Supreme Court Reiterates Basic Principles Of Judicial Review Of Administrative Decisions

“Judicial review under Article 226 is directed, not against the decision, but the decision making process.” The Supreme Court, in a judgment delivered on Thursday, reiterated some basic principles of judicial review of administrative decisions. The bench comprising Justice R. Banumathi and Justice Indira Banerjee were considering an appeal (Sarvepalli Ramaiah vs. The District Collector, Chittoor District) against an order of High court of Andhra Pradesh declining to interfere with the order of the District Collector in refusing to grant ryotwari patta in favour of the appellants. The Apex court upheld the High Court finding that, since the land is classified as “Peddacheruvu Tank” vested with the government and thus there could not be issuance of ryotwari patta in view of the bar contained in Section 2-A of the Andhra Pradesh Inams (Abolition & Conversion into Ryotwari) Act, 1956.
Justice Indira Banerjee, in her concurring opinion also added that no patta can be granted in respect of tanks and water bodies including those that might have dried up or fallen into disuse. Referring to some judgments, the judge added: “This Court has time and again emphasized the need to retain and restore water bodies and held that water bodies are inalienable. Land comprised in water bodies cannot be alienated to any person even if it is dry.”

Justice Banerjee, also delineated some fundamental principles of Judicial review of administrative decisions. Administrative decisions are subject to judicial review under Article 226 of the Constitution, only on grounds of perversity, patent illegality, irrationality, want of power to take the decision and procedural irregularity.

Except on these grounds administrative decisions are not interfered with, in exercise of the extra ordinary power of judicial review A decision is vitiated by irrationality if the decision is so outrageous, that it is in defiance of all logic; when no person acting reasonably could possibly have taken the decision, having regard to the materials on record. A decision may sometimes be set aside and quashed under Article 226 on the ground of illegality.

This is when there is an apparent error of law on the face of the decision, which goes to the root of the decision and/or in other words an apparent error, but for which the decision would have been otherwise. Judicial review under Article 226 is directed, not against the decision, but the decision making process.

Of course, a patent illegality and/or error apparent on the face of the decision, which goes to the root of the decision, may vitiate the decision making process. In exercise of power under Article 226, the Court does not sit in appeal over the decision impugned, nor does it adjudicate hotly disputed questions of fact.

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