March 3, 2023

Changes in Indian Legal System with the Introduction of Public Interest Litigation

This article has been written by Ms. Shruti Medhekar, a 4th year BA.LLB student of Keshav Memorial College of Law.


Law in India has its traces since ages. History states that the law which is prevailing now has been evolving since the Vedic period. Indian legal system has developed in different parts. First through the ancient Hindu period, the Muslim period, the British period and the post- independence period. 

During the Hindu period the law was mainly practiced based on the “Dharmashastra” and various epics and Vedas which were basically based on the religious and customary practices. Further under Muslim period law was regulated basing on Fiqh-e-Firoz Shahi and Fatwa-i-Alamgiri, which were similarly based on their customs and practices. After the British set foot in India with the intent of practicing trade, consequently by analyzing the situation over in India the British started colonization in different parts and ruled over. Outcome of such colonization lead to establishment of British legal system which prevailed over for a period of 200 years. Then came the legal system of post- independent India when the British left India leaving the imprints of their long prevailing legal system. 

Even the present Indian legal system is mostly based on the English (British) law. It was only in the British period when the actual legal system was firmly established which was not based on the ground of customary practices. 

The modern Indian law is a mixture of various laws. It includes the practice of civil law, common law, customary law, religious law, and mixed law. It has a federal system dividing the powers between the Union and the State. The Constitution of India is considered as the supreme law of the land and prevails above all the legislations. Additionally the legal system and the law practiced in the courts of India is based on the different legislations passed by the legislature, customs and the judicial decisions. 

Further the judiciary is divided into the superior judiciary and the subordinate judiciary. The Supreme Court and the High Court fall under superior judiciary and the district courts and other subordinate courts fall under subordinate judiciary. 


Public Interest Litigation means a litigation filed in the court of law not by the aggrieved party or any individual party but by the court itself. It is a suo moto action taken by the courts. The PIL is filed in order to protect the interests of the public at large. With the provision of PIL any person relating or knowing the aggrieved party and the violation faced by them can file it on behalf of the aggrieved party and seek the remedy for them.

Acts like violation of human rights and fundamental rights, poor or improper functioning of the governmental authorities, arbitrary action of any superiors, causing damage to the environment effecting public at large etc. 


Prior to the introduction of the Public Interest Litigation the Indian legal framework worked on the concept that only the aggrieved party can institute a suit against the party who violated the rights of the aggrieved one. The aggrieved individual or group who wants to institute a case must show prior to the institution of case that the individuals or group’s right has been violated and further he has been affected by such violation. When some kind of prejudice either physical, pecuniary or any other kind of occurs or is about to occur due to any future events the aggrieved one can file the case. 

The aggrieved party had no other recourse than to file a case on his own and seek the remedy. If the individual had not proved that he had suffered any prejudice then he had no remedy provided. And in addition to this the litigation process is both time consuming and not cost efficient too.  While in some unseen circumstances there are some individuals and group of persons who are unrepresented due to some reasons, were having no solution provided in case of any violations happening against them. And the reasons for not seeking the remedy could be any of the following: 

  1. Unaware of the rights and remedies available to them against any violations or infringement.
  2. Efficient legal services not being available in some remote areas and communities.
  3. Proper knowledge and guidance to the ignorant groups to seek justice. 
  4. No proper means and potential.
  5. Fear of injustice.
  6. Time consuming and not cost effective etc. 


But one of the effective solution for all the above mentioned reasons is the Public Interest Litigation. With the introduction of PIL in India the litigation process up to some extent has been bought to ease. The unrepresented and unaware group of persons are given opportunity to fight for their rights and demand justice for them. The PIL was introduced only with the aim to provide justice to the poor and unaware individuals who would for no reason face injustice and be prejudiced. 

Hussainara Khatoon vs State of Bihar was the first case of PIL filed in the year 1979. It was filed by an advocate and the issue was plight of various undertrial prisoners languishing in Bihar jails leading to the release of 40,000 undertrial prisoners. This case led as an example the right to speedy disposal. 

