Administrative Law Notes and Study Material

When studying for exams or delving deeper into the subject of Administrative Law, having comprehensive and well-organized notes and study materials can make a significant difference. Administrative law, with its broad scope and intricate legal principles, covers a wide array of topics including the organization, powers, and duties of administrative authorities, as well as judicial review of administrative actions. Understanding these facets is crucial for students, legal practitioners, and policymakers alike.

Administrative Law in India has evolved significantly with the establishment of welfare states, leading to an administrative explosion and the widening scope of administrative law. This branch of law is concerned with the administrative process, including carrying out government business and regulating individuals’ affairs in the interest of the community. The emergence of the social welfare concept has led to increased state activism, resulting in the state taking over various functions previously left to private enterprise, such as transportation services, economic planning, and licensing.

In this blog post, we aim to provide you with essential notes and study materials that cover key areas of Administrative Law. These resources are designed to help you grasp the fundamental concepts, navigate through the legal texts, and prepare effectively for your exams. From the definitions and nature of administrative law to the historical growth, sources, and principles such as natural justice and judicial review, we offer a structured overview that caters to both beginners and advanced learners.

Join us as we explore the intricate world of Administrative Law, offering insights and clarity to support your academic and professional journey.

Introduction to Administrative Law:

  1. Evolution of Welfare State: The establishment of welfare states in democratic countries during the twentieth century led to a radical change in the role and functions of government, resulting in an administrative explosion and the widening scope of administrative law.
  2. Definitions of Administrative Law:
  • Dicey defines administrative law as determining the legal status and liabilities of state officials and specifying the rights and liabilities of private individuals in their dealings with public officials.
  • Sir Ivor Jennings defines administrative law as the law relating to the organization, powers, and duties of administrative authorities.
  • Wade and Phillips describe administrative law as a branch of public law concerned with the composition, powers, duties, rights, and liabilities of government organs engaged in administration.
  • KC Davis defines administrative law as the law concerning the powers and procedures of administrative agencies, particularly governing judicial review of administrative actions.

Nature and Scope of Administrative Law:

  1. Administrative Process: Administrative law is concerned with the administrative process, which includes carrying out government business and regulating individuals’ affairs in the community’s interest, especially in a welfare state.
  2. Expansion of Administrative Functions: The emergence of the social welfare concept has led to increased state activism, resulting in the state taking over various functions previously left to private enterprise, such as transportation services, economic planning, and licensing.
  3. Wide Jurisdiction and Discretionary Powers: Administrative agencies exercise wide discretionary powers and adjudicate disputes, leading to concerns about potential abuse of power and the need for judicial review.
  4. Reasons for Growth of Administrative Law:
  • Change in Government Concepts: The shift from laissez-faire to welfare state doctrines has increased administrative powers and functions.
  • People’s Demands: There is a demand for government intervention to solve societal problems and promote equality actively.
  • Regulatory Measures: Governments regulate ownership, production, and distribution patterns for societal benefit.
  • Socialistic Pattern of Society: Governments legislate extensively to achieve socialistic goals.
  • Inadequacy of Traditional Systems: Traditional judicial and legislative systems are inadequate to address modern governance needs, leading to the growth of administrative processes.

Historical Growth of Administrative Law:

1. Origin and Assumption:

  • Administrative law emerges from the assumption of a civilized society, leading to rules governing the operation and control of governmental power.

2. Rule of Dharma in India:

  • Administrative law traces back to ancient India, seen in the well-organized administration under the Mauryas and Guptas.
  • The rule of Dharma governed kings and administrators, emphasizing principles of natural justice and fairness.

3. Pre-Independence Era:

  • With the advent of British rule and the East India Company, governmental powers expanded.
  • India operated as a police state before 1947, focusing on primary duties with limited welfare functions.

4. Post-Independence Era:

  • India’s independence in 1947 led to new government responsibilities, aiming to create a social service state and promote welfare.
  • Economic and social reconstruction programs resulted in a significant growth of administrative processes and socialization of law.
  • The establishment of a welfare state was marked by the enactment of numerous socio-economic legislations.

5. Constitutional Emphasis:

  • The Indian Constitution embodies a socio-economic philosophy, directing the state to distribute material resources for the common good and prevent wealth concentration.

