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Understanding public interest litigation in India

Public interest litigation (PIL) is an important concept in the Indian legal system. In a society with high income disparity and an ingrained caste system, PILs function as a means of supporting marginalized groups and giving voice to the common man.

What is public interest litigation?

A PIL is a petition to the Indian court (High Court or Supreme Court) for justice on a particular issue that impacts society at large. It is a strategic utilization of the law with the goal of effecting positive social change.

Who can file a petition?

The following stakeholders can file a PIL:

  • Individual
  • Citizen group
  • Non-government organization

Is there a fee to file?

The cost of filing is PIL is Rs 50--which is comparatively cheap in relation to court fees for other types of cases. This price point makes PILs a more accessible option to the lower income strata of society.

What types of issues are acceptable for a PIL?

A valid PIL must be a matter of public concern. The acceptance of a petition is always at the discretion of the judge. Generally, PILs on the following topics will be accepted by the court:

  1. Bonded labor
  2. Child neglect
  3. Worker exploitation or labor law violation
  4. Misconduct by jail authorities
  5. Police misconduct
  6. Misconduct against women
  7. Caste- or tribe-targeted misconduct
  8. Degradation of environment, food or cultural/heritage sites
  9. Riot victimization
  10. Family pension

Public interest litigation is a valuable tool that--when used effectively--can provide protections of life and liberty to the poor and disenfranchised members of society which are most in need of it.

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