‘Mother of PIL’: Pushpa Kapila Hingorani passed away

Screenshot_2Pushpa Kapila Hingorani (86), a lawyer who is known by the title ‘Mother of PIL’ for being the first women to file a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) on behalf of voiceless under-trial prisoners in Bihar around more than three decades ago, has passed away.

What were the key contributions of Kapila Hingorani?

During her 60-year long career as a lawer, Kapila Hingorani fought more than 100 cases in the Supreme Court voicing concern through PILs for the poor, downtrodden and help-less people before the judiciary. She took the initiative of filing a PIL in 1979 to fight a lawsuit regarding the condition of the prisoners detained in the Bihar jail, whose cases were pending in the court. The main thing about this petition was that it was not filed by any single prisoner, rather it was filed by various prisoners of the Bihar jail. The case was admitted in the Supreme Court before the bench headed by Justice P. N. Bhagwati. This petition was filed by the name of the prisoner, Husnara Khatoon, hence the petition came to be known as Husnara Khatoon Vs State of Bihar. In this suit, the Supreme Court upheld that the prisoners should get benefit of free legal aid and fast hearing. Because of this case 40,000 prisoners, whose suits were pending in the court, were released from the jail. Thereafter many cases like this were registered in the apex court.

Public Interest Litigation (PIL):

A PIL means litigation for the protection of the public interest.

Understanding the Right to Constitutional Remedies:

Article 32 of the Constitution of India is known as “Right to Constitutional Remedies”. Article 32 (1) says that “The right to move the Supreme Court by appropriate proceedings for the enforcement of the rights conferred by this Part is guaranteed”.

Why PIL?

In ordinary cases the aggrieved person/ party has the right to seek redress under Article 32. Prior 1980s only the aggrieved party could approach the courts for justice. The Indian legal system which was more or less with colonial nature saw the state of deprivation of civil and political rights particularly during the emergency era. After the emergency got ended in 1977, the 2 judges of the Supreme Court Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer and P. N. Bhagwati recognized the possibility of providing access to justice to the poor and to reach out to the people. Hence Public Interest Litigation was devised an innovative way wherein a person or a civil society group could approach the supreme court seeking legal remedies in cases where public interest is at stake. Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer and Justice P. N. Bhagwati were the first judges to accept PIL. In S. P. Gupta v. Union of India, 1981 case, Justice P. N. Bhagwati articulated the concept of PIL.

Hussainara Khatoon v. State of Bihar was the first such PIL case filed by advocate Kapila Hingorani and focused on the inhuman conditions of the prisons. The case led to release of more than 40, 000 under trial prisoners.

Concept of PIL:

In S. P. Gupta v. Union of India, 1981 case, Justice P. N. Bhagwati provisioned that if an injury is caused to a person or class of person or a legal right of the person/class of person is violated, and such person or class of person by reasons of poverty, helplessness or disability or social/economical disadvantageous position cannot approach the court, then a member of the public can maintain an application for an appropriate direction / order/ writ in the High Court under article 226 and in case any breach of the fundamental rights the person or class of person can seek judicial redress in Supreme court under article 32.

Please note that Article 226 is Power of High Courts to issue certain writs.

Can PIL be filed for personal gains?

In Ashok Kumar Pandey v. State of West Bengal case it was maintained that one can approach the court to wipe out violation of fundamental rights and genuine infraction of statutory provisions, but not for personal gain or private profit or political motive or any oblique consideration.

Remedial nature of PIL:

The PIL has remedial nature and indirectly incorporates the principles enshrined in the part IV (Fundamental Duties) of the Constitution of India into part III (Fundamental Rights) of the Constitution.

National Legal Services Authority (NALSA)

In 1979, the apex court for the first time talked of the necessity of free legal aid to poor persons to make the justice system mount a meaningful protection of their rights. Eight years after the judgment of Hussainara Khatoon Vs State of Bihar case, the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) was constituted under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 to provide free Legal Services to weaker sections of the society and to organize Lok Adalats for amicable settlement of disputes.

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