Distinction Between Constitutional Law and Administrative Law:

1. No Difference Perspective:

  • Early English writers argued that there’s no distinction between constitutional law and administrative law, often including administrative law within constitutional law.
  • Keith stated that it’s logically impossible to separate administrative law from constitutional law.

2. Difference Perspective:

  • Holland distinguished between constitutional law, describing government organs, and administrative law, describing their functioning.
  • Constitutional law encompasses the structure of legislature and executive, while administrative law focuses on their operations.

3. Relationship and Watershed:

  • Constitutional law and administrative law may overlap, forming a “watershed” in administrative law.
  • In India, this watershed includes control mechanisms like Articles 32, 226, 136, 227, 300, and 311, along with constitutional administrative agencies like the Finance Commission (Article 280), Interstate Council (Article 263), Interstate Water Dispute Authority (Article 202), Public Service Commission (Article 315), and Election Commission (Article 329).

Droit Administratif:

1. Meaning and Development:

  • Droit administratif refers to French law governing the organization, powers, and duties of public administration.
  • Initially focused on advising and planning, Counseil d’Etat (Council of State) in France evolved to exercise judicial powers in administrative matters.

2. Dual Judicature System:

  • In France, civil courts handle ordinary civil law between subjects, while administrative courts address disputes involving administrative authorities or officials and the state.
  • Counseil d’Etat serves as the highest administrative court in France, deciding matters involving administration.

3. Characteristic Features:

  • Administrative courts in droit administratif handle state and administrative litigation exclusively, applying rules developed by them.
  • Tribunal des conflits resolves jurisdictional conflicts between ordinary and administrative courts, and Counseil d’Etat is the supreme administrative court.
  • Despite early criticisms, later observations acknowledge that droit administratif provides efficient relief and protection to citizens against administrative excesses, primarily through Counseil d’Etat’s decisions.

Rule of Law:

1. Concept and Origins:

  • Opposes arbitrary powers and is fundamental to the English constitution, also enshrined in the USA and Indian constitutions.
  • Sir Edward Coke introduced this concept, later developed by Dicey in “The Law and the Constitution” (1885).

2. Meanings by Dicey:

  • Supremacy of Law: Emphasizes regular law’s supremacy over arbitrary or discretionary power, crucial for administrative law.
  • Equality Before Law: Stresses equality and protection under ordinary law for all, criticizing special tribunals for government officials as undermining equality.
  • Predominance of Legal Spirit: Judicial decisions shape constitutional principles, ensuring fundamental rights without needing a written constitution.

3. Application under Indian Constitution:

  • Supremacy of the Constitution: Embodied in the Preamble and Fundamental Rights (Part III), subjecting all organs of the state to constitutional limits.
  • Judicial Review: Constitutionally empowered, ensuring enforcement of fundamental rights through writ jurisdiction (Article 32 and 226).
  • Equality Principle: Enshrined in Article 14, rejecting the notion of immunity for the government and public authorities from legal scrutiny.
  • Judicial Independence: Crucial for the rule of law, ensuring impartiality and adherence to constitutional principles.

4. Critiques and Evolution:

  • Separation of Powers: While the doctrine is essential, absolute separation can hinder modern governance and problem-solving.
  • Practical Challenges: Overlapping functions exist, especially in a welfare state where flexibility and collaboration are necessary.
  • Judicial Independence: Universally accepted, with the judiciary being independent from legislative and executive branches.

5. International Influences:

  • Originating from philosophers like John Bodin and Montesquieu, the theory of separation of powers emphasizes the distinct roles of legislative, executive, and judicial branches.

6. Criticism and Adaptation:

  • Historically, the theory faced challenges in practical application, especially in the British constitution.
  • Adaptation is crucial for modern governance, ensuring effective problem-solving while upholding constitutional principles like judicial independence.

Doctrine of Separation of Powers in India:

1.Constitutional Status:

  • The doctrine of separation of powers does not hold constitutional status in India. It was proposed in the Constituent Assembly but deliberately not included in the Constitution.
  • Article 50, in the Directive Principles, does emphasize the separation of the Judiciary from the Executive.

2. Parliamentary Executive:

  • The executive power rests with the President, but India follows a parliamentary executive system.
  • The Council of Ministers, headed by the Prime Minister, aids the President and is collectively responsible to the Lok Sabha.
  • The Supreme Court, in Ram Jawaya vs. State of Punjab (1955), noted that while not rigidly separated, the functions of different branches of government are differentiated.

