PIL Under Scrutiny
TOPIC: General Studies 2
- Separation of powers between various organs , dispute redressal mechanisms and institution
- Structure, organization and functioning of Executive and Judiciary.
In News: The Supreme Court of India on 10 September stated that Public Interest litigation are there for people who cannot afford to approach the courts.
- The SC also and dismissed a PIL filed by former Navy Chief Admiral Ramdas.
- According to media reports, Justice Ranjan Gogoi, who is slated to be the next Chief Justice of India, stated during the hearing that the Supreme Court is there to address everyone’s fears, but PILs are for the poor.
- Justice Gogoi was a part of the three-member bench including Justice Navin Sinha and Justice KM Joseph, which was hearing a PIL filed by former navy chief Admiral Ramdas.
- The bench reportedly dismissed the PIL stating that it was a case for the vigilance commissioner.
Public Interest Litigation (PIL), means a legal action initiated in a court of law for the enforcement of public interest or general interest in which the public or class of the community have pecuniary interest or some interest by which their legal rights or liabilities are affected.
- A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) can be filed in any High Court or directly in the Supreme Court.
- Public interest litigation (PIL) in India can serve as a vehicle for creating and enforcing rights and is critical to the sustenance of democracy.
- The PIL instrument serves to counter parliamentary inertia and governmental neglect. It has the effect of making judicial process little more democratic.
Justice Bhagwati, in holding that social and economic conditions necessitate this model of standing, stated:
“When a person or class of persons to whom legal injury is caused by violation of a fundamental right is unable to approach the Court for judicial redress on account of poverty or disability or socially or economically disadvantaged position, any member of the public acting bona fide can move the Court for relief under Article 32 … so that the fundamental rights may become meaningful not only for the rich and the well-to do who have the means to approach the Court but also for the large masses of people who are living a life of want and destitution and who are by reasons of lack of awareness, assertiveness and resources unable to seek judicial redress.”
Public Interest Litigation in India
During the 1970s, a majority of Indians suffered from a severe lack of access to justice –
- Legal fees were prohibitively expensive to the extent that only the few could afford representation.
- Lack of education for many rural Indians meant that most people were unaware of their legal rights, and lawyers working on their behalf were few and far between.
- Compounding the dire situation of many of India’s citizens, then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi suspended elections and civil liberties in response to great political upheaval that threatened her premiership – Emergency Period.
- Many citizens were expecting the Supreme Court to intervene. The Court failed to do so and instead bend down to Indira Gandhi’s autocratic tendencies.
- In fact the Court held in A.D.M. Jabalpur v. Shivakant Shukla, a severely criticized case, that certain fundamental rights, including the right to liberty, did not survive the executive’s proclamation of emergency.
DC Wadhwa vs State of Bihar AIR (1986), Supreme Court held that a petitioner, a professor of political science who had done substantial research and deeply interested in ensuring proper implementation of the constitutional provisions, challenged the practice followed by the state of Bihar in re-promulgating a number of ordinances without getting the approval of the legislature. The court held that the petitioner as a member of public has ‘sufficient interest’ to maintain a petition under Article 32.
In the case of MC Mehta vs Union of India (1988) 1 SCC 471: In a Public Interest Litigation brought against Ganga water pollution so as to prevent any further pollution of Ganga water. Supreme Court held that petitioner although not a riparian owner is entitled to move the court for the enforcement of statutory provisions, as he is the person interested in protecting the lives of the people who make use of Ganga water.
Shreya Singhal vs Union of India – The Landmark Sec. 66A Case: In quashing Section 66A, in Shreya Singhal, the Supreme Court has not only given afresh lease of life to free speech in India, but has also performed its role as a constitutional court for Indians.
Amicus Curiae: Means “friend of the court”; used to assist in formulating a viewpoint and to make inquiries and reports in the PIL’s.
Connecting the Dots:
- PIL serves a vital function in Indian democracy by redistributing justice and providing access to the courts. Comment.
- PIL is a weapon which has to be used with great care. Examine.
- Many times, a PIL becomes a ‘Personal Interest Litigation.’ Do you agree? Discuss.