Public Interest Litigation in India: A Critical Review

Civil Justice Quarterly, Vol. 28, pp. 19-40, 2009

23 Pages Posted: 29 Jun 2009 Last revised: 6 Jul 2009

Date Written: June 22, 2009


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-to-day 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.

Keywords: Public Interest Litigation, Indian Constitution, Fundamental Rights, Directive Principles of State Policy, Social Action Litigation, Courts and Democracy, Judicial Activism, Misuse, Frivolous Litigation

Suggested Citation

Deva, Surya, Public Interest Litigation in India: A Critical Review (June 22, 2009). Civil Justice Quarterly, Vol. 28, pp. 19-40, 2009, Available at SSRN:

Surya Deva (Contact Author)

Macquarie University ( email )

Macquarie Law School
6 First Walk
Sydney, NSW 2109

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