3. Functional Overlapping:

  • There’s functional overlapping as seen in the President’s legislative and judicial powers, like ordinance-making and certain judicial functions.
  • The Supreme Court can declare laws or executive actions unconstitutional, ensuring a check on the powers of the legislature and executive.

4. Kesavananda Bharati Case:

  • The case highlighted that the separation of powers is a basic feature of the Constitution, integral to the basic structure.
  • No organ can usurp functions of another, and even constitutional amendments are subject to judicial review.

5. Judicial Review and Restraint:

  • Judicial review acts as a check against unconstitutional exercises of power by the legislature and executive.
  • The judiciary exercises self-imposed discipline to avoid overreach, especially in matters of social and economic justice.

6. Limitations on Judicial Power:

  • Courts cannot direct the legislature to enact specific laws or instruct the executive on legislative matters under delegated legislation.

Delegated Legislation in India:

`1. Definition and Purpose:

  • Delegated legislation refers to laws made by the executive under powers delegated by the legislature. It includes rules, regulations, bye-laws, orders, schemes, directions, circulars, or notifications.
  • The legislature often enacts laws with general principles, leaving detailed rule-making to the executive to supplement and implement the laws effectively.

2. Criticism and Concerns:

  • Initially criticized as undemocratic and potentially leading to bureaucratic despotism, the use of delegated legislation has evolved over time.
  • Concerns include the delegation of essential legislative functions, which could lead to an undemocratic concentration of power and potential misuse by the government.

3. Constitutional Perspective:

  • While there is no specific bar in the Indian constitution against delegation, essential legislative functions cannot be delegated.
  • The legislature must lay down the legislative policy, and delegation should not result in the abdication of essential legislative functions.

4. Restraints on Delegation:

  • The legislature should lay down standards or policy in the delegating Act, with the delegate free to execute the policy within those standards.
  • Excessive delegation, where the legislature grants unlimited legislative power, is not permissible. Courts follow the doctrine of excessive delegation to check this.

5. Control and Safeguards:

  • Judicial control, particularly through the doctrine of Ultra vires, acts as a significant measure to control delegated legislation.
  • Subordinate legislation can be declared void if it goes beyond the authority conferred or if it violates constitutional limits, including fundamental rights.

6. Examples of Judicial Intervention:

  • In cases like Hamdard Dawakhana vs. Union of India (1960), the courts clarified that essential legislative functions cannot be delegated.
  • The principle of reasonableness, derived from Article 14 (equality before law) of the Constitution, is used to assess the validity of laws and actions, ensuring they are not arbitrary or unreasonable.

Judicial Review

The power of judicial review is based on the fundamental principle that all powers must be exercised within the ambit of the law. This is known as the doctrine of intra vires. Courts exercise supervisory and appellate jurisdiction to determine the validity of administrative actions and decisions. The mechanism of judicial control falls into three groups:

  1. Special Leave Petition: Under Article 136, the Supreme Court has special or extraordinary power of judicial review. It can grant special leave to appeal from any judgment, decree, or order passed by any court or tribunal. The court intervenes when decisions are arbitrary or unfair.
  2. Supervisory Jurisdiction: High courts have supervisory jurisdiction under Article 227. They have superintendence over all courts and tribunals within their territories, ensuring they operate within legal limits and principles of natural justice.
  3. Alternative and Ordinary Remedies: High courts can exercise discretionary power under Article 227. However, when alternative remedies are available and effective, the court may choose not to intervene.

Writ Jurisdiction:

  • Article 32: Guarantees the right to move the Supreme Court for the enforcement of fundamental rights.
  • Article 226: Empowers high courts to issue directions or writs for the enforcement of fundamental and non-fundamental rights.

Principles for Exercise of Writ Jurisdiction:

  • Mandatory vs. Discretionary: Supreme Court’s jurisdiction under Article 32 for fundamental rights enforcement is mandatory. High courts’ jurisdiction under Article 226 is discretionary.
  • Delay and Laches: Courts may decline relief if there’s undue delay in seeking remedies.
  • Alternative Remedy: Courts may refuse writs if there’s an alternative legal remedy available, unless it’s not equally efficacious or convenient.
  • Res Judicata: Doctrine of res judicata applies, barring repeated filings of the same petition on the same grounds.

