Role of PIL in environment protection in India

Role of PIL in environment protection in India

PIL Stands for Public Interest Litigation and as the name suggests, the cases under this category are filed for the good of the society at large i.e., the public interest. The concept of PIL in India was introduced in the year 1979 wherein, the rights of under-trial prisoners and the inhuman conditions of the prisoners was discussed by the court in the case of Hussainara Khatoon Vs. Union of India (1979 AIR 1369, 1979 SCR (3) 532).

Justice P.N. Bhagwati played a major role in developing the concept of PIL and a potent weapon was given in the hands of the people in case, there is a breach of a public duty which affects the public at large.

A PIL can be filed with respect to the Environmental degradation under the following circumstances:

  • Causing Environmental Pollution in any form which is likely to cause harm to the public.
  • Causing violation of the basic Human rights of the poor by disregarding them. For e.g. if a farming land has been taken away from a farmer and not being paid proper compensation for the same.
  • Default in duty by the municipal corporations or the panchayats like not taking proper care of the water and sanitation facilities in the locality.
  • If there is a conflict between the religious rights and the environmental issue arises due to the same. For e.g. use of loudspeakers in the temples or mosque creating noise pollution.

Judicial views on use of PIL – Judicial overreaching

The concept of PIL has not been mentioned in any statute or regulation but can be considered as an innovation by way of Judicial Activism. Judiciary has played a major role in developing the scope under this litigation as a result of which, the Justice is served better.

Justice Bhagwati emphasized on the fact that even a single letter from any person can be considered as a writ petition and the rules, regulations and procedures may not be of the utmost priority when it comes to Justice.

But this theory has a different aspect as well. There is a very thin line that exists between Judicial Activism and Judicial Overreach. If the Court uses its power, outreaching the public or one can say Suo Moto, it can be considered more as an act of interference rather than delivering justice. The cases under PIL mostly sideline the administrative aspect of Justice and focus upon the cases where the compensation is the remedy mostly given and hence, it can be said that these are the cases of relatively less importance.

Recent developments in this regard

Use of PIL has been increased with time and the awareness towards the environment has significantly raised the number of PILs filed every year. Some of the landmark cases wherein PIL was filed are:

Vanashakti and 4 others Vs Union of India and 11 others (4 October, 2019)

In this case, a PIL was filed in Bombay High Court in order to protect the remaining forests of Aarey situated in Mumbai which were to be cut for construction purpose. Many environmentalists as well as the social activists opposed the orders of the Government and went to the court although, the court disregarded the contentions considering the facts and circumstances of the cases.

This also shows that the Courts not only considered the environmental aspect, rather it also takes care of the needs and requirements of the society.

Bombay Environmental Action Group Vs The State Of Maharashtra and others (17 September, 2018)

In this case, the destruction of mangroves in the state of Maharashtra was in issue and a PIL was filed in this regard in the Bombay High Court. Mangrove Ecosystem forms an important part of the habitat and hence, the court held that it is the obligation of the state to restore these mangrove areas and a committee was also formed in order to look into this matter.

Kalia Sethi and anothers Vs. State of Odisha and others (9 August, 2017)

In this case, the role National Green Tribunal in cases involving environmental issues was discussed. The High Court of Odisha held that National Green Tribunal was established in order to take care of the Environmental laws and make sure that in case there is violation, it can take the cognizance of the offense.

Role of Environmental Impact Assessment

This is a new development which helps in predicting the consequences of any new establishment in the society and its impact on the Environment. It basically tries to inform about the problems that would further occur and make aware the concerned authorities to take preventive measures. It is although, a beneficial method but ultimately reduces the scope of PIL in environment due to reduction in the conflicts.


Public Interest Litigation has been used by the Courts as an effective tool in dealing with cases involving Environmental issues. The courts must ensure that the use of PIL for private interests should not be entertained because it defeats the very purpose of this concept. Serving the public at large is the most important characteristic of PILs.

Also, it is the duty of every citizen to take care of the environment and have compassion towards living creatures according to Article-51(g) of the Constitution of India. PIL under Article-32 and Article-226 must be invoked whenever there is any breach of duty.

Ultimately, it is the court who decides whether a case requires a hearing or how much graver is the offence. But, PIL plays a major role in delivering justice not only to the one who is involved in the case but to the community at large protecting the cumulative rights of all.

“The views of the authors are personal

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the disadvantages of filing a PIL?

A. Disadvantages:

  1. Rather than protecting the interests of the public at large, people sometimes file a PIL just for their own rights which creates a problem for the court because it kills the time of the court and justice is not served.
  2. Judicial Activism is the main source of PIL and when this activism converts into Judicial overreach, several questions are raised upon the accountability of the judicial system existing in the higher courts.
  3. False PILs is another problem and a disadvantage since the procedure of filing the same is quite easy and accessible.

What are the conditions of filing PIL?

Several conditions must be fulfilled in order to file a PIL which are as follows:

  • Happening of a public wrong by the wrongful act of any private or state authority.
  • Public at large must have been affected rather than a private individual.
  • Infringement of Fundamental rights also permits for filing of a Public Interest Litigation.

Can a PIL be filed in case of Wildlife Crimes?

The answer to this question is in affirmative and a PIL can be filed in case of Wildlife Crimes. According to the Public Trust Doctrine, the Environment and the Wildlife vests with the government as the public has entrusted the same to them and no one can make illegal use of any of these subjects.

Hence, in case of breach of this duty and doctrine, the people have the right to bring the matter in front of the court by way of PIL.

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My name is Aniket Vashisth and I am a student pursuing Bachelor's in Law from Indraprastha University (Maharaja Agrasen Institute of Management Studies). Being a student of law, I have a keen interest in Researching and exploring new ideas from the existing laws and establish a reasonable interpretation. Currently, I am in 3rd year of my 5-year integrated BALLB Program. My future target is to crack Delhi Judicial Services and become an important part of the Indian legal system in order to inculcate my ideas and serve the Nation. I am an active participant in various National Moot Court Competitions organized across the Country every year.