This article has been written by Vighnesh Kumar Sharma. In this article, the author analyses the case Rai Sahib Ram Jawaya Kapur v. State of Punjab in light of the powers and functions of the executive. The case analyses the separation of power doctrine and how the principle of the doctrine is followed in the country.


The three pillars of democracy, i.e., the judiciary, the executive, and the legislative, are essential to ensuring the smooth functioning of the state. In a democracy, it becomes essential to ensure that there is a separation of power between the organs of democracy and that each organ works in its respective field. The three organs keep a check on the activities of others and ensure no breach of power occurs. But in a few instances, some acts have been brought up for questioning, as the doctrine of separation of power was breached by those acts. 

In this case, the power of the executive was questioned, as it was alleged that the executive had crossed the boundaries of power separation and infringed upon the rights of individuals.

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Details of Rai Sahib Ram Jawaya Kapur v. State of Punjab (1955)

Case nameRai Sahib Ram Jawaya Kapur vs. State of Punjab
Case no.71 to 77 and 85 of 1955
Equivalent CitationsAIR 1955 SC 549
Act involvedConstitution of India, 1950
Important provisionsArticle 19(1)(g), Article 19(6), Article 31, Article 32
CourtSupreme Court
BenchConstitutional Bench (5 Judge Bench)Bijan Kumar Mukherjea – CJI, Justice Vivian  Bose, Justice Jagannadha Das, Justice V. Ayyar and Justice Imam
PetitionersRai Sahib Ram Jawaya Kapur
RespondentsState of Punjab
Judgement DateApril 12, 1955

Facts of Rai Sahib Ram Jawaya Kapur v. State of Punjab (1955) 

For an extensive stretch between 1905 and 1950, in the state of Punjab, the schooling system had to refer to the books that were approved by the education department of Punjab. All the schools had to  follow the course proposed by the education department of the state. For the purpose of approval, various publishers and authors had to submit their proposals with their own money to the Government of Punjab. Then, the department would approve some books according to the regulations.

The procedure that was conducted was that the department would select books numbering somewhere in the range of 3 to 10 or greater for each subject as elective reading material for that certain subject. After this, the material is passed on to the headmasters of various schools, and they are allowed to choose any of the elective books from the list.

After the partition of erstwhile Punjab in the 1950s, it was divided into three zones. The procedure was changed by the government by passing certain resolutions. The government took it upon itself to prepare reading material on specific subjects, such as farming history and social examinations, without inviting publishers or writers. On all the remaining subjects, the earlier procedure was altered, and instead of a list, only one single text was approved for subjects. As a charge for approval, the government acquired 5% of the sale price as royalty on all approved books.

Through a notification dated August 9, 1952, it discarded ‘Publishers’ and only accepted proposals from ‘Authors and Others’. Also, the writers whose books were selected had to enter into an agreement with the government in the forms prescribed by the government. The main subject of the agreement was related to copyright. The copyright of the book would absolutely vest in the government, and the authors would get 5% royalty on the sale of textbooks at the price specified in the list. This infringed on the rights of authors and publishers, as the copyright of the book was vested with the government.

The petition was filed by 6 petitioners, who contended that the restriction imposed on them by the government was unreasonable and unfair according to the principles laid down by the Constitution. The restriction was a way to oust the petitioners from business. The petitioners put forth the argument that the actions of the executive were ‘ultra-vires’ as they did not have any legislative backing and the executive overreached its functions. The petitioners also challenged the restrictions as being violative of the fundamental right under Article 19(1)(g) to practise and follow any business or trade practice that was granted to them.

Issues raised 

  1. Whether there was a violation of the fundamental right to practise any profession, as the state created a business for school books, and whether this act of the state is within the powers or considered ultra-vires?
  2. Whether the executive required specific legislation to do so or whether it could have been done by an executive act?

Arguments of the parties in Rai Sahib Ram Jawaya Kapur v. State of Punjab (1955)


The petitioners in the case put forward three main contentions:

  • The petitioners argued on the basis of legislative backing, stating that the executive does not hold any legal backing to make laws, as it is the duty of the legislature, and it is not within the scope of the executive’s powers to set up a trade or business activity. The executive had overreached its power as an executive body by setting up a monopoly in the fields of publishing and trade. 
  • The petitioners challenged the decision of the executive to deprive the publishers of their due rights to business and contended that the government cannot deprive them without a proper law and due compensation as per Article 31 of the Constitution.
  • The petitioners also contended that the executive has violated the right to practise any business and trade under Article 19(1)(g) without any reasonable restriction under Article 19(6), contending that the act of the executive was ultra-vires.


In response, the government contended that it was well within their rights and duties to conduct those activities, and it was inferred as being under the powers of the executive without any overlap of the powers, as apart from the maintenance of laws, it is the duty of the executive to ensure social welfare. The government also contended that the activities that were being conducted were done after following the procedure by stating out the detailed steps involved, especially financial, due to which they cannot be said to be ultra-vires of the Constitution and are not violative of the fundamental rights of the petitioners. 

