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The Law of Writ Remedy under Article 226 of the Constitution of India.

In a very recent judgement, the Supreme Court of India has laid down its clear and unambiguous views on the exercise of writ powers conferred by Article 226 of the Constitution (by the High Courts).

Para 4 of the judgement, authored by Justice Dipankar Datta, our very own former Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court, lays down exhaustively its mind on the Writ remedy under Article 226 which says that writ remedy should not be denied merely on the ground of there being alternate and efficacious remedy.

“…the power to issue prerogative writs under Article 226 is plenary in nature. Any limitation on the exercise of such power must be traceable in the Constitution itself. Profitable reference in this regard may be made to Article 329 and ordainments of other similarly worded articles in the Constitution. Article 226 does not, in terms, impose any limitation or restraint on the exercise of power to issue writs. While it is true that exercise of writ powers despite availability of a remedy under the very statute which has been invoked and has given rise to the action impugned in the writ petition ought not to be made in a routine manner, yet, the mere fact that the petitioner before the high court, in a given case, has not pursued the alternative remedy available to him/it cannot mechanically be construed as a ground for its dismissal. It is axiomatic that the high courts (bearing in mind the facts of each particular case) have a discretion whether to entertain a writ petition or not. One of the self-imposed restrictions on the exercise of power under Article 226 that has evolved through judicial precedents is that the high courts should normally not entertain a writ petition, where an effective and efficacious alternative remedy is available. At the same time, it must be remembered that mere availability of an alternative remedy of appeal or revision, which the party invoking the jurisdiction of the high court under Article 226 has not pursued, would not oust the jurisdiction of the high court and render a writ petition “not maintainable”. In a long line of decisions, this Court has made it clear that availability of an alternative remedy does not operate as an absolute bar to the “maintainability” of a writ petition and that the rule, which requires a party to pursue the alternative remedy provided by a statute, is a rule of policy, convenience and discretion rather than a rule of law. Though elementary, it needs to be restated that “entertainability” and “maintainability” of a writ petition are distinct concepts. The fine but real distinction between the two ought not to be lost sight of. The objection as to “maintainability” goes to the root of the matter and if such objection were found to be of substance, the courts would be rendered incapable of even receiving the lis for adjudication. On the other hand, the question of “entertainability” is entirely within the realm of discretion of the high courts, writ remedy being discretionary. A writ petition despite being maintainable may not be entertained by a high court for very many reasons or relief could even be refused to the petitioner, despite setting up a sound legal point, if grant of the claimed relief would not further public interest. Hence, dismissal of a writ petition by a high court on the ground that the petitioner has not availed the alternative remedy without, however, examining whether an exceptional case has been made out for such entertainment would not be proper.”

Godrej Sara Lee Ltd. v. Excise and Taxation Officer-cum-Assessing Authority [Civil Appeal No.5393 of 2010 decided on 01-02-2023]

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