L Chandra Kumar v. Union of India

Citation(1995) 1 SCC 400: 1995 AIR SCW 1200
AppeallantL Chandra Kumar
RespondentUnion of India
BenchCJI A.M Ahmadi, Justices M.M Punchhi, K.Ramaswamy, S.P Barucha, S.Saghir Ahmad, K.Venkataswamy & K.T Thomas
JudgmentMarch 18th 1997
ActsConstitution of India


There was considerable controversy over the constitutionality of Articles 323A and 323B, as it had been felt that perhaps the exemption of the High Court’s jurisdiction in matters pertaining to service was contradictory to the spirit of the law. In the numerous cases right from the Keshavnanda Bharati’s[1] case to Sampat Kumar’s case[2] and beyond the courts have put in efforts towards setting this controversy to the rest but, perhaps generating more controversies. However, the matter was finally set for a rest in the landmark judgment given by the court of L.Chandra Kumar’s case.Histological evaluation of this case helps to explain the Administrative Tribunals’ positions on the vis-a-vis of judicial review and the basic structure of the constitution.


For a long time, there was a continuous search that was in play for the mechanism that would relieve the courts, including the Supreme Court and High Court, from the overburden of the service matters that were contributing to a big portion in the pending litigation. In 1958, this problem gained the attention of the law Commission and the recommendation made by the Law Commission was for the establishment of the tribunals consisting of judicial and administrative members towards the pending service matters[3]. In 1969, there was another recommendation made by the Administrative Reform Commission towards the establishment of civil service tribunals towards the both center as well as the state civil servants[4]. A committee was appointed by the Central Government under the chairmanship of Justice J.C.Shah of Supreme Court in 1969 that also gave the same recommendation regarding the same. In 1975, it was also recommended by the Swarn Singh Committee towards the settlement of service tribunals. The idea also grabbed the majority of setting up service tribunal by the Supreme Court of India, in the case of K.K. Dutta v. Union of India[5] it was recommended regarding the same for the establishment of the service tribunal to save guard the courts from the avalanche of appeals and writ petition for the service matter[6].

This was against the backdrop regarding the parliament passing the Constitution (Forty-Second Amendment) Act, 1976, form which Part – XIA – A was added in the constitution. This part is entitled as “tribunals” and consisted of two articles: Article 323 – A, towards the dealing in the administrative tribunal and Article 323 – B, dealing with the tribunals regarding the other matters.

Article 323 – A, empowers the parliament regarding the establishment of the administrative tribunals towards the adjudication of the matters relating towards the recruitment and conditions of service for the people that are appointed for the public service of the Centre, the states, the local bodies,  public corporations and other authorities regarding the public. In other words, Article 323 – A, enables the parliament to carry out the adjudication process of disputes that are related to the service, and taking them from the civil courts and high courts and placing it in the administrative tribunals to lessen the burdens of others courts. Under the enactment of Article 323 – A, the parliament passed the ‘Administrative Tribunals Act’, 1985, this act authorized the government for the establishment of the several state tribunals and one apex tribunal. The sole purpose for which the tribunals were set was to provide speedy trial and inexpensive justice to the aggrieved parties (public servants). There were three types of tribunals set under The Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985, here:

  • An administrative tribunal was established by the Central Government of India called as Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT), it was granted the jurisdiction towards the adjudication of the service matters regarding the central employees, or of any union territories or any local or another government employee which falls under the jurisdiction of the Government of India or of a corporation owned or managed by the government of India. The central administrative tribunal is a multi-member body comprising of a chairman, vice-chairman, and other members. To this day, it has a chairman, 16 Vice-Chairman, and 49 members. They are drawn from both stream, i.e., Judicial and Administrative, and are appointed through the president of India.
  • The Central Government holds up the power to set-up a state tribunal, only on the receipt of a request in this behalf by the state government, and thus there can be an administrative tribunal is established towards the matter of state employees. Like CAT, the SATs (State Administrative Tribunal) has the original jurisdiction towards the adjudication and in relation to recruitment and all service matters of state employees. The SATs are also comprised of The Chairman, Vice-Chairman, and Other members these all are appointed by the president in the consultation with the state concerned governor.
  • There also exists the third type of administrative tribunal where, two or more states ask for a joint tribunal, which is thereby called as Joint Administrative Tribunal (JAT), whose jurisdiction and exercising of power are for each state. This has the same structure as Chairman, Vice-Chairman & Other members, these are thereby, appointed by the president in the consultation with the governor of the concerned states.

