In Riju Prasad Sarma etc. v. State of Assam & Ors., the apex court has laid down the law that the judiciary in India, acting on its judicial side cannot be considered as a State under Article 12 of the Constitution. Writs against the judiciary would lie against their administrative actions alone which means that only when the courts deal with their employees or act in other matters purely in administrative capacity, they may fall within the definition of the State for attracting writ jurisdiction. The ruling came in a batch of matters concerning the administration of non-religious activities of the Sri Sri Maa Kamakhya Devalaya in the state of Assam.

The Apex Court said that the definition of ‘the State’ under Article 12 is contextual depending upon all relevant facts including the concerned provisions in Part III of the Constitution. “The definition is clearly inclusive and not exhaustive. Hence omission of judiciary when the government and Parliament of India as well as government and legislature of each of the State has been included is conspicuous but not conclusive that judiciary must be excluded.”

The Court further said: “Judgments of High Court and Supreme Court cannot be subjected to writ jurisdiction and for want of requisite governmental control, Judiciary cannot be a State under Article 12, we also hold that while acting on the judicial side the courts are not included in the definition of the State. Only when they deal with their employees or act in other matters purely in administrative capacity, the courts may fall within the definition of the State for attracting writ jurisdiction against their administrative actions only. In our view, such a contextual interpretation must be preferred because it shall promote justice, especially through impartial adjudication in matters of protection of fundamental rights governed by Part III of the Constitution.”