PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION IN INDIA
The Bill of Rights section of the Indian Constitution contains a provision, Article 32, that states “The right to move the Supreme Court by appropriate proceedings for the enforcement of the rights conferred by this Part is guaranteed [and the] Supreme Court shall have power to issue directions or orders or writs … whichever may be appropriate, for the enforcement of any of the rights conferred by this Part”. The Supreme Court of India has used this authority to create a unique set of procedures that have revolutionized the Indian legal system, creating an access to justice movement called PIL (for Public Interest Litigation). The most important innovation is elimination of traditional standing requirements, allowing any member of the public to file a writ petition on behalf of a person or determinate class of persons who “by reason of poverty, helplessness or disability or socially or economically disadvantaged position” is unable to approach the court directly. Because the Supreme Court has original jurisdiction, PIL petitions can immediately lead to decisions with national impact. (State High Courts also have PIL jurisdiction.) If grave injustice or serious harm is shown, quick relief is common, sometimes in a matter of months. (Recently the Court has set up a specialized Social Justice Bench.) The Court has adopted many flexible procedures to minimize costs for citizen petitioners. A simple letter to the Court can be accepted as a petition with no filing fee, and instead of putting the burden on the petitioner to marshal evidence the Court can appoint “socio-legal” commissions of experts to investigate; often respondent government agencies have no choice but to admit the truth of the facts set forth in the petition.
Resources on PIL in India:
Kapila Hingorani Foundation (established by the family of Kapila Hingorani as a public charitable trust to carry forward the work undertaken by her in the field of public interest law, human rights, access to justice, legal education and related areas)
Pushpa Kapila Hingorani, The Problem of Undertrials-I: Hussainara Khatoon and Public Interest Litigation, in Punishment and the Prison: Indian and International Perspectives (Rani Dhavan Shankardass ed.) (Sage Publications: New Delhi 2000).
Aman Hingorani, Indian Public Interest Litigation: Locating Justice in State Law, 18 Delhi Law Review 159 (1995)
Basavanagouda Patil v State of Karnataka, High Court of Karnataka (13 Feb 2015) (successful PIL brought by students of National Law School to compel appointment of Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum)
Ashraya v State of Karnataka, High Court of Karnataka (5 July 2012) (successful PIL brought by students of National Law School to improve conditions at Government Home for Boys)
Clark D. Cunningham, "Public Interest Litigation in the Supreme Court of India: A Study in Light of the American Experience," 29 Journal of the Indian Law Institute 494-523 (1987).
Clark D. Cunningham, "The World's Most Powerful Court: Finding the Roots of India's Public Interest Litigation Revolution in the Hussainara Khatoon Prisoners Case," Liberty, Equality and Justice : Struggles for a New Social Order 83-96 (S.P Sathe ed.) (2003).