14 June, 2021

PILs: From Public Interest To 'Publicity Interest' Litigations

Flimsy petitions are simply clutter to be dealt with by judges in absence of a filtering mechanism. And they’ve been stacking up.

Illustration by Manjul
PILs: From Public Interest To 'Publicity Interest' Litigations

Almost exactly 40 years ago, on March 9, 1979, Kapila Hingor­ani made history by getting a ­Supreme Court bench of Justices P.N. Bhagwati and D.A. Desai to order, in the ‘Hussainara Khatoon’ case, the release of nearly 40,000 undertrials languishing in the jails of Bihar’s Patna and Muzzafarpur. The verdict had instantly made Hin­gorani famous as hers was the first public interest litigation (PIL) to ever be ­entertained in Indian courts. In later years, as she successfully fought many such cases for the rights of the und­erprivileged and those wronged by the system, Hingorani earned the moniker, ‘mother of PILs’.

The ‘Hussainara Khatoon’ case had ­established a new paradigm in the Indian justice system, which until 1979 was ­accessible to only those personally aff­ected by the law or facing penal action. Hingorani, encouraged by Justice Bhag­wati’s decision to allow her to pursue a case in which she had no personal locus standi, made PILs a permanent fixture in Indian...

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