P M KURIEN Vs. P S RAGHAVAN
HIGH COURT OF KERALA
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(1.) THIS case has a history, and it is necessary to set that out at some length for a proper appreciation of the contentions raised.
(2.) EARLY in April 1966, the appellant, a student of the Government Victoria College, palghat, who had just completed the first of the three years of the B. Sc. course of the Kerala University to which the College is affiliated, and sat for the annual promotion examination conducted by the College, received the following communication from the 1st respondent, the Principal of the College: "it has been reported that you have resorted to malpractice during the annual examinations. You are directed to explain in writing why disciplinary action shall not be taken against you. You should submit your explanation to the undersigned on or before 15-4-1966. If no written explanation is forthcoming, it will be presumed that you have no remarks to offer. " as a charge this was patently defective for it furnished no particulars whatsoever of the alleged malpractice so as to enable the appellant to submit his defence. But one should have thought that the appellant's natural reaction would have been to protest his innocence forthwith (if he was innocent), and, if the charge was persisted in, to ask for particulars which could be refused only on peril of the entire proceedings being vitiated. Unless, of course, he knew full well what it was all about and had no answer. But, different persons react differently to the same situation. We are assured by counsel that there was a background (which not being relevant for the present purpose has not been disclosed) which would satisfactorily explain why the appellant reacted differently even the same person might react differently at different times. Be that as it may, the appellant's reaction was to take legal advice and (we are told, on the strength of that advice)to ignore the communication altogether. Not receiving any explanation within the time allowed, the Principal convened a meeting of the College Council (a body, as disclosed in the affidavits filed by the Principal in the second of the three writ petitions the appellant has so far brought against him, composed of the Principal and the Professors of the College whose function it is to advise the Principal on matters such as the promotion and detention of students and their discipline)which having duly considered a report (Ext. P-12, dated 19-3-1966) made by the lecturer appointed to value the answer papers in Inorganic Chemistry come to the conclusion that the appellant must have inserted previously prepared answer books in his answer paper and was therefore, guilty of malpractice. Accordingly, on the recommendation of the Council, the Principal decided to detain the appellant in the first year class for malpractice, and his name was posted on the notice board of the College among those so detained. Thereupon, the appellant came to this Court with the first of his writ petitions, O. P. No. 1683 of 1966, for quashing the entire proceedings of the Principal, mainly on the ground that they were not in conformity with the principles of natural justice. The learned Judge who heard the petition took the view that, defective though the communication received by the appellant was, regarded as a charge, it nevertheless gave the appellant due notice of the inquiry proposed to be held against him and ample opportunity to ascertain the particulars of the charge against him and answer it if he was so minded. That, according to the learned Judge, was all that natural justice demanded in the circumstances of the case. And, since by ignoring the communication, he had with contumely refused the opportunity offered to him of participating in the inquiry and repudiating the allegation, an ex parte inquiry was all that he could reasonably expect. In particular, natural justice did not require that the Principal should have given the appellant notice of the further stages of the inquiry or issued fresh invitation to him to participate in it and make his defence. In this view the learned Judge dismissed the petition.
(3.) THIS was on the 30th of June 1966. The appellant took the matter up in appeal forthwith and in the appeal, W. A. No. 151 of 1966 (decided on the 15th september 1966 and reported in 1967 Ker LT 97) a division bench of this Court while deprecating the appellant's conduct in consulting a lawyer and ignoring the principal's communication instead of asking for clarification, nevertheless came to the conclusion that the. inquiry held on a vague and indefinite charge was in violation of the principles of natural justice. This is what their Lordships decided:
"if the appellant has therefore, to be heard and the proceedings before the authorities were of a quasi-judicial nature, there can be no doubt that the appellant must be told in the first instance with what he is charged and this must be in clear and unambiguous terms. The proceedings in this case are vitiated in that this has not been done. This is a fundamental error and everything that followed however bona fide that may be, is equally vitiated because the appellant has been denied an opportunity to state his case regarding the charges against him. 5. On this short ground we allow this appeal and set aside the detention of the appellant. This will not stand in the way of fresh steps being taken in an appropriate manner and in accordance with law against the appellant, if so advised. 6. We cannot possibly postulate the outcome of any such proceedings, if any such proceedings are taken. In the meantime, we do not want the student to lose the benefit of one year. We therefore, consider it imperative that the appellant must be permitted to attend the Second Year Course and continue his studies. We direct accordingly. We make it clear that such attendance of the appellant which we have permitted will not confer any right on the appellant in case it is found that he is guilty and liable to the punishment of 'detention'. ";
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