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Administrative Law in simple words means the Law relating to administration. It determines the organization, powers and duties of the administrative authorities. 

As per Dr. F.J. Port “Administrative law is made up of all these legal rules whether formally  expressed by statute or implied in the prerogative which have their ultimate object the  fulfilment of public law.” 

Administrative law is actually the by-product of the growing socio-economic functions of the State. Administrative law has become necessary for the developed society, and the relationship between the administrative authorities and the people has become very complex.  

Thus in order to regulate such complex relations, a law is necessary which may bring about certainty and act as a check at the same time in case of misuse of powers vested with the administrative authorities. 

The Administrative law clearly deals with the composition and powers of different organs of administration. In simple words, administrative law deals with the powers, particularly the quasi-judicial and quasi-legislative administrative authorities along with their executive powers. 

With the growth of the society, its complexity increased and created new challenges for the administration. In ancient society, the functions of the state were very few. The prominent ones among them included protection from foreign invasion, levying taxes and maintenance of peace and order. It doesn’t mean that there was no administrative law before the 20th century arrived.  

In India, administrative law can be traced back to perfectly organized administration under the  Mauryas and the Guptas, centuries before the Christ, After the Mughals, the East India Company,  showed the entire world about the modern administrative system.  

But today, the functions of the state are two-fold. Firstly, the state is regarded as the custodian of the social welfare of the people and secondly, there is no activity which is free from the interference of the state either directly or indirectly.  

Since the state has been granted certain powers and duties, it also carries new responsibilities.  An increasing number of responsibilities of the state, it leads to an era of administrative law. The development of administrative law was the utmost necessity of modern times. The study of administrative law makes us familiar with the rules according to which the administration should be done. 

Scope of Administrative law 

The boundaries of administrative law extend only when administrative agencies and public officials exercise their statutory or public powers while performing public duties.  

There are two types of functions one is public law and the other is private law. The former is one which governs the relationship between the state and the individual, while the latter governs the relationship between individual citizens. For example, if a citizen works in a factory owned by the state and is later dismissed by them, he will sue under a private law function.  


But, if he was a civil servant, he will sue under public law function. The rules and principles of administrative law are applicable when there is a relationship between citizens and the state. It does not extend in cases where the nature of the relationship is under private law.

The purpose of administrative law revolves around administrative agencies appointed by the legislature and they function as per the procedure and powers granted to them. The study of administrative law is thus limited to analysing the manner as per which matters move through an agency. 

Regarding the aspect of judicial review, every time a question arises about whether a particular decision is correct or not. Thus, administrative law is not only concerned with the merits of the decision, but also with the decision-making process. 

Development of administrative law in India 

The development of administrative law in India can be traced back to ancient times. The  Mauryas and the Gupta followed a centralised administrative system. Then came the Mughals who had a similar administrative system to them. The rulers and kings were mostly concerned majorly about Protecting the state and people from external aggression, maintenance of law and order and collecting different taxes from the people. 

When the British arrived in India, there was the development of modern administrative law. After the establishment of the East India Company, the government’s powers increased. During that period several Acts, legislatures and statutes were brought by the British Parliament for regulating the public safety, health, morality, transport etc.  

The licences era began with the State Carriage Act, 1861. The first public corporation was established under the Bombay Port Trust Act, 1879. There were many statutes which provided for granting permits, licences and settlement of disputes using administrative authorities and tribunals.

While the Second World War was going on in the world, the executive powers in India were exercised under power granted in the Defence of India Act. During that period the British government also issued many administrative instructions and orders. 

After India got independent, it adopted a welfare state approach, which increased the activities of the state. With increasing power and activities of the Government and administrative authorities triggered the need for ‘Rule of Law’ and ‘Judicial Review’. The Constitution of India itself states the philosophy of a welfare state. The Constitutional provisions were made to secure all citizens’ equality, social, economic and political justice and opportunity. The 

ownership and control of material resources should be not confined in hands of a few but should be so distributed among all the members of society to serve the common good. 

