This article on ‘Administrative Law in India: All you need to know‘ was written by an intern at Legal Upanishad.
To keep up with the growing needs of society, the ambit of law keeps on expanding and results in the emergence of several branches of law. Administrative law is one such offshoot, extending the realm of public law. Having derived heavily from administrative law concepts in the US and the UK, the same has been observed to take up an ad hoc characteristic in India. This article provides an overview of what entails administrative law, its convergence with constitutional law, and its application thereof. The scope of this article is limited to the application of administrative law in India.
Administrative Law: Meaning
In broad terms, it can be stated that administrative law is that branch of law that overlooks administrative agencies. Administrative agencies are vested with broad powers and need to be regulated. Scholars in the past have attempted to define “administrative law” but no particular definition has been able to successfully encapsulate its essence of it. Prof Wade provided a simplistic definition: “the law relating to the control of governmental power.” Administrative law is also referred to as the mechanism set up for exercising control over administrative agencies.
Sir Ivor Jennings defined it as “the law relating to the administration. It determines the organization, powers, and duties of administrative authorities.” Thus, it can be said to cover the overall regulation of public authorities in terms of their organization, powers, duties, and functions. With the onset of the welfare state, it evolved with the expansion of administrative action to aid the legislature and judiciary through delegated legislation, establishment of quasi-judicial bodies, and exercise of purely administrative functions. It thus deals with the following:
- The structure, functions, and extent of powers granted to the administrative bodies and the limitations of such powers
- The methods and procedures to be respected by such bodies
- The remedies available to individuals against the administration
Convergence of Constitutional law and Administrative Law
The emergence of administrative law can be largely attributed to the expansion of administrative powers and functions in the modern welfare state. This branch of law provides the overall framework for the carrying out of public administration. There is a visible overlap between constitutional law and administrative law.
Constitutional law encompasses a wide variety of public law aspects including but not limited to the organization of national legislature and the establishment and functioning of courts and cabinets. Administrative law, on the other hand, is primarily concerned with the substantive and procedural processes within which administrative organs work and the judicial review of such administration.
Sources of Administrative Law
Administrative law does not exist in isolation in any particular piece of legislation and is in fact, judge-made law. The Constitution of India paves way for the foundational basis of administrative law, which is evident from reading the following provisions:
- Fundamental Rights (Articles 12-35)
- Liability of the State (Article 299)
- Judicial Review of Administrative Action (Articles 32, 226, and 227)
- Establishment of Tribunals as Quasi-Judicial Bodies for Administrative Adjudication (Articles 323-A and 323-B)
- Public Sector (Article 298 read with Article 19(6))
- Executive’s aid to Legislature (Article 74)
Unlike USA and UK, which have set out enactments and guidelines for administrative authorities, administrative law in India is derived from the Constitution. In addition, it also draws from Statutes, Rules, Regulations, Orders, Law Commission Reports, and judicial decisions.
Considering the evolving and varied nature of administrative action, it is difficult to classify administrative action into watertight compartments since there exists a visible overlap between such functions. But a broad classification can be drawn as follows:
Legislative Function: Though the law-making power is vested with the Parliament and the State Legislatures, administrative bodies are delegated such powers by the legislature. When the administration exercises such rule-making power, it is referred to as legislative action and may be achieved by delegated legislation, sub-delegation of powers, directions, and administrative instructions. The issuance of directions through circulars, orders, manuals, and the like are deemed to be quasi-legislative functions of the administrative bodies.
Quasi-Judicial Function: When an authority empowered under a statute to act judicially and under the principles of natural justice exercises its powers in respect of an act affecting the civil rights of a citizen to resolve a dispute between citizens or between a citizen and an authority, it is said to be carrying out a quasi-judicial function.
Administrative Function: These functions solely pertain to the implementation of legislative policies, policies laid down by the administration in the exercise of their legislative function, or decisions laid down by the administration in the exercise of its quasi-judicial function.
Salmond describes delegated legislation as “that which proceeds from any authority other than the sovereign power and is therefore dependent for its continued existence and validity on some superior or supreme authority”. To keep up with increasing administrative function, multitudinous functions of the State, and taking into account exigencies of the present-day government, delegated legislation is permissible, however the same is confined to functions that are ancillary to essential legislative functions. The Supreme Court in Re The Delhi Laws Act further upheld the validity of delegated legislation and set out outer limits on which functions could be delegated.
The most prominent reasons and rationale behind delegated legislation were laid down by the Supreme Court as under:
- To combat the subject matter’s technical complexities which may make the calculation of all permutations go well beyond the scope of the legislature
- Considerable time may be utilized by the Executive in experimenting and fixing the lapses left by the original legislation
- Time effective process as skeletal legislation may be passed, with subsequent formation of rules and regulations supplementing the same.
The Supreme Court has on various accounts reiterated that essential legislative functions cannot be subjected to the delegation and are to be solely retained by the Legislature. The SC has maintained that “essential legislative function consists of the determination of the legislative policy and its formulation as a binding rule of conduct and cannot be delegated by the legislature.”
