Prior to the advent of colonial rule, India was governed by its own unique
systems of justice and governance, with each community and region having its own
set of rules. However, the British colonization of India brought about a more
structured and centralized administrative system, complete with laws and
administrative bodies. Following India's independence in 1947, the nation
established its own constitution in 1950, outlining the workings of the
government and incorporating principles of administrative law.
As the government
began to assume more responsibilities, such as education and healthcare
provision, administrative law in India began to expand. The expansion of
administrative law in India was driven by several factors. The judicial system,
responsible for legal matters, had its limitations due to its slow and complex
nature. As a result, specialized tribunals and authorities were established to
address specific issues.
Similarly, the legislative process also had its
limitations, as it couldn't detail every rule and procedure, leading to some
powers being delegated to administrative authorities. Significant legal cases,
such as those of Kesavananda Bharati and Maneka Gandhi, played a pivotal role in
shaping India's administrative law. Presently, contemporary issues such as
corruption, transparency, and efficiency in government processes pose challenges
that need to be addressed by effective laws and regulations to ensure fair and
In essence, the evolution of administrative law in India
has been a journey from ancient customs through colonial rule to independence
and the development of laws that govern the workings of the government. It is a
testament to adaptability and change in response to the needs of the people and
The 20th century witnessed a remarkable expansion of administrative law, marking
it as a standout development of the era. This is not to say that administrative
law did not exist prior to this period. It has been present in various forms for
many years. However, the 20th century brought about a profound shift in the
state's role and function. The responsibilities of the government have grown
exponentially. The modern state is no longer just a sovereign entity maintaining
law and order, but a progressive democratic institution striving to provide
social security and welfare for its citizens.
It regulates industrial relations,
oversees the production, manufacture, and distribution of essential goods,
initiates enterprises, and aims to ensure equality for all, including equal pay
for equal work. The state also works towards improving slum conditions,
safeguarding public health and morals, providing education for children, and
taking all necessary steps to uphold social justice. In essence, the modern
state cares for its citizens from birth to death. These advancements have
significantly broadened the scope and reach of administrative law.
Administrative law is the branch of law that governs the powers, duties,
obligations, and functions of administrative bodies. It is the legal framework
within which administrative actions take place. This branch of law, with its
societal regulatory power, imposes certain constraints in the form of rules and
regulations to ensure individuals can exercise their rights and safeguard the
rights of others. Hence, it is often referred to as a regulatory law. As
administrative law is uncodified, courts are responsible for enforcing it,
making it impossible for the legislature to have complete governance. The court
also appoints a group of officers to stay updated with the complexities and
innovations of democratic institutions.
There's a wide range of views when it comes to defining administrative law. This
is largely due to the significant expansion of administrative processes, making
it challenging to formulate a precise definition that encompasses the full
spectrum of administrative activities. Let's examine the definitions provided by
esteemed legal scholars.
Austin describes administrative law as the law that outlines the goals and
methods through which sovereign power should be exercised. According to him,
this power can be exercised either directly by the monarch or indirectly by
subordinate political superiors who are entrusted with portions of this power.
On the other hand, Holland categorizes administrative law as one of the six
divisions of public law, as stated in his renowned book "Introduction to
American Administrative Law 1958".
Bernard Schwartz has defined Administrative Law as "the law applicable to those
administrative agencies which possess of delegated legislation and ad judicatory
Jennings has defined Administrative Law as "the law relating to the
administration. It determines the organization, powers, and duties of
K.C. Davis has defined administrative law as "Administrative Law is the law
concerning the powers and procedures of administrative agencies including
specially the law governing judicial review of administrative action."
The Indian Institution of Law has defined Administrative Law as "Administrative
Law deals with the structure, powers and functions of organs of administration,
the method and procedures followed by them in exercising their powers and
functions, the method by which they are controlled and the remedies which are
available to a person against them when his rights are infringed by their
Pre colonialism period:
The roots of administrative law in India can be traced back to the ancient
times, specifically during the rule of the Mauryas and the Gupta dynasties.
These dynasties had a centralized administrative system in place. This was
followed by the Mughal era, which also had a similar system of administration.
The primary responsibilities of the kings during these ancient times were
threefold - safeguarding the state from foreign invasions, tax collection, and
maintaining peace and order within the state. The principle of "Dharma" was
adhered to by both kings and administrators, with no exceptions.
fundamental principle of natural justice and fair play guided the actions of the
kings and officers, as the administration could only function based on these
principles upheld by Dharma. The concept of Dharma was even broader than the
modern notions of "Rule of Law" or "Due Process of Law". However, there was no
law in the sense that we understand it today.
Pre independence period:
The advent of the British in India marked the introduction of a new legal
system. The formation of the East India Company significantly amplified the
powers of the government. The British Parliament introduced numerous acts,
legislatures, and statutes aimed at regulating public safety, health, morality,
transportation, and labor relations. During the British era, India functioned as
a police state.
