21 August 2009

PIL in a capsule

There are many unique features about the Indian legal system but one that stands out in the field of Environmental Law is Public Interest Litigation (PIL). The majority of the environment cases in India since 1985 have been brought before the court as writ petitions, normally by individuals acting on pro bono basis. The judiciary, in their quest for innovate solutions to environmental matters within the framework of public interest litigation, looked to constitutional provisions to provide the court with the necessary jurisdiction to address specific issues. But the fundamental rights part of the constitution of India does not have any specific mention of the environmental matters. Here the Supreme Court played a pivotal role. The Supreme Court, in its interpretation of Article 21, has facilitated the emergence of the environmental jurisprudence in India.

PIL in broad terms, means litigation filed in a court of law for the protection of 'Public Interest' on the wide variety of subjects concerning citizens. It can be broadly defined as litigation in the interest of the public in general. Prior to 1980s, only the aggrieved party could seek justice and any other person did not have this right. Because of this, there was no link between the rights guaranteed by the Constitution of India and the laws made by the legislature on the one hand and the vast majority of illiterate citizens on the other.

The efforts of Justice P N Bhagwati and Justice V R Krishna Iyer were instrumental of this juristic revolution of eighties to convert the apex court of India into a Supreme Court for all Indians. As a result any citizen of India or any consumer groups or social action groups can approach the apex court of the country seeking legal remedies in all cases where the interests of general public or a section of public are at stake.

PIL is not defined in any statute or in any act. It has been interpreted by judges to consider the intent of public at large. Although, the main and only focus of such litigation is only 'Public Interest' there are various areas where a PIL can be filed. For e.g:
  • Violation of basic human rights of the poor
  • Content or conduct of government policy
  • Compel municipal authorities to perform a public duty
  • Violation of religious rights or other basic fundamental right
PIL plays an important role in environmental governance in India. There are several cases where PIL has played a role in begetting justice in the environmental scenario. The right to environment is a fundamental right guaranteed by the Indian Constitution, yet there are many thousands of Indians without access to the basis amenities. The Delhi Air Pollution Case is one of the examples of PIL in action. In the 1990s the Supreme Court responded to a PIL petition and issued orders to the concerned authorities to tackle pollution levels in New Delhi.

The SC website has information on how to file a PIL and there are many Indians who obtain everyday justice through the use of this system.

No comments: