South Asia Political Thought Discussion Group: Revisiting the origins of Public Interest Litigation in Post-Emergency India

Conveners: Arushi Garg and Sanya Samtani

Speaker: Anuj Bhuwania (South Asian University)

Abstract from the Author: The Indian higher judiciary has acquired an increasingly important role in India’s public discourse in the last few decades. The Supreme Court and the state High Courts have emerged as enormously powerful judicial institutions in the aftermath of the Internal Emergency of 1975-77. The principal means through which these judicial powers have been mobilized and enacted is the jurisdiction of Public Interest Litigation (PIL). In this paper, I will provide a revisionist account of the origin of PIL in India.  For a long time now, there has been a general consensus that PIL arose as the Supreme Court’s attempt at exorcism of its guilt for its emergency era performance. The question that is generally elided is why the response of the court had to be in the form of PIL. In this paper, I examine how and why the court chose to perform the rhetorical performative labour of through PIL. I will revisit the circumstances and manoeuvres that led to the rise of PIL and trace its political journey since then, arguing that the enormous powers that PIL confers upon the appellate judiciary stems from its populist character.

About the Author:  Anuj Bhuwania teaches at South Asian University, New Delhi. He studied law in National Law School of India University, Bangalore and School of Oriental and African Studies, London before doing his PhD in Anthropology at Columbia University in New York. He has held visiting positions at the Centre for Modern Indian Studies, University of Goettingen, the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), New Delhi and the Centre for the Study of Law and Governance (CSLG) in Jawaharlal Nehru University. Courting the People: Public Interest Litigation in Post-Emergency India, published in December 2016 by Cambridge University Press, is his first book.

Post-script: All participants are requested to read the following paper in advance of the event - Anuj Bhuwania, 'Courting the People: The Rise of Public Interest Litigation in Post-Emergency India' (2015) Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 34(2) 314. If you are interested in attending the Event and would like a copy of the article, please email or

Further Information

This seminar is jointly arranged with the South Asia Law Discussion Group