Quasi Legislation and Administrative Law

In modern administrative states, executive authorities have to discharge a variety of functions. For effective discharge of these functions, they require certain flexibility and freedom. At the same time, individual interests also need protection from potential executive excess. Quasi legislation constitutes an unique tool that aims to strike a balance between these two objectives in administrative law.

Concept of Quasi Legislation

Executive authorities often issue general orders, rules, regulations, notifications, schemes etc. to regulate the conduct of their subordinates across the country. Since these instruments resemble law in their general application, they are termed quasi legislation. However, they are administrative directions that do not constitute actual legislation.

Quasi legislation facilitates standardized and efficient discharge of executive functions by laying down norms, principles and guidelines for executive authorities. They introduce an element of uniformity, certainty and continuity in governance.

Also Read: Notes on Administrative Law

Distinction from Delegated Legislation

Quasi legislation needs to be distinguished from the concept of delegated legislation in administrative law. Delegated legislation refers to the rules, regulations etc. made by the executive branch of government under the authority of law making power delegated to it by the legislature. For instance, the Essential Commodities Act empowers the central government to make orders and rules to regulate production, supply and distribution of essential commodities. This is delegated legislation. It has the force of law since the executive makes it with authority delegated by the Parliament.

On the other hand, quasi legislation is made by the executive in exercise of its inherent administrative functions, not any delegated power. For instance, a departmental circular laying down guidelines for its officers is quasi legislation. It does not constitute valid legislation. It is purely an administrative direction for standardizing intra-departmental functioning.

Hence the key difference lies in the source of authority. Delegated legislation has its source in a legislative act delegating law-making authority. Quasi legislation is based on inherent executive power to regulate its administrative functioning. Consequently, delegated legislation has the force of law while quasi legislation does not have such binding force.

Identification of Quasi Legislation

It is often difficult to clearly identify whether an instrument is delegated legislation or quasi legislation.

Nomenclature is not a reliable indicator for this purpose. Quasi legislation appears in a variety of forms like order, circular, regulation, notice, scheme etc. with considerable variation across different authorities. For instance, the ‘Grant in Aid Code’ was held to be quasi legislation in Regina case while ‘Karnataka Medical Colleges Admission Rules’ were held as directions in Prabhakar Reddy case.

Hence, the source of authority is more relevant. If the instrument mentions the specific provision empowering the authority to make it, delegated nature is indicated. Further, if mandatory procedure like prior publication is followed in making that instrument, legislated nature is reinforced.

But when the authority and procedure for making the instrument are unclear, four crucial questions guide determination of its nature:

  1. Does it create obligations and duties for private individuals?
  2. Is it confined to laying down administrative procedures?
  3. Does it cast duties on the administration and its officers?
  4. Does it confer particular rights or privileges upon private individuals?

If the instrument satisfies the first two conditions, courts prefer to designate it as quasi legislation in line with the object of protecting individual interests. If the latter two conditions are met, enabling enforceability guides the judicial preference to term it as delegated legislation.

For instance, in Niranjan Singh case, the court held Chapter XI of the U.P Police Regulations dealing with criminal investigation by police to be quasi legislation. But disciplinary regulations for the police force were held to be delegated legislation in Babu Ram case.

Enforceability of Quasi Legislation

The defining hallmark of quasi legislation lies in its administrative status rather than legislative force. Hence, breach of quasi legislation does not generally give rise to legal causes of action before courts. The aggrieved party is supposed to pursue normal administrative remedies instead of judicial remedies.

For example, violation of salary provisions in the ‘Grant in Aid Code’ was held to be non-justiceable in the Kumari Regina case. Similarly, deviation from guidelines for locating mandal headquarters did not constitute enforceable breach according to the Andhra Pradesh High Court in the Raghupathy case. Quasi legislation remains binding only within the administrative machinery.

However, there are several exceptions to this norm of non-enforceability of quasi legislation laid down in judicial precedents.

1.      Breach that also violates Law

Violation of quasi legislation directions will give rise to enforceable claims where such violation simultaneously constitutes breach of statutory laws as well.

For instance, the Supreme Court enforced an executive direction regarding consideration of interests of public at large while granting transport licenses since ignoring it violated Section 47 of the Motor Vehicles Act as well in the Shanmugam case.

2.      Doctrine of Legitimate Expectation

Quasi legislation directions followed widely, consistently and for long duration give rise to legitimate expectation among citizens that the norms laid down will be adhered to. Failure to apply such beneficial norms to any particular party violates the doctrine of legitimate expectation, affecting the rights of that party.

For example, consistent adherence to office memorandum regarding seniority over many years gave rise to binding legitimate expectation that was breached arbitrarily as per the court in Baleshwar Dass case.

