Definition of State under Article 12


The Indian Constitution grants all citizens several fundamental rights for their safety and prosperity. These rights also help determine the relationship of the public with the State authorities in the country. In other words, fundamental rights ensure the protection of citizens against the arbitrary actions of the State.

This raises the question of what comprises the State for the enforcement of fundamental rights. The makers of the Constitution of India answered this question through the definition of State as mentioned in Article 12 of the Constitution. The said provision defines the State for Parts III and IV of the Constitution which deal with fundamental rights and the Directive Principles of State Policy, respectively. It defines the State for accountability in case of violation of any right guaranteed under Part III of the Constitution.

The definition of state under Article 12 of the Indian Constitution reads as follows:

  1. In this Part, unless the context otherwise requires, “the State” includes the Government and Parliament of India and the Government and the Legislature of each of the States and all local and other authorities within the territory of India and under the control of the Government of India.”

Important Components of the Definition

The definition of state under Article 12 consists of 4 vital aspects:

  1. Government and Parliament of India
  2. Government and Legislature of each of the States
  3. Local authorities
  4. Other authorities

Let us individually look at each of the aspects in further detail.

  1. Government and Parliament of India –

The Government of India refers to the Executive wing of the Indian political system. This includes the President, Vice President, Prime Minister, his Council of Ministers, and the Attorney-General of India. The same can be inferred from the provisions relating to each of these posts under Chapter I of Part V of the Indian Constitution.

The Parliament of India denotes the two Houses of Parliament and the Representatives elected to compose the same. It indicates the Legislative pillar of the Indian democratic system. This is discussed in further detail in Chapter II of Part V of the Constitution.

  1. Government and Legislature of each of the States –

The Governments of all States are the Executive bodies equivalent to that at the Central level. They function within the jurisdiction of the respective States. As they are similar to the Government of India, the State governments consist of the Governors, the Council of Ministers of State and the Attorney-General of each state in India.

The Legislature of the states implies the inclusion of the Legislative Assemblies at the state level. The Executive and Legislative bodies at the state level are described in Chapters I and II of Part VI of the Constitution of India, respectively.

  1. Local and Other Authorities –

In addition to the Legislatures and Executives at both, Central and State levels, several other authoritative bodies have also been included within the definition of State in Article 12. Such inclusions have been done through close observation and deliberations by the Judicial authorities. Several judicial precedents have been laid down in India to determine if a particular body falls within the ambit of Article 12.

The Judiciary has, over time, set several guidelines to determine if a certain authority falls within the scope of Article 12 as a local or other authority. These conditions are:

  1. RD Shetty v. International Airport Authority (1979)

In this case, the Supreme Court of India held that anybody that fulfils the following conditions is considered as State:

  • It has a great degree of governmental financial assistance.
  • It experiences deep and pervasive state control.
  • If a government department has delegated its power to the concerned authority or organization.
  • If the State holds the entire share capital of the authority.
  1. In line with the RD Shetty judgement, the Apex Court also laid down the Agency and Instrumentality Test, and the Functionality Tests in 1981 through the cases of Somprakash v. Union of India and Ajay Hasia v. Khalid Mujib.
  2. Union of India v. RC Jain (1981)

The guidelines to determine local authorities under Article 12 were laid down in this case. The guidelines were to follow 5 tests which were:

  • The authority must have a separate legal existence.
  • It must be functional in a defined area.
  • It must have the power to raise funds independently.
  • It must enjoy a certain amount of autonomy.
  • It must be entrusted with functions usually given to municipalities, by a statute.
  1. Rajasthan Electricity Board v. Mohan Lal (1967)

In this case, it was held by the High Court that the State Electricity Board is to be considered as State within the definition of Article 12. It was further held that any organization that is created by the law and given power by the government is considered as State under Article 12.

  1. Sukhdev Singh v. Bhagat Ram (1975)

The Court decided in this case that bodies that are created by special laws are to be considered as State. It was further held that bodies that are created by the law are State, not those created under the law.

Ejusdem Generis in Article 12

The discussions with respect to Article 12 began with the consideration of the concept of ejusdem generis. For the broader interpretation of “other authorities” under Article 12, the Judiciary has provided us with several reasonings, over time, with several judicial precedents. A few such precedents are as follows:

  1. Ujjam Bai v. State of Uttar Pradesh (1962)

In this case of 1957, the Court held that the concept of ejusdem generis does not apply to Article 12. The reasoning given for this judgement was that the State and Central authorities do not function in a similar nature as they perform their duties on different levels of governance.

  1. Devadas v. Karnataka Engineering College (1964)

In this case, the Court held that the phrase “other authorities” used in Article 12, follows the concept of ejusdem generis. This means that the meaning of other authorities must follow from the nature of functioning of the authorities mentioned in the provision.

Universities as part of the State under Article 12

  1. University of Madras v. Santabai (1957)

In the 1957 case of the University of Madras v. Santa bai, the Madras High Court held that Universities do not fall within the ambit of the State as they do not perform any sovereign function. This judgement was relied on to claim that Patna University does not function as State.

  1. Umesh Chandra Sinha v. V.N. Singh & Ors. (1968)

However, the precedent set by the Madras High Court was rejected by the Patna High Court in the 1968 case of Umesh Chandra Sinha v. V.N. Singh & Ors. stating that the definition of state under Article 12 includes bodies that were created to promote the education and economic interests of the people. Thus, it was ultimately held that Patna University, amongst other universities, is part of the State.

  1. Chandra Mohan Khanna v. NCERT (1992)

However, in 1992, the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) was held to be outside the scope of Article 12. This was supported in the case of Chandra Mohan Khanna v NCERT by the fact that NCERT is a society that is registered under the Societies Registration Act, 1860 due to which it cannot be called a State authority.

Judiciary as State

The most interesting interpretation of Article 12 includes deliberations on whether the Judiciary itself is considered as State. Two extremely important cases in this aspect are as follows:

  1. Rati Lal v. State of Bombay (1954)

This was one of the initial cases to decide on the matter of Judiciary under Article 12. It was held in this case that the Judiciary is not included under the State as defined in Article 12.

  1. S. Mirajkar v. State of Maharashtra (1966)

The case of Rati Lal was partially overturned in this case where it was held that the Courts are included within the definition of State. The reasoning given for this judgement was that if the Judiciary is not included under Article 12, then it might make rules that may take away or abridge the fundamental rights of individuals. Thus, the judiciary was said to be State only when it performs its law-making function. However, in other circumstances, it is said to fall outside the scope of Article 12.


The concept of the “State” under Article 12 of the Indian Constitution has been interpreted and expanded over the years by the judiciary to include not only the government and its instrumentalities but also private entities that perform public functions. These authorities are also substantially financed by the State. This interpretation has ensured that the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution are protected and upheld even in dealings with private entities. The definition of State under Article 12 Is, therefore, a crucial aspect of the Indian Constitution and its interpretation continues to shape the legal landscape of the country.

Ananya Konur