January 27, 2022

All about Administrative Directions and its Enforceability

administrative law

What is an Administrative Direction?

Administrative directions are the instructions which are issued by some higher authority to a lower authority. Through these directions the authority on the higher hand tries to direct the way in which certain discretionary powers are to be exercised by executive.

These directions are generally issued when there is an absence of certain important rules regarding some issues or in order to create better standard of rules when there are lacunas in the existing laws and statutes. The various mechanisms used in issuing such directions are letters, circulars, orders, memoranda, pamphlets, public notices, press notices and sometimes even as a notification in the government gazettes.

The Administrative directions has its genesis in Article 73 and 162 of the constitution. These two articles deal with the administrative powers of the Union and State level government and the directions are generally issued under it.

  • Article 73 talks about the executive power of the Union, extending to the matters in which Parliament has rights to make laws
  • Article 162 talks about the executive power of the State, extending to the matters in which the state legislature has power to make laws.

Above mentioned provisions mentioned about the executive powers of government to issue directions and does not talk about statutory powers.

Sometimes, statutory powers are also granted to issue directions and such directions which are issued under this power always prevails (Case law :Government of Haryana vs. Vidya Sagarin which two circulars were issued on a subject matter and the one which was issued under statutory powers was upheld by the court.)

Once any such general directions are issued under the executive powers by any authority the subordinate executives have to proceed further in consistent with the new directions. Though these administrative directions are not enforceable in court of law but their noncompliance may command certain disciplinary actions.

Need for Administrative Directions

In a welfare state a wide responsibility has been laid down on the executive by statute to deal with people’s problems. Rules and laws once laid down, need regular amendments and changes according to situational demands and instead of leaving laws unguided in such situations, special powers have been guaranteed to executives by the statutes to make changes in the urgent situations. This way certainty and stability is achieved in our dynamic administrative system. This can be done by either regulations which are backed by statutory forces or regulations which are not backed by statutory forces i.e, Administrative Directions.

The reason why Administrative Directions serves as a measure of bringing in urgent times are :-

  • There is no need for formalities like prepublication, presenting before parliament, consultation of affected interests, publication in official gazette. Hence easy to issue and change.
  • It is easier to issue directions than the promulgation of rules when there is a completely different and new problem in the picture and no previous experience is available. It is economical and viable to use directions in such cases of trial and error. Administrative Directions are quite flexible in the case of V.T Khanzode v Reserve Bank of India[1], instances have been depicted where directions were preferred over rules, because they are more flexible.
  • Temporary situations like health and environmental emergencies can be more conveniently solved with the help of administrative directions.

Hence we can say, they form a part of the internal administrative procedure of a government department and can be easily issued to fill the lacunas and meet the exigencies. In the case of Union of India vs. Rakesh Sharma, the Supreme Court observed that, when rules are silent on any topic, the government can fill the gaps and issue the administrative directions but such directions should not be inconsistent with the rules.

Enforceability of Administrative Directions

As we have already discussed that there is no need of statutory force for issuing administrative directions and are generally issued under the ‘executive function’ of the state. And these instructions are generally considered directory in nature and do not command any judicial actions. They are not enforceable in the court of law but that does not mean that they can be ignored with impunity because even directory provisions are not meant to be ignored. The judiciary has drawn exceptions from time to time.

The power to issue directions flow from the general executive power of the administration. They can be specific, general, directory and mandatory. And the given instruction is of what kind it depends on the provisions of statute which is authorising the administrative agency to issue such directions. The directions which are not issued under any statutory power but are issued under general executive power of the administration are unenforceable.

Understanding the enforceability of Administrative directions is quite a difficult job as no clear stance has been taken on it yet and it can only be understood through judicial interpretation done in various cases over a period of time.

In the case of Fernandez vs. State of Mysore[2] , it was stated by the court regarding enforceability of Administrative directions  that PWD instructions are unenforceable as they are not issued under any statutory authority but are issued under general administrative power. However, these instructions are non enforceable but their non compliance may lead to disciplinary actions towards the concerned officer.

Also, it is not the case every time that every instruction having a statutory force is legally binding, it is quite depending on situations. In situations where they are adhered for a long period of time and are in consonance with the statutory rules they become enforceable. For example in the case of Raman and Raman vs. State of Madras[3] despite issuing administrative instructions under section 43-A of the Motor Vehicles Act,1939, they are not backed by the force of law. However, in a different case of Jagjit Singh vs. State of Punjab[4] it has been held by the Supreme Court that if administrative instructions are in consonance with the statutory rule, they become binding and can be enforced by court of law.

The laws relating to the statutory status and enforceability of administrative instructions is highly unclear. There are various critical judgements available in the field. For example in case of Amitabh Srivastava vs. State of M.P[5], the court held that the administrative directions can modify statutory rules too and thus allow enforcement of directions over rules.

An important case summarizing and laying certain guidelines regarding the enforceability of administrative directions is Union of India vs. Charanjeet S. Gill[6] in which court has stated that

  • Administrative instructions issued in the absence of any statutory authority has no force of law, and it cannot supplement any provision of law, rules acts and regulations.
  • These directions provides government with the power to fill up gaps which are there in the present rules and laws
  • Administrative directions cannot take away rights vested in the persons governed by the act if they do not have any statutory backing.

By assessing various situations and cases it can be conferred that the present laws regarding administrative directions is quite unclear and unstable and are in a confused state. But if we try to draw a general opinion or view directions are non enforceable but in certain situations exceptions are there. And thus it becomes difficult to in the present state of law to recognise whether a particular direction can be enforceable or not. In different cases court deals with each case differently and it can be said that the area of directions is open to judicial discretion and is still developing.


[1] V.T. Khanzode & ors vs. Reserve Bank of India, 1982 AIR 917, 1982 SCR (3) 411

[2] G.J. Feranandez vs. State of Mysore, 1967 AIR 1753

[3] Raman and Raman vs. State of Madras, AIR 1959 SC 694

[4] Jagjit Singh Vs. State of Punjab, 1978 AIR 988

[5] Amitabh Srivastava vs. State of M.P, 1982 AIR 827

[6] Union of India vs. Charanjeet S. Gill,(2000)5 SCC 742

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Author Details: Pragya Dixit (ILS Law College, Pune)

The views of the author are personal only. (if any)

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