July 6, 2022

‘Other Authorities’ under Article 12- An analysis

What is state under Article 12

‘State’ is defined in Art. 12 to include inter alia the Government of India and the Government of each of the States and all local or other authorities within the territory of India or under the control of the Government of India and the question therefore is whether the Society can be said to be ‘State’ within the meaning of this definition.

It is obvious that the Society cannot be equated with the Government of India or the Government of any State nor can it be said to be a local authority and therefore, it must come within the expression “other authorities” if it is to fall within the definition of ‘State’.

What are the “other authorities” contemplated in the definition of ‘State’ in Art. 12?

While considering this question it is necessary to bear in mind that an authority falling within the expression “other authorities” is, by reason of its inclusion within the definition of ‘State’ in Article 12, subject to the same constitutional limitations as the Government and is equally bound by the basic obligation to obey the constitutional mandate of the Fundamental Rights enshrined in Part III of the Constitution.

Where constitutional fundamentals vital to the maintenance of human rights are at stake, functional realism and not facial cosmetics must be the diagnostic tool, for constitutional law must seek the substance and not the form.

Government’s instrumentalities to carry out its functions

It is obvious that the Government may act through the instrumentality or agency of natural persons or it may employ the instrumentality or agency of juridical persons to carry out its functions.

In the early days when the Government had limited functions, it could operate effectively through natural persons constituting its civil service and they were found adequate to discharge governmental functions which were of traditional vintage. But as the tasks of the Government multiplied with the advent of the welfare State, it began to be increasingly felt that the frame work of civil service was not sufficient to handle the new tasks which were often specialised and highly technical in character and which called for flexibility of approach and quick decision making.

The inadequacy of the civil service to deal with these new problems came to be realised and it became necessary to forge a new instrumentality or administrative device for handing these new problems. It was in these circumstances and with a view to supplying this administrative need that the corporation came into being as the third arm of the Government and over the years it has been increasingly utilised by the Government for setting, up and running public enterprises and carrying out other public functions.

Today with increasing assumption by the Government of commercial ventures and economic projects, the corporation has become an effective legal contrivance in the hands of the Government for carrying out its activities, for it is found that this legal facility of corporate instrument provides considerable flexibility and elasticity and facilitates proper and efficient management with professional skills and on business principles and it is blissfully free from “departmental rigidity, slow motion procedure and hierarchy of officers”.

The Government in many of its commercial ventures and public enterprises is resorting to more and more frequently to this resourceful legal contrivance of a corporation because it has many practical advantages and at the same time does not involve the slightest diminution in its ownership and control of the undertaking. In such cases “the true owner is the State, the real operator is the State and the effective controllorate is the State and accountability for its actions to the community and to Parliament is of the State.”

 It is undoubtedly true that the corporation is a distinct juristic entity with a corporate structure of its own and it carries on its functions on business principles with a certain amount of autonomy which is necessary as well as useful from the point of view of effective business management, but behind the formal ownership which is cast in the corporate mould, the reality is very much the deeply pervasive presence of the Government. It is really the Government which acts through the instrumentality or agency of the corporation and the juristic veil of corporate personality worn for the purpose of convenience of management and administration cannot be allowed to obliterate the true nature of the reality behind which is the Government.

Government’s instrumentalities are subject to same limitations as the Government itself

Now it is obvious that if a corporation is an instrumentality or agency of the Government, it must be subject to the same limitations in the field of constitutional law as the Government itself, though in the eye of the law it would be a distinct and independent legal entity. If the Government acting through its officers is subject to certain constitutional limitations, it must follow a fortiorari that the Government acting through the instrumentality or agency of a corporation should equally be subject to the same limitations.

If such a corporation were to be free from the basic obligation to obey the Fundamental Rights, it would lead to considerable erosion of the efficiency of the Fundamental Rights, for in that event the Government would be enabled to over-ride the Fundamental Rights by adopting the stratagem of carrying out its functions through the instrumentality or agency of a corporation, while retaining control over it. The Fundamental Rights would then be reduced to little more than an idle dream or a promise of unreality.

It must be remembered that the Fundamental Rights are constitutional guarantees given to the people of India and are not merely paper hopes or fleeting promises and so long as they find a place in the Constitution, they should not be allowed to be emasculated in their application by a narrow and constricted judicial interpretation. The courts should be anxious to enlarge the scope and width of the Fundamental Rights by bringing within their sweep every authority which is an instrumentality or agency of the Government or through the corporate personality of which the Government is acting, so as to subject the Government in all its myriad activities, whether through natural persons or through corporate entities, to the basic obligation of the Fundamental Rights.

The mantle of a corporation may be adopted in order to free the Government from the inevitable constraints of red-tapism and slow motion but by doing so, the Government cannot be allowed to play truant with the basic human rights. Otherwise it would be the easiest thing for the government to assign to a plurality of corporations almost every State business such as Post and Telegraph, TV and Radio, Rail Road and Telephones-in short every economic activity-and there by cheat the people of India out of the Fundamental Rights guaranteed to them. That would be a mockery of the Constitution and nothing short of treachery and breach of faith with the people of India, because, though apparently the corporation will be carrying out these functions, it will in truth and reality be the Government which will be controlling the corporation and carrying out these functions through the instrumentality or agency of the corporation.

