Public Interest Litigation, Citizen Standing and Non-Adversarial Litigation

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Public Interest Litigation

Social Change and Public Interest Litigation in India

  • The first reported case of PIL in 1979 focused on the inhuman conditions of prisons and under trial prisoners. In Hussainara Khatoon v. State of Bihar, AIR 1979 SC 1360, the PIL was filed by an advocate on the basis of the news item published in the Indian Express, highlighting the plight of thousands of undertrial prisoners languishing in various jails in Bihar. These proceeding led to the release of more than 40, 000 undertrial prisoners. Right to speedy justice emerged as a basic fundamental right which had been denied to these prisoners. The same set pattern was adopted in subsequent cases.

  • In 1981 the case of Anil Yadav v. State of Bihar, AIR 1982 SC 1008, exposed the brutalities of the Police. Newspaper report revealed that about 33 suspected criminals were blinded by the police in Bihar by putting the acid into their eyes. Through interim orders S. C. directed the State government to bring the blinded men to Delhi for medical treatment. It also ordered speedy prosecution of the guilty policemen. The court also read right to free legal aid as a fundamental right of every accused. Anil Yadav signalled the growth of social activism and investigative litigation. In (Citizen for Democracy v. State of Assam, (1995) 3SCC 743), the S. C. declared that the handcuffs and other fetters shall not be forced upon a prisoner while lodged in jail or while in transport or transit from one jail to another or to the court or back.

  • Concept of PIL According to the jurisprudence of Article 32 of the Constitution of India, “The right to move the Supreme Court by appropriate proceedings for the enforcement of the rights conferred by this part is guaranteed”. Ordinarily, only the aggrieved party has the right to seek redress under Article 32. In 1981 Justice P. N. Bhagwati in .S. P. Gupta v. Union of India, 1981 (Supp) SCC 87, articulated the concept of PIL as follows, “Where a legal wrong or a legal injury is caused to a person or to a determinate class of persons by reason of violation of any constitutional or legal right or any burden is imposed in contravention of any constitutional or legal provision or without authority of law or any such legal wrong or legal injury or illegal burden is threatened and such person or determinate class of persons by reasons of poverty, helplessness or disability or socially or economically disadvantaged position unable to approach the court for relief, any member of public can maintain an application for an appropriate direction, order or writ in the High Court under Article 226 and in case any breach of fundamental rights of such persons or determinate class of persons, in this court under Article 32 seeking judicial redress for the legal wrong or legal injury caused to such person or determinate class of persons.”

  • The rule of locus standi have been relaxed and a person acting Bonafide and having sufficient interest in the proceeding of Public Interest Litigation will alone have a locus standi and can approach the court to wipe out violation of fundamental rights and genuine infraction of statutory provisions, but not for personal gain or private profit or political motive or any oblique consideration (Ashok Kumar Pandey v. State of W. B., (2004) 3 SCC 349).

  • Supreme Court in Indian Banks’ Association, Bombay and Ors v. M/s Devkala Consultancy Service and Ors., J. T. 2004 (4) SC 587, held that “In an appropriate case, where the petitioner might have moved a court in her private interest and for redressal of the personal grievance, the court in furtherance of Public Interest may treat it a necessity to enquire into the state of affairs of the subject of litigation in the interest of justice. Thus, a private interest case can also be treated as public interest case”.

  • In Guruvayur Devaswon Managing Commit. And Anr. Vs. C.K. Rajan and Ors, J.T. 2003 (7) S.C. 312, S.C. held, “The Courts exercising their power of judicial review found to its dismay that the poorest of the poor, depraved, the illiterate, the urban and rural unorganized labour sector, women, children, handicapped by ‘ignorance, indigence and illiteracy’ and other down trodden have either no access to justice or had been denied justice. A new branch of proceedings known as ‘Social Interest Litigation’ or ‘Public Interest Litigation’ was evolved with a view to render complete justice to the aforementioned classes of persona. It expanded it wings in course of time. The Courts in pro bono public granted relief to the inmates of the prisons, provided legal aid, directed speedy trial, maintenance of human dignity and covered several other areas. Representative actions, pro bono public and test litigations were entertained in keeping with the current accent on justice to the common man and a necessary disincentive to those who wish to bypass the, real issues on the merits by suspect reliance on peripheral procedural shortcomings… Pro bono public constituted a significant state in the present day judicial system. They, however, provided the dockets with much greater responsibility for rendering the concept of justice available to the disadvantaged sections of the society. Public interest litigation has come to stay, and its necessity cannot be overemphasized. The courts evolved a jurisprudence of compassion. Procedural propriety was to move over giving place to substantive concerns of the deprivation of rights. The rule of locus standi was diluted. The Court in place of disinterested and dispassionate adjudicator became active participant in the dispensation of justice”.

Aspects of PIL (A) Remedial in Nature

  • Remedial nature of PIL departs from traditional locus standi rules. It indirectly incorporated the principles enshrined in the part IV of the Constitution of India into part III of the Constitution. By riding the aspirations of part IV into part III of the Constitution had changeth the procedural nature of the Indian law into dynamic welfare one. Bandhu Mukti Morcha v. Union of India, Unnikrishnan v. State of A.P., etc were the obvious examples of this change in nature of judiciary.

  • Representative Standing Representative standing can be seen as a creative expansion of the well-accepted standing exception which allows a third party to file a habeas corpus petition on the ground that the injured party cannot approach the court himself. And in this regard the Indian concept of PIL is much broader in relation to the American. PIL is a modified form of class action.

Citizen Standing

The doctrine of citizen standing thus marks a significant expansion of the court’s rule, from protector of individual rights to guardian of the rule of law wherever threatened by official lawlessness.

Non-Adversarial Litigation

In the words of S. C. in People’s Union for Democratic Rights v. Union of India, AIR 1982 S.C. 1473, “We wish to point out with all the emphasis at our command that public interest litigation…is a totally different kind of litigation from the ordinary traditional litigation which is essentially of an adversary character where there is a dispute between two litigating parties, one making claim or seeking relief against the other and that other opposing such claim or resisting such relief”. Non-adversarial litigation has two aspects.

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