Therefore, each tribunal shall consist of a chairperson and such several vice-chairpersons and representatives of the judiciary and administration as the relevant government can deem fit.

Article 323 – B, empowers the parliament and also the state legislatures towards the establishment of required tribunals towards the adjudicating of the following disputes: Taxation, Foreign Exchange, Industrial and Labor, Import and Export, Land Reforms, Food Stuffs, Rent, and Tenancy Rights, Ceiling On The Urban And Rural Property[7]

It is necessary to take a note on the following:

  • Though while Article 323-A provided for the establishment of public service tribunals, As regards matters only, Article 323-B provides for the establishment of tribunals for certain other matters (taxation, international trade, industrial and labor tensions, economic reforms, parliamentary and state elections, etc.).
  • Although tribunals can only be created by Parliament under Article 323-A, Tribunals can be created by Parliament and the State under Article 323-B, Legislatures on matters which fall under their judicial power.
  • Article 323-A provides that only a single tribunal may be constituted for the Centre, and one tribunal for each State or two or more States; whereas Article 323-B provides that a hierarchy of tribunals may be established.

Facts of the case

In accordance with the Article 323A and Article 323B of the Indian Constitution, the establishment of the Central Administrative Tribunal was made on November 1, 1985, with five Benches.Nevertheless, well before the Tribunal was established, several lawsuits were filed in various High Courts and the Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of Article 323-A upon this ground that it is inconsistent to the spirit of the Constitution, since it exempts the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction under Article 32 of the Constitution and Article 226 of the constitution of India for the High Court. However, through the direction of an interim order in ‘S.P. Sampat Kumar v. Union of India’[8] the Supreme Court, in the effort for ensuring the functioning of the Tribunal as well a sound principle of the constitution, directed some measure that must be carried out.

When the case of Sampat Kumar was initially heard, those amendments were already incorporated into the body and text of the Act. The Supreme Court held that much of the primary reasons for the appeal – that included the appeal to the constitutionality of Article 323-A – did not survive and restricted its emphasis to challenging only the legitimacy of the act’s provisions.This was held that although judicial review has been the basic feature of the Constitution, the transition of the power of judicial review to an alternative institutional mechanism, after discarding it from the High Court, would not infringe the basic structure of the Constitution as long as the alternative mechanism had been guaranteed as an appropriate and authentic replacement for the High Court.

Issues raised

  • Whether the power granted towards the Parliament in pursuance by Article 323-A (2) (d) or towards the state legislature in pursuance of Article 323-B (3) (d) of the Constitution of India, towards excluding the jurisdiction of ‘all courts’, expect of Supreme Court under Article 136?
  • Whether the Administrative Tribunals established under Article 323A or 323B of the constitution of India, retain the proficiency to test the constitutionality of a statutory or provision of law or rule?
  • Whether the tribunals, according to their current functioning, can it be said that it is to be an effective substitute for the High Courts in the matter of discharging of the power of judicial review? And If not, then what are the required vicissitudes for them to confer to function according to their founding objectives?


Issue 1: – Whether the power granted towards the Parliament in pursuance by Article 323-A (2) (d) or towards the state legislature in pursuance of Article 323-B (3) (d) of the Constitution of India, towards excluding the jurisdiction of ‘all courts’, expect of Supreme Court under Article 136?

Towards the adjudication of this issue, the Bench conducted a study for the provisions of the Administrative Tribunals Act specifically section 28. It was pointed out that though section 28 was established under the express terms with Article 323A of the Constitution of India and the only considerable exception was made towards the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court under Article 136 although, when the final hearing was in the due process regarding the Sampat’s Kumar case, the provision was already amended to safeguard the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court under Article 32 of the Constitution. It was also pointed out that the Sampat Kumar’s case was regarding the power of judicial review, and though it already has been returned to the court, the court expressed itself satisfied as it had emerged during the pendency of Sampat Kumar’s case and the court didn’t endeavor towards addressing the larger issue of whether Article 323A (2) also required a similar amendment.

