November 28, 2021

Judicial Review of Administrative Actions

Administrative authorities are given power by different statutes and laws and it is their duty to exercise their power within the boundaries of such powers. Judicial Review means review of these decisions i.e. the decisions made by the administrative authorities by courts to ensure that they are not ultra vires the Constitution of India. Judicial review of Administrative Action is permissible only when the decision is arbitrary, unjust or unreasonable. If any Fundamental Rights gets violated through any judgment, judicial review of administrative action will come into picture.

Judicial review  was first brought into picture in Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala and Anr. on 24th April, 1973. This landmark judgment by the Supreme Court outlined the basic structure doctrine of the Constitution for the first time. The basic structure doctrine states that the constitution cannot be amended or altered by the Parliament.

In a landmark ruling on 11th January 2007, the Supreme Court of India ruled that all laws (including those in the Ninth Schedule) would be open to Judicial review if they violated the basic structure of the Constitution of India.

‘BASIC STRUCTURE’ included the Supremacy of the Constitution, the rule of law, Independence of the Judiciary, Doctrine of Separation of Powers, Federalism, Secularism, Sovereign, Democratic, the parliamentary system of Government, the principle of free and fair elections and Welfare State. The doctrine of basic structure though not mentioned in the Constitution, implies the concept on the power of parliament to amend the Constitution.

Grounds for Judicial Review of Administrative Action: –

Judicial Review of Administrative Action can be done on following grounds:

1. Illegality: If there is an error of law, acted with mala fide intentions or used the power vested for wrong purpose.

2. Irrationality: When unreasonableness is seen in the decision given or it is made under unreasonable conditions.

3. Procedural impropriety: As the word speaks for itself, judicial review on basis of procedural impropriety is when the decision fails to follow a particular law/procedure it ought to follow or violates the rules of natural justice.

4. Proportionality: In the event that the decision is disproportionate to such an extent that it stuns the judicial integrity, the court would meddle.

Judicial Review of Administrative Action explained through application:

Scope of Judicial Review of Administrative Action can be understood from the following cases:

a. In Minerva Mills vs. Union of India 31st July,1980

Minerva Mills was a private limited company. The Central government had a special committee to give a review of administrative action on the working of these Mills. After submitting the report, the Central Government held that the production had declined a lot and in Public Interest, asked the National Textile Corporation Ltd. to take over Minerva Mills. It was held that the clause S of Article 368 contravenes the restrictions on the amending power of Parliament and is hence unconstitutional.

b. Ranjit Thakur v. Union of India.

The principle of proportionality envisages that a public authority ought to maintain a sense of proportion between his particular goals and the means he employees to achieve those goals, so that his action impinges on the individual rights to the minimum extent to preserve public interest.

c. Laxmibai vs. The Collector, Nanded and Ors. Civil Appeal 1622 of 2020)

The doctrine of proportionality, as part of the concept of judicial review of administrative action, would ensure that even on an aspect which is, otherwise, within the exclusive province of the Court Martial, if the decision of the Court even as to sentence is an outrageous defiance of logic, then the sentence would not be immune from correction. Irrationality and perversity are recognised grounds of judicial review. (As explained in Para 19)

d. Council of Civil Service Unions v. Minister for the Civil Service, (1984) 3 All ER 935

The Court explained ‘irrationality’ as follows: “By ‘irrationality’ I mean what can by now be succinctly referred to as ‘Wednesbury unreasonableness’. It applies to a decision which is so outrageous in its defiance of logic or of accepted moral standards that no sensible person who had applied his mind to the question to be decided could have arrived at it.”

e. Reliance Energy Limited & Another vs Maharashtra State Road 

In this case the Division Bench held that the basic test in judicial review is to see whether there is any infirmity in the process of decision making and not the decision itself. This means the law and the procedure should be understood by the person taking the decision, otherwise it may result in illegality.

Judicial Review of Administrative Action by Writs

In India, the remedy available against violation of fundamental rights is through writs under Article 32 and 226 of the Indian constitution in Supreme Court and High Court respectively.

The writs are in nature of:

1. Habeas Corpus: The word literally means to ‘produce the body’. It is a court order to produce the prisoner in front of the court and show a valid reason for the imprisonment of that person.

2. Mandamus: Mandamus means ‘We command’. It is an order from the Supreme Court or High Court to a lower court or tribunal commanding them to perform their duty.

3. Certiorari: It means to certify. The Supreme Court or High Court to quash an existing order issues this writ. This is done when there seems to be an excessive exercise of powers, violation of principles of natural justice or exercise of power beyond jurisdiction.

4. Prohibition: This writ is to stop an order, which is usually known as ‘Stay order’. It is done when a lower court exceeds the powers vested in them.

5. Quo-Warranto: Quo warranto roughly translates to ‘by what authority’. This writ is issued when there is a question that by what authority does a particular person hold the office.


If the power of judicial review of administrative action is taken away, by the virtue of any constitutional amendment and that the validity of any decision taken by the legislature shall not be questionable under any circumstances, even if it is violative of the fundamental rights given in the Indian Constitution, it would lead to sabotaging of the Constitution, as it would make these fundamental rights merely words in the Indian constitution without any application in the judicial world. Hence it is essential to have a concept of Judicial review to maintain the authenticity of the Constitution.






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Author Details: Jaanvi Shah

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


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