Laws involved in the decision

  • Article 19(1)(g)– All citizens have the right to practise any profession or to engage in any type of business, occupation, or trade, unless the activities are deemed to be unlawful as per the law and subject to the restrictions that have been mentioned in Article 19(6) of the Indian Constitution.
  • Article 19(6)– Ensures that the freedom that has been mentioned in Article 19(1), does not restrict the government from making any new laws, or replacing any existing laws for social welfare.
  • Article 31– Protects the property rights of the citizens, it was later removed by the 44th Constitutional Amendment in 1978. This Article stated that no citizen can be deprived of their legitimate property rights unless the law states so. Article 31(2) mentions about the compensation that needs to be paid to the property owner, the amount has not been stated in the Constitution, but it will be decided by the law.
  • Article 32– Provides anyone the right to file a case before the Supreme Court in order to pursue justice whenever they believe that their legal rights have been violated. Individuals have been given an assured right to ensure that their rights have not been infringed by directly approaching the Supreme Court through the power of Writs. The five writs that have been given by the Constitution are Habeas Corpus, Mandamus, Certiorari, Quo Warranto, Prohibition.
  • Article 154– This Article deals with the executive power of the state that lies with the Governor of the state, and he himself can use this authority or delegate it to the individuals subordinate to him.

Judgement in Rai Sahib Ram Jawaya Kapur v. State of Punjab (1955)

While dealing with the nature and extent of executive power, the court relied upon 2 Australian cases, the Commonwealth and the Central Wool Committee v. the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Co. Ltd. (1922)  and the Attorney-General for Victoria v. the Commonwealth (1935). The Australian Constitution has restricted the scope of the executive by specifically stating its power, i.e., to maintain the laws of the Constitution and the welfare of the commonwealth. The above mentioned cases pointed out how the Australian Constitution has restricted executive power and follows a strict separation of power doctrine. A similar question was raised in the Motilal case, where the question was whether the state Government has the power to carry on the trade and business of running a bus service. The Court held that the executive power is more than just merely executing laws; it includes express and implied as well as incidental and ancillary powers too, so the act of running a transport service was not outside the scope of the state. The Indian Constitution does not state the powers of the executive, so neither the restrictions of the Australian Constitution nor the restrictions of legislation can be put on the executive

The Constitution has separated the powers between the three organs, ensuring that there is smooth conduct and one does not breach into the territory of another, but due to the complex nature of work, there is sometimes an overlap between the powers of the organs. The Court also came to the conclusion that there is no strict sense of separation of power rule followed, the executive can do the legislative work by enacting subordinate legislation but only if it is not against the principles laid down by the Constitution or any laws that are mentioned under Article 154 of the Constitution.

The Court concluded that the fundamental rights of the petitioners have not been violated and that the restriction imposed on them cannot be considered absolute; it is well within the powers of the executive and the petitioners still have the option to approach vendors for business.

The Court dismissed the petition by stating that the separation of powers is not followed in a strict sense and that the rights of the petitioners have not been violated by the state.

Significance and analysis of the case

The case is important in setting up the boundaries of the separation of power doctrine; it also focuses on the extent to which executives can get involved in the work of other organs without any official legislative backing. The Court held that the traditional view of the doctrine is different from that of the present scenario, the executive also needs to fulfil the duty of social welfare. Therefore, it is not necessary that the executive should be backed by any proper legislative backing; all it needs is to detail out the steps that have been involved in the process.

The doctrine provides boundaries for the organs within which they can work, helps in maintaining balance,and also keeps a check on the powers of the other organs to ensure that no ultra vires act has been conducted.

Doctrine of separation of power


The doctrine of separation of power, which has been used since the time of Aristotle and Plato, has developed into a more contemporary version where the three organs work mutually for the smooth functioning of the democracy. The purpose of the doctrine is to ensure that there is no concentration of power with one organ or with one individual and that the principles of democracy are respected. The doctrine states that powers and functions must be divided among different organs, and no one shall infringe upon the territory of others. It is essential so as to keep a check on and maintain balance in the functioning of others. In India, the doctrine is not followed in a strict sense, but the roles and functions have been defined by the Constitution for each of the organs. The Constitution ensures that one organ must not infringe upon the essential power of the other. To maintain this stand, the Constitution has provisions ensuring separation of powers, such as Article 50.

The doctrine divides power into two kinds, i.e., essential powers and incidental powers. Essential powers constitute the core power of that organ; in this case, the other organs cannot interfere with the core power of an organ, and incidental powers are the secondary powers; in this case, the other organs can exercise the incidental powers of an organ.

