Understanding of Public Interest Litigation (PIL) is of vital importance in Human Rights Studies. The mechanism of PIL is the most commonly used tool to advance the cause of human right issues, issues of equality and other issues.

Simply put, any matter or problem that affects a large spectrum of public qualifies to be addressed by the filing of PIL in the competent court of law i.e. High Courts and the Supreme Court of India. Interestingly, the term PIL does not find its meaning in any of the statute or in any act but has been defined as per the judicial interpretations made out in various case laws. Hence, it can be logically deduced that PIL is the sword given to the general public by the judicial activism of the courts.

 It is noteworthy here that this power is not free of riders, the petition will be accepted only after it is satisfactorily proved to the court that intent behind filing of the respective PIL is the elevation of public interest and not any sort of frivolous litigation to gain publicity or sympathy or the like. 

Furthermore, it is not a requirement that a representative of public must file a PIL, rather even the court can undertake suo moto cognizance of the matter if it so deems is required. This power of initiating a PIL suo moto is vital because it ensures that judiciary is not merely just a watchdog but rather has reins to act upon the issues of general public.

The seeds of the concept were initially sown in the country by Justice Krishna Iyer in the year 1976 in the case of Mumbai Kamagar Sabha vs. Abdul Thai.

The first case in India that was initiated by way of PIL was in the year 1979 titled Hussainara Khatoon vs. State of Bihar that emphasized upon the inhuman conditions of prisons and the cruel treatment with the under trial prisoners. Magnificently, the PIL lead to release of more than Fourty thousand under trail prisoners! It is crucially noteworthy here that the Right to Speedy Justice emerged as a basic fundamental right which had been denied to these prisoners for countless years in litigation. Fortunately, the footprints were followed by many other cases and PIL became the crusader for Human Right in India.

In the case of M.C Mehta vs. Union of India, the petitioner was held entitled to move the court in his PIL seeking prevention of any further pollution into the river Ganga. As in, the basic rights of people who depended on the river Ganga for their basic needs were protected and safeguarded.

The angle of Human Rights vis-à-vis PIL is very vast. PIL helps human rights reach those who have been blatantly denied their human rights. PIL helps to democratise the access to justice across all halves of the society equitably as the ones who are unable to access justice are helped by those who have the means to access justice system and ensure availability of human rights to the receivers. PIL helps to ensure the existence of human rights in hard-core State institutions like prisons, juvenile homes, etc. Hence, filing of PILs must be encouraged and given boost to so that human rights are equally distributed to every halve of the society.




·        The Constitution of India

·        Mumbai Kamagar Sabha vs. Abdul Thai, 1976 AIR 1455.

·        Hussainara Khatoon vs. State of Bihar, 1979 AIR 1369.

·        M.C Mehta vs. Union of India, 1988 AIR 1115.

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