Public Interest Litigation (PIL) cases has always separate treatment in Supreme Court. There are many instances where the Supreme court has intervened to protect the fundamental rights of persons. The practice of PIL case may very from case to case in Supreme Court. The practice of Supreme Court in dealing with PIL cases is different from the way the Court deals with other writ Petitions.
Now a days many litigants are trying to use PIL for name and fame by issuing either unimportant issues or filing Writ Petition in the nature of Public Interest Litigation for publicity and career growth. They are either not able to assist the court in proper way or coming without proper research in the subject, resulting waste of court timings. Recently the Supreme Court has imposed exemplary fine on few PIL petitioners for wasting court timing. The most recent incidents is imposing of Rs. 25,00,000/- cost on a PIL petitioner.
1. Relaxation of Rule of Locus Standi
In Public Interest Litigation cases the court is allowing public spirited persons to approach the Court for redressal of grievances on behalf of the silent suffering oppressed. The doctrine of locus standi i.e. a person whose rights were affected alone could have approached the Court within limited exception of an habeas corpus petition or a petition by a minor, where others were also entitled to approach the Court. In S.P. Gupta v. union of India 1981 Supp SCC 87 the Supreme Court authoritatively defined PIL in the Indian context and held that it would relax the rule of locus stanadi and entertain cases by third persons if the petition was in Public Interest. The court further held that a Writ Petition by way of PIL was also maintainable in cases where an illegal or unconstitutional act/ omission/ action by the state, causes a public wrong or where the public in general have suffered / are suffering. The person should move the Court in public interest without any other consideration. The court made it clear that it would refuse to entertain the petition if it was found that the petition was in Private Interest or was on abuse of the process of court.
In the following cases are notable where the Supreme Court has relaxed rule of locus standi and issued appropriate Writ.
i) In S. P. Gupta v. Union of India, the Supreme Court has held that lawyers were vitally interested in the independence of the Judiciary and filling the vacancies in the Court, and therefore a PIL challenging alleged unconstitutional actions of the Union Government was maintainable.
ii) In D. C. Wadhwa v. State of Bihar (1987) 1 SCC 378, where the petitioner in Public interest challenged the repeated promulgation of ordinances in the State of Bihar, the Supreme Court held that every citizen has a right to question a law made by the executive usurping legislative functions which amounts to colourable exercise of power and fraud on the Constitution.
iii) In Sheonandan Paswan v. State of Bihar (1987) 1 SCC 288, the Supreme Court held that every citizen has a locus standi to oppose withdrawal from prosecution.
But in many other cases the Supreme Court held that the Petitioner had no locus standi to maintain the PIL.
2. Relaxation of Procedures in PIL Cases
The Supreme Court held that it would not in deserving cases insist that the petitions are filed strictly as per the Rules laid down by the Court, but it would respond to every a letter written to it by a member of the public acting pro bono publico. The court has even acted in news paper reports on its own motion or accepted public interest petition filed by public spirited persons on the basis of news paper reports. There are instances in which the Supreme Court has treated letters as Writ Petitions, when the letters have addressed to one of the Judges.
3. Public Interest Litigation is not an adversarial litigation
The treatment of PIL cases in Supreme Court is different from other cases. The court has held that Public Interest Litigation is not in the nature of adversarial proceedings where the petitioner is expected to make out the case with all material, before the court proceeds further. The court held that since a positive duty has been cast on it for the protection of fundamental rights, it would be proactive in its role and would adopt such procedure as would be necessary for effective realization of the rights.
In many cases the Court gives directions to be complied with by the authorities, but in other cases the court does not dispose of the petitions. The petition is kept pending and affidavits of compliance are called for. In some cases the Court monitors the implementation of the orders on its own. In some other cases the Court disposes of the petition after giving detailed directions and orders, and appoints a Monitoring Committee to ensure that the orders are complied with.
The Public Interest Litigation Petition is initiated by way of Writ Petition under Article 32, the procedure for filing and hearing is the same as that of a Writ Petition. Sometimes if the matter is pending in Supreme Court and any person approaches the High Court with same issue, the court has suggested that the matter should be handled exclusively by the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court of India has established a Public Interest Litigation Cell for scrutiny of letters etc. that are received by the Court. There is a separate section in Supreme Court, which can be approached by any member of the Public.