Decided on February 18,1974



- (1.) The Kerala Public Accountants Act, 1963 gives large powers to the Collector in the matter of adjudicating claims against persons employed in the service of the Government or of any authority or institution notified in this behalf who satisfy the definition of 'public accountant' in the said Act. It enables the Collector to demand of the Public accountant, to deliver monies, securities for money, documents or other property which, according to the Collector, or Head of the Department or other authority or institution notified, the public accountant is bound to deliver. The public accountant may, on receipt of notice object to the demand. In that case the Collector is in duty bound to enquire into the objections and record a decision. If such decision is against the public accountant or if the public accountant does not object to the claim powers of recovery from the public servant are provided under the Act. Parties aggrieved by the order passed in proceedings under the Act could sue the Government or authority or institution in civil courts by instituting suit within one year from the time the cause of action arises.
(2.) Normally, the process of adjudication of civil claims is left to the civil court. The Code of Civil Procedure which governs proceedings in civil courts embodies very many safeguards which enables the parties to expect a fair trial. A fair trial necessarily involves safeguards, both by way of securing to parties sufficient opportunity to place materials which support their case and also the guarantee that such materials would be properly looked into and an objective decision reached. The provision as to issue of summons, filing of written statements, calling for additional statements, if any, framing of issues, giving opportunities to the parties to file documents and list of witnesses, summoning and examining witnesses, giving opportunity to cross examine witnesses and hearing parties after evidence is closed are all necessary ingredients of the fair procedure requisite for reaching a proper decision in any case. When powers of adjudication which result in consequences more or less similar to the consequence of decrees passed by civil courts are vested in authorities such as the Collector under the Public Accountants Act, such powers should be exercised with considerable care and deliberation and the conferment of such powers could be protected from attack against their validity only on the assumption that the powers would be exercised fairly and in a manner acceptable to" judicial conscience. The authorities under the Kerala Public Accountants Act will do well to remember these limitations, the limitations which must be read in to the powers conferred on them by the provisions of the Act. It is quite often seen that power under this and similar enactments are exercised evidently without being conscious of the fact that the adjudications between the parties visit them with serious consequences and therefore must be by the exercise of a judicial mind and by the employment of a judicial process.
(3.) A notice issued under the provisions of the Kerala Public Accountants Act could be objected to by the person to whom it is issued. If the claim is disputed it has necessarily to be enquired into. S.3 mentions only that the Collector "shall enquire into the objection and record a decision." The brevity of the language of the section is not intended to invest arbitrary powers with the Collector. On the other band, the very fact that the section gives such large powers to the Collector imposes on him the duty of properly conducting the enquiry after giving the parties sufficient and reasonable opportunity to meet the case against them and after giving them an occasion to place their case fairly and squarely before the Collector. Parties should be notified of the dates on which the enquiry is to be held and holding of the enquiry necessarily means that opportunity should be given to the parties to whom notices are issued to produce evidence, if any, that they want to rely upon and if they dispute the liability, the material which is sought to be made use of against them has also to be brought to their notice. It is not necessary that the elaborate procedure that is resorted to in the civil courts is adopted by the Collector in this behalf. All the same, the Collector must bear the trappings of an authority sitting to determine a lis between the parties. If that be not the case and he passes a cursory order rejecting the objections for reasons best known to him, the Collector or other appropriate authority does scant service to his duty and any court before which such an order is under challenge will be compelled to set aside the order. That happens in this case.;

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