Principles of natural justice implicit in quasi-judicial as well as administrative action,...

Principles of natural justice implicit in quasi-judicial as well as administrative action, says MP HC

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Principles of natural justice are implicit in quasi-judicial as well as administrative action. It is settled in law that principles of natural justice do not supplant the law but supplement the law. Their application may be excluded either expressly or by necessary implication. It is not permissible to interpret any statutory instrument so as to exclude natural justice, unless the language of the instrument leaves no option to the Court. Natural justice is so integral to the good government that the onus is on him who urges exclusion to make out why. These legal principles were reiterated by a single-judge bench of Madhya Pradesh high court at Jabalpur, comprising Justice Sujoy Paul, in the case of Dr. K.S. Dubey Vs. State of M.P. & others [Writ Petition No.600/2016; decided on 25 November, 2016]. Full order of the court is reproduced below.

In the present case, the petitioner was appointed as Chairperson, Child Welfare Committee, Bhopal constituted under the Juvenile Justice (Care & Protection of Children), Act, 2000. The petitioner was appointed by Gazette Notification published on 21.02.2014. However, by order dated 28.12.2015, the respondents cancelled his appointment as Chairperson of Child Welfare Committee, Bhopal. The petitioner contended that his appointment was cancelled on the grounds viz. (i) the working style of the petitioner was improper and was not in consonance with the requirement of the Act; (ii) in the local newspapers, periodically news were published disclosure of the identity of children and misbehaviour with them; (iii) on 07.10.2015, in a local newspaper, it is published that the petitioner has misbehaved with the lady for which an FIR is registered against him under Section 354 IPC; (iv) the petitioner is not competent to discharge the functions of the Committee; (v) the complaints are received against the petitioner; (vi) he did not permit the family members of the children to meet them, (vii) permitted one child to be adopted by somebody despite the fact that his parents were alive; (viii) he did not prepare the child care plan; (ix) petitioner’s behaviour was insensitive; (x) Divisional Commissioner and Collector have conducted the inquiry and found that petitioner is not working in the best interest of children.

The petitioner further contended that the said Act of 2000 prescribes the method by which any Member of the Committee may be terminated. In the present case, the petitioner’s appointment was cancelled without following the principles of natural justice and without permitting him to participate in the inquiry. The so-called inquiry conducted by the respondents was conducted behind the back of the petitioner and hence said inquiry report cannot be a reason to terminate the appointment of the petitioner. Apart from this, it was argued that petitioner was falsely implicated in the criminal case and police after investigation, had already submitted a ‘khatma’ (closure) report before the Court of competent jurisdiction. In nutshell, the contention of the petitioner was that the decision making process which ended with issuance of impugned order was not in consonance with Section 29(4) of said Act of 2000.

However, it was submitted by the respondents that Section 29(4) of the said Act nowhere prescribes that in the inquiry, the Member of the Committee is required to be given an opportunity. Section 29(4) of the Act only prescribes that appointment of any member may be terminated after holding inquiry by the Government.

The high court observed the core issue in the petition was whether the principles of natural justice were required to be followed before terminating the appointment of the petitioner.

The high court noted that in Ridge vs. Baldwin, 1964 AC 40, it was held that the duty to act judicially may arise from the very nature of the function performed by the authority. It was also observed that the dividing line between an administrative power and a quasi judicial power is thin and was treated to be gradually obliterated by various judgments of the Supreme Court, such as in A.K. Kraipak vs. Union of India, AIR 1970 SC 150. In the same judgment, the Supreme Court had observed that the horizon of natural justice is constantly expanding and if the purpose of rules of natural justice is to prevent miscarriage of justice, one fails to see why those rules should be made inapplicable to administrative enquiries.

The high court also referred to the constitution Bench decision of the Supreme Court in Maneka Gandhi vs. Union of India, (1978) 1 SCC 248, in which it had been emphasized that natural justice is a great humanising principle which intended to invest law with fairness and to secure justice and that the soul of natural justice is fair play in action. On the basis of this, it can be said that there is no distinction between a quasi judicial and an administrative function for the purpose of applicability of the principles of natural justice. The aim of both administrative enquiry and quasi judicial enquiry is to arrive at a just decision and if a rule of natural justice is calculated to secure the justice, or, to put it negatively, to prevent miscarriage of justice, it is difficult to see why it should be applicable to quasi judicial enquiry and not to administrative enquiry.

The high court observed that on the basis of the development of law and its interpretation aforesaid shows that the principles of natural justice are implicit in quasi judicial as well as administrative action. The high court also referred to the decision of the Supreme Court in the case of Swadeshi Cotton Mills vs. Union of India, (1981) 1 SCC 664, holding that principles of natural justice do not supplant the law but supplement the law. Their application may be excluded either expressly or by necessary implication. In the case of Mohinder Singh Gill vs. Chief Election Commissioner, (1978) 1 SCC 405, it is held by the Supreme Court that it is not permissible to interpret any statutory instrument so as to exclude natural justice, unless the language of the instrument leaves no option to the Court, and that natural justice is so integral to the good government that the onus is on him who urges exclusion to make out why.

In view of these circumstances, the high court held that the respondents have not passed the impugned order by following the principles of natural justice. Whether or not the petitioner is guilty of misuse of power or any other charge, requires holding of an inquiry where he should be given due opportunity. Since the decision making process for terminating the appointment of the petitioner was polluted, the impugned order dated 28.12.2015 is set aside. However, considering the sensitive nature of assignment of the petitioner, it was directed that the respondents shall issue specification notice containing allegations and provide opportunity to the petitioner and then take appropriate decision in consonance with Section 29 (4) of the said Act within 45 days from the date of communication of the high court order; during these 45 days and till a fresh decision is taken, the petitioner shall not be permitted to perform the duties of Chairperson, Child Welfare Committee, Bhopal.

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