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At the time of the formation of the constitution, provisions were borrowed from different countries of the world. For better administration and execution of laws, the concept of delegated legislation was also borrowed from the contemporary world in order to cater for the needs of India. If it was found that the rules, regulations and orders passed by the administrative authorities were beyond its powers then they were declared ultra-vires and void. This flexibility of administrative law also marks an important feature of the evolution of administrative law in India. 

In the case of Vellunkunnel v. Reserve Bank of India1, the Supreme Court held that under the Banking Companies Act, 1949, the Reserve Bank was the sole authority to decide whether the affairs of a Banking company were being conducted in a manner prejudicial to the depositors and passed an order for winding up as it was demanded by the Reserve Bank of India in its petition before the Hon’ble court. 

Also, in the landmark case of State of Andhra Pradesh v. C. V. Rao2, the Supreme Court while dealing with a case of departmental inquiry, held that the jurisdiction of the court to issue a  writ of certiorari is merely supervisory in nature. If the tribunal had passed an order on the basis of some evidence on record such findings cannot be challenged on the ground that the evidence is insufficient or inadequate. To determine the adequacy or sufficiency of the evidence is the exclusive jurisdiction of the tribunal.  

The Apex Court in the matter of Shrivastava v. Suresh Singh3, held that in matters relating to questions regarding adequacy or sufficiently of an expert opinion of public service commission it will be accepted by the court on the record.

The Supreme Court in the case of State of Gujrat  v. M. I. Haider Bux4, held that under the provisions of the Land Acquisition Act, 1994, the government is the best authority to decide whether the land is used for public purposes and whether the land can be acquired for that purpose or not.  

On one hand, the activities and powers of the government and administrative authorities have increased and on the other hand, there is a desperate need for the enforcement of the rule of law and judicial review over the powers exercised. Thus, the citizens must be free to enjoy the liberties guaranteed to them by the constitution.  

The constitution of India provides the right of appeal, review, revision etc. and at the same time provides remedies embodied under Article 32, 226 and 227 of the constitution of India. The principle of judicial review today is accepted as a part of our constitution, and the order passed by the administrative authorities can be easily quashed and set aside if it is passed in a mala fide manner or ultra vires of the Act or the provisions of the constitution. If the rules, regulations or orders passed by the authorities were not within their powers, they can be declared ultra vires,  and void. 


1 1962 AIR 1371 

2 1975 AIR 2151 

3 1976 AIR 1404 

4 1977 AIR 594

Concept of Rule of Law and Administrative Law  

The term ‘Rule of Law’ is a French phrase which means ‘la principle de legalite’, i.e. a  Government based on the principles of law. The ideals of rule of law can be seen in the  Constitution of India which are justice, liberty and equality are embodied in the preamble.  As per Prof. Dicey, the structure rule of law is structured on three principles:- 

1. Supremacy of Law: It means that no one is above law. What is supreme is rule of law. Prime Minister and a common man are on equal footing. Law is equally applicable to both of them. 

2. Equality before Law: It states that no man is above law. The application of rule of law can be seen in Article 13 of the constitution of India.  

3. Predominance of Legal Spirit: It states that the general principles of the constitution are the end result of juridical decisions determining the file right of private person cases before the Court. 

In the landmark judgement in Kesavanda Bharti v. State of Kerala5, (1973) 4 SCC 225(  Apex Court ruled that the rule of law forms an essential part of the doctrine of basic structure.  The Supreme Court in Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India6, held that Article 14 strikes against arbitrariness. 

In A.D.M Jabalpur v. Shivakant Shukla7, Hon’ble Supreme Court by the majority that there was no rule of law other than the constitutional rule of law and Article 21 was the new rule of law. 


The purpose of administrative law was to limit the powers of the governmental agencies and keep a check on the administrative authorities while exercising their powers. But it is not always possible to rely upon some general statutes for rising disputes between the individuals and the public authorities thus there is a need for a proper law to govern such disputes and administrative law which governs the administrative actions.8 

5 1973 4 SCC 225 

6 AIR 1978 SC 597 

7 AIR 1976 SC 1207 

8Janane Magnesh, Reasons for Growth of Administrative Law



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