Sourika Jana, Symbiosis Law School, Noida
LIBERALISATION OF LOCUS STANDI: A MOVE CONCERNING THOUGHT
Locus Standi is one of the critical elements in legal practice as it determines who has the relevant standing in a court of law. Traditionally it was only relegated to certain “aggrieved” individuals who suffered a specific legal injury. Historically cases have been dismissed for the lack of Locus Standi in the subject matter. These judgments led to the documentation of specific necessary laws for the determination of Locus Standi. It, however, excluded a majority of the population who did not have the required economic or social means to file a suit. As the exceptions started consensus, the need was felt for “liberalisation of Locus Standi”. This approach is based on the utilitarian principle of the greater good. It aims at increasing community and social welfare. The courts started the wheels of Public Interest Litigation or PILs, which would be very useful for keeping the authorities in check in the upcoming years. PILs are powerful tools when it comes to environmental activism or human rights. The judgments discussed below also lay down the necessary conditions to determine who can file a suit in the public interest. The paper also discusses the provisions under which PILs can be filed. The liberalisation of Locus Standi has proven itself to be the sixth fundamental right granted to an Indian citizen and continues to be an indispensable pillar of democracy.
The Latin maxim of Locus Standi refers to the right of
an individual to appear or be heard before a court of law. It includes the
right to institute a suit, file a complaint, or even the right of appeals and
writs. If a court decides that the plaintiff has no Locus Standi in the matter
presented, it might dismiss the suit even before considering the wrongs
committed by the defendant.
For example, the Indian government has decided that a
foreign government has no Locus Standi in Indian courts.
In BOC India Limited v. State of Jharkhand and Ors,
the case was dismissed on the fact that the petitioner had no Locus Standi and
was held that there was no legitimacy on the complaint they filed.
There are specific requirements that are necessary for
petitioner must have a legal interest in the subject matter
interest must not be remote
interest must be actual and not hypothetical
TRADITIONAL RULE OF LOCUS STANDI
The traditional rule of Locus Standi stated that only
the aggrieved individual had the right to file a suit against the wrongdoer in
a court of law. The injury could be both legal or physical damage or a
threatened violation of a legal right.
In J M Desai v Roshan Kumar,
the rule of locus standi has been further elaborated. The Indian court followed
the English common law where it was explicitly mentioned that the petitioner should be an “aggrieved
person” and denied the appellant the right to writ certiorari. The use of
the word “stranger” has been found where the person has suffered no
infringement of any legal right pertaining to the case.
The judgement further lays down the rules and
qualifications necessary for ascertaining who is an “aggrieved person”. The
court stated that the definition was an elastic one and must be determined on a
person can be defined as “aggrieved” if he has been legally denied something to
which he is entitled.
the person has been directly affected by the misdemeanour or the act of the
his injury is beyond the inconvenience suffered by the public.
Hence this judgement brought about the concept of
“special injury” in which a person can claim compensation against a public or
private authority only if he has suffered extraordinary damages.
Hence this proposition of law translated into
requirements for Locus Standi:
the concerned person could take recourse to jurisdiction, whose own legal
rights of person or property were directly and substantially injured;
the person suffered along with other members of the public by administrative
action, he could not challenge the action in question, unless, he showed some
special injury to himself, over and above what others have suffered; and
the person challenging an administrative action is a total stranger, the court
would not ordinarily entertain his petition”. 
LIBERALISATION OF LOCUS STANDI
One of the significant drawbacks of the traditional
rule of Locus Standi was that it prevented genuine litigators from competing
for their cause in the court of law. The socially backward communities like
women or underprivileged classes who did not have the financial conditions
necessary to institute a suit were indirectly denied their rights. This also
proved to be a hindrance, especially in cases of Public Interest Litigations or
PILs. PIL is formal litigation undertaken to address infringements of public
rights and public injuries to protect public interest against a private or a
state-run authority. The focal point of the samaritan-based litigation is that
it is community-focused. There is no private gain of an individual undertaken
by such litigation, but it is more for the social and welfare causes. The aim
of PILs is the protection of collective and diffused rights by preventing
violations of constitutional rights.
