Justice and the union: When does the union/ state become a party to a case

Every day, a legal professional goes through numerous cases in which the case names include words such as Union of India, State of ___, etc. This article aims to elaborate upon the reasons for why the state or the Union would be involved in such cases and some of the most important facets of the law in this regard so as to better analyse and understand any case involving such parties. Since the parties are decided based on various ways, this Article will elaborate on the process of such usage of party names and the involvement of the Government or Government sanctioned authorities.

Constitutional Provisions –

Article 131 – As per Article 131, the Supreme Court has the original jurisdiction over disputes where there is a question of law or fact between the following parties –

  1. The Government of India and one or more states, where the Government will be referred to as Union of India and the State as State of ____. For instance, in the case State of West Bengal v. Union of India[1], the state contends the validity of an Act passed by the Centre, i.e. the Union of India.
  2. The Government of India and any state or states on one side and one or more states on the other sides – These are cases where the government is represented by the Union of India and the contesting states respectively.
  3. Two or more states – Cases involving one state in dispute with another, usually involving territorial disputes where the States are represented by themselves such as the case of State of Karnataka v. State of Tamil Nadu[2]. The case involved a dispute over water supply.

Article 300 – This provides for theGovernment to be able to sue or to be sued through the Governor in the name of Union of India. A State can also do the same in the name of the said state in such cases, the Union of India/ a state is involved as one of the parties against any party not necessarily a government institution. Cases where this was invoked include ones such as State of Rajasthan v. Mst. Vidhyawati[3] and another which dealt with the tortious Act of a Public Servant within the purview of the State. The cases in this regard are subject to the any Act or statute enacted as per the Constitution.

 Article 1 and 12 – As per the former, India is a union of states and territories which falls within the virtue of the territory of the ‘Union’ and being called the same. The later deals with the definition of State which is important in understanding the concept of authorities that derive certain powers as being under the purview of ‘State’. These include –

  1. Government and Parliament of India as well as the State Legislatures.
  2. Local or other authorities within the territory of India or under its control. The same was defined in the case of R.D. Shetty v. International Airport Authority,[4]where the five tests to be an authority were laid down by the Supreme Court.

Criminal Procedure Code and IPC – Any Act committed within the purview of these Acts are considered to be acts against the state or society at large since a criminal act endangers the society. Therefore, Public Prosecutors are actively involved in bringing justice to the victims in such cases, involving the Union or State Governments based on the crime committed[5].

Few of the questions that must have to be understood to better grasp the concept of the involvement of the Government (Union or States), in addition to the above stated include the following –

How can the govt be sued (Defendant/ Respondent) 

The government may be sued either by way of Article 226 in cases of urgent matter or under Sections 79-82 of CPC as well as Order XXVII of the CPC. The statues provide for the suing of the Government or a Public Officer in his course of governmentemployment. However, these provisions only deal with the procedural rights and liabilities that are enforceable against the government and such persons. Article 300 works within the same ambit of the CPC statutes. The Government can be sued by firstly issuing a Notice under Section 80 of the Code which can either be against the government or a Public Officer.

The procedural aspects of the suit upon being instituted and the decree upon the same have been discussed in the further provision of the Code. This makes it that in the procedure for filing, the notice is an integral part which is not merely procedural but is also compulsory/ mandatory as in State of Punjab v. Geeta Iron and Bras Works Ltd. [6].

For more information on the same, visit -https://www.lawyersclubindia.com/articles/notice-for-instituting-suits-against-the-government-under-the-code-of-civil-procedure-act-v-of-1908-10125.asp

How can the govt sue (Petitioner/ Appellant)

The Government has the inherent power to file a case against its own citizens, such rights extend mostly only to the State governments in criminal cases as discussed above. Further, the cases where in which the Petitioner is the Government include cases where the government as a judicial person believes that there has been a right that has been infringed upon. As in all cases, even in cases against the government, when appealed the Government in-turn becomes the Appellant or the first party, as in many cases.

Therefore, in every criminal case, the state Government is the one suing or fighting the case in favour of the victim/survivor and the same applies in certain specific cases as mentioned above.

What happens when the courts take suo-motu cognizance of a case?

The High Courts of India as well as the Supreme Court hold the inherent power to take up any action on their own (suo motu) if it is believed that such a case involves a substantial question of law. In such cases, since the Courts believe that the ends of Justice must be met with, they themselves take up the cases as per their jurisdiction under Article 32 and 226 as well as Article 131 of the Constitution. The Judicial Magistrate can also take cognizance of cases under Section 190(1) (c) of the Criminal Procedure Code. The Courts take up such cases involving the matters such as –

  1. Rape/ Criminal Cases
  2. Questions of law involving a Governmental Body
  3. Violation of basic human rights (NHRC is also involved)

When the court proceeds Suo Moto, using its jurisdictional powers and issues a Suo Moto writ on the grounds of blatant violation of the law, to maintain public order, to prevent the gross constitutional violation, to remedy grave injustice. The Suo Moto cognizance virtually presupposes the public at large as one of the parties. Therefore, after the court takes cognizance of a matter, it usually appoints amicus curiae to assist the court.

In such cases, the Government often than not becomes a party to the case since, criminal acts involve them as well as cases regarding governmental policies. Such cases usually do not have defined parties but the victim or associations which fight for a bigger cause that known. An example of the same is the Delhi Air Pollution, Murthal Rape case in Punjab, etc.

When is the state or union party to private suits?

A governmental institute or the Government itself is often also party to suits filed by private corporations or those which have been filed by the government against these private companies. Private suits by the Government against a private company has been filed numerous times in lieu of governmental or contractual violations.

In the case of State of Bihar v. Union of India[7] and another, where another is Hindustan Steel Ltd. The case was made in light of the delay in delivery of Iron and Steel materials for the Gandak Project. The Court provided that a private person can be included in the purview of Article 131 since the State and the Union are parties already. Since the Union was the owner of the railways which was responsible for dispatch and the private companies the consignor of goods, both parties were included. This is an important case in understanding that the Union and State Governments have been given the same rights and duties as a judicial person would as under Article 131 and Section 80, as applicable.

When is the term 'Republic of India' used in cases?

In international cases, the term Union is replaced by ‘Republic’ as the official name of the State is to be used. The term union is used in domestic cases in light of Article 300, however, the official name as per which India is referred to is the Republic of India. Therefore, the term is used in international cases for dispute settlement with other countries in the International Court of Justice or the International Criminal Court, based on the offence or vitiating action.


In conclusion, the Constitution within its framework provides with wide duties and powers to both the Union, the States as well as the Courts to ensure smooth functioning of democracy. This has been elucidated with not only an independent judiciary but a court framework where the Government is involved in the Justice System (criminal cases) and can be included if the citizens believe that is has been done so wrongly (Article 131, 300). Therefore, these provisions as stated above create for a safe judiciary which has the independent power to not only hear and decide but also bring up cases if it believes that justice has been denied to a party.

Please let us know in the comments any other facet of the topic that needs to be answered!

  • [1] State of West Bengal v. Union of India 1963 AIR 1241
  • [2] State of Karnataka v. State of Tamil Nadu 2017 SCC 3 362 
  • [3] State of Rajasthan v. Mst. Vidhyawati AIR 1962 SC 933
  • [4] R.D. Shetty v. International Airport Authority1979 AIR 1628
  • [5] This is based on an unwritten social contract of the land that a crime is against the society, not merely an individual. Such crimes have been described in the Acts mentioned.
  • [6] State of Punjab v. Geeta Iron and Bras Works Ltd. 1978 AIR 1608
  • [7]State of Bihar v. Union of India 1970 AIR 1446


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