The court further observed that perhaps the key purpose behind the Act intended to provide for a self-contained, self-sufficient, and exclusive forum to adjudicate all issues pertaining to service. Yet it made it quite clear that it was intended to fulfill a substitute role rather than a supplementary role.

Next, it went on to review post-Sampat Kumar cases and observed that certain cases did not explicitly address the question of the power of the Administrative Tribunals to strike an unconstitutional law or provision. In ‘J.B. Chopra’s case’[9] the division Bench thought that it would be following as a logical and direct consequence of Sampat Kumar’s judgment. In ‘M. B. Majumdar v. Union of India’[10], the bench stated that Administrative Tribunals can be associated with High Courts concerning their authority in matters of service, but not concerning the terms of service conditions of the tribunal members. In ‘R.K. Jain v. Union of India’[11], this coincidently comprised of the same bench as in the discussed case, further analyzed the relevant provisions, and cases i.e., Sampat Kumar, Chopra, Majumdar, etc. subsequently it was found that the tribunal under the Article 323A cannot be a performing substitute towards the high court as their performance regarding the same is significantly poor and also as they leave the litigants with a single remedy under article 136 leading towards the way of appeal to Supreme Court which is a costly affair. It proposed that an independent body such as India’s Law Commission should research the potential for making an appeal from a tribunal decision to a two-judge Bench of the High Court.

The court also considered the suggestions provided by the learned counsels.  Mr. Rama Jois and Mr. Shanti Bhushan asked the supreme court to review the judgment in Sampat Kumar ‘s case, arguing that Articles 323A(2)(d) and 323B(3)(d) must be deemed unconstitutional in so far as they exempt the High Court’s jurisdiction. Mr. Bhatt, Mr. P. P. Rao, the experienced Additional Solicitor General, andon the other hand, Mr. K. K. Venugopal asked the Supreme Court to uphold the integrity of said Articles. Mr. A. K. Ganguly acknowledged that the judicial review of the higher courts cannot be given to newly constitute quasi-judicial bodies susceptible to executive influence. Next, it went to address this issue’s other dimension viz. Judicial oversight and a basic constitutional element. After citing several cases like Keshvananda Bharati’s Case[12], rebellious view by the J. Chandrachud in the case of ‘Indra Nehru Gandhi v. Raj Narain’[13], Minority of judgment of J. Bhagwati in the case of ‘Minerva mills v. union of India’[14] and the corresponding view, or it may be stated as a revised view, of C.J. Chandrachud. In ‘fertilizer Corporation Kamgar Union v. Union of India’[15], the court finally concluded that judicial review is indeed a part of the constitution’s basic feature.

Issue 2:- Whether the Administrative Tribunals established under Article 323A or 323B of the constitution of India, retain the proficiency to test the constitutionality of a statutory or provision of law or rule?

Towards this regard, the court took guidance from the American practice of judicial review. The court further found that the practice of judicial review in America and India is identical and thus proceeded to review the judicial review role in America, based on the opinion of Henry J. Abraham (Henry J. Abraham), The Judicial Procedure[16], and an acknowledged scholar of American constitutional law. It found that constitutionally either court in America has the power of judicial review, no matter how large or small, even though it is seldom used. That is, there is no blanket moratorium on judicial authority being imposed on Courts other than the U. S. Supreme Court.

The court also gives its assent to that, if the power conferred under Article 32 of Constitution of India regarding the judicial review, can be additionally conferred towards any courts, there shall be no reason on which the same practice cannot be conducted upon the High court under Article 226 of the Constitution. However,the powers of jurisdiction conferred under Article 226/227 for the High Courts and the Power conferred under Article 32 regarding the jurisdiction for the Supreme Court must be retained and the tribunals should function as a supplementary body.

In the support of this view the Hon`ble Court pointed out the following points:

Given the exponential rise in litigation, it is important to include additional judicial review authority for the tribunals. The decision in the case of Sampat Kumar was appropriate in this regard, as it implemented the principle of substitute institutional mechanism in such a context of significant pending cases in the High Court.