That would be contrary to the constitutional faith of the post- Maneka Gandhi era. It is the Fundamental Rights which along with the Directive Principles constitute the life force of the Constitution and they must be quickened into effective action by meaningful and purposive interpretation. If a corporation is found to be a mere agency or surrogate of the Government, “in fact owned by the Government, in truth controlled by the government and in effect an incarnation of the government,” the court must not allow the enforcement of Fundamental Rights to be frustrated by taking the view that it is not the government and therefore not subject to the constitutional limitations.

Therefore, were a corporation is an instrumentality or agency of the government, it must be held to be an ‘authority’ within the meaning of Art. 12 and hence subject to the same basic obligation to obey the Fundamental Rights as the government.

Test to determine an authority as a State

The very question as to when a corporation can be regarded as an ‘authority’ within the meaning of Art. 12 arose for consideration before Court in R. D. Shetty v. The International Airport Authority of India & Ores[1]. There, in a unanimous judgment of three Judges, the Court pointed out:

” …. if extensive and unusual financial assistance is given and the purpose of the Government in giving such assistance coincides with the purpose for which the corporation is expected to use the assistance and such purpose is of public character, it may be a relevant circumstance supporting an inference that the corporation is an instrumentality or agency of Government….. It may therefore be possible to say that where the financial assistance of the State is so much as to meet almost entire expenditure of the corporation, it would afford some indication of the corporation being impregnated with governmental character ……….But a finding of State financial support plus an unusual degree of control over the management and policies might lead one to characterise an operation as State action, So also the existence of deep and pervasive State control may afford an indication that the Corporation is a State agency or instrumentality. It may also be a relevant factor to consider whether the corporation enjoys monopoly status which is State conferred or State protected. There can be little doubt that State conferred or State protected monopoly status would be highly relevant in assessing the aggregate weight of the corporation’s ties to the State.”

In ‘Ajay Hasia v. Khalid Mujib seharvardi[2]; the court while approving the test laid down by court in Shetty case, said that,

“These tests are not conclusive or clinching, but they are merely indicative indicia which have to be used with care and caution, because while stressing the necessity of a wide meaning to be placed on the expression “other authorities”, it must be realised that it should not be stretched so far as to bring in every autonomous body which has some nexus with the Government within the sweep of the expression. A wide enlargement of the meaning must be tempered by a wise limitation.”

Summary of the tests

We may summarise the relevant tests gathered from the decision in the International Airport Authority’s case as follows,

  • “One thing is clear that if the entire share capital of the corporation is held by Government it would go a long way towards indicating that the corporation is an instrumentality or agency of Government.”
  • “Where the financial assistance of the State is so much as to meet almost entire expenditure of the corporation, it would afford some indication of the corporation being impregnated with governmental character.”
  • “It may also be a relevant factor…….whether the corporation enjoys monopoly status which is the State conferred or State protected.”
  • “Existence of deep and pervasive State control may afford an indication that the Corporation is a State agency or instrumentality.”
  • “If the functions of the corporation of public importance and closely related to governmental functions, it would be a relevant factor in classifying the corporation as an instrumentality or agency of Government.”
  • “Specifically, if a department of Government is transferred to a corporation, it would be a strong factor supportive of this inference of the corporation being an instrumentality or agency of Government.”

If on a consideration of these relevant factors it is found that the corporation is an instrumentality or agency of government, it would, as pointed out in the International Airport Authority’s case, be an ‘authority’ and, therefore, ‘State’ within the meaning of the expression in Article 12.

Again, in ‘Ajay Hasia (Supra)’ the court concluded on this question that,

“We may point out that it is immaterial for this purpose whether the corporation is created by a statute or under a statute. The test is whether it is an instrumentality or agency of the Government and not as to how it is created. The inquiry has to be not as to how the juristic person is born but why it has been brought into existence. The corporation may be a statutory corporation created by a statute or it may be a Government Company or a company formed under the Companies Act, 1956 or it may be a society registered under the Societies Registration Act, 1860 or any other similar statute.

Whatever be its genetical origin, it would be an “authority” within the meaning of Article 12 if it is an instrumentality or agency of the Government and that would have to be decided on a proper assessment of the facts in the light of the relevant factors.

The types of instrumentalities

The concept of instrumentality or agency of the Government is not limited to a corporation created by a statute but is equally applicable to a company or society and in a given case it would have to be decided, on a consideration of the relevant factors, whether the company or society is an instrumentality or agency of the Government so as to come within the meaning of the expression “authority” in Article 12.

It is also necessary to add that merely because a juristic entity may be an “authority” and therefore “State” within the meaning of Article 12, it may not be elevated to the position of “State” for the purpose of Articles 309, 310 and 311 which find a place in Part XIV.

Reference

As views expressed by Hon’ble supreme Court in Ajay Hasia Etc. vs Khalid Mujib Sehravardi & Ors. Etc; 1981 AIR 487, 1981 SCR (2) 79


[1] 1979 AIR 1628

[2] 1981 AIR 487’