Types of Writs:

  • Habeas Corpus: Ensures swift judicial review of unlawful restraint on liberty.
  • Certiorari: Reviews decisions of inferior courts or authorities for legality and validity.
  • Prohibition: Prevents inferior courts from exceeding their jurisdiction.
  • Mandamus: Commands public authorities to perform public duties imposed by law.
  • Quo Warranto: Challenges the authority of an occupier of a public office or franchise.

The writ jurisdiction aims to uphold the rule of law, maintain constitutional mandates, and ensure accountability and fairness in administrative actions. 

Natural Justice and Fairness

  • Definition: Ensuring fair exercise of power by administrative agencies through fair procedures.
  • Audi Alteram Partem: The universal rule of fair procedure meaning “hear the other party.”
  • Conceptual Dimensions: Ethico-legal concept based on natural human feelings, evolving with civilization.
  • Right to Hearing: Fundamental safeguard against abuse of administrative power, embodied in Article 14 and 21 of the Constitution.

Principles of Natural Justice:

  • Rule Against Bias: Deciding authorities must be impartial and without bias; includes types of bias like pecuniary, personal, subject matter, etc.
  • Audi Alteram Partem: No one should be condemned unheard; notice and hearing are essential components.
  • Notice: Clear, specific, and unambiguous notice must be given before taking any adverse action.
  • Reasonable Opportunity: The notice should provide a reasonable opportunity for compliance.

Impact of PIL in India:

  • Definition and Object: Legal action initiated for public interest or general welfare, expanding the scope of locus standi.
  • Constitutional Basis: Rooted in Articles 14 (reasonableness) and 21 (right to life) of the Constitution.
  • Locus Standi: Extended to public-spirited individuals and social activists, allowing them to initiate proceedings for the public good.
  • Examples of PIL Cases: Covering areas like labour welfare, liberation of bonded labour, protection of women, public health, environmental protection, and prevention of corruption in public administration.

Significance of PIL:

  • Role in Social Justice: A tool for social change, promoting social welfare, and addressing issues of the marginalized.
  • Judicial Activism: Assertive role of courts in ensuring fairness, creativity in decision-making, and positive attitude in determining facts.
  • Achieving Constitutional Goals: Upholding ideals of justice, equality, and dignity as enshrined in the Constitution.

Revising PIL Impact Areas:

  • Labour Welfare: Focus on providing free legal aid, abolishing child labour, and ensuring fair treatment of workers.
  • Women Empowerment: Addressing issues like sexual harassment, custodial violence, and ensuring their rights in workplaces.
  • Environmental Protection: Court interventions to regulate pollution, protect natural resources, and preserve historical monuments like the Taj Mahal.
  • Good Governance: Checking corruption, ensuring accountability, and promoting transparency in public administration.

Judicial Precedents in PIL:

  • Referencing landmark cases like Sheela Barse vs. State of Maharashtra, Olga Tellis vs. Bombay Municipal Corporation, and MC Mehta cases to understand the court’s role and decisions in PIL matters.


  • PIL as a catalyst for social reform, ensuring constitutional principles, and advancing the cause of justice and fairness in society.

Judicial Activism:

  • Judicial activism is also known as judicial creativity, dynamism, and innovation.
  • It involves enforcing socio-economic ideals of justice by translating them into social reality.
  • The Supreme Court has restated, refashioned, and developed new principles and norms in administrative law through judicial activism.

Origin of Judicial Activism:

  • Originates from the doctrine of Judicial review, with a distinction between judicial review and judicial activism.
  • Judicial review ensures laws comply with fundamental law, while judicial activism responds actively to socio-economic issues.

Growth Reasons for Judicial Activism:

  1. Response to violations of human rights, such as in cases like Bandhua Mukti Morcha and Bhagalpur jail blinding case.
  2. Intervention against misuse of legislative powers, seen during emergencies like in the Minerva Mills case.
  3. Addressing failures in social legislation, especially in areas like environmental pollution, women’s exploitation, and child labor.
  4. Influence of coalition politics leading to cautious decision-making by governments, pushing people to seek redressal through the judiciary.

Criticism of Judicial Activism:

  1. Unnecessary interference in legislative and executive domains.
  2. Taking administrative actions that could be handled by the government.
  3. Challenges in implementing verdicts due to reliance on the executive for execution.
  4. Risk of diminishing public faith if the executive fails to execute judicial decisions effectively.
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