This article on ‘Article 12 of the Indian Constitution: Explained’ was written by Ayush Choudhary, an intern at Legal Upanishad.
In jurisprudence, the term person does not just refer to a living being. According to it, anything, whether living or not, can be given a personality, if all the essentials are being fulfilled i.e, animus and corpus. The state is also such a thing to which the law by double fiction, firstly gives it the body or corpus and then assigns it an animus, that is, an interest.
Article 12 of the Indian Constitution plays an important role in providing this personality to a state and thus gives it a different personality apart from its members. Article 12 has a lot of importance in this regard because it defines what a state is and what it consists of. Thus, Article 12 gives the state a corpus i.e, a body. This article will discuss Article 12 in detail and also all its attributes.
Importance of Article 12:
Article 12 of the Indian Constitution is a critical provision that defines what constitutes a ‘State’ under the Constitution. And the definition of the word ‘State’ plays a vital role in interpreting the scope of fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution. Thus, the provisions of Article 12 are fundamental in guaranteeing the fundamental rights of Indian citizens as enshrined in the Indian Constitution. Moreover, it is a vital starting point for the Supreme Court for interpreting the provisions of the Constitution that deal with these fundamental rights. Therefore, article 12 has a lot of importance.
What is State as per Article 12?
According to Article 12 of the Indian Constitution, “the term ‘State’ includes the Government of India and the governments of the States.” This may seem like a simple and straightforward definition at first glance, but it is essential to understand both the precise implications of this definition and how the courts have interpreted it.
The Constitution of India has been written keeping in mind the fact that the State is not only represented by the Government but also includes several other entities that affect the lives of Indian citizens. Article 12 recognizes this fact and ensures that all such organizations and individuals who exercise significant governmental powers are considered part of the State and, thus, are subject to the provisions of Part III of the Constitution which guarantees the fundamental rights of the citizens.
The definition of ‘State’ under Article 12 of the Constitution is crucial in ensuring that the fundamental rights of Indian citizens are protected. If an individual’s rights are violated by any of the entities captured under this definition of ‘State,’ they can seek remedy in the courts under the provisions of the Constitution.
Scope of the term State:
Over a period of time, the definition of ‘State’ under Article 12 has been expanded, and several crucial decisions have been passed by the Supreme Court that clarifies the scope of the definition. The courts have interpreted Article 12 in various ways, taking into account several factors such as the nature of the body/organization, the functions performed by it, the degree of control exercised by the government, and the manner in which it operates.
For instance, in Sukhdev Singh v. Bhagatram, the Supreme Court held that the definition of ‘State’ is not limited to the government and statutory authorities but includes all authorities and bodies that are under the complete control of the Government. This means that even private bodies that come under the complete control of the State can be considered to be a State under Article 12.
Similarly, in the case of Ajay Hasia v. Khalid Mujib (1981), the Court held that the term ‘authority’ includes any person or body of persons who have the power to make decisions that affect the legal rights of citizens or impose onerous obligations on them. The court also clarified that the term could apply to private persons if they are performing public functions or if they are under the control of the State.
In another landmark judgment in the case of Pradeep Kumar Biswas v. Indian Institute of Chemical Technology, the Court had brought clarity to the scope of the term ‘instrumentality of the State’ under Article 12. The Court held that any organization or body which is significantly funded by the Government, and the control of which is vested in the Government, falls under the ambit of ‘instrumentality of the State.’ The Court clarified that the test to determine whether an organization is an instrumentalist of the State is not limited to its funding but also considers the control that the government has over the organization.
In the landmark case of Rajasthan Electricity Board v. Mohan Lal, the Supreme Court expanded the definition of the ‘State.’ The Board was created under a statute, and its members were appointed by the government. In this case, the Court found that the Board was a State, which showed that the concept of State is not restricted to legal entities per se. It is also applicable to various departments and bodies that are created by the government by using the powers under various statutes.
Thus, the definition of ‘State’ under Article 12 is an essential aspect of the Indian Constitution that must be understood clearly. Article 12 sets the foundation for the interpretation of fundamental rights in India, and the courts have given extensive clarifications on what constitutes ‘State’ over the years. And various judgments of the Supreme Court have brought more clarity and certainty in interpreting the scope of Article 12. The Court has interpreted the provisions of Article 12 in ways that protect the fundamental rights of citizens while also considering the nature and functioning of organizations and individuals who exercise significant governmental powers.
Benefits of Article 12:
Article 12 of the Indian Constitution is considered one of the most crucial provisions of the Indian Constitution. It defines the term ‘State’ and lays down the groundwork for the protection of fundamental rights. Here are some benefits and advantages of Article 12 of the Indian Constitution:
- Protection of fundamental rights: First of all, Article 12 defines the term ‘State’ to include not only government bodies but also those entities which are instrumentalities or agencies of the State. This broad definition of ‘State’ ensures that fundamental rights, such as the right to equality, right to life, and personal liberty, are protected from abuse by both government and non-governmental entities.
- Judicial review: Secondly, the definition of ‘State’ in Article 12 allows for judicial review of actions taken by non-governmental entities, thereby providing citizens with a means to challenge actions that may violate their fundamental rights. This helps to ensure that no person or entity is above the Constitution and its provisions.
