What is a State?

Article 12 defines the term ‘State’ as used in different Articles of Part III of the Constitution. It says that the context otherwise requires the term ‘State’ includes the following –

  • The Government and Parliament of India, i.e. Executive and Legislature of the Union.
  • The Government and Legislature of each State, i.e. Executive and Legislature of States.
  • All local or other authorities within the territory of India.
  • All local and other authorities under the control of the Government of India.

The term “State” includes legislature as well as the legislature organs of the Union and States. Therefore, it is the actions of these bodies that can be challenged before the Court as violating fundamental rights,

Authorities

“Authority” means a person or body exercising power to command. In the context of Article 12 the word “authority” means the power to make laws, orders, regulations, bye-laws, notification etc. which have the force of law and power to enforce those laws.

Local Authorities-

Local authorities as defined in Section 3 (31) of the General Clauses Act refer to authorities like Municipalities, District Boards, Panchayats, Improvement Trust and Mining Settlement Boards.

Other Authorities

  • Restricted Interpretation

In University of Madras v. Shanta Bai[1] the Madras High Court held that ‘other authorities’ could only indicate the authorities of a like nature, i.e. ejusdem generis. So it could only mean authorities exercising governmental or sovereign functions. It could not include persons, natural or juristic, such as a University unless ‘maintained by the State’.

  • Liberal Interpretation

In Ujjambai v. State of U.P[2] the court rejected the restrictive expression ‘other authorities’ given by the Madras High Court and held that eusdem generis rule could not be resorted to in interpreting this expression.

  • More Broad and Liberal Interpretation

With the changing role of the State from merely being a police state to a welfare state it is necessary to widen the scope of expression “authorities” in Article 12 so as to include all bodies which were though no created by the Constitution or by a Statute, were acting as agencies or instrumentalities of the Government.

In Ramana Dayaram Shetty v. The International Airport Authority of India[3], the Court held that if a body is an agency or instrumentality of government it may be ‘authority’ within the meaning of Article 12 whether it is a statutory corporation, a government company or even a registered society.

The Court laid down the following tests for determining whether a body is an agency or instrumentality of the Government –

  • Financial resources of the State is the chief funding source
  • Existence of deep and pervasive control
  • Functional character being governmental in essence
  • A department of government is transferred to a corporation
  • Whether the corporation enjoys monopoly of the State conferred or State Protection

In Som Prakash v. Union of India[4], the Court held that a government company (Bharat Petroleum Corporation) fell within the meaning of Article 12. The expression ‘other authorities’ would include all constitutional or statutory authorities on whom powers are conferred for the purpose of  carrying commercial activities or bodies created for the purpose of promoting economic activities.

In Ajay Hasia v. Khalid Mujib[5] it has been held that society registered under the Societies registered under the Societies Registration Act, 1898 is an agency or instrumentality of the State and hence a State within the meaning of Article 12.

In Central Inland Water Corporation v. Borjo Nath Ganguly[6] it was held that the government company which was wholly owned by the central government and managed by the chairman and directors, appointed and removable by the central government was “the state” within the meaning of Article 12 and therefore an instrumentality or agency of a State.

Authorities under the control of the Government of India

It is meant to bring into the definition of the State all areas outside the Indian territory but which are under or may come under the control of the Government of India such as mandatory or trustees authorities.

In Satimbala Sharma v. St. Paul’s senior secondary school[7], the Court held that – Unaided minority schools over which the government has no administrative control due to their authority under Article 30(1) of the Constitution are not “State” within the meaning of Article 12 of the Constitution.

In the absence of any authorization if a private body chooses to discharge any such function which is not prohibited by a law then it would be incorrect to hold that such action of the body would make it an instrumentality of the State was held in the case of Zee Telefilms Ltd. v. Union of India[8].

In Antulay v. R.S. Nayak[9]  it was held that the court cannot pass an order or issue a direction which would be violative of fundamental rights of the citizens, it can be said that the expression “State” as defined in Article 12 of the Constitution includes judiciary also.

These were the leading case laws on the interpretation of “other authorities” in Article 12.

References

Dr. J.N. Pandey, “Constitutional Law of India” (Central Law Agency 57th Edition 2020) 61


[1] AIR 1954 Mad. 67

[2] AIR 1962 SC 1621

[3] AIR 1979 SC 1628

[4] AIR 1981 SC 212

[5] AIR 1981 SC 487

[6] [1986] 3 SCC 156

[7] AIR 2011 SC 2926

[8] AIR 2005 SC 2677

[9] AIR 1988 SC 1531

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