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The Code Of Civil Procedure (Amendment) Act, 1956
Article 32 in The Constitution Of India 1949
The Legal Practitioners Act, 1879
M.C. Mehta vs Union Of India & Ors on 13 April, 2006
D.D. Sharma vs Union Of India on 27 April, 2004

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Central India Law Quarterly
Scope & Limitations Of Public Interest Litigation In
SCOPE & LIMITATIONS OF PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION IN lNDIA Sangeetha Mugunthan* Until the early 1970s, litigation in India was in its rudimentary fann because it was seen as a pursuit for the vindication of private vested interests. During this time period, initiation and continuanceof litigation was prerogative only to the individual aggrieved party. A complete change in the scenario in the 1980s with efforts taken by Justice P.N. Bhagwati and Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer was marked by attempts to bring wider issues affecting the general public at large within the ambit. As a result, the concept of public interest litigation has evolved through which legal remedies can be sought without in- vestment of heavy court fees as required in private civil litigation. This article an,Iyse the scope and the limitations of thisjuristic revolution in India. The expression 'public interest' indicates somethingin which the generstl public or the community at large has some pecuniary interest, or some interest by which their legal rights or liabilities are affected.' The word 'litigation' means a legal action, including all legal proceed- ings initiated in a court of law with the purpose of enforcing a right or seeking a remedy2 So, lexicallythe expression 'public interest litiga- tion' denotes a legal action initiated in a court of law for the enforce- ment of public interest where the rights ofa certain group has been affected.' * IInd Year student of B.A. LLB.(Hons.) Hidayatullah National Law University, Raipur. 1. Black's Law Dictionaty (7Edn., West Group Publishers 2002) 2. 3. 262 CENTRALINDIA LAW QUARTERLY The concept of PIL h t emerged in USA. Inspite of drawing its lineage f o there, over the march of years, the notion of PIL has sur- rm passed various changes and modifications, to such an extent that it may be difficult for a commonman to be acquainted with much with its origin. Under the caption 'Social Action Litigationf4, Indian expe- the rience of the concept of PILhas held that the role of thejudiciary is not only in preventing and remedying abuse & misuse of power, but also lies in eliminating exploitation and injustice. The apex judiciary in India, keenly alive to the demands of people of the country, has Iiber- ated itself fkom the shackles of western thought by making innovative use of power ofjudicial review. In this process, it has forged new tools, devised new methods and fashioned new strategies for the pur- pose of bringing justice for deprived groups. The seed of the concept of PIL was initially sown in India by Krishna Iyer, J. in 1976 (without assigning the terminology) in Murnbai Kamgar Sabha v. Abd~lbhai,~ industrial dispute with regard to the an payment of bonus. After the germination of the seeds of the concept of PIL in the soil of ourjudicial system, this rule of PIL was nourished and developed by the Apex Court of this land by a series of outstand 4. Coined by Prof. Upendra Baxi. He has contributed substantiallyto public interest litigation in the Indian Supreme Court and thereby enhanced democratization of access to judicial process and power by the disadvantaged groups in Indian society. He has also been among the forerunners of legal action and law reform in the area of violence againstwomen, especially custodial violence. 5. As stated in Role of the Judiciary in Plural Societies (published in 1987) by Justice P.N. Bhagwati under the caption "Social Action Litigation: The Indian Experience", 6. Ibid. 7. (1976) 3 SCC 832: AIR 1976 SC 1455 PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION 263 ing decisions. In Fertilizer Corporation Kamgar Urim v. Uiiion of India,8 the terminology 'public interest litigation' was first used by the learned judges9 The rule, on gaining momentum, further blos- somed and took its mot firmly in the Indian Judiciarythrough S P Gupta .. v. Union of India.1° Tracing The Origin & Development of PIL Public interest law has been a uniquely American development. The use of the term PIL to cover the efforts to provide legal represen- tation goes back to the mid- 1960s.11 The Council for Public Interest Law set up by the Ford Foundation in USA, in its Report, l2 has stated: 'Public Interest Law is the name that has been given to ef- forts to provide legal representation to previously unrepresented groups and interests. Such eflorts have been undertaken in rec- ognition that the ordinary market place for legal services fails to provide such services to significant segments of the population and to significant interests. Such groupts and interests include AIR 1981 SC 344 Justice Krishna