3.      Doctrine of Promissory Estoppel

Under this doctrine, executive authorities are prohibited or estopped from violating promises or representations made by them to citizens even though such promises are not legally enforceable otherwise.

For instance, the denial of prescribed incentives for textile exporters under the Export Promotion Scheme violated the doctrine of promissory estoppel, hence was judicially enforced in the Indo Afghan Agencies case.

4.      Discrimination & Arbitrariness

Violation of quasi legislation may be judicially cognizable where such selective non-compliance or deviation amounts to hostile discrimination, irrational categorization or arbitrariness in violation of Article 14.

For example, in Mannalal Jain case, preferential quasi legislation norms for co-operative societies were selectively diluted in favor of a particular society, constituting discriminatory violation of Article 14.

5.      Directions replacing Service Rules

To retain administrative flexibility, government authorities frequently issue executive directions and office memorandums containing service conditions and entitlements instead of formal statutory rules. But courts enforce such executive directions as equivalent to statutory service rules in light of the substantial impact of service matters on livelihoods of government staff, as evidenced in K.P Joseph and Soma Sundaram cases.

6.      Interpretational Directions

Quasi legislation is often adopted to fill gaps in existing statutes and rules by issuing clarifications, supplements or interpretations to facilitate administrative enforcement. Such directions are legally valid if the following conditions are fulfilled –

  • The directions are meant to genuinely fill gaps and clarify ambiguities rather than nullify or materially modify the essential statutory provision.
  • The directions are issued by the specific authority designated by the statute for making rules on that subject matter.

As per the Supreme Court ruling in Naga People’s Movement case, executive instructions satisfying both these conditions have binding legal force. They get incorporated into the concerned rules or regulations.

For instance, the power to relax service rules specifically resided with the government as per the Maharashtra government rules in the Jagannath case. Consequently, executive instructions restricting relaxations were held to be contradicting the rules by the Supreme Court.


Quasi-legislation constitutes a unique legal innovation for reconciling administrative flexibility and efficiency with individual rights protection in modern regulatory states. It promotes standardized governance practices while keeping administrative options open to the executive. Enforceability of quasi legislation is limited to exceptional cases involving discrimination, rights violations or estoppel considerations rather than any general binding force. While complex legal analysis is often involved, overall quasi legislation facilitates governance processes and broader public interest.

Referred Cases:

  1. Anil Kumar Bhattacharya v. Union of India (1990) 3 GLR 388
  2. B. Rajagopala Naidu v. State Transport Appellate Tribunal, Madras AIR 1972 SC 60
  3. Baleshwar Dass v. State of Uttar Pradesh (1996) 6 SCC 337
  4. Darshuit Singh Grewal v. Union Territory Chandigarh (1996) 9 SCC 332
  5. Director General of Posts v. B. Ravindran 2002 (3) ALD 752
  6. Govind v. State of Madhya Pradesh AIR 1975 SC 1378
  7. J. R. Raghupathy v. State of Andhra Pradesh AIR 1962 AP 199
  8. K.M. Shanmugam v. The Superintending Engineer, Southern Railway Construction, Villupuram and Others (1969) 2 SCC 300
  9. Kumari P. Regina v. Approved Schools, Dehradun and Ors. AIR 1958 All 650
  10. Mannalal Jain v. State of Assam 1962 SCR (3) 703
  11. N.K. Panjaka Kshan Nair v. P.V. Jayaraj 1990 Supp SCC 119
  12. Naga People’s Movement of Human Rights v. Union of India AIR 1998 SC 431
  13. Niranjan Singh Narain Singh Patel v. State of Uttar Pradesh AIR 1962 SC 195
  14. Periakaruppan v. State of Tamil Nadu (1971) 2 SCC 303
  15. Prabhakar Reddy v. State of Karnataka AIR 1986 Kant 69
  16. S.K. Agarwal v. State of Orissa AIR 1957 Ori 10
  17. State of Maharashtra v. Jagannath 2016 (1) Bom CR 604
  18. Union of India v. Indo-Afghan Agencies AIR 1968 SC 718
  19. Union of India v. K.P. Joseph AIR 1973 SC 303
  20. Union of India v. N.P. Ayyar’s Navigation Pvt Ltd Calcutta and Ors. (1974) 1 SCC 228
  21. Union of India v. S.L. Abbas (Dead) by Lrs. And Ors. (1993) 4 SCC 357
  22. Uttar Pradesh v. Kishori Lal AIR 1964 SC 416
  23. V.T. Khanzode v. Reserve Bank of India (1982) 2 SCC 7

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