This Article is submitted by –
- Pooja Agarwal, 3 Year LLB at Cmr School of Legal Studies.
In the Supreme Court of India WP (C) No.541/2019 Petitioner A. K. Kraipak & ors. etc. Respondents Union of India & ors. Date of Judgement 29th April 1969 Bench Hon’ble Mr. Justice M. Hidayatullah, C.J., J.M. Shelat, K.S. Hegde, A.N. Grover and Vashishtha Bhargava, JJ.
Natural justice is a great harmonising principle intended to invest law with fairness and to secure justice an over the years it has grown into a widely pervasive rule affecting large areas of administrative actions (Maneka Gandhi V UOI). Natural justice is a concept of common law and represents higher procedural principles developed by judges. It enjoys no express constitutional status.
In India the principles of natural justice are firmly grounded in Articles 14 and 21 of the constitution. With the introduction of concept of substantive and procedural due process in Article 21, all that fairness which is included in Article 21. The violation of natural justice results in arbitrariness, therefore violation of natural justice is violation of equality clause of Article 14.
Facts of the case
- In 1966, a service called the Indian Forest Service was constituted, the selection for which was to be made from among the officers serving in the forest department of the state.
- Section 3 of the All India Services Act, 1952 provides that the central government shall after consulting the government of the state concerned including that of Jammu & Kashmir to make rules for regulation of recruitment and conditions of the services of persons appointed to those All India Services.
- According to Rule 4(1) of Indian Forest Service (recruitment) rules, central government was given power to recruit to the service from amongst the member of state forest service and a special selection board consisting of chairman of UPSC, Inspector general of Forests of the Government of India, Joint Secretary, Chief secretary of the concerned state governments and Chief Conservator of Forests of the concerned state government.
- Regulation 5 deals with the preparation of the list of suitable candidates.
- The selection board was to be headed by chief conservator of the forest of the state while the final selections were to be made by the UPSC.
- In the state of J&K, a person by the name of Naquishbund was appointed as the acting chief conservator of forest and hence was appointed to the said post by overlooking the seniority of three officers: Basu, Baig and Kaul.
- Two persons senior to him had been superseded and the petition was brought by some gazetted officers serving in Forest department of J&K to the Indian Forest.
- Meanwhile, the selections committee had to recommend the names and it so happened that they had recommended the name of the person in which Naquishband was appointed as the ex-officio chairman but excluding the three senior officials, who had been superseded.
- The recommendations of the Board were submitted to the UPSC and was accepted by them.
- On the basis of the recommendations of the commission, the impugned list was published and Naquishbund name was placed at the top of the list of selected officers.
- It must be noted that Naquishbund was also one of the candidates seeking to be selected to All India Forest Service. Though he did not sit in the selection board at the time his name was considered for selection but he did sit in the board and participated in its deliberations when the names of Basu, Baig and Kaul were considered for selection and was also involved while preparing the list of selected candidates in order of preference, as required by Regulation 5.
- However the list prepared by the selection board was not the last word in the matter of selection in question. That list along with the record of the officers in the concerned cadre selected as well as not selected had to be sent to the Ministry of Home Affairs. The Ministry of Home Affairs had forwarded that list with its observations to the commission and the commission has examined the records of all the officers before making its recommendations.
- All of them felt aggrieved by the selection made from among the officers serving in forest department of J&K to the Indian Forest Service.
- Aggrieved, the Gazetted officers association, J&K along with the interested parties brought a petition to court challenging the selections notified as being violative of Article 14 and 16 of constitution and further ground that the selections in question were made in contraventions of principles of natural justice.
- Assuming that the proceedings in the present case are administrative in nature, whether the principles of natural justice applied to administrative proceedings?
- Whether there was violation of such principles of natural justice?
- Whether there were grounds for setting aside the selection of all the officers?
Contentions of Petitioners
- The petitioners contended that Rule 4 and Regulation 5 prescribes that the selections should be made after “adjudging” the suitability of the officers belonging to the state service. The word “adjudge” means “to judge or decide” indicates that the power conferred in the selections board was quasi-judicial power.
- It was contended on their behalf that such a power is a judicial power and not an administrative one and it has to be exercised in accordance with the rules of natural justice, the violation of which has been rightly claimed.
- Naquishband, being a candidate of the Indian Forest Service cannot be an adjudicator of the same.
Contentions of Respondents
- The respondents argued that the power exercised by the selection board is not a quasi-judicial but administrative power. To support tis contention, it was further admitted that the proceedings before the selection board were not quasi-judicial because the board was not to decide about any “right”. The duty of the board was merely to select officers who in their opinion were suitable for the Forest service. He interpreted the word “adjudge” as being “found worthy of selection”.
- Also the selections board was merely recommendatory body. Final recommendations were made by UPSC. Therefore grievances of the petitioners have no real basis. Keeping in mind the validity of the administrative actions taken, all that has to be seen is whether the final decision is just or not.
- And finally, in the form of argument, it was also contended that the mere fact that one of the members the board was biased against some of the petitioners cannot vitiate the whole selection process.
Supreme Court observations and decision
The court held that the selections made by the Selection Committee were in violation of the principles of natural justice because there was a real likelihood of a bias for the mere presence of the candidate on the Selection Board may adversely influence the judgement of other members. Along with it court further added:
- The rules of natural justice are embodied rules and their aim is to secure justice or to prevent miscarriage justice. If that is their purpose, there is no reason why they should not be made applicable to administrative proceedings also.
- The Supreme court held that though the action of making selection for government service is administrative, yet the selection committee is under a duty to act judicially.
- The dividing line between an administrative power and a quasi-judicial power is quit thin and is being obliterated.