The roots of many operational and structural elements such as
the All-India Services, recruitment processes, training programs, secretariat
system, office procedures, budgeting, centralised tendency, revenue, local and
police administration can be traced back to this period. This era can be further
subdivided into two phases:
The rule of the East India Company until 1858
The Crown rule from 1858-1947
The practice of issuing administrative licenses was initiated with the State
Carriage Act of 1861. The Bombay Port Trust Act of 1879 marked the establishment
of the first public corporation. The Northern India Canal and Drainage Act of
1873 and the Opium Act of 1878 recognized delegated legislation as a valid power
of the executive. Many statutes included provisions related to permits and
licenses, as well as the resolution of disputes by executive authorities and
During World War II, executive powers were significantly increased
under the Defense of India Act of 1939, which granted extensive powers over
individual property with minimal judicial oversight. In addition to this, the
government issued numerous orders and ordinances covering various matters
through administrative instructions. The East India Company, a foreign ruling
power, is considered the forerunner of the current legal administrative
structure. The company focused on fortifying its own domain, with its
administrative machinery primarily designed to serve this purpose.
services were referred to as the "steel frame", indicating a lack of emphasis on
social welfare. The administration of the East India Company was rigid,
inflexible, and unrealistic, leading to its collapse when faced with the
significant challenge of the 1857 war. The British government's administration
prioritized loyalty to the government, often at the expense of the Indian
people. Despite this, several improvements and developments in administrative
law took place during this period, which were later adapted to suit Indian needs
Post independence period:
The concept of social welfare was swiftly embraced following independence,
particularly after the constitution was adopted. The preamble of the
constitution proclaims India as a socialist, secular, and democratic republic
committed to providing justice, liberty, equality, and fraternity to all its
Furthermore, children under the age of 14 are now entitled to free and
compulsory education. Various social legislation, such as the Industrial
Disputes Act 1948, the Factories Act 1948, the Employees' State Insurance Act
1948, and the Minimum Wage Act 1948, have been enacted since then.
Constitution specifically embodies the philosophy of a welfare state. It
includes provisions to ensure social, economic, and political justice, as well
as equality of status and opportunity for all citizens. It stipulates that
societal material resources should be distributed in a way that best serves the
common good and that the operation of the economic system should not lead to
wealth and means of production being concentrated among a few.
these objectives, the state has the power to impose reasonable restrictions on
the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution. To achieve these goals,
Parliament has enacted several Acts, such as the Industrial (Development and
Regulation) Act (1951), the Requisitioning and Acquisition of Immovable Property
Act (1952), the Essential Commodities Act (1955), the Companies Act (1956), the
Maternity Benefit Act (1961), the Payment of Bonus Act (1965), the Banking
Companies (Acquisition and Transfer of Undertakings) Act (1969), the Equal
Remuneration Act (1976), the Urban Land (Ceiling and Regulation) Act (1976), and
the Beedi Workers' Welfare Fund Act (1976). A study of Supreme Court cases from
1953 to 1955 by Markose revealed that about half of the cases pertained to
administrative law. Out of 250 reported cases, 119 fell under the category of
administrative law. Of the 275 pages of Supreme Court judgments, 229 were
related to administrative law. The prevalence of administrative law has
presumably increased significantly since then.
Reason for the growth of administrative law in India
Evolving Role of a State
- Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala (1973):
This case is a milestone in the history of Indian constitutional law, introducing the "basic structure doctrine." It affirmed that the Indian Parliament, despite its power to amend the Constitution, cannot change its fundamental framework. This doctrine has profound implications for the boundaries of legislative and administrative powers.
- Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India (1978):
This case saw the Supreme Court broaden the interpretation of the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The court ruled that any law must be fair and reasonable, leading to the principles of natural justice and procedural fairness.
- A. K. Kraipak v. Union of India (1969):
This case was instrumental in delineating the extent of administrative discretion, establishing that administrative decisions should be based on relevant considerations and not be arbitrary.
- R. D. Shetty v. International Airport Authority of India (1979):
This case underscored the principles of natural justice, especially the right to a fair hearing, in administrative decision-making processes. It highlighted that fairness and reasonableness are indispensable in administrative actions.
- State of West Bengal v. B. K. Mondal (1962):
This case stressed the necessity for administrative decisions to be reasoned, setting a precedent that administrative authorities must provide reasons for their decisions, especially when they negatively impact individuals.
- Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corporation (1985):
This case, which dealt with the eviction of pavement dwellers, underscored the state's responsibility to provide shelter and livelihood to society's marginalized sections. It broadened Article 21's scope to encompass socio-economic rights.
- Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan (1997):
This case tackled workplace sexual harassment and established guidelines to safeguard women's dignity and rights at work. It emphasized the state's duty to ensure safe working conditions.
- LIC of India v. Consumer Education and Research Centre (1995):
This case laid down that administrative decisions must be fair, just, and reasonable, introducing the "fairness doctrine" in administrative law.
The evolution of administrative law is largely due to the state's changing role.
Previously, the state focused on maintaining law and order and providing social
welfare. However, it has since adopted a more proactive policy, expanding its
functions to include education, healthcare, and other services.
