Role of Judiciary In Strengthening PIL
In India, the Supreme Court took the lead by allowing volunteer social activists - lay and legal, to represent the interests of the poor in judicial proceedings. By expanding the doctrine of locus standi in filing the petition and creating epistolary jurisdiction that enabled it to treat a letter written on behalf of a disadvantaged person as a petition and examine the merits of the grievances.
In India judicial activism was made possible by PIL (Public Interest Litigation). Generally speaking, before the Court takes up a matter for adjudication, it must be satisfied that the person who approaches it has sufficient interest in the matter. It was made so in favour of social action and the court accepts its validity and steps in to set things right. Ideologically, such litigation and judicial intervention born of it has transformed the classical liberal rights model enshrined in the Constitution into a paradigm provided ‘rights’. Undoubtedly, such litigation has provided an ordinary man an access to the apex court of the country.
It has in a way democratised the judicial process. Furthermore, the PIL has contributed to the rise of a form of judicial scrutiny of each and every governmental institution ranging from hospitals, prisons, manufacturing units covering issues of health, environment, safety, security, privacy and welfare, etc.
Judicial activism has been a very frequent and common phenomenon during one and a half decade. It is said to have been born in India in 1986. Its credit goes to Justice P.N. Bhagwati who introduced the tradition of hearing on PIL even on a postcard. Justice Bhagwati has clearly stated, “The Supreme Court has adopted a pro-active approach for the last two years, particularly, having regards to the peculiar socio-economic conditions prevailing in the country.” Thus, judicial activism was born out of a public litigation appeal. Judicial activism is developed in each and every aspect of life, including social, economic, political, religious, educational, etc. Undoubtedly, it has strengthened the faith of masses in the judiciary of the country.
The important object of Public Interest Litigation is to safeguard the Public interest, Human Rights and protect constitutional and legal rights of disadvantaged and weaker section of the society.
Thus, the dominant object is to ensure observance to the provisions of the constitution and the other laws. It is essentially a co-operative or collaborative effort on the part of petitioner, the state, public authority and the court to secure observance of the constitutional or legal rights, benefits and privileges conferred upon the weaker sections of the society.Public Interest Litigation is relating to Human Rights, Labour, Prisoners and Environmental Protection.
Public Interest Litigation is a device by which public participation in judicial review of administrative action is assured, and it also has the effect of making judicial process little more democratic.
The members of the public by filing a PIL are entitled to and seek enforcement of public duty and observance of the constitutional law or legal provisions. Such a litigation can be initiated only for redressal of a public injury, enforcement of a public duty or vindicating interest of public nature and it is necessary that the petition is not filed for personal gain or private motive or for other extraneous consideration and is filed bona fide in public interest.
Intervention of the courts may be sought by way of PIL in cases where the statutory provisions have arbitrarily and irrationally overlooked the interests of a significantly affected group that would otherwise suffer in silence. Public interest may demand judicial intervention in cases where the existing rules and standards are not complied with due to indifference towards a particular group, unjustly denying them any legal entitlements or resulting in unfair and hostile treatment. Public Interest Litigation provides a platform for projecting social values for those who do not have a formal access or voice in the policy-making processes.
A PIL can be filed against a State or Central Government, Municipal Authorities, but not any private party. However, a ‘Private party’ can be included in the PIL as ‘Respondent’, after making concerned state authority, a party.
Matters of Public Interest
The term ‘Public Interest’ is not capable of precise definition and has not a rigid meaning and is elastic and takes its colours from the statute in which it occurs, the concept varying with the time and state for society and its needs. Thus, what is ‘Public Interest’ today may not be so considered a decade later.
However, Public Interest can be said to mean those interest, which concern the public at large. A subject, in which the public or a section of the public is interested, becomes one of public interest. Public Interest is concerned with the welfare and rights of the community or a class thereof./
The matters of public interest generally include:
# Bonded labour matters,
# Matters of neglected children,
# Exploitation of casual labourers and non-payment of wages to them (except in individual cases),
# Matters of harassment or torture of persons belonging to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Economically Backward Classes, either by co-villagers or by police,
# Matters relating to environmental pollution disturbance of ecological balance, drugs, food adulteration, maintenance of heritage and culture, antiques, forests and wild life,
# Petitions from riot victims, and
# Other matters of public importance.
The question of infringements of public interest can also arise in cases relating to:
• Constitutional validity of legislation;
• Excess of power by a public body or a quasi- public undertaking;
• Breach of statutory provisions enacted for the benefit and protection of the public;
• Public nuisance; and
• Prevention of criminal offences, enforcement of mandatory public duties, and such other categories as recognized by law or judicial decisions.