  • It is a very paramount priority towards clearing the pendency of the cases which has contributed to a colossal proportion.
  • While the Tribunals have not met their standards, it would not be sufficient to relate these issues to its establishment’s most basic values and find them unhealthy. The justifications for the institution of the Tribunals continue to stay, and in modern times are becoming more prominent.

Issue 3:- Whether the tribunals, according to their current functioning, can it be said that it is to be an effective substitute for the High Courts in the matter of discharging the power of judicial review? And If not, then what are the required vicissitudes for them to confer to function according to their founding objectives?

Throughout the judgment, the Court found out that the Tribunals are not High Court equivalents but supplementary. Besides it suggested the following enhancements:

  • That they will be performing or functioning as a supplementary body and all the decisions by the administrative tribunals will be subjected to the scrutiny in front of a division bench of the respective high courts.
  • The argument that the recruitment of Administrative Members to Administrative Tribunals should be eliminated cannot be agreed as a judicious combination of judicial members as well as those with grass-root experience will be the best fit for the prompt and appropriate discharge of justice.
  • To confiscate the ineptitude of the Administrative Tribunals the tribunal should be made open to the supervisory jurisdiction of the respective High Courts.

The Ministry shall also appoint an autonomous supervisory body to oversee the functioning of these tribunals.

Ratio Decendi

  • The power conferred to the High Courts and Supreme Court under Article 226 and Article 32 regarding the judicial review towards the legislative action, is to be, considered respectively as the basic feature of the Indian Constitution.
  • The power of Judicial Superintendence over all the decisions of the courts and tribunal under their jurisdiction, therefore, is the basic structure of the constitution.
  • Except for the High Courts and the Supreme Court, the judicial review of legislative activity in accumulation of power by subordinate judiciary or tribunals constituted under ordinary legislation cannot be. However, they may play a supplementary function in this respect, as opposed to a substitutional one.
  • Tribunals established under the Article 323A and Article 323B possesses the power towards testing the vires of their subordinate legislation except for vires of their parent statutes. All the decisions made shall be subject to the scrutiny before the Division bench of their respective High Courts in pursuance of Article 226/227 and no appeal would be directly going to the Supreme Court under Article 136.
  • The Appointment of the members of the Administrative Tribunal needs not to be immobile.
  • Till the date where a solely independent body is set for overseeing the functioning of the Administrative Tribunals, all such tribunals shall be deemed under a single nodal ministry whose member shall be from the Ministry of Law.

Concepts Highlighted

Here, the Supreme Court amended its previous assertion on tribunals and stated that since a judicial review is a basic, indispensable and necessary function of the Constitution, the jurisdiction given on the High Court under Article 226/227 and the Supreme Court under Article 32 of the Constitution cannot even be overturned by a constitutional provision. Having regard to this, the courts and tribunals may play a supplementary role in exercising the power vested by Articles 226/227 and 32 of the Constitution.


[1]Kesavananda Bharati Sripadagalvaru and Ors. V. The State Of Kerala And Anr., (1973) 4 SCC 225: AIR 1973 SC 1461

[2]S.P. Sampath Kumar vs Union of India & Ors, (1987) SCR (3) 233, 1987 SCC Supl. 734



[5]1980 AIR 2056, 1980 SCR (3) 811

[6] Para 83 of the Judgment – L. Chandra Kumar v. Union of India [AIR 1997 SC 1125]

[7] Added in pursuance of 75th Amendment Act, (1993)

[8]1987 SCR (3) 233, 1987 SCC Supl. 734

[9](1987) 1 SCC 422 : AIR (1987) SC 357

[10](1990) 4 SCC 501 : AIR (1990) SC 2263

[11](1993) 4 SCC 119 : AIR (1993) SCW 1899

[12](1973) 4 SCC 225 : AIR I973 SC 1461

[13](1975) Supp SCC 1 : AIR 1975 SC 229

[14](1980) 3 SCC 625 : AIR 1980 SC 1789

[15](1981) 1 SCC 568 : AIR 1981 SC 344)

[16]4th Ed. Oxford University Press, (1980)

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