Interpretation of state under Article 12
State is defined under Article 12 of the Constitution which is as follows, “Definition in this part, unless the context otherwise requires, the State includes the Government and Parliament of India and the Government and the Legislature 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.”
We are sure that you must have come across the word ‘state’ many times in your life. This word has its own story of emergence and existence in the Indian Constitution. There have been many attempts to interpret the most reliable meaning of the word. The word literally means, ‘a nation or territory considered as an organized political community under one government’. This definition can be taken in account only when one’s intention is to understand the word but when we talk about the legal sector a lot is on stack. This word is used widely in the entire Constitution and thus it was necessary to clarify the interpretation of the word.
Article 12 to 35 under Part III of the Indian Constitution guarantees and also defines all the Fundamental Rights of an individual. These rights are the weapons which are present to safeguard an individual’s dignity, integrity and liberty. Also, these rights are considered to be infringed only when such an act is done by the ‘state’. This is the reason why correct interpretation of state is significant for the society
To claim against the state, one should have the knowledge about what falls under the umbrella of this word. The scope of this word is much deeper and bigger than the framers of the constitution would have imagined. This word acts as the foundation stone for the building of the Indian Constitution.
Interpretation of state under Article 12
As we have discussed earlier, Articles 12 to 35 under Part III of the Indian Constitution (see here) are written to define the fundamental rights of the citizens; it also defines the word ‘state’. State is defined under Article 12 of the Constitution which is as follows,
“Definition in this part, unless the context otherwise requires, the State includes the Government and Parliament of India and the Government and the Legislature 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.”
To conclude, according to the Constitution following collectively form the state,
- Government and Parliament of India (executive as well as legislature at union level)
- Government and Parliament of all the states (executive as well as legislature at state level)
- Local and other authorities within the territory of India.
- Local and other authorities which are under the control of Government of India.
Ambit of Terms Used in Definition
There are various terms used in the definition which are to be taken into account to interpret the correct meaning of the State.
- Government and Parliament
- Parliament- when we talk about the Parliament of India, we address the President of India, The Lower House (commonly known as Lok Sabha) and the Upper House (commonly known as Rajya Sabha).
- Legislature- it is one of the important organs of government which is responsible for formulating laws and has the authority to enforce those with legality and force. It is formed by elected members which represent the requirements of the citizens and beliefs of the society. It is the law-making body for the government.
- Executive- mere formulating laws do not ensure implementation of the same, for that we need a separate body which is known as Executive in India. This body is responsible for ensuring that all the systems are working in accordance with proper law and order. With time the responsibility of the state has risen but on grounds of reality work of the executive has risen. It includes the President, Governor, Cabinet Ministers, Police and Bureaucrats, etc.
- Government- it covers different systems under one shadow. Law- making body or Legislature, administrative or executive, Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha, President and the Supreme Court, High Courts and Districts Courts together form the Judiciary. All above mentioned departments come together to form the Government and a successful Governance.
- State Legislature
There are few areas where states are allowed to form laws, in accordance with the Constitution, for their respective states. Such law-making bodies at the state level are known as state legislature. It is formed by the state legislative assembly and state legislative council.
- Local authorities
As per the General Clause Act, 1897 Section 3(31) “Local Authority shall mean a municipal committee, district board, body of commissioner or other authority legally entitled to or entrusted by the Government within the control or management of a municipal or local fund.”
It includes local government as well as village panchayats. According to Entry 5 of the List II of VII Schedule(see here) local authorities include municipal corporation, improvement trust, district boards, mining settlement authorities and other local authorities for the purpose of local self-government or village administration. In Ajit Singh v. State of Punjab case, it was held that village panchayats will also be considered as part of local authorities.
Even after constant changes there are circumstances where, mentioning of all the authorities is difficult, it is for such reasons there is a list of points given by Supreme Court in its judgement over Mohammad Yasin v. Town Area Committee. The following points categorise an authority under ‘local authority’.