Inadequacy of the Judicial System
The growth of administrative law is also attributed to the shortcomings of the
judicial system. The system was slow, expensive, complex, and formalistic,
leading to delays in resolving even important matters. To address complex issues
that couldn't be solved by interpreting statutes alone, industrial tribunals and
labor courts were established.
Limitations of the Legislative Process
The legislative process was also found to be inadequate as it lacked the time
and technique to handle all details. This led to the delegation of some powers
to administrative authorities.
Opportunities for Experimentation in Administrative Procedures
Administrative law allows for experimentation in the administrative process.
Unlike legislation, rules can be made, tested, and, if found defective, altered
or modified quickly.
Emphasis on Pragmatism over Technicalities
Administrative law also avoids technicalities. Administrative tribunals are not
bound by rules of evidence and procedure, allowing them to take a practical
approach to complex problems.
Administrative authorities can take preventive measures, which can be more
effective than punishing a person for a breach of law. For instance, inspecting
and grading meat can be more beneficial than allowing consumers to sue sellers
Lastly, administrative authorities can enforce preventive measures effectively.
They possess authorities such as the ability to suspend, revoke, and cancel
licenses, as well as the power to destroy contaminated items, which are
typically not accessible through conventional legal courts.
India, ranked 80th in the 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index, grapples with
corruption across all government levels, impacting the economy, judiciary, and
hindering growth. Factors contributing to corruption include excessive
regulations, complex licensing and tax systems, opaque bureaucracy, and a lack
of transparency in government sectors. Elected representatives often prioritize
personal gains over public welfare. Many MPs and MLAs with criminal records
continue to hold office.
High-ranking ministers involved in major scams such as
the coal allotment scam and the 2G spectrum scam are responsible for creating
public welfare laws. The judiciary, despite constitutional guarantees of
independence, is plagued by corruption. A shortage of judges leads to delayed
justice, with courts focusing on urgent matters and neglecting regular cases.
Challenges in Public Contracting:
In response to public demand, the government contracts with private
organizations to provide goods and services. However, these are often more
expensive and less affordable.
Government departments have websites providing information to citizens. However,
these sites are not regularly updated and can crash with increased user traffic.
Government apps can access users' personal data without consent, raising privacy
Social Equity and Inclusion:
Public organizations need more representation from diverse social and cultural
backgrounds. For instance, departments in minority areas should include a
proportionate number of minority members.
The widening gap between set goals and actual achievements in planning and
program implementation characterizes the era of bureaucratic indifference in
India. Despite the control of various committees and commissions and provisions
for fulfilling planning and introduction, the issue of bureaucratic indifference
seems to persist in various administrative units.
As the activities and powers of the government and administrative authorities
have expanded, there is now an increased need for the enforcement of the rule of
law and judicial oversight over these powers. This ensures that citizens can
freely enjoy the liberties guaranteed to them by the Constitution. Consequently,
several statutes now include provisions for rights of appeal, revision, etc.,
and extraordinary remedies are available under Articles 32, 136, 226, and 227 of
the Indian Constitution.
The concept of judicial review is considered a
fundamental element of our constitution's "basic structure". Decisions made by
administrative authorities can be overturned if they are found to be in bad
faith, outside the scope of the Act, or in violation of the constitution. If the
rules, regulations, or orders enacted by these authorities exceed their powers,
they can be declared ultra vires, unconstitutional, illegal, and null and void.
India has undergone a complete transformation in its administrative law.
Initially, the administrative law largely overlooked socio-economic matters, but
it gradually shifted to moderately addressing these issues and eventually
expanded to encompass all aspects related to citizens' rights and duties as
outlined in the Constitution.
This evolution in administration and
administrative law mirrors the state's transition from a minimalist role to a parens patriae role, acting as a guardian for its citizens. Today's
administrative law, with its numerous benefits, ensures the protection of
people's rights and helps the state fulfilling its obligations towards creating
an inclusive society.
- Administrative Law and Its Development in India - The Law Express
- Administrative Law in India: A Brief History (cslr.in)
- A complete overview of Administrative Law | Law column
- Emerging Challenges to Indian Administration - Legal Desire Media and Insights
- Reasons for the Growth of Administrative Law (lawbhoomi.com)
- Historical Development of Administrative Law in India (indiatimes.com)
- C.K. Taqwani, (2021) "Lectures on Administrative Law", EBC Explorer (P.14-17)
- Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala, 4 SCC 225; AIR 1973 SC 1461
- Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, AIR 1978 SC 597; (1978) 1 SCC 248
- A. K. Kraipak v. Union of India AIR1970SC150
- R. D. Shetty v. International Airport Authority of India 1979 AIR 1628
- State of West Bengal v. B. K. Mondal AIR 1962 SC 779, 1962 SCR SUPL. (1) 876
- Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corporation 1985 SCC (3) 545
- Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan AIR 1997 SC 3011
- LIC of India v. Consumer Education and Research Centre AIR 1811, 1995 SCC (5) 482