- Transparency and accountability: Article 12 creates transparency and accountability in the workings of government by making it clear that all government bodies and instrumentalities fall under the definition of ‘State’. This means that all actions taken by these entities can be scrutinized by the public, media, and other government departments, promoting accountability and transparency.
- Protection of marginalized communities: The broad definition of ‘State’ in Article 12 ensures that marginalized communities are not just protected from state exploitation, but also from exploitation by private entities or corporations.
- Prevents arbitrary exercise of power: Article 12 ensures that no institution or entity exercises power arbitrarily, as it places legal parameters around the actions of non-governmental entities, corporations, and private bodies.
- Supports democracy: The broad definition of ‘State’ in Article 12 ensures that all entities that perform public functions, including political parties, are under the ambit of the Constitution, promoting a democratic and just society.
Thus, Article 12 of the Indian Constitution plays a critical role in ensuring that citizens’ fundamental rights are protected from exploitation by both governmental and non-governmental entities. This provision helps to promote transparency, accountability, and democracy, providing citizens with an effective mechanism to challenge actions that violate their constitutional rights.
Flaws Under Article 12:
While Article 12 of the Indian Constitution plays a critical role in ensuring that the fundamental rights of citizens are protected, there are also some potential flaws, faults, and disadvantages that need to be considered, some of which are as follows.
- Incomprehensive: One of the primary flaws of Article 12 is that its definition of the term ‘State’ is not comprehensive enough. The definition does not include several instrumentalities of the State, which have the power to affect the lives of citizens significantly. For example, political parties, which play an essential role in the functioning of democracy but are not part of the government or any statutory authority, are not considered as a ‘State’ under Article 12. This means that any violation of fundamental rights committed by a political party cannot be challenged under the provisions of the Constitution.
- Scope for Misuse: Another significant flaw is that the article is not clear about the degree of control that the government must exercise over an entity to classify it as a State. As a result, there is some ambiguity in interpreting the term, leaving room for potential misuse by the government or other entities.
- Infringement of Rights of Citizens: There is also the possibility of the government using private bodies to evade the provisions of fundamental rights. Private bodies may be contracted to perform certain public functions, and because they are not considered as ‘State,’ the government may use them to avoid constitutional obligations. This may result in citizens’ fundamental rights being violated with impunity, without any legal recourse available to them.
- Time Consuming and Costly: Another disadvantage is that determining the classification of an entity under Article 12 is often complex and can lead to lengthy litigation, causing delays and increased legal costs. This can be especially challenging for individuals and groups from marginalized communities who may not have the resources to engage in lengthy legal battles.
- Inadequate Remedy: Finally, while Article 12 is designed to ensure that the fundamental rights of citizens are protected, its implementation often depends on the interpretation and actions of the judiciary. The judiciary may not always uphold the rights of citizens, which can result in violations of constitutional guarantees. Furthermore, even when the judiciary finds a violation of fundamental rights, the remedies available are often inadequate and do not address the harm caused by such violations.
Now, here it can be noted that though there are many advantages of Article 12 still it has many flaws and lacunae which have created a big scope for its misuse. Therefore, to make this article more beneficial for Democracy and the rights of the people there is a need to make some changes in this article, which are as follows.
- First of all, the scope of the term ‘State’ under the article should not be kept confined to the present definition. And thus, there is a need to enhance the scope of this term.
- Secondly, the judges should also interpret this definition in a wider sense, and they should not stick to the ancient definition of the ‘State’.
Therefore, if these steps are taken and a new amendment or change is made then it will be very beneficial for the citizens and their interests, and they can also claim remedies. And thus, the Indian constitution will also be upheld.
In conclusion, while Article 12 is a crucial component of the Indian Constitution that ensures that the fundamental rights of citizens are protected, it is not without any faults, flaws, and disadvantages. But these flaws can be solved through further refinement of the definition of ‘State’ under Article 12 and by making more comprehensive remedies that enable citizens to seek quick and effective redressal of their grievances. Such measures will help to create a more just and equitable society, where the constitutional guarantees of citizens will be upheld and protected.
Overall, Article 12 of the Constitution plays a significant role in the protection of the fundamental rights of Indian citizens, ensuring that all entities exercising significant governmental powers come within the purview of the State and are accountable for their actions.
List of References:
- Ramaswamy R Iyer, Public Enterprises as ‘State’ and Article 12, (1990) 25(34) EPW 129, 131-133
- Anandini Saha, The Definition of State – Not Expansive Enough, (2020) 3(6) IJLMH 1655, 1656-57
- Dhruv Sharma, The Clear Sky: Interpreting Article 12 through Pradeep Kumar Biswas & ORS v. Indian Institute of Chemical Biology & ORS, (SSRN, 18 March 2008) <https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1106615> accessed 8 April 2023
 Sukhdev Singh v. Bhagatram (1975) AIR 1331
 Ajay Hasia v. Khalid Mujib (1981) 1 SCC 722
Pradeep Kumar Biswas V. Indian Institute Of Chemical Biology (2002) 5 SCC 111
 Rajasthan Electricity Board v. Mohan Lal (1967) AIR 25