Every citizen has a right to file a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) directly in the Supreme Court of India under Article 32 of the Constitution of India 1950 or in the High Court of a State under Article 226 of the Constitution. The term and concept of PIL originated in the United States of America. It was introduced in India through the first PIL filed by Pushpa Kapila Hingorani an Indian lawyer in the SCI before the bench headed by Chief Justice Prafullachandra Natwarlal Bhagwati (PN Bhagwati) regarding the condition of prisoners who were detained in the Bihar Jail.
The case came to be known as Hussainar Khatoon & Ors. v. State of Bihar & Ors. (1979). The PIL was entertained with the intention to aid the financially backward and just people while ensuring their fundamental rights. Hence, social organisations or NGOs i.e., third parties or parties not directly connected with the matter could file a case in the SCI and be able to access justice for matters which were of public interest.
Over the years it has been observed that PILs have been misused by the various people for their personal benefits and it has become difficult for the Courts to decide whether a particular matter is of public interest or not. Hence, PILs that were filed for personal interests ended up wasting courts’ time and created a backlog. Bringing this misuse into the light, the Madras High Court while hearing a PIL of an encroachment to land case, orally observed that if every encroachment matter becomes a PIL, they will be doing nothing else.
Further, the Court reiterated that PILs cannot be entertained for every encroachment that has taken place unless there is a substantial issue involved or it is a matter of general public importance. Later the Court passed an order with the note that while no encroachment should be permitted on public land, every individual complaint made by a passer-by cannot be treated as PIL.
Such misuse of PILs has been happening ever since its introduction and to prevent such misuse and save the courts’ time, various guidelines have been passed. However, their efficiency has often been questionable, especially, considering that more and more cases, for instance the present one which is a new encroachment case, are filed as PILs in the Courts. The Court while deciding for this case also recommended the State to create Taluk-level teams to check on encroachments, comprising revenue officials, police officials, panchayat representatives, survey officials, members of the PWD etc.
Apart from creating teams to ensure that a case qualifies to be a PIL, specific binding laws can also be enacted to solve the afore-mentioned problem which will help the Courts to consider only those matters which are of public interest so as to benefit the society and save the courts’ time and as a result keep the true essence of PIL intact.