ADMINISTRATIVE TRIBUNALS: PROCEDURE & EVIDENCE APROPOS PRINCIPLE OF NATURAL JUSTICE




This article has been authored by Vaidehi Gupta, a third-year student at Tamil Nadu National Law University, Tiruchirappalli.


Introduction


In India, after the Independence the Administrative Adjudication system was augmented & various welfare laws were propagated which were conferred with the power to decide on the multiple issues leashed in the hands of the administration. The contemporary Indian Republic was born a welfare state & thusly the burden on the government to provide a swarm of welfare services to the folks was enormous. These Quasi-judicial powers attained by the administration resulted to umpteen number of cases in regards to the means in which these administrative agencies come to their rulings. The courts held that, these administrative bodies ought to keep the procedural safeguards & perceive the principle of natural justice whilst deciding upon a matter.


Their views were well founded in the 14th Law Commission Report. With a view to evade the blockage of the judicial mechanism with cases which would have ascended by the working of these socio-economic legislations, lot of tribunals were set up by the government due to their developing processes, with the aim of providing swift, inexpensive & devolved decision of the conflicts resulting from multiple legislations. Other cause for the novel progression is that, the ordinary law courts, formalistic facades & defiance can barely deliver the justice to the aggrieved parties especially in the technical cases. Common judges bred in the customs of law & jurisprudence, aren’t sufficiently competent to comprehend the technical issues, which turn up in the wake of the present compound eco-social procedures. The administrators having the expertise & skill that are only potent to confront these problems shrewdly.


To encounter this need, administrative adjudicatory system or several administrative tribunals have been established. Such tribunals were established in India instantly after the Independence. Indeed, the most significant adjudicative operations is performed by the statutory tribunals formed by the legislature to decide upon certain issues emerging from the administrative decisions or to rule out on the issues by judicial means. Certain Tribunals which can be cited are, Central Administrative Tribunal, Custom, Excise & Service Tax Appellate Tribunal, Competition Appellate Tribunal, Securities Appellate tribunal, The Railway Rates tribunal, The Income Tax Appellate Tribunal, Labour Tribunals, the Companies Tribunals, National Green Tribunal, revenue Courts of several states et al.


Administrative Tribunals- Procedural & Evidential Rules Vis-à-vis Doctrine Of Fair Play


One of the multifarious intents for establishing the Administrative Tribunals is the dispensation of justice in a time efficient & economical means. Administrative Tribunals on a good magnitude evade the procedural underdevelopments & adjudicate upon the matters depended on the fundamental & majestic dogma of the Administrative law viz. Principle of Natural Justice i.e. Nemo Judex in causa sua (Rule against Bias) & Audi Alteram Partem (Rule to be heard) along with the rational orders.


The Administrative Tribunals have the intrinsic powers to control their own process contingent to the statutory necessity. Commonly, these tribunals are vested with the powers granted by the Code of Civil procedure, 1908 on the Civil Courts in regard to subpoenaing of the testimonies & implementation of the attendance, revelation & scrutiny, making of the documents etc. Administrative Tribunals proceedings are considered to be the judicial proceedings according to Sections 193, 195 & 228 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 & Sections 345 & 346 of The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. However, in State of Orissa v. Murlidhar it was stated that, these tribunals weren’t obligated to the stringent Rules of Procedure & Evidence, given that they comply with the Principles of Natural Justice & ‘Fair Play’. Hence, the courts asserted that, the technical rules of evidence don’t apply to their proceedings & by wielding the discretionary powers, they can depend on scuttlebutt evidence or rule the questions of burden of proof or permissibility of the documents, etc.


The Supreme Court in Dhakeswari Cotton Mills Ltd. v. Commissioner of Income Tax, West Bengal further restating in State of Kerala v. Shaduli Grocery Dealer ruled that the Officer of Income Tax isn’t shackled by the technical rules of evidence & pleadings, & was eligible to act on the materials which might not have evidential admissibility in court. Tribunals wielding the Quasi-judicial actions aren’t the courts & that thus they aren’t obligated to trail the procedure determined for trial of actions in courts nor are they obligated by stringent rules of evidence but the ineluctable condition is that there must be fair play in action. They can, unlike courts, get all the information material for the points under the question from all the sources, & via all the channels, without being shackled by the rules & procedures which administers the proceedings in the court, as noted by the court in State of Mysore v. S. S. Makapur that “The only obligation which is tossed by law on them is that they shouldn’t act on any information which is received by them until they put it to the party in counter to whom it is be used & give him an impartial opportunity to justify it. What is the fair or the impartial opportunity relies on the actions & events related to each case but where such an opportunity had been given, the proceedings aren’t open to onslaught on the ground that the inquiry wasn’t carried out in line with the procedure followed in the courts?”


