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Public Interest Litigation

February 20, 2023 | Dispute Resolution

“Public Interest Litigation” means litigation seeking redressal of public or social grievances for the welfare of the society at large. Public Interest Litigation is also called Social Action litigation.

“Public Interest Litigation” means litigation seeking redressal of public or social grievances for the welfare of the society at large. Public Interest Litigation is also called Social Action litigation, wherein the emphasis is on the protection of public interest, rather than individual interest. It is different from ordinary litigation, as it is not filed by any private person against another for the enforcement of a personal right or personal gain.

Who Can file a Public Interest Litigation in India?

Any public-spirited person, having an interest in the welfare of society as a whole can file a “Public Interest Litigation” on behalf of a group of aggrieved people.
The Hon’ble Supreme Court and respective High Courts of states have the power to initiate suo-moto (on its own motion) action based on media report or any other source and the same could be treated as Public Interest Litigation.

Against Whom Can a Public Interest Litigation  Be Filed?

  • A P. I. L. can be filed only against a State/Central Govt., Municipal Authorities, and not against any private party.
  • However, "Private party" can be included in the (P. I. L.) as "Respondent", after making concerned state authority, a party.
  • A P.I.L cannot be filed against the Private party alone; the concerned state Govt. and state authority has to be made a party.

Subjects of Public Interest Litigation:

The nature of cases that may be litigated under “Public Interest Litigation” generally include:- bonded labour matters, matters of neglected children, exploitation of casual labourers & 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 wildlife, petitions from riot victims, threat to or harassment of the petitioner by private persons, seeking an enquiry by an agency other than local police, seeking police protection, service matters, admission to medical or engineering colleges and other matters of public importance.

Procedure to File a Public Interest Litigation:

A “Public Interest Litigation” is filed in the same manner, as a Writ Petition is filed.

Though no procedure as such has been prescribed for filing Public Interest Litigation, the registry of Hon’ble Supreme Court and High Courts from time-to-time issue guidelines for filing Public Interest Litigations.

Further, as per the judgement of the Hon’ble Supreme Court, even a letter addressed to the registry of Supreme Court or the Chief Justice of Supreme Court or Chief Justice of High Court to any Hon’ble Judge, may be treated as Public Interest Litigation.


Once the proceedings are commenced in the Public Interest Litigation, it proceeds in the same way as any other Litigation. However, the only exception is that even if the original petitioner back out from the proceedings but the court feels that the matter is of general public interest, the Court may give directions for the continuation of proceedings, in the absence of the original  petitioner. If the Court feels, it may appoint amicus curiae to address the court on the issues.

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