In Sheela Barse v Union of India AIR, 
the court realized that the majority of the population, owing to lack of proper
information, had no knowledge of their rights and sometimes lacked the social
and economic environment even to assert them. PILs thus came into the picture
to remedy this social evil.
Hence a need was felt to go beyond the traditional
rule of Locus Standi and make legal redressals available to the public at
In Sunil Batra v Delhi Administration ,
the petitioner was a prison inmate who wrote a letter to the judge of the
Supreme Court informing him of the poor living conditions in prison. He further
complained of an assault by the prison warden, which led to the victim
sustaining grievous injuries and further medical neglect. The letter was tried
as a suit for Habeas Corpus and treated as a PIL falling under Section 32 of
the Indian Constitution. This was an apparent deviation from the traditional
rule of Locus Standi.
If a state or public authority acts in an
unconstitutional manner and the public, having suffered no special but
collective injury, would have no means of recourse. This is detrimental to the
principles of a democratic government. It might also enable the ruling authorities
to act beyond their scope of jurisdiction. Hence with the liberalisation of
Locus Standi, any individual acting bona fide and with sufficient interest can
redress the public injury.
This action puts a check on the power of the public authorities as they are now
held accountable for their actions.
“It would be a great lacuna in our system of public
law if a pressure groups like a federation or even single public spirited, tax
payer, were prevented by outdated technical rules of locus standi from bringing
the matter to attention of the court to vindicate the rule of law and get the
unlawful conduct stopped.”
The question that now arises is what exactly
constitutes “sufficient interest”. There is no direct formula for determining
whether the petitioner has sufficient interest, but it would be wrong to say
that the determining is left to the discretion of the court. The court looks
into several aspects like whether the statute complained of effects the
petitioner, and merely asserting that one has an interest in the matter doesn’t
give rise to such interest. Nor does grouping together and asserting that they
have interest give rise to one of the individuals who don’t have an interest in
the subject matter. “A petitioner who comes to the court for relief in the
public interest must come not only with clean hands but also with a clean mind
and a clean objective”
There is an inherent assumption that if the doors of
the court are opened to the public at large, our legal system would be
overburdened with PILs. This is prevented by a basic test of whether the PILs
are based on well-founded interests. The majority of them are rejected since
they are based on not entirely true articles, and the petitioner has submitted them
without the introductory amount of research.
“The courts will allow litigation in the public
interest if it is found that:
impugned action is violative of any fundamental right guaranteed by the
Constitution of India 1950 and relief is sought for its enforcement;
action complained of is palpably illegal or mala fide and affects a group of
persons who are not in a position to protect their own interests on account of
poverty, incapacity or ignorance;
persons or a group of persons were approaching the court in the public interest
for redressal of public injury arising from a breach of public duty or from a
violation of some provision of the Constitution of India 1950;
persons or group of persons are not a busybody or meddlesome interlopers and
have not approached with mala fide intention of vindicating their personal
vengeance or grievances;
process of public interest litigation is not being abused by politicians or
other busybodies for political or unrelated objective. Every default on the
part of the state or public authority being not justiciable in such litigation;
litigation initiated in public interest was such that if not remedied or
prevented would weaken the faith of the common man in the institution of the
judiciary and the democratic set-up of the country;
person approaching the court has come with clean hands and clean objectives;
taking any action in the public interest the court must be satisfied that its
forum was not being misused by any unscrupulous litigant, politician, busybody
or persons or groups with mala fide objective either for vindication of their
personal grievance or by resorting to blackmail or consideration extraneous to
the public interest.”
Article 32 of the Indian Constitution lays down that
the Supreme Court has the power to issue writs for the enforcement of any
constitutional right. Hence this law empowers the institution of liberalisation
of Locus Standi as any public-spirited individual can now move the right to
seek any relief against the violation of their rights. This is a form of
judicial relief granted to the aggrieved individual to prevent an injustice
In Bandhu Mukti Morcha Vs Union of India,
the petitioner was an organization dedicated to the rights of bonded labourers.
