Written by Akanksha Chowdhury of Amity University, Kolkata
Edited by Gaurav Sanghi
Due to immense growth in administrative law in recent years, there was a huge chance of the powers provided to various authorities of being misused in one way or another to prevent such things a lot of doctrines had been introduced and one such doctrine was the Doctrine of Proportionality.
It is a doctrine that is mostly used as a ground for judicial review in cases of administrative action. It was first developed in Europe and is considered to be an integral part of the European Administrative Law. However, sometimes it is misunderstood that any kind of judicial review under this doctrine is similar to appeal however this is not true. [i]
As a whole in appeal, the authority is authorized to adjudge the whole matter again while under this doctrine if any administrative action is challenged the appellate authority only helps to ensure that the punishment provided and the procedure was correct or not.[ii]
If we talk about this doctrine on the basis of criminal law, it is known as one of the crudest and most persuasive forms. It is quite splendidly simple and also quite appealing in nature. In criminal law, it is known as proportionality in sentencing. This particular doctrine was well observed in the High Court case of Hoare v. Queen. This doctrine comes into force when any serious punishable offence is committed.
Whereas, if we talk about this doctrine on the basis of civil law, this particular doctrine comes into force when any action which is taken by any sort of administrative body is such that not a single reasonable body would have taken that particular step in order to fulfil their objective or to punish someone. In the present scenario, the court reduced the punishment on the compassionate ground which is not a valid ground for applying the doctrine of Proportionality and hence the decision of the single judge and a division bench of the High Court was declared incorrect and the SC observed that HC was not justified in reducing the punishment. the Court further observed that discretionary powers have been given to administrative bodies and the High Court cannot substitute the same by its own decision under Art. 226 of the Constitution.
- UP State Road Transport Corporation vs Subhash Chandra Sharma(AIR 2015 SC 664)
In this particular case, it was observed that the respondent was accused of 3 changes – grave misconduct, continuous absence from duty and abusing the cashier a lot of times, further all these charges were proved against him and as a result, he was removed from the service. However soon after the respondent appealed against the decision of the disciplinary committee in the labour court and soon after the labour court gave the order to reinstate him however no proper reason was given for it. Soon the Supreme Court found the decision to be wrong and declared the decision of the court was completely wrong and this could not have been done by them, further it was said that the High Court had completely failed in their due of exercising powers under article 226.[iii]
2. Coal India Limited vs Mukul Kumar Choudhury (AIR 2009 SC 777) –
In this case, the respondent had been removed from his post as he had remained absent for almost 6 months from his work. On being asked it was said that due to certain personal obligations he could not attend office as a result he had submitted his resignation however it was not accepted and he had to join back but just before his joining date disciplinary proceeding were held against him and he lost his job. Even the High Court declared that the particular punishment was proper but then the respondent filed an appeal to the Supreme Court where after hearing him it was decided that the respondent had admitted his guilt from the beginning as well as he had sent his resignation letter which was sent back to him and due to all this reason they held that the punishment provided to the respondent was completely disproportionate however it was further said that the respondent will not be given any salary between the date of his removal and his reinstatement. [iv]
This doctrine to an extent helps to ensure that any decision which is in the hands of administrative authorities must not be arbitrary, improper or illegal. However, the problem with this doctrine is that though it exists in India since a long-time regardless of that its application is very limited and also it is hardly used in cases. The modern state functioning involves lots of activities which affect the rights, liberties and freedoms of individual and administrative discretion is a necessity for the functioning of a modern welfare state. Conceptually or otherwise by rule of law, the exercise of discretion by the administration is not forbidden but it is felt that arbitrary or uncontrolled discretion would disbalance the very concept of welfare state hence some control on the exercise of discretion is necessary.
[i] https://www.lawteacher.net/free-law-essays/constitutional-law/proportionality-as-a-ground-of-judicial-review-constitutional-law-essay.php#:~:text=The%20principle%20of%20proportionality%20envisages,extent%20to%20preserve%20public%20interest. (last visited 22nd September, 13:31)
[ii] https://racolblegal.com/doctrine-of-proportionality-an-analysis-of-supreme-court-cases/. (last visited 22nd September, 14:02)
[iii] https://www.jatinverma.org/doctrine-of-proportionality. (last visited 23rd September, 18:44)
[iv] https://www.casemine.com/judgement/in/5ac5e5254a93261ae6b52a6f. (last visited 25th September, 11:00)
Image courtesy: The Hindu