Administrative adjudication refers to the mechanism employed by authorities other than the courts to settle disputes. Such adjudication may be carried out by tribunals or even administrative officers. The Supreme Court in Engineering Mazdoor Sabha v Hind Cycles held that ‘tribunal’ as a broad term can be treated to encompass a body or authority which meets the following conditions:
- Bearing the “trappings of a court”, i.e., a body or authority regulated by the procedural rules and conferred with the powers of a court
- Establishment by the State itself
- Possesses the State’s inherent judicial power.
A Tribunal can be classified on the basis of where it stems from:
- A.323A Tribunals
- A.323B Tribunals
- Tribunals emerging from statutes
As administrative law is judge-made law and cannot be found precisely in any piece of legislation, it comprises a plethora of concepts and principles which are well celebrated and regarded highly such as principles of natural justice, lack of bias or rule against bias, principles of audi alteram partem, etc.
As part of the administrative adjudication, the tribunals and administrative officers are bound by the same aforementioned principles and are under the obligation to act judicially when discharging their duties. This also makes it so that the tribunals and administrative officers are subjected to judicial review in instances of error of law or jurisdictional error. Their constituent enactments may set down procedural rules. Still, they must also adhere to the principles of the Evidence Act and the Civil Procedure Code, as well as the standard judicial canons of res judicata and stare decisis, to maintain consistency.
If an individual has been negatively impacted due to the breach of the rules, duties, and function by the administrative bodies, a remedy can be sought under the writ jurisdiction of the Courts as under:
- Writ jurisdiction of the High Courts (A.226): The HCs are endowed with wide powers to take up cases concerning violation of legal rights and can exercise powers to correct errors in administrative action.
- Writ jurisdiction of the Supreme Court (A.32): Limited in its scope, the SC may be approached in instances of infringement of fundamental rights.
The aforementioned Courts may issue writs in the nature of mandamus, certiorari, habeas corpus, quo warranto, and prohibition, for the enforcement of rights or any other purpose.
Respecting the concept of the modern welfare state, administrative law sprung up to keep up with the changing role and intensive form of the government. Administrative law in India has undoubtedly advanced quite a bit since its inception and has been highly developed by the Courts of law. Being a judge-made law, it incorporates within itself certain basic principles such as principles of natural justice and rules against bias.
The Courts have through various judgments demarcated the scope of various facets of administrative actions. Building upon the Constitutional provisions, administrative law as a separate field in itself has been instrumental in lifting the burden of the judiciary and the government to a great extent.
- Agriculture Market Committee v. Shalimar Chemical Works Ltd., SCC 1997 5 SC 516
- Bar Council of India, available at: http://www.barcouncilofindia.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/AIBEP21.pdf (last visited on December 1, 2022)
- Britannica, available at: https://www.britannica.com/topic/administrative-law (last visited on November 30, 2022)
- Engineering Mazdoor Sabha v Hind Cycles, AIR 1963 SC 874
- Indian National Congress (I) v. Institute of Social Welfare, SCC 2002 SC 685
- Legal Information Institute, available at: https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/administrative_law (last visited on November 30, 2022)
- Manupatra, available at: http://www.manupatra.com/roundup/333/Articles/In%20re%20Delhi%20Laws%20Act%20Case.pdf (last visited on December 1, 2022)
- MCRHRDIT, available at: http://www.mcrhrdi.gov.in/92fc/week3/Administrative%20Law.pdf, (last visited on December 1, 2022)
- Municipal Board, Hapur v Raghuvendra Kripal, AIR 1966 SC 693
- Re The Delhi Laws Act AIR 1951 SC 332
- Salmond, Jurisprudence, 12th Edn. Page116
- The Constitution of India, 1950
- Vasantlal Maganbhai Sanjanwala v The State of Bombay, AIR 1961 SC
 Legal Information Institute, available at: https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/administrative_law (last visited on November 30, 2022)
 Bar Council of India, available at: http://www.barcouncilofindia.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/AIBEP21.pdf (last visited on December 1, 2022)
 MCRHRDIT, available at: http://www.mcrhrdi.gov.in/92fc/week3/Administrative%20Law.pdf, (last visited on December 1, 2022)
 Britannica, available at: https://www.britannica.com/topic/administrative-law (last visited on November 30, 2022)
 Supra note 2
 Indian National Congress (I) v. Institute of Social Welfare, SCC 2002 SC 685
 Salmond, Jurisprudence, 12th Edn. Page116
 Manupatra, available at: http://www.manupatra.com/roundup/333/Articles/In%20re%20Delhi%20Laws%20Act%20Case.pdf (last visited on December 1, 2022)
 AIR 1951 SC 332
 Agriculture Market Committee v. Shalimar Chemical Works Ltd., SCC 1997 5 SC 516
 Vasantlal Maganbhai Sanjanwala vs The State of Bombay, AIR 1961 SC, Municipal Board, Hapur vs Raghuvendra Kripal, AIR 1966 SC 693
 Supra note 10
 AIR 1963 SC 874
 Supra note 2