The stalwarts Justice P.N Bhagwati and Justice Krishna Iyer introduced the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) concept. Before Public Interest litigation, there was a concept of Locus Standi where only the affected/aggrieved party was entitled to file the Writ Petition and no one else. However, this concept was changed by the introduction of the Public Interest Litigation concept. Before explaining this term Public Interest Litigation, it is essential to mention the name of Pushpa Kapila Hingorani lawyer who filed a Habeus Corpus petition in 1979 for undertrial prisoners in Bihar. Moreover, she was also known as the ‘Mother of Public Interest Litigation’; it was just the beginning of Public Interest Litigation in India.
Post-Independence came up with a plethora of cases related to public issues at that time social, political, and economic condition of citizens was not good enough to get justice in the courts. Subsequently, in the early 1970s, the concept of Public Intrest Litigation seed was sown by Justice Krishna Iyer in 1976 in the case of Kamagra Sabha v. Abdul Thai and Akhil Bhartiya Sosail Karamchari Sangh v. UOI– Supreme Court allowed the Public Interest Litigation under Article 32. Afterwards, Public Intrest Litigation became prominent in Hassinara Khatoon v. the State of Bihar; where Pushpa Kapila Hingoarani filed the Habeus Corpus writ petition under Article 32 of the Indian constitution in 1979; this case was related to the declaration of undertrial prisoners of Bihar and around 40,000 undertrials prisoners were there all over the country, waiting for their trial.
This case became a landmark because Justice P.N Bhagwati took up this case and elucidated the sanctity and core of Public interest litigation concept in India and P.N Bhagwati opined: “what faith can these lost souls have in the judicial system which denies them a bare trial for so many years and keeps them behind bars, not because they are guilty, but because they are too poor to afford bail and the court have no time to try them”
Subsequently, In 1981, P.N Bhagwati discussed the sections in 11 pages, and the whole judgment ran into 488 pages in S.P Gupta v. President of India And Ors. Some key points of this judgment, he said: “The court has to innovate new methods and strategies to provide access to new methods and strategies to provide access to justice to large masses of people who are denied basic human rights, to whom freedom and liberty have no meaning.” PIL can be filed by anyone but in the interest of the public as a public-spirited citizen. In addition, Writ Petition can be filed under Article 32 in the Supreme Court and Article 226 in the High Court. Moreover, Article 226 has a widened scope than Article 32 because under Article 32 Writ Petition can be filed for the violation of fundamental rights on the other hand, under Article 226 Writ Petition can be filed for both violations of fundamental rights and constitutional rights.
The Public Interest litigation framework changed and dwindle the core spirit of Public Interest Litigation in India. In today’s time, Public Interest litigation is filed for fame or hampering the court proceedings with frivolous public interest litigation, no wonder! Justice becomes secondary or sometimes wane also.
FRIVOLOUS WRIT PETITION FILED IN THE SUPREME COURT
On 3rd April 2020, Tushar Mehta Solicitor General of India said that on frivolous writ petitions that: “Professional Public Intrest Litigation shops must be locked down till the country comes out of Covid-19 tragedy,” further he said “None of the petitioners has even bothered to serve the poor and needy or the persons suffering from the virus and, therefore, can never be treated as a public-spirited citizen” this is not the first time he raised the concern on frivolous PILs. There are some cases where the court reiterates the sanctity of public interest litigation in the court on the frivolous petitions filed by the petitioner in S.P.V Raj v. The Chief Electoral Officer Chennai and Ors.- Madras High Court showed serious concern about frivolous PILs matters; in this case, PIL was filed for to make the medical test mandatory for all those who are participating in the political campaigns as a candidate in Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly election and said that: “This is utterly a frivolous matter and it is hoped that some degree of responsibility will be exercised before rubbish is thrown at the court in future.”
Recently, the court admonished the law student for filing a frivolous petition to become popular and the Supreme Court said: “This is not a moot court competition” these cases show that not just first, second-generation lawyers are involved in depravity somewhere it made an adverse impact on budding law student as well, which spur them to follow their footsteps. In Afsana v. State of Uttar Pradesh– Allahabad High Court on 5th February 2021 found that petition was filed only for a personal motive, not in the public interest; the court remarked “Petition for personal gains in the garb of Public Intrest Litigation.”
IS PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION DILUTED THE SPIRIT OF JUSTICE?
According to the history of the PIL Brown v. Board of Education– US Supreme Court declared the segregation of public school students based on racism was unconstitutional, and from this case to Hussainra Khtoon case we had witnessed the sanctity of the PIL and the list of the PIL cases is myriad in court; that depict the personal interest, not a public interest. State of Uttaranchal v. Balwant Singh Chaufel two paragraphs of this judgment which are important to address the present issue- “Unfortunately, of late, it has been noticed that such an important jurisdiction which has been carefully carved out, created and nurtured with great care and caution by the courts, is being blatantly abused by filing some petitions with oblique motives” (Para 161) and “In our considered opinion, we have to protect and preserve this important jurisdiction in the larger interest of the people of this country but we must take effective steps to prevent and cure its abuse based on monetary and non-monetary directions by the courts.” (Para 162). These lines say it all and law officers need to be cautious of their rights and duties vested to them and not to pollute the mechanism of PIL for a cheap publicity stunt. Misuse of PIL is a crisis to our judicial system to dismantle the pillar of justice and it’s never late to realize that Public Intrest Litigation is vitiating the spirit of justice because of some segment of law officers and propel us to think that ‘cure is more dangerous than diseases.’
Public Interest litigation is the holy right of all citizens especially the lower class segments that are fighting for their justice. And we need to take up this issue on a serious note that PILs are not filed for the individual but filed in the public interest; however, nowadays PIL’s sanctity is diluted by the frivolous petitions and linger the justice for their personal gain. It’s not about just frivolous petitions but predominately about the aggrieved party who are waiting for their chance to be heard by the court and get justice which is hampered by some law officers. Furthermore, PIL is the soul of constitutional writs and a path for the poor to access justice in court.
Author(s) Name: Samriddhi Rai (Banasthali Vidyapith, Rajasthan)