In Kishinchand Chellaram v. The Commissioner of Income Tax, the court stated that albeit stringent evidential rules might not be applicable, the tribunal can’t count on hearsay. Krishna Iyer, J. noted in State of Haryana v. Rattan Singh that, “It is well settled that in a domestic inquiry the stringent & sophisticated rules of evidence under the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 may not apply. All the materials which are rationally probative or evidential for a reasonable mind are admissible. There is no aversion to hearsay evidence provided it has reasonable nexus & reliability. Admittedly, departmental authorities & administrative tribunals ought to be cautious in assessing such material & shouldn’t smoothly gulp what is scrupulously speaking not pertinent under the Indian Evidence Act, 1872…. The quintessence of the judicial approach is objectivity, preclusion of the impertinent materials or deliberations & compliance of rules/ principle of natural justice.”, this was further reiterated in the case of Delhi Transport Corporation vs D.T.C. Mazdoor Congress .


Further, Reddy, J. noted in Bareilly Electricity Supply Co. Ltd. v. Workmen that “It is unbelievable that the tribunal can act on what isn’t evidence viz. hearsay, nor can it explain the tribunal is basing its award on replicas of the documents when the original which are in extant aren’t made & demonstrated by one of the means either by affidavit or by witness/testimony who have executed them, if they are living & can be produced.” Tribunals uphold the informality without moving long way off from familiar procedure of law.


It is presented that the following remarks of the Franks Committee (Committee on Administrative Tribunal & Enquiries) display the true picture of procedure espoused by the tribunals. Informality without the rules of procedure may well presume an ungraded character which makes it challenging, if not impracticable, for the tribunal appropriately to winnow the facts & evaluate the evidence. The purpose to be attained at in most tribunals is the amalgamation of a proper procedure with a casual ambience. A vital aspect of the Administrative Tribunals is that they resolve the conflict autonomously, judicially, objectively& devoid of any prejudice in counter to any of the parties in conflict. In the report (1957) of the Frank’s Committee has stated three essential objectives: - Openness, Fairness & Impartiality. It was noted by the committee that, “in the arena of the tribunals openness seems to us to necessitate the promotional of the proceedings & understanding of the indispensable rationale underpinning the judgments; fairness to necessitate the espousing of a clear procedure which allows parties to take the cognizance of their rights, to present their case which they have to encounter; & impartiality to necessitate the liberty of the tribunals from the sway , real or apparent of the departments concerned with the issue of their rulings.” In India, the above-mentioned principles are acknowledged.


Post A.K. Kraipak v. Union of India the dichotomy between the Administrative Tribunals & the Quasi-Judicial operations vis-à-vis the principle of fair play have become seemingly obsolete, this was further restated in Mohinder Singh Gill v. Chief Election Commissioner. It was also noted by the Report of The Law Commission On The Reform Of Judicial Administration that the administrative tribunals perform Quasi-judicial & they ought to act judicially & in acquiescence with the majestic principle of natural justice. Administrative tribunals are obliged to act openly, fairly & impartially. They must furnish a rational opportunity to the parties concerned to depict their case bring forward the pertinent evidence. Their decisions must be objective in lieu of being subjective. In Bishambhar Nath Kohli v. State of Uttar Pradesh, where the adjudicating officer approved the novel evidence at the reviewable step & claimed the same without giving the other party an occasion to refute the same, the decisions were put aside, likewise goes in the State of Uttar Pradesh v. Mohammad Nooh, where the prosecuting attorney was also an adjudicating officer & in Seth Gurmukh Singh v. Commissioner of Income-tax, Punjab where the tribunal didn’t reveal certain evidence to the assessee who was invoked by it. In Roshan Lal Mehra v. Ishwar Das , a Rent Collector made the personal enquiry, visited the property in the absence of the proprietor & without giving him the chance of being heard, held that the contractual rent was immoderate & therefore set the usual rent. The High Court cast aside the order as breach of the principle of natural justice. In Additional Income-Tax Officer v. Ponkunnam Traders held that the non-compliance to the principles of natural justice would make the judicial or quasi-judicial order invalid.


The Supreme Court also correctly noted in Union of India v. T.R. Varma & in V.V. Iyer v. Jasjit Singh that, the law necessitates Administrative Tribunals to comply with the fundamental Principle of Natural Justice in carrying out the investigation before their very eyes. If they do so, their rulings aren’t accountable to be indicted for the reason that the procedure trailed by them wasn’t in tandem with the procedure followed by the court of law. This case also come up with what would constitute the part of natural justice.


(1) Party must be capable of presenting all the evidences being depended on.

(2) Evidence ought to be taken in the presence of both the parties.

(3) An opportunity to cross-examine must be given to both the parties.

(4) No material shall be relied upon without giving the party opportunity to justify the evidence.


Concluding Remarks

However, it is to be borne in mind that the principles of natural justice aren’t immutable & are flexible. In Satyavir Singh v. Union Of India, it was stated that, the doctrine of fair play should be kept in proper limits & shouldn’t be allowed to go berserk. Moreover, they can be gleaned out of the cases where it appears impossible to cohere with considering the situation’s exigency together with pragmatic deliberation.


Tribunals are allowed to advance their own way of procedure as far as they correspond to the principles of natural justice as delineated above. They are also expected to give coherent decisions so as to present lucidity, diminish caprice & cut the room of frolicsome petitions. It also provides the monitoring authority the possibility to hold tribunals within limit.

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