never caught and the crimes stop all of a sudden. In such cases it is assumed that he had accomplished his motive. As I said before Serial Killer is a subject which is both interesting and challenging. They cannot be defined in strict terms and cannot be given the same treatment. The reasons and methods of crime are very individualistic in nature. They cannot be judged solely by legal dogmas. Their condition, punishment and treatment has to be adjudged by both law and forensic psychology.

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