- The court found that the power exercised by the Selection board as an administrative one and tested the validity of the selection on that basis. It was held that the concept of rule of law would lose its importance if the instrumentalities of the state are not charged with the duty of discharging their functions in a fair and just manner in a welfare state like India, where the jurisdiction of the administrative bodies is increasing at a rapid rate.
- In Manaklal case the court had made it clear that the test was not actual but a reasonable apprehension bias. It held that it is difficult to prove the state of mind. Therefore in deciding the question of bias ordinary course of human conduct is taken into consideration. Owing to this, the court observed that there was a personal interest on part of Naquishbund to keep out his rivals in order to secure his position without further challenge and so he cannot said to be impartial, fair and just while making the selection.
- The court held that the basic principle of “nemo judex in causa sua” was violated by appointing Naquishband as a member of the selection board. Though he did not participate in the deliberations of the board when his name was being considered yet the very fact that he was a member of the selection board and that too holding the post of the chairman had a significant impact on the decisions of the selection board. Also he participated in the deliberations when the claims of his rivals i.e., Basu, Baig and Kaul were considered. He was also present when the list of selected candidates in order of preference was being made. Hence it was very clear that from the very inception of the selection process, at every stage of his participation in the selection process, there was a conflict between his interest and duty. Under such circumstances, the court could not believe that Naquishbund could have been unbiased.
- In this case, for the first time, without the assistance of any foreign judgement, the Supreme court had decided that principles of natural justice were applicable not only to judicial functions but also to administrative functions.
- This case makes it clear that impartiality in adjudication is required not only in judicial decision but also in administrative matters. The principle of natural justice would apply on administrative functions also and struck down the selection process on ground of violation of principles of natural justice.
- It was held that the selections made by the selection committee were in violation of principles of natural justice.
Appraisal of the point of law
- It is necessary to understand the scope of principles of natural justice. It can be described as “judicial fairness in decision making” and its main aim to secure justice or prevent miscarriage of justice. It is a branch of public law and is held to be very formidable weapon that can be wielded to secure justice. The definition of the term “natural justice” is difficult to be given but its essential characteristics can be enumerated in two maxims
- Audi alteram partem and
- Nemo judex in causa sua
- The first maxim literally meaning “hear the other side” provides that before taking a decision other party must be heard. De Smith says “No propositions can be more clearly established than that a man cannot incur the loss of liberty or property until he has a fair opportunity of answering the case against him.
- The right to fair hearing has always been used as a base onto which a fair administrative procedure comparable with due process of law can be built. In Ridge v Baldwin, the House of Lords held by majority that the power of dismissal of an employee couldn’t be exercised without giving reasonable opportunity of being heard and without observing the principle of natural justice.
- The second phrase literally means that “No man shall be a judge in his own case”. The maxim ensures that the adjudicator must not have any interest or bias in the case which he is deciding. As the famous saying goes “justice should not only be done but must be seen to have been done”. In case of a judicial body, the independence and impartiality of the judge is an absolute condition, because without these qualities the public confidence which is their real strength would weaken. In the opinion of the court, a precondition to decide for or against one party without proper regard to the true merits is bias. Bias can be of three types i.e., personal bias, pecuniary bias or official bias. In the cases of bias what the aggrieved party has to prove is the likelihood of bias and not the real existence of the same.
- In the case of Ashok Kumar Yadav v State of Haryana(1987 AIR 454) the court observed “we agree with the petitioners that it is one of the fundamental principles of our jurisprudence that no man can be a judge in his own case and that if there is likelihood of bias it is in accordance with natural justice and common sense that the judge likely to be biased should be incapacitated from sitting.
- The court in Manak lal v Dr Prem Chand held “the test is not whether in fact, a bias has effected the judgement, the test always is and must be whether a litigant could reasonably apprehend that a bias attributable to a member of the tribunal might have operated against him in the final decision of the tribunal.
- In the case of State of Uttar Pradesh v Mohammed Nooh(1958 AIR 86)the officer who held departmental inquiry and passed the order, himself gave evidence and thus acted as prosecutor and the judge. Das Chief Justice delivering the majority judgement said that the rules of natural justice were grossly violated.
- In the case of Rattan lal v Managing Committee(1993 AIR 2155) was a witness as well as one of the three members of an inquiry committee against Rattanlal. The court set aside the dismissal order of Rattanlal on the ground that the proceedings were vitiated because of bias of one of the members.
Therefore what emerges from this case is that although the courts are making distinctions between the quasi-judicial and administrative powers but at the same time there is one common element of fair procedure in both the cases which can be referred to as the duty to act fairly. This duty arises from the same general principles, as to the rules of natural justice.
In the words of Krishna Iyer “Once we understood the soul of the rule as fair play in action-and it is so- we must hold that it extends to both the fields. After all administrative power in a democratic set-up is not allergic to fairness in action and discretionary executive justice cannot degenerate into unilateral injustice.”
Thus we agree that many a times the impact of administrative decision can be greater than that of a judicial decision. As in the present case, the decision made with bias and without the applicability of rules of natural justice would have adversely affected the careers of the officers not selected. In such circumstances leaving the administrative actions out of the clutches of rules of justice would determine rule of law. Hence in conclusion it is observed that “No authority can absolve itself from the liability to act in a lawful manner”. Thus the development of administrative law in India and has strengthened the rule of law in this country.
In Suresh Koshy George v The University of Kerala,(1969 AIR 198) the court observed that the rules of natural justice are not embodied rules. What particular rule of natural justice should apply to a given case must be depend to a great extent on the facts and circumstances of that case, the framework of the law under which the enquiry is held and the constitution of the tribunal or body of persons appointed for that purpose. Whenever a complaint is made before a court that some principle o natural justice had been contravened the court has to decide whether the observance of that was necessary for just decision on the facts of that case.
“The views of the authors are personal“