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Report No. 275

2. Public Functions

a. National Perspective

5.34 It may be noted here that in Ajay Hasia case, the Supreme Court held that if a corporation is performing functions of public importance, closely related to governmental functions it may be categorised as an agency or instrumentality of the State. As stated earlier, the understanding is that public functions are those functions which hold importance for the public, affect the public in a significant way, and a body performing those functions can be viewed by the public as an extension or arm of the State.

5.35 Black's Law Dictionary (8th edition), talks about 'Public-Function Doctrine' as entailing that a private person's actions constitute State action if the private person performs functions that are traditionally reserved for the State.

5.36 The above-mentioned dictionary also talks about 'Governmental-Function Theory' or 'Public-Function Rationale', as a principle by which private conduct is characterised as State action, especially, for due process and equal protection purposes, when a private party is exercising a public function.

5.37 In the case of Binny Ltd. v. V. Sadasivan,121 the Supreme Court noted thatthere are private bodies as well, which may be discharging public functions. The Court further said that it is difficult to draw a line between 'public functions' and 'private functions' when they are being discharged by a purely private authority. "A body is performing a 'public function' when it seeks to achieve some collective benefit for the public or a section of the public and is accepted by the public or that section of the public as having authority to do so[emphasis added].

Bodies therefore exercise public functions when they intervene or participate in social or economic affairs in the public interest.....Public functions need not be the exclusive domain of the State. Charities, self‐regulatory organisations and other nominally private institutions (such as universities, the Stock Exchange, Lloyd's of London, churches) may in reality also perform some types of public function....Non-governmental bodies such as these are just as capable of abusing their powers as is Government".122

5.38 In the case of G. Bassi Reddy v. International Crops Research Instt. & Anr.,123 it was observed by the Supreme Court, that although it is not easy to define what a public function or public duty is, it can be reasonably said that such functions are akin to those performable by the State in its sovereign capacity.

5.39 In the case of Andi Mukta Sadguru Shree Mukta Jeevandas Swami Suvarna Jayanti Mahotsav Smarak Trust v. V.R.Rudani,124the Apex Court observed:

Article 226 confers wide powers on the High Courts to issue writs in the nature of prerogative writs. This is a striking departure from the English law. Under Article 226, writs can be issued to 'any person or authority'. The term 'authority' used in the context, must receive a liberal meaning unlike the term in Article 12 which is relevant only for the purpose of enforcement of fundamental rights under Article 32. Article 226 confers power on the High Courts to issue writs for enforcement of the fundamental rights as well as non-fundamental rights.

The words 'any person or authority' used in Article 226 are, therefore, not to be confined only to statutory authorities and instrumentalities of the State. They may cover any other person or body performing public duty. The form of the body concerned is not very much relevant[emphasis added]. What is relevant is the nature of the duty imposed on the body. The duty must be judged in the light of positive obligation owed by the person or authority to the affected party, no matter by what means the duty is imposed. If a positive obligation exists mandamus cannot be denied.

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