They filed a petition under Article 32 for the release of the labourers in the
stone quarries of Faridabad who were working under inhumane conditions. The
Supreme Court granted the petition the status of PIL and stated that the
working conditions were in violation of Article 21. The supreme court issued
orders for the release and rehabilitation of the labourers.
Article 226 of the Indian Constitution allows the high court to issue any directions, orders, or writs for the enforcement of any constitutional right.
RELEVANT CASE LAWS
S P Gupta v Union of India is said to be one of the first cases on the liberalisation
of locus standi. The case deals with a number of petitions regarding the
appointment and transfer of judges. The petitioners requested the disclosure of
correspondence between the Chief Justice of India, Chief Justice of Delhi, and
the law minister. The state claimed the privilege of non-disclosure of
documents under Article 74(2) of the Indian Constitution and section 123 of the
Indian Evidence Act. The court held that non-disclosure of documents is only
valid when the disclosure is contrary to the public interest. However, this
petition was clearly of public interest, and hence the state had to disclose
the correspondence. “PIL must be regarded as a well settled law, where a
person whose right or interest has been violated is not able to enforce his
right/interests due to any barrier which may be economic, social, etc. another
person can approach the court on his behalf to enforce his legal right or
legally protected interest”.
Mumbai Kamgar Sabha v. M/s Abdulbhai Faizullabhai and
others  was one of
the first cases to expand on locus standi for the labourers who come from
socio-economically backward class.
M C Mehta v. Union of India 1988 is a landmark case for environmental activism in
India. M.C Mehta filed a writ petition of mandamus against the leather
tanneries in Kanpur who discharged their toxic untreated sewage into the Ganges
River. He sought to restrict the refinery from releasing its sewage until they
incorporate proper treatment plants.
non dormientibus jura subveniunt”- the law helps those who are vigilant
and not those who sleep on their rights.
The majority of the Indian population are struggling
for survival in poor social and economic condition. The majority of them are
barely educated, and even if they are, no one pursues higher education. As soon
as they are capable of working, they are sent off to earn their own livelihood.
It is these factors that make them particularly vulnerable to exploitation. In
the absence of formal education, they are unaware of their rights. Even if they
want to peruse the legal procedure, hardly any of them are financially able to
do so. Is it not injustice to leave them to their own devices just because of
their social disability?
Here comes the
function of the Public Interest Litigators.
“The need for
liberalisation of locus standi was being felt even before the first public
interest litigation was filed. A high-powered committee was constituted by the
Government of India (which included two very distinguished judges of the
Supreme Court of India, that is, Justice P N Bhagwati and Justice V R Krishna
Iyer), had emphasised the need for making the rules of locus standi broad
based. The committee observed that one being driven to court on his separate
cause of action, was itself a public wrong; the rule of locus standi requires
to be broad-based and any organisation or individual must be able to start such
– Ministry of Law Justice
and Company Affairs, Government of India, (1977).”
Liberalisation of locus
standi is one of the stepping stones towards a democratic nation that works for
the welfare of the people. It is what makes laws inclusive of all sections of
society and not just for the privileged.
AIR 1976 SC 578 [LNIND 1975 SC 532]
 Halsbury’s Laws of India
(Registration and Statistics; Public Interest Litigation), LexisNexis India
 AIR 1988 SC 2211
 AIR 1980 SC
 S P Gupta v Union of India AIR
1982 SC 149
 Rex v Inland Revenue Comrs (1981)
2 WLR 722 at 740
 K P Sriniwas v R M Premchand
(1994) 6 SCC 620
 Halsbury’s Laws of India
(Registration and Statistics; Public Interest Litigation), LexisNexis India
 AIR 1984 SC
 AIR 1982 SC
 1988 AIR 1115, 1988 SCR (2) 530