Supreme Court Explains Scope of Judicial Review of Administrative Action Based on Subjective Opinion/Satisfaction of Authority

The Supreme Court explained the scope of judicial review of the action of the administrative authority on the basis of its subjective opinion or satisfaction.

“Action based on subjective opinion or satisfaction may be examined judicially first to determine the existence of the facts or circumstances on the basis of which the authority is said to have formed the opinion“, observed the formation composed of judges Surya Kant and JB Pardiwala.

In Gauhati High Court petition in brief who was a Rifleman in Assam Rifles challenged the order made by Lt Col Offg Comdt discharging him from service based on the four red ink entries received by him during his service period. The single chamber quashed the dismissal order and sent the case back to the authorities concerned for a new decision. Permitting the appeal in writing filed by the Union of India, the Divisional Bench of the High Court quashed the Single Bench Judgment.

On appeal, the appellant argued that four red entries are only a minimum requirement and cannot be the sole ground for ordering release, that the rule itself states that power “may be invoked” and that ” where possible, however, release under this provision should be avoided as staff sent on leave on this account are not entitled to a pension” and the provision may only be brought into use when a “continued and willful disobedience or neglect” is found. Respondents, on the other hand, argued that the four red ink entries were sufficient for the authority to arrive at the subjective satisfaction that the appellant here does not was not fit to be kept in service and more particularly being a rifleman with the Assam rifle.

In response to these assertions, the bench made the following observations:

  1. When a law or the statutory rules deriving therefrom leave an action dependent on the opinion of the authority concerned, by an expression such as “is convinced” or “is of the opinion” or “if it has reason to believe or “if deemed necessary”, the opinion of the authority is conclusive, (a) if the procedure prescribed by law or rules for the formation of the opinion has been duly followed, (b) if the authority acted in good faith, (c) whether the authority itself formed the opinion and did not borrow someone else’s opinion, and (d) whether the authority did not proceed on a fundamental misconception of the law and of the question on which the opinion should be formed.
  2. Action based on opinion or subjective satisfaction, in our view, may be examined judicially in the first place to determine the existence of the facts or circumstances on the basis of which the authority is said to have formed the opinion. It is true that ordinarily the court need not inquire into the correctness or incorrectness of the facts found, except where it is alleged that the facts found to exist were not supported by any evidence or that the conclusion concerning the circumstances or the elements are so perverse that no reasonable man would say that the facts and the circumstances exist. Courts do not readily defer to the conclusiveness of the authority’s opinion as to the existence of a question of law or fact on which rests the validity of the exercise of power.
  3. The doctrine of reasonableness may therefore be invoked. Where there are no reasonable grounds justifying the formation of the opinion of the authority, judicial review in such a case is permitted. [See Director of Public Prosecutions v. Head, (1959) AC 83 (Lord Denning).
  4. When we say that where the circumstances or material or state of affairs does not at all exist to form an opinion and the action based on such opinion can be quashed by the courts, we mean that in effect there is no evidence whatsoever to form or support the opinion. The distinction between insufficiency or inadequacy of evidence and no evidence must of course be borne in mind. A finding based on no evidence as opposed to a finding which is merely against the weight of the evidence is an abuse of the power which courts naturally are loath to tolerate. Whether or not there is evidence to support a particular decision has always been considered as a question of law. [See Reg. v. Governor of Brixton Prison, Armah, Ex Parte, (1966) 3 WLR 828 at p. 841].
  5. It is in such a case that the authority is said to be deemed not to have applied its mind or not to have honestly formed its opinion. The same conclusion is drawn when the opinion is based on irrelevant material. [See Rasbihari v. State of Orissa, AIR 1969 SC 1081].
  6. In Rohtas Industries Ltd. vs. SD Agarwal et al, AIR 1969 SC 707, the existence of circumstances was held to be a prerequisite for the government to form an opinion. The same view has already been expressed in Barium Chemicals Ltd. and another v. Company Law Board and others, AIR 1967 SC 295.
  7. Second, the court may determine whether the facts and circumstances thus found have a reasonable connection with the purpose for which the power is to be exercised. In other words, if an inference of facts does not logically accord with them and does not follow from them, the courts can intervene by treating them as an error of law. [See Bean v. Doncaster Amalgamated Collieries, (1944) 2 All ER 279 at p. 284]. Thus, this Court can see whether, on the basis of the facts and circumstances found, any reasonable man can say that an opinion as formed can be formed by a reasonable man. This would be a question of law to be decided by the Court. [See Farmer v. Cotton’s Trustees, 1915 AC 922]
  8. Third, this Court can intervene if the essential constitutional or statutory condition for the exercise of power has been either misapplied or misinterpreted. Courts have always equated judicial review with review for error of law and have been prepared to set aside an order if the meaning of the term constitutional or statutory has been misinterpreted or misapplied. [See Iveagh (Earl of) v. 23 Minister of Housing and Local Govt., (1962) 2 QB 147; Iveagh (Earl of) v. Minister of Housing and Local Govt. (1964) 1 AB 395].
  9. Fourth, it is permissible to intervene in a case where power is exercised for improper purposes. If a power granted for one purpose is exercised for a different purpose, then the power will not be deemed to have been validly exercised. If it turns out that the power in this case was not exercised genuinely for the purpose of taking immediate action, but was used only to avoid embarrassment or frustrate personal revenge, then the power will be deemed been exercised inappropriately. [See Natesa Asari v. State of Madras, AIR 1954 Mad 481].
  10. Fifthly, grounds which are relevant to the purposes for which the power may be exercised have not been considered or grounds which are not relevant and yet are considered and an order is based on such grounds , then the order can be attacked as invalid and illegal . In this regard, one can refer to Ram Manohar v. State of Bihar, AIR 1966 SC 740; Dwarka Das c. State of J. and K., AIR 1957 SC 164 at p. 168 and Motilall v. State of Bihar, AIR 1968 SC 1509. On the same principle, the administrative action will be invalidated if it can be established that the authority was convinced on the wrong question: [See (1967) 1 AC 13].

Referring to the relevant provisions of the Assam Rifles Regulations, 2016, the bench noted that there was nothing in the record to indicate that the nature of the misconduct which led to the awarding of four red ink inscriptions was so unacceptable that the competent authority had no choice but to order his release to avoid indiscipline in the force. Accordingly, he quashed the discharge order issued and allowed the appeal.

Case details

Amarendra Kumar Pandey vs Indian Union | 2022 LiveLaw (SC) 600 | CA 11473-11474 FROM 2018 | July 14, 2022

Coram: Justice Surya Kant and JB Pardiwala

Summaries

Constitution of India, 1950; Article 32, 226 – Administrative law – Judicial review – Action based on opinion or subjective satisfaction may be examined judicially in the first place to determine the existence of the facts or circumstances on the basis of which the authority is said to have formed the opinion – Scope discussed. (Paragraphs 28-37)

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