Iyer assigned thejargon 'public interest litigation' while deliveringthe judgment on behalf of leaned Chief Justice P.N. Bhagwati and himself (1981) Supp. SCC 87: AIR 1982 Sc 149 See Heineman Book Review In Pursuit of the Public Interest, 84 Yale Law Journal 182 (1974) However, the various movements and programmes that contributed to shaping the underlying ideology of public interest law reach back to 1876, when the first legal aid office was established in New York City. Balancing the Scales of Justice - Financing Public ~nterest in ~meri'ca ~ e p r t law (A by the Council for Public Interest Law) 1976 p.6-7 CENTRALINDIA LAW QUARTERLY the pool; envimnmentalists, consumers, racial and ethnic minori- ties, and others.' The thrust of P L in USA has been to m u r e that citizens whose I lives may be affected by governmental policies have a right to particiapate in the formulation of those policies by making courts and administrative agencies open and accessible to the views of citizens. The handful of PIL centres in operation handled issues relating to civil rights, civil liberties and problems of the p o d 3 Later, the spectrum of issues expanded to include consumerprotection, environmentalpro- tection, tax reform, health care, media access, corporate responsibil- ity, education reform, employment benefits and manpower training.14 However, the scenario in USA has undergone a complete change as the very factors which led to the growth of PIL face several impedi- ments.lS As contrasted to the American scene, the ideology and content of PIL in India has been initiated, developed and shaped by some 13. New Study on the Role of US Foundations, by Bob Feldman, , wwlfgtkeesw~riIs w.eiaeepr.matce 14. Intellectual Engagement and Reflection on Values of Serviceand Commiment, progmns.htrnl. 15. a The most difficult problem is financial instability caused by inflation and with ' drawal of private foundation support. b. There has also been a steady loss of outstanding lawyers to private firms,the government, and law schools because those lawyers found the prospects for a great public interest career too uncertain and the economic burdens too great. c. The interest in pro bono work by the lawyers has waned and it has come to be realised that pro bono services, by their very nature, can only be supplementary to the work of institutions that are entirely dedicated to performing public interest legal representation. PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION judges of the Supreme Court themselves. During the emergencype- riod (1975- 1977), state repression and governmental lawlessness was widespread. Thousands of innocent people including political oppo- nents were sent to jails and there was complete deprivation of civil and political rights. The post emergency period provided an occasion for the judges of the Supreme Court to openly disregard the impedi- ments of Anglo-Saxon procedure in providing access to justice to the poor. Notable twojustices of the Supreme Court, Justice V R Krishna .. Iyer and P.N. Bhagwati recognised the possibility of providing access to justice to the poor and the exploited people by relaxing the rules of standing. In the post-emergency period when the political situations had chaged, investigativejournalism also began to expose gory scenes of governmental lawlessness, repression, custodial violence, drawing attention of lawyers, judges, and social activists. PIL emerged as a result of an informal nexus of proactivejudges, media persons and social activists.16 PIL jurisdiction forged by the Supreme Court is an extension of itsjurisdiction under Art. 32.'' PIL in India is centered essentially 16. Social Change and Public Interest Litigation in India, by Jasper Vikas Yadav. 17. - Article 32 Remedies for enforcement of rights conferred by this part: 1. The right to move the Supreme Court by appropriate proceedings for the enforce rnent of the rights conferred by this Part is guaranteed. 2. TheSapreme Court shall have power to issue directionsor orders, including writs in the nature of habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibition, quo warranto and certiorari, whichever may be appropriate, for the enforcement of any rights conferred by this Part- 3. Without prejudice to the powers conferred on the Supreme Court by clauses (1) and (2), Parliament may be by law empower any other court to exercise within the local limits of itsjurisdiction all or any of the powers exercisable by the Supreme Court under clause (2) PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION primarily because of its acceptance and familiarity at the popular level. PIL has brought about radical metamorphosis in the nature of the judicial process by imbibing it with polycentric as well as legislative characteristics. PROCEDURE Liberalisation of Rule of Locus Standi Locus standi is the right to be heard in a court. With the change in the character and functions of the State, the rule of locus standi has been liberalized. Under the relaxed rule, any member of the public having sufficient interest can maintain an action for judicial redress of a public injury suffered by an indiscriminate class of persons, provided that the petitioner acts bonajide and is not moved by an oblique mo- t i ~ a t i o n Representative non-political, non-profit and voluntary or- .