An edited excerpt from the Judgment (Headings have been added)

There can be no doubt that Article 14 is a founding faith of the Constitution. It is indeed the pillar on which rests securely the foundation of our democratic republic. And, therefore, it must not be subjected to a narrow, pedantic or lexicographic approach. No attempt should be made to truncate its all-embracing scope and meaning for, to do so would be to violate its activist magnitude. Equality is a dynamic concept with many aspects and dimensions and it cannot be imprisoned within traditional and doctrinaire limits.

Equality is antithetic to arbitrariness

We must reiterate here what was pointed out by the majority in E. P. Royappa v. State of Tamil Nadu & Another (1974) namely, that

“from a positivistic point of view, equality is antithetic to arbitrariness. In fact equality and arbitrariness are sworn enemies; one belongs to the rule of law in a republic, while the other, to the whim and caprice of an absolute monarch. Where an act is arbitrary, it is implicit in it that it is unequal both according to political logic and constitutional law and is therefore violative of Article 14“.

The principle of reasonableness

Article 14 strikes, at arbitrariness in State action and ensures fairness and equality of treatment. The principle of reasonableness, which legally as well as philosophically, is an essential element of equality or non-arbitrariness pervades Article 14 like a brooding omnipresence and the procedure contemplated by Article 21 must answer the best of reasonableness in order to be in conformity with Article 14. It must be “‘right and just and fair” and not arbitrary, fanciful or oppressive; otherwise, it would be no procedure at all and the requirement of Article 21 would not be satisfied.

The Principle of Natural Justice

There are two main principles in which the rules of natural justice are manifested, namely, Nemo Judex in Sua Causa and audi alteram partem. Natural justice is a great humanising principle intended to invest law with’ fairness and to secure justice and over the years it has grown into a widely pervasive rule affecting large areas of administrative action.

The soul of natural justice is fair play in action and that is why it has received the widest recognition throughout the democratic world. In the United States, the right to an administrative hearing is regarded as essential requirement of fundamental fairness. And in England too it has been held that ‘fair play in action’ demands that before any prejudicial or adverse action is taken against a person, he must be given an opportunity to be heard.

The inquiry must, therefore, always be: does fairness in action demand that an opportunity to be heard should be given to the person affected? Now, if this be the test of applicability of the doctrine of natural justice, there can be no distinction between a quasi-judicial function and an administrative function for this purpose. The aim of both administrative inquiry as well as quasi-judicial inquiry is to arrive at a just decision and if a rule of natural justice is calculated to secure justice, or to put it negatively, to prevent miscarriage of justice, it is difficult to see why it should be applicable to quasi-judicial inquiry and not to administrative inquiry.

It must logically apply to both. On what principle can distinction be made between one and the other? Can it be said that the requirement of ‘fair play in action’ is any the less in an administrative inquiry than in a quasi-judicial one? Sometimes an unjust decision in an administrative inquiry may have far more serious consequences than a decision in a quasi-judicial inquiry and hence the rules of natural justice must apply equally in an administrative inquiry which entails-civil consequences.

There was, however, a time in the early stages of the development of the doctrine of natural justice when the view prevailed that the rules of natural justice have application only to a quasi-judicial proceeding as distinguished from an administrative proceeding and the distinguishing feature of a quasi-judicial proceeding is that the authority concerned is required by the, law under which it is functioning to act judicially.

This requirement of a duty to act judicially in order to invest the function with a quasi-judicial character was spelt out from the following observation of Atkin, L.J. in Rex v. Electricity Commissioners (1924),

“Wherever anybody of persons having legal authority to determine questions affecting the rights of subjects, and having the duty to act judicially, act in excess of their legal authority, they are subject to the controlling jurisdiction of the King Bench Division. . . .”

Lord Hewart, C.J., in Rex V. Legislative Committee of the Church Assembly, (1928) read this observation to mean that the duty to act judicially should be an additional requirement existing independently of the “authority to determine questions affecting the rights of subjects”-something super added to it. This gloss placed by Lord Hewart, C.J., on the dictum of Lord Atkin, L.J., bedevilled the law for a considerable time and stultified the growth of the doctrine of natural justice.

The Court was constrained in every case that came before it, to make a search for the duty to act judicially sometimes from tenuous material and sometimes in the services of the statute and this led to over subtlety and over-refinement resulting in confusion and uncertainty in the law.

Ridge v. Baldwin case

But this was plainly contrary to the earlier authorities and in the epoch-making decision of the House of Lords in Ridge v. Baldwin (1964), which marks a turning point in the history of the development of the doctrine of natural justice, Lord Reid pointed out how the gloss of Lord Hewart, C.J., was based on a misunderstanding of the; observations of Atkin, L.J., and it went counter to the law laid down in the earlier decisions, of the Court. Lord Reid observed:

“If Lord Hewart meant that it is never enough that a body has a duty to determine what the rights of an individual should be, but that there must always be something more to impose on it a duty to act judicially, then that appears to me impossible to reconcile with the earlier authorities”.

The learned law Lord held that the duty to act judicially may arise from the very nature of the function intended to be performed’ and it need not be shown to be superadded. This decision, broadened the area of application of the rules of natural justice and to borrow the words of Prof. Clar in his article on ‘Natural Justice, Substance and Shadow’ in Public Law Journal, 1975, restored light to an area “benighted by the narrow conceptualism of the previous decade”.

The beginning of application of Principle of Natural Justice by Indian Court

This development in the law had its parallel in India in the Associated Cement Companies Ltd. v. P. N. Sharma & Anr (1964) where Supreme Court approvingly referred to the decision in Ridge v. Baldwin (supra) and, later in State of Orissa v. Dr. Binapani (1967) observed that :

“If there is power to decide and determine to the prejudice of a person, duty to act judicially is implicit in the exercise of such power”. Supreme Court also, pointed out in A.K. Kraipak & Ors. v. Union of India & Ors. (1969) another historic decision in this branch of the law, that in recent years the concept of quasi-judicial power has been undergoing radical change and said:

“The dividing line between an administrative power and a quasi- judicial power is quite thin and is being gradually obliterated, for determining whether a power is an administrative, power or a quasi-judicial power one has to look to the nature of the power conferred, the person or persons on whom it is conferred, the framework of the law conferring that power, the consequences ensuing from the exercise of that power and the manner in which that power is expected to be exercised”.

The net effect of these and other decisions was that the duty to act judicially need not be super-added, but it may be spelt out from the nature of the power conferred, the manner of exercising it and its impact on the rights of the person effected and where it is found to exist, the rules of, natural justice would be attracted.

This was the advance made by the law as a result of the decision in Ridge v. Baldwin (supra) in England and the decision in Associated Cement Companies’ case (supra) and other cases following upon it, in India.