The Supreme Court of India.
NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Thursday said that an administrative authority, exercising judicial or a quasi-judicial power, must record reasons for its decision.
The top court said that if the law provides for a duty to record reasons in writing, undoubtedly, it must be followed and it would amount to the violation of the Statute if it were not followed.
“Even if there is no duty to record reasons or support an order with reasons, there cannot be any doubt that, for every decision, there would be and there must be a reason,” the apex court said.
A bench of Justices KM Joseph and S Ravindra Bhat said that persons, who may have a right or an interest in the subject matter, would know what were the reasons, which has impelled the administrator to take a particular decision.
“An administrative authority, exercising judicial or a quasi-judicial power, must record reasons for its decision. This is subject to the exception where the requirement has been expressly or by necessary implication done away”, the bench said.
It added that the duty to give reasons would arise even in the case of administrative action, where legal rights are at stake and the administrative action adversely affects legal rights.
“The executive power of the Union and States are provided in Articles 73 and 162 of the Constitution of India, respectively. Undoubtedly, in India, every state action must be fair, failing which, it will fall foul of the mandate of Article 14”, the bench said in its 109-page verdict.
The top court made the observation in a verdict on an appeal filed by the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) against the Patna High Court order directing to shift the proposed construction of Toll Plaza at 194 km milestone of Patna-Bakhtiyarpur Section of NH 30 in Bihar from its present location to any other place on new alignment which separates from old NH 30.
The bench held that the construction of the toll plaza at 194 kilometers was not illegal or arbitrary and said that the direction by the High Court, to shift the toll plaza, cannot be upheld and it is liable to be set aside.
It directed the NHAI to look at the barricades (closing of service roads) regarding the toll plaza and permit such barricades only as permitted under the rules.
“Any unauthorised barricades will be removed without any delay and at any rate within 2 weeks from today”, the bench said.
It further directed that the NHAI will issue suitable directions to all executive authorities to maintain distinct records containing the decision within three weeks.
The top court said that the advantage of giving reasons for any administrative action is that it has a disciplining effect on the Administrator.
“This is for the reason that the reasons would capture the thought process, which culminated in the decision and it would help the administrator steer clear of the vices of illegality, irrationality, and also disproportionality. Reasons could help establish the application of the mind. Conversely, the absence of reasons may unerringly point to non-application of mind,” it said.
The bench said that the duty to act fairly may require reasons to be recorded but the said duty, though there is a general duty on all-state players to act fairly, may have its underpinnings, ultimately in legal rights.
“The Constitution does not contemplate any public authority, exercising power with caprice or without any rationale. But here again, in the absence of the duty to record reasons, the court is not to be clothed with power to strike down administrative action for the mere reason that no reasons are to be found recorded,” it said.
The top court said that in certain situations, the reason for a particular decision may be gleaned from the pleadings of the authority when the matter is tested in a court.
“From the materials, including the file noting's, which are made available, the court may conclude that there were reasons and the action was not illegal or arbitrary. From admitted facts, the court may conclude that there was sufficient justification, and the mere absence of reasons, would not be sufficient to invalidate the action of the public authority. Thus, reasons may, in certain situations, have to be recorded in the order,” it said.