~~ ganizations who have a sufficient interest can maintain an action for judicial redress for public injury arising out of breach of public duty or violation of some provision of the Constitution. The Supreme Court of India is the protector and guarantor of the fundamental rights of the people of India. The liberalization of the rule of locus standi came out of the following consideration^.^^ To enable the Court to reach the poor and the disadvantaged sections of societywho are denied their rights and entitlements, To enable individuals or groups of people to raise matters of 24. Ashok Kurnar Pandey v. State of 'west Bengal(2004) 3 SCC 349 25. M.C.Bhandari Memorial Lecture on Public Interest Litigation as Aid to protection of Human Rights by Justice A.S. Anand (2001) 7 SCC (Jour)l common concern arising from dishonest or inefficient govern- ance, and To increase public participation in the process of constitutional adjudication In D.C. ~ a d h w v. State of B i h ~ the petitioner, a professor a , ~ ~ of political science who had done substantial research and deeply in- terested in ensuring proper implementationof the constitutional pro- visions, challenged the practice followed by the State of Bihar in repromulgatinga number of ordinances without gettingthe approval of the legislature. The Court held that the petitioner as a member of public has 'sufficient interest' to maintain apetition under Article 32. The Court has however been careful not to liberalise the concept of 'standing' in criminal and service matters. In the Janata Dal it was held that the lawyer petitioner was concerned with the private interest of the accused and therefore lacked locus standi to pursue the case as PIL In Panchhi v. State of U.P.28,the Court refused permission even to the National Commission for Women to intervene in a case of a death sentence awarded to a woman. This, the Court said, was for the obvious reason that under the CrPC, the National Commission for Women or any other organisation cannot have locus standi in the murder case. Similarly, in service matters, the Court has held that a third party cannot challenge the appointment of a perso11.2~ the Judges' In Appointment and Tranafer case30,the principal was elabortd and it has been reiterated in a number of cases. today, it is so well estab- 26. AIR 1987 SC 579 27. Janata Dal v. H.S. Chowdhary (1992) 4 SCC 305: AIR 1993 SC 892 28. Panchhi v. State of U.P. (1988) 1 SCC 177 29. R.K. Jain v. Union of India (1993)4 SCC 119 30. S.P. Gupta & Others v. Union of India, Supra no. 10 PUBLIC I ~ T E R E S T LITIGATION 269 lished, that the 'standing' is, often not even challengedby the respond- ent. Although the Courts have permitted easy access in matters of PIL ,they have to be careful to note that PIL cannot be maintained by officious interveners haveing no public interest except for personal gain either for themselves or for the glare of p~blicity.~' Relaxation of Procedural Requirements In order to permit fuller access to Courts, PIL has been marked by a departure fiom procedural rules. The flexibility of PIL procedure can best be illustrated by what is termed as 'epistolaryjurisdiction'. Taking cue fiom the American Supreme Court's decision in Gideon v. Wain- where a post card fiom a prisoner was treated as a petition the Supreme Court has said that a public-spirited person could move the Court even by writing a letter. Somejudges have been strong protagonists of PIL, on the Bench and outside it. As a result, the Court has accepted numerous letters and telegrams as petitions.Such a practice would result in conferring a previlege on the complainant to have a judge or forum of his own choice, which is clearly subversive of the judicial processes. The dan- ger of such case of access leading to the apprehension that a litigant could indulge in forum-shopping and address a particularjudge was expressed in Bandhua Mukti Morcha case.33' m e nthejurisdiction of the Court is invoked, it is the jurisdiction of the entire Court... No such communication orpetition can properly be addressed to a particular judge. Wtrichjudge or judges will hear the case is ex 3 1. In Subhash Kumar v. State of Bihar (1991) 1 SCC 598 at 598-605, the Supreme Court observed that a personal grudge or enmity could not invoke PIL. 32. (1963) 372 U S . 335 33. Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India (1981) 3 SCC 161 at p. 229 270 CENTRAL MDlA LAW QUARTERLY clusively a matter concerning the internal regulation of the busi- ness of the Court...' On 1 December 1988, the Supreme Court, on its administrative side, issued a notification on what matters could be entertained as PIL.34 Under this notification, letter petitions falling under certain categories alone would be ordinarily entertained.35The notification also set out matters that ordinarily were not to be entertained as PIL, such as landlordtenant disputes, service matters, admission to educational in- stitutions etc. The notification also laid down the procedure wherein the petition would first be screened in the PIL Cell only after which it would be placed before a judge for his directions. Suo Motu Intervention by Judges The Court has allowed informalityofprocesesby permittingjudges to take congnizance of matters suo motu (on their own). Take for example Justice Thakkar, as a judge of the Gujarat High Court, con- verted a letter to the editor in a newspaper by a widow mentioning her plight because of the non-payment of the provident fund family pension after her husband's death, and ordered a show cause notice to be issued without any fbrther formalities to the Regional Provident Fund Commissioner. The arrears were paid just after the first hearing.36 34. Guidelines for Entertaining Letterdpetitions as Public Interest Litigation, accessed from Parivesh News letter on www.cpcb. 35. These include matters concerning bonded labour, neglected children, petitions from prisoners, petitions against police, petitions against atrocities on women, children and SCs & STs. Petitions pertaining to environmental matters, adulteration of drugs and food, maintenance of culture &heritage, and other matters of public importance could also be entertained. 36. Accessed f?om PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION However, the dangers of suo motu action are in plenty.37The judge cannot know the motivation of a person in writing a letter to the editor. He has no means of verifjlng the veracity of the contents of the letter, before he commences the proceedings. These letters would increase further if once it is known that the courts act upon them and they could be written with all sorts of motives. Some letters may move one judge while it may not have the same effect on another judge. Moreover, there can be no limits whatsoever, except perhaps the judge's own notion of right and wrong. Looking at the other side of the coin,38suo motu interventions are directed to check a continu- ing abuse of power by the executive. It is fullyjustified whenever there is an allegation of atrocity or torture in police custody orjail, because both these institutionalprocesses fall within the direct oversight of the judiciary. However, ifsuo motu intervention is to be vested with the Court, it must be done in specific terms. Non-Adversarial Procedure of Justice In the adversarial system, courtroom procedures are based on historical procedents, statutes and Case laws. When two parties can- not agree on their respective rights & obligations, the system provides each side with an equal opportunity to present its case to an inde- pendent & impartial judge. In contrast, the non-adversarial system requires careful investigation and fact finding by the judges themselves so as to ensure the veracity of the petitioner in the dispute. The sys- tem is so designed to permit the truth to emerge despite the nature of 37. Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, Accessed from wwwindiancourts. nic.in1 indian jud.htm 38. Ibid. ('ENTHAL INDIA LAW QUARTERLY the case and the economic strength of the parties.39 The British rule bequeathed to India a colonial legal heritage. The Anglo-Saxon model of adjudication insisted upon observance of procedural technicalities such as locus standi and adherence to adversarial system of litigation. The result was that the courts were accessible only to the rich and the influentialpeople. The r n a r m z e d and disadvantaged groups continued to be exploited and denied ba- sic human rights. Justice Bhagwati's reasons for disapproval of the adversarial procedure for PIL matters are that it sometimes leads to injustice where the parties are not evenly balanced in economic or social ~trenght.~" Similarly, Justice R.S. Pathak concedes that the role of the court in civil litigation is that of a passive neutral umpire, whereas in PIL, it is more assertive and it assumes a more positive attitude in determining facts. Though he makes no direct obervations on the adversarialprocedure ofjustice, his general observations would sug- gest that he supports the side-tracking of the adversarialprocedure in appropriate cases.41 In the words of the Supreme Court in People's Union of Demo- cratic Rights v. Union of We wish to point out with all the emphasis at our command that public interest litigation.... a totally is different kind of litigation h m the ordinarytraditiowtllitigationwhich 39. Adversarial and Inquisitorial Systems Compared,by Francesco Parisi, Accessed fiom 40. 'PILt-ThePanacea for Many an Ill; Heart of the Matter, by Fathima ~ a z i k Cader, Accessed h m www.dailynews.lkhtm 41. 