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Public Interest Environmental Litigation in Sri Lanka:
Hitting the Nadir after Reaching the Zenith
Kumudumalee Munasinghe, Lecturer
Mangala Wijesinghe, Senior Lecturer
Faculty of Law
Gen Sir John Kotelawala Defence University
Abstract
The concept of locus standi was developed by English courts over the years, and
subsequently it became a significant element in the English Administrative Law. Standing to sue or
locus standi is the term used to indicate the right of a party to demonstrate to court a sufficient
nexus to the harm caused or the action challenged to support the invocation of court’s jurisdiction.
Later expansion of this principle laid down the foundation for the concept of Public Interest
Litigation (PIL) largely developed by the Indian Supreme Court. It denotes litigation for the
protection of public interests through judicial activism. Sri Lankan courts too adopted and
encouraged PIL, and it gained success mainly in the field of environmental protection; the climax
was the world famous Bulankulama v. Secretary, Ministry of Industrial Development (Eppawala
Phosphate case) in the year 2000. However, it is observed, that particularly in the last decade, PIL
has faced a major drawback in Sri Lanka.
The objectives of the study are to discuss the gradual development of PIL in Sri Lanka in the
past two decades and identify the factors that contributed to its subsequent decline in comparison to
foreign jurisdictions. This study reviews some theoretical analyses or desk research, based on
sources such as law reports, books, journals, articles, Internet etc.
The study emphasizes that the concept of PIL revolves to a great extent around the right of
the public to seek relief against the injustices caused by public authorities in violation of the
country’s environmental laws. In the process the courts have developed many principles on
environmental protection such as Sustainable Development, Intergenerational Equity, Polluter Pays,
Precautionary Action, Common but Differentiated Responsibility, and Public trust or Public
Guardianship. Further, PIL encourages active participation by the people in decision making
process of public authorities which is vital to ensure openness, transparency and good governance.
A good example is the PIL with respect to the privatization of the Galle Face Green filed in the
Supreme Court some time ago.
Further, this study reveals the factors that contributed to a decline in PIL, for instance,
public apathy, difficulty in obtaining sufficient information on relevant matters, inability to
comprehend the technical information gathered, which are mainly in English and current negative
judicial attitudes towards PIL.
Key Words: locus standi, Public Interest Litigation, judicial activism, public authorities,
environmental protection

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  • 1. Public Interest Environmental Litigation in Sri Lanka: Hitting the Nadir after Reaching the Zenith Kumudumalee Munasinghe, Lecturer Mangala Wijesinghe, Senior Lecturer Faculty of Law Gen Sir John Kotelawala Defence University Abstract The concept of locus standi was developed by English courts over the years, and subsequently it became a significant element in the English Administrative Law. Standing to sue or locus standi is the term used to indicate the right of a party to demonstrate to court a sufficient nexus to the harm caused or the action challenged to support the invocation of court’s jurisdiction. Later expansion of this principle laid down the foundation for the concept of Public Interest Litigation (PIL) largely developed by the Indian Supreme Court. It denotes litigation for the protection of public interests through judicial activism. Sri Lankan courts too adopted and encouraged PIL, and it gained success mainly in the field of environmental protection; the climax was the world famous Bulankulama v. Secretary, Ministry of Industrial Development (Eppawala Phosphate case) in the year 2000. However, it is observed, that particularly in the last decade, PIL has faced a major drawback in Sri Lanka. The objectives of the study are to discuss the gradual development of PIL in Sri Lanka in the past two decades and identify the factors that contributed to its subsequent decline in comparison to foreign jurisdictions. This study reviews some theoretical analyses or desk research, based on sources such as law reports, books, journals, articles, Internet etc. The study emphasizes that the concept of PIL revolves to a great extent around the right of the public to seek relief against the injustices caused by public authorities in violation of the country’s environmental laws. In the process the courts have developed many principles on environmental protection such as Sustainable Development, Intergenerational Equity, Polluter Pays, Precautionary Action, Common but Differentiated Responsibility, and Public trust or Public Guardianship. Further, PIL encourages active participation by the people in decision making process of public authorities which is vital to ensure openness, transparency and good governance. A good example is the PIL with respect to the privatization of the Galle Face Green filed in the Supreme Court some time ago. Further, this study reveals the factors that contributed to a decline in PIL, for instance, public apathy, difficulty in obtaining sufficient information on relevant matters, inability to comprehend the technical information gathered, which are mainly in English and current negative judicial attitudes towards PIL. Key Words: locus standi, Public Interest Litigation, judicial activism, public authorities, environmental protection