The Constitution of India is the law of the land which declares six fundamental rights that each legal citizen of India possesses ever since the birth. These are:
- Right to Equality
- Right to Freedom
- Right against exploitation
- Right to freedom of religion
- Cultural and Educational rights
- Right to Constitutional Remedies
These rights are indispensable and are backed by Justice, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, and Democracy. However, the mere declaration of these rights is meaningless, until and unless there is an effective and efficient mechanism to enforce them. A famous legal concept state, ‘Where it is right, there is the remedy. If there is no remedy, there is no right at all’(Ubi Jus Ibi Remedium). Hence, our eminent constitution makers provided us with Article 32 which is a ‘fundamental right’ itself, and a powerful remedy to enforce our all Fundamental Rights. It empowers the Supreme Court of India to render justice, in case any of the rights is violated.
As we all know, India is a developing country of ‘have and have nots’. Most of the poor and underprivileged citizens of India are not even aware of their rights, let alone being aware of the procedure to enforce them, in the case of their violation. Hence, honorable and distinguished Justice P.N. Bhagwati introduced the concept of ‘Public Interest Litigation’ or ‘PIL’ in India during the mid-1980’s. Public Interest Litigation is an extremely powerful tool to enforce our rights and broadened the scope of justice in the society. Under this concept, any person ‘having sufficient interest’ and in good faith( pro bono Publico) can stand in front of the court on behalf of a group of aggrieved persons for enforcement of their constitutional or any legal right. This is because several people or groups of people who are socially, economically and financially challenged are not able to approach the court by themselves for relief.
THE CONCEPT OF LOCUS STANDI
Locus Standi means the right to stand before the court. Before 1980’s a writ petition under article 32 could only be filed in the court by the person whose right had been violated. No third party was entitled to stand before the court on behalf of any other person. Hence there was the very narrow interpretation of this concept before 1980’s. Eventually in the mid-1980’s Honorable Justice P.N. Bhagwati, by introducing the concept public interest litigation, widened the scope of ‘Locus Standi’ and Article 32 , which ultimately became a blessing for the society at large. As a result of this, today many non-governmental organizations file cases in court on behalf of people who’s rights have been infringed.
PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION (PIL) – A POSITIVE APPROACH
The landmark judgment in the case of Bandhu Mukti Morcha v. Union of India( AIR 1984 SC 803), first time laid down in detail the concept of PIL in India. In this case an NGO dedicated to the cause and needs of the bonded labors wrote a letter to Justice P.N. Bhagwati that according to a survey conducted of the stone quarries in Faridabad in Haryana, there were a large number of labors working those quarries under ‘inhuman and intolerable conditions’ and many of them were bonded labors. Justice Bhagwati treated the letter as a Public Interest Litigation because delivering justice to anguished people was the need of the hour and the miseries of the bonded labors were to be addressed as soon as possible.
Another landmark judgment of M.C. Mehta v. Union of India ( AIR 1987 SC 1087) further established the concept of Public Interest Litigation in the legal frame of India.
In this case, there was a gas leak in Shriram Foods and Fertilizer Industries which caused hazardous effects on the health of several people. Moreover, the industry had not observed and maintained the justifiable safety standards. The industry was shut down and Justice P.N. Bhagwati laid down the following guidelines regarding PIL for the benefit of the society:
- The Court held that the poor in India could seek justice by only writing a letter not necessarily accompanied by an affidavit to any judge of his choice. This made it easier for people to enforce their rights as not everyone is aware of the proper legal procedure.
- It was also held that in cases where the violation of the fundamental rights of poor is ‘gross and patent’ and ‘affects persons on a large scale’, the aggrieved persons could bypass the ordinary process of the Civil Court and directly approach the Supreme Court for remedial relief and compensation. This would depend on from case to case.
- The Court also held that the Court if wishes can appoint socio-legal commissions for the administration and implementation of the fundamental rights of the poor.
These landmark judgments acted as a boon for the underprivileged and exploited sections of the society because now they could knock the doors of the apex court of India even if they don’t have sufficient means or information regarding the procedure to be followed.
CRITICISM AND ABUSE OF PIL
The concept Public Interest Litigation got a good share of criticism as well. It was condemned on the fact that allowing the third party to file the case on behalf of another would lead to flooding of the already burdened Supreme Court with cases. Also, it was pointed out that the interference of the court through PIL in the area of Executive and Legislature would lead to conflicts. Moreover, PIL is also misused by certain people for gaining fame or to attain political superiority during elections.
But, Justice P.N. Bhagwati answered these criticisms by stating that under Article 144 of the Constitution of India, 1950, “All authorities civil or judicial in the territory of India shall act in aid of the Supreme Court. If any of these authorities fail to carry out the orders of the Court, the Court can punish them for the contempt of Court.”
Moreover, in the case of State of Uttaranchal v. Balwant Singh Chaufal( AIR 2010 SC 2551),various guidelines for controlling the misuse and abuse of PIL was laid down. It was held that the court must always encourage genuine and bonafide PIL and should prima facie i.e. beforehand check the credentials of the person filing the PIL and the authenticity of the petition.
Public Interest Litigation is a very powerful and helpful instrument to help the socially and economically disadvantaged section of the society to seek justice and hence should be used very wisely. We need to understand that its misuse by filing petty petitions will slow down the working of the judiciary and justice to the needy would be delayed. Therefore, we should always in good faith file a public interest litigation after properly researching the facts and should not waste the precious time of our Judicial System. For the legal development of our country, we the citizens of India are obliged to cooperate and facilitate the judicial procedures.