The PIL has not been mentioned in any Act or legislation but it has been introduced by the judicial pronouncements. The Public Interest Litigation as a platform provides all the individuals to stand up against any kind of violation against the interest of any individuals. It aimed at providing protection to the public interest at large. In addition to this writs can be filed in the Supreme Court and the High Courts under article 32 and 226 of the Constitution of India. 

In Bandhua Mukti Morcha vs Union of India and Others AIR 1984 SC 802 the SC held to end the child labour. This order given by the SC lead to the enactment of the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986. 

Further in M.C. Mehta vs Union of India AIR 1987 SC 1086 the PIL was filed after the oleum gas leak at Delhi. This was the first PIL filed against the environmental hazards affecting the public health and environment at large. Eventually many PIL were filed by petitioner M.C. Mehta. Another such was M.C. Mehta vs Union of India 1997 2 SCC 353 popularly known as the Taj Trapezium case. In this case it was held that all the brick kilns located within 20kms of the monument of the Taj Mahal should be unconditionally closed as it was effecting the national heritage site. This cases expanded the scope of environment protection and preservation. 

In Vishaka and Others vs State of Rajasthan and Others 1997 6 SCC 241, the court dealt with the matter of sexual harassment of women at workplace. This case eventually led to the enactment of Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.

State of M.P. vs Narmada Bachao Andolan 2011 7 SCC 639, this PIL was filed with regard to the interest of the public who were not rehabilitated and resettled after the construction of Sardar Sarovar Dam. Effecting the public at large the court redressed their issue with the mechanism of Grievance Redressal Authority in the States. 

Any individual can file a case on behalf of the aggrieved party under the PIL. With its main motive being the public interest any person whose rights has been infringed and is not able to defend themselves can approach any other person to fight for them. Justice can be provided and accessed to all those who stand up for themselves. And PIL being not much expensive and is cost efficient makes it more convenient to the aggrieved to approach it. It acts as feasible instrument available to the public to seek remedy. It also allows them to fight for the issues having larger effect on the public which if not in present might cause loss in future to the public. The petitioner filing the case need not be personally aggrieved by any violation but has to prove that there might be some violation in future causing damage to the public at large.

But as stated above as PIL has the advantages, parallel disadvantages are also result of introduction of PIL. Many individuals are filing frivolous and vexatious cases under the head of PIL. As the process of PIL is not much expensive it has been a very easy path to the individuals to file case under it. Even very small and irrelevant issues are being filed, leading to the flooding of pending cases and improper delivery of justice. PIL which is provided as a weapon in the hands of public for the protection of their interests is being used as weapon to murder the main aim of PIL by misusing it. 


The Indian legal system prior to the introduction of Public Interest Litigation worked properly but not efficiently in providing justice to the individuals. Many drawbacks and obstacles were found in the way while delivering justice as mentioned above. With the rise of PIL the public at large got a tool and mechanism providing them with a powerful yet simple weapon to redress their grievance. The courts were made easily accessible and the public stood up for themselves and each other. But as the PIL acted as a boon it also turned out to be a vain, leading to the filing of irrelevant and frivolous cases. It increased the burden on the courts with the flooding of pending cases creating misappropriate scenario in the minds of public. Further as the court provided some limitations in filing the PIL more strict provisions must be made which is the need of the hour, by not entertaining any irrelevant matters to be filed and misuse the court valuable time and efforts. This would lead to efficient functioning of the Public Interest Litigation and provide justice to all. 


  1. Hussainara Khatoon vs State of Bihar
  2. Bandhua Mukti Morcha vs Union of India and Others AIR 1984 SC 802
  3. M.C. Mehta vs Union of India AIR 1987 SC 1086
  4. M.C. Mehta. Another such was M.C. Mehta vs Union of India 1997 2 SCC 353
  5. Vishaka and Others vs State of Rajasthan and Others 1997 6 SCC 241
  6. M.P. vs Narmada Bachao Andolan 2011 7 SCC 639
  7. Olga Tellis vs Bombay Municipal Corporation AIR 1986 SC 180
  8. Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum vs Union of India and Others AIR 1996 SC 2715
  9. Indian
  12. Constitution of India – V.N. Shukla 

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