42. AIR 1982 SC 1475 PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION is essentially of an adversary character where tlrcl-eis a dispute be- tween two litigating parties, one making claim or seeking relief against the other and that other opposing such claim or resisting such relief.' The inability of the vast masses of our people to produce rel- evant evidence before the Court is too well-known, and so is their dificulty of getting competent legal representaliorI and genuine con- cern for the same is natural, but then the Court must make a rational assessment on whether it is in a position to adopt non-adversarial pro- cedure in all PIL matters. Appointment of Commissions A difficulty often faced by a genuine PIL petitioner is lack of access to information even where he has a genuine grievance. In the past, the Supreme Court has appointed a District Judge, a Professor of Law, a Journalist, an OfEcer of the Court, an Advocate or a Social Scientist as Commissioners. In environmental matters, the Court has relied upon Expert bodies like the CPCB43and the NEER144to study the situation and submit a report to the Court. Justice Bhagwati, in the Bandhua Mukti M ~ r c h case, has held that the Order XXVI of CPC a~~ and Order XLVI of the Supreme Court Rules, 1966which lay down that the commission can be appointed only for the purpose of examin- ing withnesses, making legal investigations and examining accounts are not exhaustive and do not deteract from the inherent power of the 43. Central Pollution Control Board. M.C. Mehta v. Union of India (1986) 2 SCC 176 44. National EnvironmentalEngineering Research Institute, Nagpur, S. Jagannath v. Union of India (1997)2 SCC 87. 45. Suprano.10 CENTRAL INDIA LAW QUARTERLY Supreme Court to appoint a commission for the ends ofjustice. These commissions have been appointed to propose remedial relief and monitor its implementation. Thus, the Court in Indian Council for Enviro-Legal Action v. Union of India.46 appointed NEERI as an expert body to study the situation of ground water and soil pollution. The Court has also drawn upon empirical data and expert studies to decide whether pavement dwellers' right to life and livelihood would be affected by their eviction.47Likewise, the Court relied upon the opinion of experts to dismiss a PIL challengingdairy imports fiom Ire- land on the ground that they were radioactively contaminated by the leak from the Chernobyl nuclear plant.48 However, in cases where there are rival contentions of expert, the Court will not intervene. Where the question concerned the seismicpotential of the Tehri dam site, the Court stated that it did not have the expertise to give a final opinion on the matteP9 The Court could only investigate and adjudicateif the government was not con- scious of the inherent dangers. The use of commissions has enabied the Court to check the facts alleged by the petitioner as well as the State after a proper scrutinywithout affecting its role as an adjudica- tor. Judicial Activism and PIL Thejudicial provess has become more participatory and demo- cratic. While under the traditional paradigm, a judicial decision was -- - - -- - -- - ---- ----- 46. (1996)3SCC 212:AIR 1996 SC 1466 47. Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corporation (1985)3 SCC 545 48. Dr. Shiva Rao Santaram Wagle v. Union of India (l988)2 SCC 11 5 49. Tehri Bandh Virodhi Sangharsh Samiti v. State of U.P.(1992) Supp 1 SCC 44 PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION binding on the parties in personam, the judicial decision under PIL bound not only the parties to the litigation but also all those similarly situated. PIL and judicial activism go hand in hand as the concept of PIL itself is the result ofjudicial Judicial activism in the area of human rights and environmental law has been facilitated in considerablemeasure by PIL. In the sphere of human rights, the Court's concern is exemplified by its interference with the rights of detenus & undertrials, police excesses including arbitarary arrests, custodial violence & extra-judicial killings, condi- tions in prisons & custodial institutions and the rights of the victims of crime. In the first PIL on prisonds rights, Hussainara Khatoon v. State of Bihar," the attention of the Court was drawn to the incredible situ- ation of Bihar undertrials who had been detained pending trial for pe- riods far in excess of the maximum sentence for the offences they were charged with. The Court not only proceeded to make the right to speedy trial the central issue of the case bul also passed an order of general release of undertrials that had undergone detention beyond such maximum period. Some of the early PILs had witnessed the award of compensa- tion by the Court to the victims of human rights violations. This princi- ple was reiterated in D.K. Basu v. Union of Indias2 a case where the Court declared that: 50. Sathe S.P., Judicial Activism in India; Transgressing Borders and Enforcing Limits (Oxford University Press, New Delhi 2002) at p. 246 51. (1980)1SCC81:AIR1979SC1360 52. D.K. Basu v. Union of India (1997)l SCC 4 16 : AIR 1997 SC 61 0 CENTRAL INDlA LAW QUARTERLY 'Award of compensation for established infringement of the indefeasible rights guaranteed under Art 21 is a remedy available in public law since the purpose ofpublic law is not only to civilize public power but also to assure the citizens that they live under a legal system wherein their rights and interests shall be preserved and protected."' PIL's contribution has been significant in the sphere of environ- mental law. M.C. Mehta was apioneer in bringing a large number of issues to the Court concerning environmentaland ecological degrada- t i ~ n . 