By Bhawani Sahoo:
Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was a revolutionary innovation which attempted to take up a broad issue and ensure implementation of social and economic rescue programs, framed for the benefit of the poor and the handicapped.
The judicial scenario in India changed during the 1980s when the Supreme Court introduced the concept of PIL which allowed anybody with sufficient public interest to approach the court and request to enforce any public right or welfare scheme. It also compelled the government and its authorities to perform their task. Provided the person is acting bona fide and not for personal gain, he/she can file a litigation by filing a petition in the Supreme Court, under Article 32 of the Constitution or in the High Court under Article 226.
It is the most inexpensive legal remedy because of the nominal fixed court fee and is framed for the benefit of the poor and the handicapped, and to protect their basic human rights.
But, in actual practice there is a twist in the role played by PIL in India. There has been criticism regarding the overacting and overstepping in the name of PIL; it has been noticed that the process is being misused by political opponents and publicity hunters. Millions of regular cases are pending in courts for years and decades and corruption is prevalent in the courts as well.
From the PIL’s hyped beginning as “the saviour of the poor and exploited”, it has moved in a completely different direction. Today, slum demolition is being directed on orders from the courts. A similar trend was reflected in the case of shifting heavy industries out of Delhi where the court heard public interest litigant MC Mehta, the owner of the factory and denied the opportunity to be heard to the workers whose right to life and livelihood was going to be affected by the decision.
PILs have various limitations which include petitioners having no legal right to compel the government to appoint a commission of enquiry. CBI enquiries are not possible and only legal litigation subjected to personal grievances is allowed.
Today, in an era of coalition politics with an unstable Centre, and the eroded credibility of the legislature and the executive, the judiciary has taken centre stage. But it is time to put the genie back into its bottle and confine public interest jurisdiction to its original purpose of being the sole representatives of the poor and the exploited. For this purpose, a set of guidelines must be set to sustain juridical equity and transparency and also to make accountability obligatory for the judges.
As it is said, that do not condemn the orchard due to some rotten apples, similarly all in all, there is a good lot who do command the country’s confidence.