“Social justice is the signature tune of Constitution of India”
“Whenever there is a public wrong or a public injury caused by an Act or omission of the state or a public authority which contrary to the Constitution or the law, any member of the public acting bonafide and having sufficient interest can maintain an action for redressal of such wrong or public injury”
Social action litigation is the litigation filed in situations concerning the society or we can say public at large. This concept is common by what we call as ‘Public Interest Litigation’ or ‘PIL’. This concept was introduced by the Justice P.N. Bhagwati in his report on Legal Aid published in 1971, as:
“Even while retaining the adversary system, some changes may be effected whereby the judge is given a greater participatory role in the trial so as to place the poor, as far as possible, on a footing of equality with the rich in administration of justice.”
The onset of PIL is the key component in the Indian Judicial System. It has enlarged the ambit of locus standi, and the existing adversarial system of justice. With the arrival of PIL any person who is or is not concerned with the litigation can file a petition under Articles 226 and 32 of Constitution of India in High Court and Supreme Court respectively. But such litigation can be instituted only when it involves a matter concerning public interest or a social cause of utmost importance. In India first PIL was filed in the case of Hussainara Khatoon.
Also, it is not necessary to institute a proper application/ petition for institution of matter under Article 226 and 32 (of Indian Constitution) in the Court. A suit can also be instituted by a letter, any article in newspaper and this is known as the ‘Epistolary jurisdiction’. This dimension was first acquired in the case of Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration by the Apex Court. In this, case it was initiated by a letter that was written by a prisoner lodged in jail to a Judge of the Supreme Court. The prisoner complained of a brutal assault committed by a Head Warder on another prisoner. The Court treated that letter as a writ petition, and, while issuing various directions, opined that: “…technicalities and legal niceties are no impediment to the court entertaining even an informal communication as a proceeding for habeas corpus if the basic facts are found”.
In the case of Parmanand Katara v. Union of India, the Apex Court considered an application by an advocate that highlighted a news item titled "Law Helps the Injured to Die" published in a national daily, The Hindustan Times. The petitioner highlighted the difficulties faced by persons injured in road and other accidents in availing urgent and life-saving medical treatment, since many hospitals and doctors refused to treat them unless certain procedural formalities were completed in these medico-legal cases. The Supreme Court directed medical establishments to provide instant medical aid to such injured people, notwithstanding the formalities to be followed under the procedural criminal law.
PIL is a strategy that has evolved through ‘Judicial Activism’ in the Western countries. Problems brought under PIL relate to a much wider spectrum of social injustice needing an extra-ordinary remedy to undo them and because of this reason Prof. Upendra Baxi prefers to call it as Social Interest Litigation. Some of the problems tackled through this remedy relate to illegal detention, bonded labour, unorganised labour, pavement dwellers, environmental pollution, personal liberty, atrocities on women, inhuman treatment of children, etc.
Besides all the positive effects of this remedy there is one of the set criticism for the concept is that it detracts from the constitutional principle of ‘separation of powers’ by letting the Courts to arbitrarily impede with policy choices made by the legislature and pass the orders that may be tough for administrative authorities to execute.