'The Court's engagement with these matters has resulted in ~ activating the statutory machinery established under various enviro'nmetal laws. The dangers of liberalization, globalization and industrialization have paved way for the judiciary towards the formulation of new doctrines and principles for the protection of the environment. Some of these doctrines have been borrowed from the field of public international law and Roman law and have been altered to suit the Indian requirements. 53. Ibid at 439 54. Leak of Oleum gas from a factory in Delhi- (1987)l SCC 395 Pollution in Delhi- (1996) 8 SCC 750 - The danger to the Taj Mahal from the Mathura refinery (1996) 4 SCC 35 1 Regulation of Traffic in Delhi - (1987) 8 SCC 770 Degradation of the Ridge area in Delhi (1987) 1 SCC 395 55. The World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) its report in titled Our Common Future, has suggested that the environmental cost of economic PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION Amongst the principles, the polluter pays principleSShas been applied in the cases concerning shrimp f m d 6 ,tanneriess7,chemical industries in RajasthanS8 Andhra Pradesh, and distillery units in Tamil & N a d ~ ,each of which were found discharging untreated effluents into ~" water bodies and soil. The other principle the Court has evolved is the precautionary principle which enjoins the State to anticipate the dangers of the use of hazardous technology. In Vellore Citizens' Wel- fare Forum v. Union of India60, the Court was dealing with the prob- lem of pollution caused by over 900 tanneries operating in five districts in Tamil Nadu. The Court noticed that the leather industry was a major foreign exchange earner and Tamil Nadu's export of finished leather accounted to 80% of the country's export of that commodity. Never- theless, the Court pointed out that the leather industry 'has no right to destroy the ecology, degrade the environment and pose a health haz- ard. It cannot be permitted to expand or even continuewith the present production unless it tackles by itself the problem of pollution created by the said industry.' The Court then drew upon the concept of sus- tainable development, balancing ecology and development, which had become a part of customary international law. activity shall be internalized by the enterprises. The Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) agreed to base their environmental policies on 'Polluter Pays Principle' and it was recommended as an essentially economic efficiency measure to intemalise environmental costs. 56. S. Jagannath v. Union of India, Suprano.41 57. Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum v. Union of India (1996) 5 SCC 687 58. Indian Council for Enviro-Legal Action v. Union of India (1996) 3 SCC 212 59. In Re Bhavani River-Shakti Sugars Limited (1998) 6 SCC 335 60. Supra no. 58 CENTRAL UVDW LAW QUARTLRLI The Court's activism in the environmental field has however at- tracted criticism. For instance, when the Court ordered the closure of industries, it neither heard all the industries affected nor their work- men before passing the order. This has resulted in these parties ap- proaching the Court with a series of interlocutory applications, taking up an inordinate amount of the Court's time, even while leaving the aggrieved parties di~satisfied.~' Thus, the excessivejudicial activism has paved way for limitations and challenges in the area of public in- terest litigation. Limitations & Controversies6* The Law and Policy Divide The fi-amersof the Indian Constitutiondid not incorporate a strict doctrine of separation of powers but envisaged a system of checks and balances. Policy-making and implementationof policy are con- ventionally regarded as executive domain of the executive and the legislature, with the judiciary enforcing the law. The Supreme Court has itself held that 'the Indian Constitution has not indeed recognised the doctrine of separation of powers in its sbsolute rigidity but the functions of the different parts or branches of the government have been sufficientlydifferentiated and consequently it can very well be said that our Constitution does not contemplate assumption, by one organ or part of the State, of functions that essentially belong to an- other.'j3 The power ofjudicial review cannot be used by the Court to 61. See the Orders in M.C. Mehta v. Union of India (1997) 11 SCC 227,3 12 & 327 62. Public Interest Litigation: Problems and Potential, by AshokH. Desai & S. Muralidhar, Accessed f o rm 63. Ram Jawaya Kapur v. State of Punjab (1955) 2 SCR 225 at 235 PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION 'usurp or abdicate the powers of other