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The Supreme Court on 24th July allowed an appeal arising out of a final judgment of the Calcutta High Court on grounds of the HC having lost sight of the limits of its extraordinary powers of judicial review.

The all-women Bench of Justices R. Banumathi and Indira Banerjee in West Bengal Central School Service Commission v Abdul Halim said a writ court does not interfere, because an administrative decision is not perfect.

A job advertisement in a Bengali newspaper read that the candidate for Assistant Teacher in Arabic language “must have succeeded at any subsequent higher level of education in the language paper”. The job demanded a minimum educational qualification of Bachelor’s Degree in the Pass course and since vacancies were in Bengali medium schools, the candidate should have had his education in Bengali medium only. Abdul Halim had completed a Certificate course in Bengali, which the Selection commission considered less than requisite. This administrative decision was challenged in the High Court under Article 226. The Court allowed the writ petition ex-parte, holding that the Commission  had wrongfully cancelled his selection for the post. The decision was challenged before a Division Bench which was dismissed.

Being aggrieved, the WBCSSC appealed in Supreme Court.

SC observed that the High Court, being a court of writ, did not have the jurisdiction to look into facts. If the provision of a statutory rule is reasonably capable of two or more constructions and one construction has been adopted, the decision would not be open to interference by the writ Court.

The bench reiterated the principles of Judicial Review:

1.The High Court in exercise of jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution of India does not sit in appeal over an administrative decision. The Court might only examine the decision making process to ascertain whether there was such infirmity in the decision making process, which vitiates the decision and calls for intervention under Article 226 of the Constitution of India.

  1. In any case, the High Court exercises its extraordinary jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution of India to enforce a fundamental right or some other legal right or the performance of some legal duty. To pass orders in a writ petition, the High Court would necessarily have to address to itself the question of whether there has been breach of any fundamental or legal right of the petitioner, or whether there has been lapse in performance by the respondents of a legal duty.

3.The High Court in exercise of its power to issue writs, directions or orders to any person or authority to correct quasi-judicial or even administrative decisions for enforcement of a fundamental or legal right is obliged to prevent abuse of power and neglect of duty by public authorities.

4.In exercise of its power of judicial review, the Court is to see whether the decision impugned is vitiated by an apparent error of law. The test to determine whether a decision is vitiated by error apparent on the face of the record is whether the error is self-evident on the face of the record or whether the error requires examination or argument to establish it. If an error has to be established by a process of reasoning, on points where there may reasonably be two opinions, it cannot be said to be an error on the face of the record, as held by this Court in Satyanarayan vs. Mallikarjuna reported in AIR 1960 SC 137.

5.If the provision of a statutory rule is reasonably capable of two or more constructions and one construction has been adopted, the decision would not be open to interference by the writ Court. It is only an obvious misinterpretation of a relevant statutory provision, or ignorance or disregard thereof, or a decision founded on reasons which are clearly wrong in law, which can be corrected by the writ Court by issuance of writ of Certiorari.

6.The sweep of power under Article 226 may be wide enough to quash unreasonable orders. If a decision is so arbitrary and capricious that no reasonable person could have ever arrived at it, the same is liable to be struck down by a writ Court. If the decision cannot rationally be supported by the materials on record, the same may be regarded as perverse.

7.However, the power of the Court to examine the reasonableness of an order of the authorities does not enable the Court to look into the sufficiency of the grounds in support of a decision to examine the merits of the decision, sitting as if in appeal over the decision. The test is not what the Court considers reasonable or unreasonable but a decision which the Court thinks that no reasonable person could have taken, which has led to manifest injustice. The writ Court does not interfere, because a decision is not perfect.


– India Legal Bureau

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