Judicial Review of Administrative Action in India


June 13, 2018

In a recent case, Mahendra Singh v. Delhi Power Supply Co. Ltd.[1] the High Court of Delhi while deciding on judicial review of disciplinary proceedings opined that the judicial review of disciplinary proceedings, against an allegedly errant employee or workman, and of the decision to punish him involves the examination of the issues:

  • whether the allegations in the charge-sheet, if taken as true, amount to “misconduct” or not;
  • whether due process was followed, at every stage of the proceedings, from issuance of the charge-sheet to the final appellate or reversionary order, as the case may be; and, if not, whether the lacuna(e) in following due process was fatal to the proceedings
  • whether the findings of the disciplinary/appellate/ reviewing authority were sustainable on merits, and
  • whether the punishment awarded to the employee was proportionate to the misconduct committed by him.

Other issue taken up by the Delhi High Court was whether the allegations, as contained in the charge-sheet issued to the official concerned, amount to “misconduct” or not?

The Court while referring to plethora of judgments stated that every transgression, by an official or employee, is not “misconduct”. Non-attainment of the highest standards of performance, or highest degree of efficiency, by an employee, is not “misconduct”, though it may be a relevant consideration while taking up the case of the employee for service benefits such as promotion, etc.

What does misconduct involve?

In this context, the Delhi High Court was of the view that “Misconduct” involves transgression of an established code of conduct, and is usually tainted with an element of culpability. Such culpability may be express, i.e. where the misconduct is deliberately committed, or implied, such as a case of gross negligence, in which substantial loss has resulted to the establishment, as a consequence of the alleged delinquency of the employee concerned. Mere negligence, sans these elements, would not constitute “misconduct”.

Other cases which has elucidated on judicial review of disciplinary proceedings or administrative action are enumerated below:

Gohil Vishvaraj Hanubhai vs State of Gujarat[2]– In this case, the Supreme Court referred to two judgments which are frequently quoted in reference to judicial review of administrative action:

Council of Civil Service Unions v. Minister for the Civil Service[3]– In this case, Lord Diplock summarised the principles as follows “Judicial review has I think developed to a stage today when without reiterating any analysis of the steps by which the development has come about, one can conveniently classify under three heads the grounds upon which administrative action is subject to control by judicial review.

The first ground I would call “illegality”, the second “irrationality” and the third “procedural impropriety”. That is not to say that further development on a case-by-case basis may not in course of time add further grounds. I have in mind particularly the possible adoption in the future of the principle of “proportionality” which is recognised in the administrative law of several of our fellow members of the European Economic Community; but to dispose of the instant case the three already well established heads that I have mentioned will suffice.

He declared that the head “irrationality” is synonymous with “Wednesbury unreasonableness” (Associated Provincial Picture Houses Ltd. v. Wednesbury Corpn.)[4])

The principle laid down in Council of Civil Service Unions case, has been quoted with approval by this Court in Tata Cellular v. Union of India[5], and Siemens Public Communication Networks (P) Ltd. v. Union of India[6].

The Court in the case also observed that normally while exercising the power of judicial review, the courts would only examine the decision-making process of the administrative authorities but not the decision itself[7].


[1] W.P. (C) 5835/2002 decided on June 11, 2018

[2](2017) 13 SCC 621

[3] 1985 AC 374

[4] (1948) 1 KB 223 (CA)

[5] (1994) 6 SCC 651

[6] (2008) 16 SCC 215 : AIR 2009 SC 1204

[7] All India Railway Recruitment Board v. K. Shyam Kumar, (2010) 6 SCC 614, Sterling Computers Ltd. v. M&N Publications Ltd., (1993) 1 SCC 445, State of A.P. v. P.V. Hanumantha Rao, (2003) 10 SCC 121]