organs.'64PIL tends to narrow \ the divide between the role of the various organs of the government and has invited controversy principally for this reason. The law and policy divide was obliterated in Vishaka v. State of Raja~than~~, a PIL concerning the sexual harassment of women at the workplace. A significant feature of this decision was the Court's readiness to step in where the legislature had not. The Court has not adopted a uniform and consistent approach in dealing with its emerging role as a policy - maker. While in some cases, the Court has expressed its reluctance to step into the legislative field, in others, it has laid detailed guidelines and explicitly formulatedpolicy. Problems of Procedure The flexibility of procedure that is a characteristic of PIL has given rise to another set ofproblems. The Court, which operates in an adversarial framework, rquires delineation of issues in a legally man- ageable form. One method by which the Court has tackled this is to requite the amicus curiae appointed by it to file, on the basis of a letter petition, a properly constituted writ petition.66The reports given by court-appointedcommissioners raise problems regarding evidentiary value. No court can found its decisions on facts unless they are proved according to law. This implies the right of an adversaryto test them by cross-examination or at least counter affidavits. The Court has been very attentive to the procedural questions about epistolaryjurisdiction 64. Fertilizer Corporation Kangar Union v. Union of India (1981) 1 SCC 568 at 584 65. Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan (1997)6 SCC 241 66. This happened in Baljit Malik v. Delhi Golf Club (1998) Supp 4 SCC 524, where one of the co-authors who assisted the Court as amicus curiae drew up a petition on the basis of a letter sent by the petitioner. CENTRALINDIA LAW QUARTERLY and about the issues they raise.'j7 It is a basic postulate of the rule of law that the law must be certain and not become vulnerable to the preilections of individualjudges. However, in the area of PIL, the differences in the perceptions of individual judges in the Supreme Court are clearly discernible. The Resistance of Legislators Q1 In the political arena too, the debate over the limits ofjudicial activism, particularly in the area of PIL, has been vigorous. The attempt by the judiciary through PILs to enter the area of policy-making and policy implementation has caused concern in the political circles. A private member's bill, entitled 'Public Interest Litigation (Regulation) Bill, 1996' was tabled in the Rajya Sabha. The Statement of Objectives and Rea- sons stated that although the objective of PIL was to benefit the poorer sections of the society, it was being misused. Moreover PIL cases were given more priority over other cases, which had remained pend- ing in the courts for years. Although the Bill lapsed, the debate in the Parliament revealed some of the criticism and suspicion that PIL had begun to attract. Problem of Abuse of Processes It has been increasinglyfelt that PIL is being misused by people agitating for private grievancesin the garb of public interest and seek- ing publicity rather than espousing public causes. When a petition is filed as PIL, the Court must satis@itself that the party which has brought the litigation is litigating bona fide for public good because in many cases, PIL has been used as a cloak for attaining the private ends. If 67. Sudipt Majurndar v. State of Madhya Pradesh (1983) 2 SCC 258 PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION the Courts do not restrict the fiee flow of cases in the name of PIL, the traditional litigation would suffer and the courts of law, instead of dispensingjustice, will have to take upon themselves administrative and executive functions. Conclusion It would be appropriate to conclude by quoting Cunningham, "Indian PIL might rather be a Phoenix: a whole new creative arising out of the ashes of the old order". The change in Indianjudicial system is both substantial and structural. It has radically altered the traditional judicial role so as to enable the court to bring justice within the reach of the common man. Despite the problems ofjudicial unpredictability and the feeling that the constitutionalbalance may be affected, it has to be acknowl- edged that the far-reaching judgements in a plethora of cases have provided desperately needed relief and exposed executive failings. Bearing in mind the power and importance of PIL in making the Con- stitution a living reality for a large number of citizens, it is important to view these criticisms as indicators of the safeguards and checks that the Court must build into PIL jurisprudence. / PIL is still is in experimental stage. Many deficiencies in han- dling this kind of litigation are likely to crop up. But these deficiencies can be removed by innovating better techniques. We may end with the hope once expressed by Justice Krishna Iyer, 'The judicial activism gets its highest bonus when its order wipe some tears from some eyes.'