You are on page 1of 6

Whether the defendants actions violated the plaintiffs fundamental rights under Article 14 of

the Constitution?
The defendants actions are discretionary and arbitrary
Article 14 strikes at arbitrariness in executive/administrative action because any action that is
arbitrary must be necessarily involve the negotiation of equality. Further, one does not have to
confine the denial of equality to a comparative evaluation between two people to arrive at a
conclusion of discretionary treatment.

An action per se arbitrary itself denies equality of

protection by law.
Moreover, Article 14 is invoked to mitigate the dangers of administrative discretion and
arbitrariness. Article 14 is a very meaningful guarantee against any action of the Administration
which may be arbitrary, discriminatory and unequal.2
An example of arbitrary implementation of administrative action is Section 6 (4) of the U.P.
Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 which authorized the state to remit an order of the labour tribunal
for reconsideration of the adjudicating authority and that authority was to submit the award to the
government after reconsideration. Section 6 (4) did not require the government to hear the parties
before remitting the award to the concerned adjudicating authority, the government was not
required to give reasons for remitting the award; the Government was not required to inform the
authority the specific points on which it was to reconsider the award. In B.B. Rajwanshi v. State
of Uttar Pradesh,3 the Supreme Court declared Section 6(4) unconstitutional under Article 14.
The court observed that1 A.L. Kalra v. P&E Corpnog India ltd., AIR 1984 SC 1361
2Shrinivas Rao v. J. Veeraiah, AIR 1993 SC 929

The provision cannot be upheld in the absence of necessary statutory guidelines for the exercise
of the power conferred by it having regarded the fact that proceedings before the labour court of
industrial tribunal is in the nature of quasi-judicial proceedings where parties have adequate
opportunity to state their respective cases, to lead evidence and make all their submissions.
There are procedural safeguards subject to which power has to be exercised, these include
natural justice, recording of reasons for decisions, provision of appeal to higher authority etc.4
Further, it has been held that any penalty disproportionate to the gravity of misconduct would be
violative of Article 14.5
In the present case, the actions of the assessing officer are discretionary and arbitrary as he
refused all of the plaintiffs claims out of anger. Moreover, no reasons or justifications have been
given by the defendant as to the quantum of punishment meted out and the basis for making the
best judgment assessment.
Moreover, even if the IT act itself is valid, it does not mean that the actions of the defendant,
which are in pursuance of his own interpretation of the act have to be held valid and intra vires.
There is always a difference between a statute and the action taken under the statute i.e. the
statute may be valid and constitutional but the action taken under it might be invalid.

The defendants actions violate the rules of natural justice


3AIR 1988 SC 1089
4Sukhwinder Pal Bipin Kumar v. State of Punjab, AIR 1982 SC 65
5Bhagat ram v. State of Himanchal Pradesh, AIR 1983 SC 454

It is now considered that non-compliance with the rules of natural justice amounts to
arbitrariness violating Article 14.6
Article 14 guarantees a right of hearing to the persons adversely affected by an administrative
order. The audi alteram partem rule, in essence enforces the equality clause in Article 14 and it is
applicable not only to quasi-judicial bodies but also to administrative orders adversely affecting
the party in question unless the rule has been excluded by an Act in question. 7 The instrument of
natural justice is an integral part of guarantee of equality assured by Article 14.8
However, in the present case, the defendants actions are a direct violation of the rule of audi
alteram partem where the plaintiff has been penalized without being heard. Moreover, the
plaintiff had valid reasons for not being able to file the exact or timely returns. While she was not
able to do so due to occupational hazards, the defendant failed to give her a reasonable chance of
presenting her case. On the contrary, the defendant rejected all her claims in anger, without
weighing them based on their merits.
Therefore, the defendant has violated the rules of natural justice as guaranteed under article 14.

6 Rajasthan State Road Transport corporation v. Bal Mukunda Bairwa, (2009) 4 SCC 299
7 Union of India v. Amrik Singh, AIR 1991 SC 564
8 Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, (1978) 2 SCJ at 350

Administrative discretion does not necessarily mean a violation of Article 14.


To be valid, discretionary power ought to be hedged by policy, standards, guidelines or
procedural safeguards to regulate its exercise. Further, it is only when a statute vests unguided
and unrestricted power in an authority to affect the rights of a person without laying down any
policy or principle which is to guide the authority in exercise of this power, it would be affected
by the voice of discrimination and arbitrariness. 9
In practice, a great deal of tolerance and deference is shown towards conferment of discretion,
and it is only in extreme situation that a statutory provision is declared invalid on the ground of
conferring excessive administrative discretion. 10
There are a number of cases in which conferment of broad discretion has been upheld on such
grounds as: the statutory provision conferring power has sufficient guidelines, principles or
policies to regulate the exercise of power, the power has been conferred on an higher official
who is not expected to misuse the same but is expected to exercise the power reasonably and
rationally, there lies a provision of appeal to a higher authority etc.11
Most importantly, discretion vested in a judicial officer exercisable on the facts and
circumstances of each particular case does not amount to denial of equal protection unless there
is shown to be present in it an element of intentional and purposeful discrimination.
9Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, (1978) 2 SCJ at 350
10Chinta Lingam v. Union of India, AIR 1971 SC 474
11Sukhwinder Pal Bipin Kumar v. State of Punjab, AIR 1982 SC 65

Similarly, the discretion of judicial officers is not arbitrary as the law provides for revision by
superior courts of orders passed by subordinate courts.12 The same principle has been extended to
discretion given to quasi-judicial authorities, e.g. rent controller, disciplinary authority etc.13
Therefore, in the present case, the actions of the defendant or the laws under which these actions
have been taken cannot be held arbitrary and discretionary. The Income Tax Act itself provides
for various procedural safeguards in the exercise of administrative powers. An appeal lies before
the Commissioner of Appeal against the actions taken by an Assessing Officer. Moreover, the
same has been done in the present case. Further, the Assessing Officer must be assumed to have
exercised his discretionary powers in a reasonable and rational manner.14 Actions and powers
cannot be held arbitrary based on the possibility that despite the guidelines in the provisions
providing for such power may be exercised unreasonablly.15
Moreover, the mere fact that some hardship or injustice was caused to someone is no ground to
strike down the action altogether if otherwise it appears to be just, fair and reasonable and not
unconstitutional.16 The Act provides a person with a reasonable opportunity of being heard and
the same was provided to the plaintiff twice. However, her inability to comply with the requests
of the defendant and failure to appear for hearings is her own fault.

12Budhan v. State of Bihar, AIR 1955 SC 191


13ManindraSanyal v. State of West Bengal, AIR 1976 Cal. 174
14 Supra not 11
15 Commissioner of Central Exercise, Jamshedpur v. Dabur (India) Ltd. ,(2005) 3 SCC 646
16A.P. Coop. Oil Seeds Growers Federation Ltd v. D. AchyutaRao, (2007) 13S SCC 320

The actions of the defendant cannot be held against the rules of natural justice
It is an ex parte hearing and the plaintiff was given reasonable opportunities to be heard,
however she failed to comply with any of them.