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Interscience Management Review

Abstract

Public interest litigation (PIL) has a vital role in the civil justice system in that it could achieve those objectives which could hardly be achieved through conventional private litigation.PIL, for instance, offers a ladder to justice to disadvantaged sections of society, provides an avenue to enforce diffused or collective rights, and enables civil society to not only spread awareness about human rights but also allows them to participate in government decision making. PIL could also contribute to good governance by keeping the government accountable. This article will show, with reference to the Indian experience, that PIL could achieve these important objectives. However, the Indian PIL experience also shows us that it is critical to ensure that PIL does not become a facade to fulfil private interests, settle political scores or gain easy publicity. Judiciary in a democracy should also not use PIL as a device to run the country on a day-today basis or enter the legitimate domain of the executive and legislature. The challenge for states, therefore, is to strike a balance in allowing legitimate PIL cases and discouraging frivolous ones. One way to achieve this balance could be to build in economic (dis)incentives in PIL and also confine it primarily to those cases where access to justice is undermined by some kind of disability. Judiciary, being the sentinel of constitutional statutory rights of citizens has a special role to play in the constitutional scheme. It can review legislation and administrative actions or decisions on the anvil of constitutional law. For the enforcement of fundamental rights one has to move the Supreme Court or the High Court’s directly by invoking Writ Jurisdiction of these courts. But the high cost and complicated procedure involved in litigation, however, makes equal access to jurisdiction in mere slogan in respect of millions of destitute and underprivileged masses stricken by poverty, illiteracy and ignorance. The Supreme Court of India pioneered the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) thereby throwing upon the portals of courts to the common man. Till 1960s and seventies, the concept of litigation in India was still in its rudimentary form and was seen as a private pursuit for the vindication of private vested interests. Litigation in those days consisted mainly of some action initiated and continued by certain individuals, usually, addressing their own grievances/problems. Thus, the initiation and continuance of litigation was the prerogative of the injured person or the aggrieved party. However, these entire scenario changed during Eighties with the Supreme Court of India led the concept of public interest litigation (PIL). The Supreme Court of India gave all individuals in the country and the newly formed consumer groups or social action groups, an easier access to the law and introduced in their work a broad public interest perspective.

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