PILs are usually not allowed in criminal matters, because criminal litigation is exclusively between state and respondent and nobody has right to interfere by way of PIL as it would hamper course of justice and cause prejudice to accused denying them a fair trial. Also, PIL are not entertained in service matters.
Method of Filing
A PIL can be filed in any High Court or directly in the Supreme Court. The conventional method of moving a Court is by filing a plaint containing a detailed list of facts that are necessary for deciding the case.
However, now the PIL has jumped over this structural barrier. The Supreme Court has held that a PIL need not be rejected merely on the fact that it is not in the structural form of a plaint. The Court can admit a PIL even if it is not made in the manner of a formal plaint. The Court can initiate a PIL even on receiving a letter addressed to the Court whether with or without an affidavit.
Once a PIL has been filed it cannot be subsequently withdrawn. The Court may also proceed suo motto. This was laid down by the Supreme Court to ensure that there is no vested interest of the people who initiate proceedings and that the cause for which the PIL was initiated does not suffer.
Role of the Courts
The role of the courts has been fundamentally altered by adoption of the constitutional norms in the governance of the country. Numerous constitutional and statutory provisions have established governmental institutions regulating their conduct along with that of commercial enterprises and citizens, in a wide range of subjects such as, social welfare, industrial relations, consumer protection, improvement of environment and protection of forests, industrial health, protection of monuments and places of national importance, welfare of children and women.
The fundamental choice that faces the courts in dealing with the new laws and institutions concerned with public rights and interests is of the role that judiciary should play in the governance of the country as an important limb of the State. The question is, should the judiciary’s role be limited to preventing illegal encroachments on the rights of private individuals by examining the extent of infringement of individual rights and the regularity of law and administration only to that limited extent, or does its judicial function include a constitutional duty to confine the legislative and executive organs of the State within their powers in the interest of the public? Lord Denning regarded it as a matter of high constitutional principle that if there is good ground for supposing that a government department or a public authority is transgressing the law, or is about to transgress it in a way which offends or injures thousands of subjects, then anyone of them offended or injured can draw it to the attention of the courts of law and seek to have the law enforced, and the courts in their discretion can grant whatever remedy is appropriate.
The Judiciary, on the basis of the doctrine of checks and balances, has a major part to play in curbing excesses of power by the legislature and by the executive. The question for consideration by the court would be whether the action challenged is unlawful being outside the ambit of the power conferred on the relevant state authority, or whether the prescribed mandatory procedures have not been followed in the exercise of power, or that an error of law is involved or that the principles of natural justice have not been followed.
On the other hand, there are obvious limits to judicial expertise and to the information upon which judges have to decide cases. The common law adjudicatory process is not always the best way of tackling difficult issues of law and administration, and the costs, delays, and possible injustices to others inherent in expanding the role in the administrative process may more than outweigh any countervailing benefit. Also, Court-ordered commissions of inquiry have often been adopted as means of finding out the relevant facts, and the relief granted sometimes takes the form of a series of quasi-legislative directives, ordering governmental agencies to carry out remedial programmes and establishing monitoring procedures whereby the Court may review progress.
The Role of judiciary in Environmental Protection
The Indian judiciary adopted the technique of public interest litigation for the cause of environmental protection in many cases. The Supreme Court & High Courts shaded the inhibitions against refusing strangers to present the petitions on behalf of poor & ignorant individuals. The basic ideology behind adopting PIL is that access to justice ought not to be denied to the needy for the lack of knowledge or finances. In PIL a public spirited individual or organization can maintain petition on behalf of poor & ignorant individuals.
In most developing countries, the legal regime of environmental laws is weak and the laws are difficult to enforce and sometimes ambiguous. Public interest litigation has helped bridge this gap.
Public interest litigation is important where the government is not willing to promote/protect the environment. The government may not be willing to prosecute those who violate environmental laws and at times the government is a violator of environmental laws. In some jurisdictions an injunction can be brought to compel or stop the government from degrading the environment.
Now judiciary plays the vital role in the protection of environment. One of the main developments in the Indian Judiciary is the Public Interest Litigation (PIL). It is the new jurisprudence and is called "Jurisprudence of Masses". It is started in the year 1970. Writ petitions in the form of PILs have been accepted by the High Court’s under Article 20, Article 47, Article 32 is right to constitutional remedies and Article 226 (Power of High Courts to issue certain writs) of the Indian Constitution.
Relief: Grant of Remedies
Many statutes allow courts to grant specific remedies in a wide variety of circumstances. While many of these remedies are similar to those available in the general law, such as, injunction and declaratory relief, some statutes have created new forms of reliefs, for example the environment protection laws.
In proceedings relating to a matter arising under the Constitution or involving its interpretation or arising under an enactment or are against the government or other public authority, relief in PIL would be in the nature of a statutory remedy similar to a remedy available on judicial review and prerogative writs, and by way of a declaration or an injunction.
Litigation will only fall in the category of PIL if the remedies sought are in ‘public’ in nature such as the high prerogative writs. The petitioners may seek in a PIL a declaration that a particular statue is unconstitutional or that a rule or regulation is invalid. They may seek an injunction to restrain a public authority from acting in excess of its statutory powers. In some cases, the court may appoint a committee, or commissioner to look into the matter or it may also give final orders by way of direction to comply within a stipulated time.
Writs of prohibition and certiorari lie on behalf of any person who is a ‘person aggrieved’ and that includes any person whose interest may be prejudicially affected by what is taking place. It does not include a mere busy body that is interfering in things, which do not concern him; but it includes any person who has a genuine grievance because something has been done which affects him.
The writ of mandamus is a judicial command compelling the respondent to perform its duty. The order, however, cannot direct the manner in which the duty will be performed, although the reasons given for the order will usually guide the concerned official. When any order/direction in nature of judicial command is sought in a PIL, it is important for the court to consider the nature of the duty and the persons to whom it is owed.
The writ of habeas corpus is a means of safeguarding individual liberty and it is a remedy to secure release of a person wrongfully detained. It has always been accepted that, anyone may seek the remedy when a person is held incommunicado.
The writ of quo warranto can be issued in PIL involving determination of the validity of appointments to offices of a public nature and may be used, for instance, to test which of the two rival claimants is the lawful appointee.
When a private individual wishes to bring an action for an injunction or declaration to enforce public rights, the relief may be granted only if right of a class to which that person belongs has been simultaneously interfered with.
Some of the concerned cases are as follows:
As pointed out earlier the locus standi concept is completely different in Public Interest Litigation. The Supreme Court in the case of:
S.P. Gupta Vs. Union of India by a 7-judge bench spoke very lucidly and it may be quoted: It must now be regarded as well-settled law where a person who has suffered a legal wrong or a legal injury or whose legal right or legally protected interest is violated, is unable to approach the court on account of some disability or it is not practicable for him to move the court for some other sufficient reasons, such as his socially or economically disadvantaged position, some other person can invoke the assistance of the court for the purpose of providing the judicial redress to the person wronged or injured, so that the legal wrong or injury caused to that person does not go unredressed and justice is done to him." The tone and tenor of these words perfectly make it clear that the one whose legal rights or legal interests are breached may not necessarily the person directly invoking the assistance of the court.
Peoples Union for Democratic Rights v. Union of India The court now permits Public Interest Litigation or Social Interest Litigation at the instance of " Public spirited citizens" for the enforcement of constitutional & legal rights of any person or group of persons who because of their socially or economically disadvantaged position are unable to approach court for relief. Public interest litigation is a part of the process of participate justice and standing in civil litigation of that pattern must have liberal reception at the judicial door steps.
In the case of M.C Mehta V. Union of India 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
Shriram Food & Fertilizer case through Public Interest Litigation directed the Co. Manufacturing hazardous & lethal chemical and gases posing danger to life and health of workmen & to take all necessary safety measures before re-opening the plant.
By concluding the project, in this manner, our judiciary has used the tool of PIL quite effectively for the cause of environmental protection. But the judiciary has shown wisdom in denying false petitions seeking to advance private interests through PIL as evident from the decision of the Supreme Court. Hence, PIL has proved to be a great weapon in the hands of higher courts for protection of environment & our judiciary has certainly utilized this weapon of PIL in best possible manner.
Public Interest Litigants, all over the country, have not taken very kindly to some of the courts views talking about preventing unnecessary PILs by imposition of high costs and compensation. Since it is an extraordinary remedy available at a cheaper cost to all citizens of the country, it ought not to be used by all litigants as a substitute for ordinary ones or as a means to file frivolous complaints.
However, now Public Interest Litigation does require a complete rethink and restructuring as the overuse and abuse of PIL can only make it stale and ineffective. There is a need for some strong measures to promote and protect the actual purpose for which the PIL came into being, i.e., the enforcement of fundamental and other legal rights of the people who are poor, weak, ignorant of legal redressal system or otherwise in a disadvantageous position, due to their social or economic background.
# Indian Constitutional law by MP Jain.
# Constitution of India by Arvind P Datar.
# Constitution of India by Jagdish Swarup
# AIR 1982 SC 149
# ( A.I.R.. 1982 , SC 1473)
# (1988) 1 SCC 471
# AIR (1986) 2 SCC 176 SC