Writs and Writ Jurisdiction under Administrative Law


The Constitution of India under Article 32 and 226 provides the right to move the Supreme Court and High Courts respectively for enforcement of fundamental rights through appropriate writs. This extraordinary jurisdiction empowers the highest judicial bodies to issue binding orders and directions to any person or authority in the territory of India for upholding the Constitution. The purpose is to act as a check on administrative authorities, tribunals and even legislative bodies to ensure rule of law and protect fundamental rights.

Habeas Corpus

The literal meaning of habeas corpus is ‘to produce the body’. It is issued to secure release of a person who is illegally deprived of his personal liberty through detention. The court can examine legality of detention orders under preventive detention law or in case of minors, insane persons, women detained by relatives etc.

In Kanu Sanyal v District Magistrate, Darjeeling, the Supreme Court held that for reasons of public order, it is not mandatory to physically produce the detained person in court. But the legality of detention has to be justified.

The procedural requirements for filing have also been relaxed in habeas corpus petitions. In Ichhu Devi Choraria v Union of India, 1980 AIR 1436, the Supreme Court held that even a postcard written to the court was enough to invoke habeas jurisdiction. Strict rules of pleadings and burden of proof are not followed given the urgency involved regarding personal liberty.

In Rudul Sah v State of Bihar, AIR 1983 SC 1086, the principle of res judicata was also held inapplicable as multiple habeas petitions can be filed if detention is found illegal. This writ can be claimed as a matter of right and not at discretion of the court unlike others.

Also Read: Notes on Administrative Law


Mandamus literally means ‘we command’. It is issued against any public body or authority to enforce performance of public duties cast by law. The duty must be mandatory and not discretionary in nature and the petitioner must have a legal right to claim performance of such duty.

In Union of India v Tarachand Gupta, the Supreme Court observed that there should be a demand and corresponding refusal before mandamus is issued. Failure to respond promptly to a demand could also constitute refusal. If the authority has a discretion, court can order exercise of discretion but not the manner of exercise in a particular way.

This writ does not lie for enforcement of contractual obligations as held in State of Himachal Pradesh v Himachal Techno Engineers. However, where a statutory body enters into a contract while discharging a statutory duty, the obligation becomes a statutory one enforceable by mandamus as held in U.P. Warehousing Corp. v Vijay Narain.

In the landmark case of Kesavananda Bharati v State of Kerala, mandamus was issued to the Kerala Government to not pursue land reform legislations that were held unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.


Certiorari means ‘to be certified’. It is prayed for to quash orders passed by administrative agencies, quasi-judicial bodies or judicial authorities acting in excess of their jurisdiction. The grounds include errors of law apparent on face of the record, violation of natural justice, excess of jurisdiction and mala fides. It can only be issued after the order is passed.

In Hari Vishnu Kamath v Syed Ahmad Ishaque, the Supreme Court observed that an error of law which is apparent ex facie is one which does not require detailed examination or argument to establish it. If the error is not self-evident but requires demonstration, certiorari is not available.


The writ of prohibition is available at a stage before the impugned action is taken while certiorari is for quashing the same after it is already done. For instance, if a tribunal is about to hear a matter in violation of natural justice, it can be prohibited from doing so through this writ. Else the hearing order would have to be quashed by certiorari which causes unnecessary multiplicity of proceedings.

The grounds for prohibition are essentially same as of certiorari like lacking of or acting in excess of jurisdiction, violation of natural justice etc. In Re Special Reference No. 1 of 1964, the Supreme Court prohibited the Punjab Legislative Assembly from expelling a member since it had no jurisdiction to regulate its internal proceedings after President’s Rule was imposed.

Quo Warranto

The writ of quo warranto which means ‘by what authority’ calls upon the public office holder to show under which authority of law he holds office. It can be claimed when a person is illegally occupying a public office or when the appointment itself is contrary to statutory provisions. Office must also be substantive i.e. permanent in nature and person should be actually occupying it.

In University of Mysore v C.D. Govinda Rao, 1964 AIR 469, the Supreme Court clarified that ‘public office’ means an office created by the Constitution, law or by executive power of State. It must entail independent responsibilities except to superior authority. The Court can examine if statutory requirements and procedure for appointment were followed or not through this writ.

Distinction between Injunction and Mandamus

Though mandamus is a public law and injunction a private law remedy, there are some similarities. Both are equitable remedies aimed at compelling performance or preventing action. However injunction can be claimed only against private bodies under specific statutes while mandamus lies against public authorities or those discharging public functions. Monetary compensation is possible under injunction but not mandamus. Statutory bar does not apply and procedural requirements u/s 80 CPC don’t have to be followed for the latter. Courts have held that constitutional remedies enjoy primacy over ordinary statutory ones.

Writ Jurisdiction of Supreme Court and High Courts

Article 32 provides the right to move the Supreme Court directly for enforcing fundamental rights while Article 226 confers power (not right) on High Courts to issue writs based on violation of any legal right. Territory wise jurisdiction of HC’s is wider as against the pan-India SC jurisdiction. Alternative remedy does not bar the SC but writ can be refused by HC under discretionary jurisdiction if efficacious alternative remedy exists or owing to inordinate delay etc.

Under 226, even private bodies discharging public functions can be made liable unlike under Article 32 where only State authorities are covered. Orders under 32 cannot be ordinarily appealed against making SC the final court for fundamental rights while writs under 226 can be challenged before division bench of HC and then SC.

Thus, the writ mechanism forms an indispensable part of Indian administrative law framework for protecting rule of law and checking abuse of power through immediate judicial intervention, irrespective of status of the violator. Ordinary remedies under law often prove inadequate to tackle high handedness of State agencies and the extraordinary writs aptly fit this purpose.


The writ system has enabled the common man to directly approach the highest constitutional courts and seek reliefs and directions against most powerful governmental authorities within a short span of time. Gradually, writ jurisdiction expanded to cover even non-statutory bodies and now private institutions discharging public functions. Scope was further enhanced by Public Interest Litigations which relaxed procedural bottlenecks. This shows evolution of writ remedies as the true guardians of people’s rights and sentinel to uphold justice.

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