Public Interest Litigation or PIL is a mode of litigation to carry out for the protection of the public interest. The PIL in environmental cases can be said to come into action based on the international conventions and treaties like Stockholm declarations and Rio declarations, the basis of PIL is to protect the citizen of the people from being harmed because of the wrong use of the environment and the environmental resources by some other party. This power has been given by the courts to the public to raise any issues which are taking away their rights or hampering the rights of a large number of people. In case of filling a PIL, the victim himself doesn’t need to file the case it can be filed by anyone on the behalf of several persons who are being affected.

The traditional view relating to locus standi was: the at a person seeking a remedy should have suffered a legal injury because of violation of the legal right can seek direction under Article 32 or Article 226 of the Constitution or must show that some legal right of the person has been infringed. Thus if the person’s right or interest were not infringed anyone could not file for a PIL. But with the changes in the interpretation of the law especially after the case of Maneka Gandhi vs. UOI [1] and the change in time and situation broadened and developed the concept of PIL to be applied in a Broadway. According to it now there are diverse areas where Public Interest Litigation is applied: when the basic human rights of a person are violated, question the conduct of any governmental policy, to compel the authorities to perform a particular duty, to safeguard people from environmental disasters caused by any other private party or when religious rights or any other specific rights are violated on a mass public level. Anyone can for the purpose, can file a PIL, however, the main considerations relating to PIL should be present and maintained: there must be a public inquiry, the person moving the court must be acting bona fide, and also must have got sufficient interest. In bringing the effective change in the interpretation of the application of PIL Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer and P. N. Bhagwati’s efforts should be highly appreciated. 


Indian judiciary plays a crucial role in protecting humanity from the threats of environmental pollution. From Articles of the Constitution to various separate acts like The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, etc to various rules like The Environment (Protection) Rules, 1986; Hazardous And Other Wastes (Management and Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2015, etc all aims to conserve the environment and protect the citizen from environmental pollution covering various aspects of pollution. Environmental problem is not of recent origin, in the era of industrial growth, it increased in a huge form and severely damaged our ecology. The government and the administrative mechanism failed in handing the situations and caused misery to the people. In this crucial condition, the judiciary came forward against the inaction of the government. Our Constitution through article  48A [2] directs the state to protect the environment and enjoins the duty upon the citizen to protect the natural environment through Article 51A (g).[3] The court also gave a new meaning to the right to life under Article 21 of the constitution by widening the horizon and including the right to have a clean and hygienic environment as a right to life and the court infused the right to the environment into the contours of Article 21. In almost all PIL cases of environmental law, the court highlighted the right to a healthy environment as a fundamental right in its judgments.

Now it is important to look into some important cases where the court has successfully passed judgments to protect the environment and pay compensation to the public for environmental hazards that were filed through PIL.

In Indian Council for Enviro Legal Action vs. UOI [4], the Indian Council for Legal Action brought PIL to prohibit and remedy the pollution caused by several industrial plants in Udaipur by operating heavy industries producing chemicals and toxic acids creating a problem for the neighboring village and also eroding the soil. The court applied the polluter pays principle, to compensate the victims, and also the principle of strict and absolute liability was applied. Before this case in the famous Oleum gas leak case (1987) [5] which happened just three years after the Bhopal gas tragedy in 1985 a writ petition was filed by MC Mehta to close the Shriram industries as it was engaged in manufacturing hazardous substances and was located in a densely populated area and while the petition was pending already in court Oleum gas leak from one of its units caused death and affected the health of the people there. The court brought out measures to monitor the working of the factory in the future and asked for the relocation of such industries in a non-populated area. Also, compensation was given to the victims under the polluter pays principle. Another important case in 1996 was registered.

In the Vellore Citizen Welfare Forum case [6], the petitioner in Vellore Citizen Welfare Forum filed a PIL under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution, against the large scale river pollution caused in river Palar in Tamil Nadu by the discharge of untreated effluents in the water by the neighboring tanneries and industries. The court directed the judgment making all efforts to maintain harmony between environment and development and recognized the right to live in a clean and healthy environment. PIL’s are also accepted for noise pollution cases to clean the environment out of unwanted noise pollution. Like in the In Re noise pollution case [7] where the court gave directions on the use of loudspeakers and horns and control noise pollution arising from loud firecrackers during the festive seasons.

By using the PIL the judiciary has managed to give a lot of power to the citizen to safeguard their rights and also effectively protect the environment. PIL’s over the years have preserved the rights related to individuals, labor practices, citizens against highly polluting state-owned companies, and also preserve the wildlife. However, the efforts of the court need to be preserved by equal participation of the society and government.

Author(s) Name: Piyasha Das (Amity University, Kolkata)



[1] 1978 AIR 597, 1978 SCR (2) 621.

[2] Article- 48A “The State shall endeavor to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.”

[3] ARTICLE-51A (g) “It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers, and wildlife, and to have compassion for living creatures.”

[4]  AIR 1996 SC 1446.

[5] M.C. Mehta vs. UOI, AIR 1987 SC 965.

[6] Vellore Citizen Welfare Forum vs. UOI, 1996 SC 2715.

[7] 2005 5 SCC 733.