I.C. Golak Nath v. State of Punjab, 1967

In this case, the petitioners filed a petition under Article 32 of the Constitution alleging  that the Punjab Security and Land Tenure Act, 1953, by the state government is violating their fundamental rights under Article 14, Article 19(f) and Article 19(g). Under the provision of the Act, the petitioners could maintain 30 acres of land each, whereas the petitioner owned 500 acres of land. The petitioners contended that the act is violative of their rights to acquire and keep property and practise any profession. The petitioner wanted to declare the 17th Amendment as unconstitutional, which put the Punjab Government Act in the 9th Schedule. The petitioner argued that the Parliament did not have the authority to amend fundamental rights; they relied on Article 13(2), which states that any law that abridges or takes away the fundamental rights of individuals is deemed to be void. The Respondent argued that the Constitution makers did not intend to make the Constitution rigid; they believed that the Amendment should be made according to the need of time. Hence, the Parliament also has the authority to amend fundamental rights. The State argued that the power under Article 368 extends to the whole of the Constitution, which allows the Legislature to amend fundamental rights as well. According to the Court, the 17th Amendment violated the fundamental rights of the petitioners. The Court stated that the Constitutional Amendment did not meet the requirements that were necessary under Article 13(3). A Constitutional Amendment that falls under the definition of ordinary law cannot violate fundamental rights. The Court also held that as the Constitution demarcates the power between the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary, it expects them to exercise the power without overstepping into the boundaries of another.

Indira Gandhi Nehru v. Raj Narain, 1975 

The dispute was regarding the Prime Minister Election that was pending before the Supreme Court. The Allahabad High Court declared the election of Indira Gandhi void on the grounds of corrupt practices and misuse of state machinery. An appeal was filed in the Apex Court, but due to the Supreme Court being on vacation, a state of emergency was declared, and the 39th Constitutional Amendment of 1975 was introduced. The Amendment altogether restricted the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court in election matters. The petitioners contended that the Constitution of various countries allowed them to leave their election disputes in the hands of the legislature. The Constitution of India also allowed it to restrict the scope of judicial review in matters of policy. The Respondents argued that the Amendment was against the basic structure doctrine. Article 14(1) allows equality before the law, and the President, while passing such an Amendment, placed himself above the law, which wasn’t justified. Respondents also argued that Article 368 does not empower Parliament to amend the Constitution in order to decide who wins or loses the elections. The Court held that the Amendment was violative of the separation of power doctrine, as it transferred a purely judicial power to look into election petitions into the hands of the legislature. The Amendment would result in chaos as there would be an overlap of the functions of the organs of democracy.

Related cases

The Commonwealth and the Central Wool Committee v. the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Co. Ltd, 1922

In this case, the court mentioned that the principles in the Ram Jawaya case cannot have any reference in the present scenario as the Indian Constitution does not have any provision that corresponds to Section 61 of the Australian Constitution. The Commonwealth Government entered into several agreements with a company carrying on the business of manufacturing and selling wool; one of the agreements focused on the license fee and the other focused on carrying on business as agents of the Commonwealth. The High Court of Australia held that, apart from the authority conferred by the acts of Parliament or regulations made, the executive had no right to make or rectify the agreements.

Attorney-General for Victoria v. the Commonwealth, 1935

In this case, the Court stressed on Section 61 of the Australian Constitution, according to which the duty and responsibility of the executive is to maintain the laws of the Constitution and commonwealth. The Commonwealth Government established a clothing factory for military and naval purposes, which during peacetime was used to supply uniforms for other departments and various public utility services. The question that arose was whether the acts during peacetime were authorised under the Defence Act? The High Court of Australia held that there was nothing in the Constitution that enabled the Commonwealth to establish factories for purposes other than those assigned.

Motilal v. State of Uttar Pradesh, 1952

The contention raised by the applicants was that the State cannot claim to have better rights than the bus owners and the discrimination between State and private owners is void and contrary to the provisions of Article 14 of Constitution. In this case, the Allahabad High Court held that an action would be considered as within the power of the executive if it had not been assigned by the Constitution to any other authority, bodies or entity, did not encroach upon any any rights which had been conferred to the public, and was not contrary to any law of the country.


The case helps in differentiating our Constitution from others; even if it is inspired by different Constitutions, it still upholds its unique feature of being different. It also helps in understanding the doctrine in different social contexts. With changing times and rapid development, the interpretation has to be widened in order to cover all the aspects. Even though the doctrine is not followed in a strict sense, it is still important to keep a check on the activities of the government. To avoid overlapping functions and powers, the Constitution has defined the roles and duties of the different organs of the government. The Constitution upholds the value of separation between these organs and ensures that each organ of the government has its own independence. The Court emphasised the theme of responsible government. In India, the executive is not merely a postholder and holds power, which is essential for strengthening democracy. The principle of separation of power holds parallelism of power and states that each organ has a duty to maintain a check upon the other two. Therefore, the government can carry out administrative instructions until the legislature acts upon them.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is the importance of Rai Sahib Ram Jawaya Kapur v. State of Punjab in the realm of Indian Constitutional Law?

The case is significant for its contribution to the interpretation of the separation of power doctrine. It interpreted the Australian Constitutional Principles and held that the Indian Constitution does not follow the strict separation of powers doctrine.

What was held while discussing the separation of power doctrine in this case?

The case divided the doctrine into two parts, it creates essential powers and incidental powers. Essential powers constitute the core power of that organ; in this case, the other organs cannot interfere with the core power of an organ, and incidental powers are the secondary powers; in this case, the other organs can exercise the incidental powers of an organ.


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