- Should be a separate legal corporate entity. Need not to be necessarily a government
- The functioning need to be in a defined area
- It should be directly or indirectly or wholly or partially elected by the inhabitants of the area.
- Shall enjoy complete or partial autonomy.
- A body which is entrusted to perform jobs which is otherwise performed by government authorities.
- Have the power to raise funds for the furtherance of its activities and fulfilment of its objectives by levying taxes, rates, charges or fees
- Other authorities
The term ‘other authorities’ is not defined anywhere in the Constitution of India or General Clause Act 1897; this has resulted in confusion and inadequacy among the legal system of the country. To avoid such confusions different courts have given different judgements in order to restore the law order in the country.
In the case of University of Madras v. Shanta Bai, the Madras High Court introduced the principle of ‘ejusdem generis’ which means ‘like nature’. According to the judgement only those authorities which perform similar functions as government authorities are to be treated under ‘other authorities. It also mentioned that it cannot include persons or juristic, for example, unaided universities.
This principle was rejected by the court in the case of Ujjam Bai v. State of U. P.  by stating that such comparisons or points of similarities cannot be made. The bodies which are covered under Article 12 have no common points and they cannot be placed in one single category on any rational basis.
At last, in Rajasthan Electricity Board v. Mohan Lal The Supreme Court held that ‘other authorities’ include all authorities which are formed by the constitution of India or statute on whom powers are conferred by law. It also cleared that such powers are not commercial in nature.
- Territory of India
Article 1(3) of the Constitution of India states that;
“The territory of India shall comprise- (a) the territories of the States;(b) the Union territories specified in the First Schedule; and (c) such other territories as may be acquired.”
This definition was also upheld in the case of Masthan Sahib v. Chief Commissioner.
- Control of the Government of India
It is not necessary for a body to be wholly or partially owned by the government; only a slight area of control can make a body under the ambit of the government.
Is Judiciary Part of ‘State’
There is no mention of the Judiciary in the Article 12 of the Constitution which implies that they have the autonomy of pronouncing judgements which may be infringing fundamental rights of an individual. There is a lot of discussion over the matter out of which one is why a judgement violative of fundamental rights is not disputed but we see many other judgements or rules being criticized and reappealed.
At this moment we realize that judgements (not violating fundamental rights) or rules formulated by the judiciary come under their non-judicial functions. This is to be noted that only when a court performs its non-judicial functions it comes under the ambit of ‘state’ as mentioned in the Article 12.
Hence judicial decisions of a court cannot be questioned but administrative decisions or a rule made by the judiciary can be challenged. In the case of Naresh Shridhar Mirajkar v. State of Maharashtra, a 9-bench of the Supreme Court held that when a competent judge pronounces judgement in his competent jurisdiction related to matter which comes in the chambers of court cannot affect the fundamental rights of a citizen. The Judiciary purports to decide the controversy between the parties brought before the court and nothing else. Hence it cannot be challenged under Article 12.
Interpretation of State under Article 12 is a much broader concept as it may seem. There have been constant changes and challenges faced by this concept. The Constitution not only gives fundamental rights it also helps to fill the loopholes which may lead to infringe such rights. It makes it a duty and part of responsibility of various administrative authorities to maintain the essence of Article 13 to 35. The interpretation may be difficult but is definitely not impossible as proved in the past years.
 General Clause Act, 1897 (10 of 1897)
 Ajit Singh v. State of Punjab 1967 AIR 856, 1967 SCR (2) 143
 Mohammad Yasin v. Town Area Committee 1952 AIR 115, 1952 SCR 572
 University of Madras v. Shanta Bai AIR 1954 Mad 67, (1953) IIMLJ 287
 Ujjammabai v. State of U. P. 1962 AIR 1621, 1963 SCR (1) 778
 Rajasthan Electricity Board v. Mohan Lal 1967 AIR 1857, 1967 SCR (3) 377
 Masthan Sahib v. Chief Commissioner 1962 AIR 797, 1962 SCR Supl. (1) 981