Though the normal rule is that a person who is affected by administrative action is entitled to claim natural justice, the requirement may be excluded under certain exceptional circumstances. Each of the rules of natural justice yields to and changes with the exigencies of different situations. They do not apply in the same manner to situations which are not alike. These rules are not cast in a rigid mould nor can they be put in a legal strait-jacket. They are not immutable but flexible. There are exceptional situations which demand exclusion of the principles of natural justice. In the following cases, the requirement of natural justice may be excluded :
- Statutory exclusion:
The principles of natural justice do not supplant the law but supplement it. It follows where the statute is silent about the compliance with the principles of natural justice, such statutory silence is taken to imply observance of the principles of natural justice. However, where a statute excludes the application of any or all the rules of natural justice, then the Court cannot ignore statutory mandate and read into the concerned provision the requirement of natural justice.
Thus, in Union of India v. J.N. Sinha 1971, the competent authority acting under Rule 56 (J) of the Fundamental Rules passed order compulsorily retiring a government servant.
It did not provide for giving any opportunity to the government servant concerned to show cause against the proposed action. The Supreme Court upheld the said decision. But one thing may be noted that in India, Parliament is not supreme and therefore statutory exclusion is not final. The statute must stand the test of constitutional provisions. Even if there is no provision under the statute for observance of the principles of natural justice, Courts may read the requirement of natural justice for sustaining the law as constitutional.
- Legislative function
Legislative action, plenary or subordinate, is not subject to the rules of natural justice. This is so because these rules lay down a policy without reference to particular individual. A legislative action, for example, price fixing, is a direction of general character, not directed against a particular person or individual manufacturer or trader. There is no question of invoking principles of natural justice in such cases.
In Charan Lal Sahu v. Union of India (Bhopal Gas Disaster case) 1990, the constitutionality of Bhopal Gas Disaster (Processing of Claims) Act, 1985 was challenged because the provisions of the Act took away rights of victims to establish their own right which was a denial of access to justice without a procedure established by law. Moreover, it was also violative of the requirements of natural justice. Rejecting the contention, the Supreme Court held that the State had taken over the rights and claims of the victims in the exercise of sovereign power in order to discharge the Constitutional obligations. The State had the power and jurisdiction and unless the Act is otherwise unreasonable or violative of the provisions of the Constitution, there was no question of giving hearing to the parties. “For legislation by Parliament, no principle of natural justice is attracted provided such legislation is within the competence of the Legislatures.”
In exceptional cases of urgency or emergency where prompt and preventive action is required, the principles of natural justice need not be observed. Thus, where a dangerous building is required to be demolished to save human lives, or where a Banking company is required to be wound up to protect the interest of depositors, or where a person dangerous to peace is required to be externed or detained, or where a passport is required to be impounded in public interest, or a trade dangerous to society is to be prohibited, dire social necessity requires exclusion of the elaborate process of pre-decisional hearing.
However,’immediacy does not exclude duty to act fairly because even an emergent situation can co-exist with the canons of natural justice.
- Public Interest:
The requirement of notice and hearing may be excluded where prompt action is to be taken in the interest of public safety, public health or public morality. In cases of pulling down property to extinguish fire, distruction of contagious plant or animal life, destruction of unwholesome food; etc., action has to be taken without giving the opportunity of hearing. Nevertheless, hearing may be given in some of these situations after the action has been taken as a corrective measure to see whether mistake has been committed.
In Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, the Supreme Court conceded that a passport may be impounded in public interest without compliance with the principles of natural justice but as soon as the order impounding the passport has been made, an opportunity of post-decisional hearing, remedial in aim, should be given to the person concerned. In this case it has also been held that “public interest” is a justiciable issue and the determination of the administrative authority about it is not final.
Judicial approach in applying the rules of natural justice to fact-situations is not theoretical but pragmatic. Where the number of persons is so large that it is not practicable to give all of them the opportunity of being heard, the Court does not insist on observance of the principles of natural justice. Thus, in Bihar School Examination Board v. Subhash Chandra 1970, the candidates at the Secondary School Examination of the Board at one-Centre indulged in mass-copying. The Board cancelled the examination of all subjects at the Centre concerned and permitted the examinees to re-appear at a supplementary examination. The candidates challenged the order on the ground that no opportunity had been given to them to show cause before passing the order. The Supreme Court held that it was obvious from the results that the candidates concerned had indulged in mass copying.
- Academic evaluation:
Where a student is removed from an educational institution on grounds of unsatisfactory academic performance, the requirement of pre-decisional hearing is excluded. Thus, in Jawahar Lal Nehru University v. B.S. Narwal, a student of the University was removed from the rolls because of unsatisfactory academic performance without giving any hearing. The Supreme Court held that the very nature of academic evaluation appears to negative any right to hearing. The Court observed that the instant case was merely one of assessment of academic performance of a student which the prescribed authorities of the University are best qualified to judge and the Courts perhaps are least qualified to judge.”
- Interim disciplinary action:
Where disciplinary action is preventive in nature, the observance of the rules of natural justice is excluded. Thus, in Abhay Kumar v. K. Srinivasan 1981, the institution passed an order debarring the student from entering the premises of the institution and attending classes till the criminal case against him for stabbing a co-student is under consideration. The validity of this order was challenged on the ground of denial of the principles of natural justice. Rejecting the contention, the Delhi High Court ruled that such an order could be compared with an order of suspension pending enquiry which is preventive in character in order to maintain peace on the campus and therefore the principles of natural justice not attracted
- Contractual Transaction:
In State of Gujrat v. M.P. Shah Charitable Trust 1994, the Supreme held that the principles of natural justice are not attracted in case of termination of an arrangement in any contractual field. The reason is clear that termination of an arrangement/agreement is neither a quasi-judicial nor an administrative act. hence the question of duty to act judicially does not arise.