Public interest litigation (PIL), in simple words is litigation for any public interest. Public interest litigation is a litigation which can be filed in any court of law by any public spirited person for the protection of “public interest”.
PIL has achieved a place of great importance in our legal system. Public interest litigation case in India was first filed in the year 1976; Mumbai Kamgar Sabha v. M/s Abdulbhai Faizullabhai and others [1976 (3) SCC 832]. The seed of PIL was sown by Justice Krishna Iyer through this landmark judgement. Soon thereafter, with the efforts of Justice Bhagwati, the concept of PIL has evolved and developed to a great extent and PIL cases in India has brought change.
The following are 5 landmark PIL cases in India:-
1. Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan
As part of a governmental campaign against child marriage, Bhanwari Devi attempted to stop the marriage of a one year-old girl in rural Rajasthan. Members of the local community retaliated first by harassing Bhanwari Devi with threats and imposing a socioeconomic boycott on her family. Then, on September 22, 1992, five men raped Bhanwari Devi.
Bhanwari Devi faced numerous obstacles when she attempted to seek justice. Frustrated by the criminal justice system’s inability to provide tangible remedies, restore the dignity of the victim, Naina Kapur, a lawyer who had attended Bhanwari Devi’s criminal trial, decided to initiate a PIL case action in the Supreme Court to challenge sexual harassment in the workplace. The Vishaka writ petition was filed in 1992 in the names of five NGOs against the State of Rajasthan, its Women and Child Welfare Department, its Department of Social Welfare, and the Union of India.
The Vishaka judgment recognized sexual harassment as “a clear violation” of the fundamental constitutional rights to equality, nondiscrimination, life, and liberty, as well as the right to carry out any occupation. The guidelines, directed toward employers, included a definition of sexual harassment, a list of steps for harassment prevention, and a description of complaint procedures to be “strictly observed in all work places for the preservation and enforcement of the right to gender equality.”
It has promoted greater enforcement of women’s rights and broader application of international law at the high court level. The case has thus been described as “path breaking,” “one of the most powerful legacies” of PIL case, and a “trendsetter” that “created a revolution.”
2. Javed v. State of Haryana
The Javed litigants challenged the constitutionality of a coercive population control provision, which governed the election of panchayat. The Haryana Provision disqualified “a person having more than two living children” from holding specified offices in panchayats. The objective of this two child norm was to popularize family planning, under the assumption that other citizens would follow the example of restrained reproductive behavior set by their elected leaders.
The petitioners and appellants in the Javed case were individuals who had been disqualified from either standing for election or continuing in the office of a panchayat because they had more than two children.
Upholding the Haryana Provision as “salutary and in the public interest,” the Court’s main emphasis was on “the problem of population explosion as a national and global issue” at the expense of protecting human rights. The Javed decision neglected to evaluate critically whether the contested provision was actually having its intended effect on family planning. The Court described the provision as “well-defined,” “founded on intelligible differentia,” and based on a clear objective to popularize family planning.
3. Hussainara Khatoon v. State of Bihar
Many have regarded this case as the first PIL case in India as well. In this PIL case the attention of the court was drawn to the incredible situation of under trials in Bihar who had been detained pending trial for periods far in excess of the maximum sentence for the offences they were charged with. The court not only proceeded to make the right to speedy trial the central issue of the case but passed the order of general release of close to 40,000 under trials who had undergone detention beyond such maximum period.
4. M.C. Mehta vs. Union of India
The judgement delivered on January 12, 1988, lashed out at civic authorities for allowing untreated sewage from Kanpur’s tanneries making its way into the Ganges.
Three landmark judgments and a number of Orders against polluting industries numbering more than fifty thousand in the Ganga basin passed from time to time. In this case, apart from industries, more than 250 towns and cities have been ordered to put sewage treatment plants.
Six hundred tanneries operating in highly congested residential area of Kolkata have been shifted out of the City and relocated in a planned Leather Complex in the State of West Bengal. A large number of industries were closed down by the Court and were allowed to reopen only after these industries set up effluent treatment plants and controlled pollution. As a result of these directions millions of people have been saved from the effects of air and water pollution in Ganga basin covering 8 states in India.
5. Parmanand Katara vs. Union of India
Parmanand Katara, a human rights activist, filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court on the basis of a newspaper report concerning the death of a scooterist who was knocked down by a speeding car. Doctors refused to attend to him and directed that he be taken to another hospital around 20 km away, one that was authorized to handle medico-legal cases. Based on the petition, the Supreme Court held that:-
These public interest litigation case has brought lot of change and amendments. PIL cases in India is of great importance to the working of judiciary.PIL cases are thus need to be a encouraged as it can bring huge change.