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Report No. 14

Administrative Bodies

I Find myself in agreement with regard to the assessment of facts and principles regarding Administrative Tribunals and in particular the analysis of the administrative procedure in France, America and England. I also agree with maintaining the judicial control, such as it is, in our Constitution. If this recommendation is accepted, there would be nothing further to add,-except perhaps to increase the efficiency of the Civil Court's jurisdiction over the Executive and Administrative Departments. But I do not quite agree with the opinion that merely because of the special history and conditions of Conseil d'etat in French Law, it is wholly unsuitable for adoption in India. I am particularly impressed by the inquisitorial procedure of the court in France which has been clearly explained and analysed in the Report.

In fact in France, as has been pointed out, a complaint is made before the Conseil d'etat and the Conseil itself takes up the matter and investigates it on its own without requiring any further interposition of the complainant or any counsel and the inquisitorial process is so thorough that nothing is left to chance. I think similarly the Special Administrative Bench of the High Court recommended should follow the same procedure and the Court should over-ride merely formal objections and decide questions of Law fact without being bound by the findings of the Administrative Officer. This is an aspect of the French procedure which should be specifically provided for in the case of petitions against acts of Administrative and Executive Officers.

I think that the prejudice against the administrative acts created by Dicey is not wholly based on sound principle. As has been pointed out in the Report, procedure is a thoroughly judicial procedure and has been, on the whole, conducted judicially.

Even in India we have some administrative tribunals who often act with extreme fairness and justice. These tribunals consist of Administrative Officers of high rank and they have got the advantage over the Civil Courts that they are very familiar with the law and procedure they have to deal with. I have experience of only one such tribunal, the Bengal Board of Revenue. Like the judges of Civil Courts, the members of the Board of Revenue have been in the course of its history good, bad and indifferent. But these were very good judges who could decide on revenue matters and administrative questions as experts and could not be misled by mere advocacy.

The similar tribunals established in connection with the Sea Customs Act, the Income-tax Act etc., have different powers under different Statutes. But in all these, there is an opening left for judicial interference particularly in the present Constitution. The experience of the decisions given by the Board of Revenue in revenue matters in the past makes me hopeful that with a limited judicial oversight, they might be even more useful than Civil Courts. It is necessary to provide further that Administrative Tribunals, where they exist, should be independent and like the High Court Judges not liable to be removed at the wish of the Government. The tenure of office of these Administrative Tribunals should be fairly long and secure.

What I mean to say is that Administrative Tribunals are not ipso facto bad. They may be quite as just and impartial as Civil Courts, provided they are allowed to work in an atmosphere of independence. And as they would consist of persons with administrative experience, they would be in a better position to decide the matters than mere lawyer judges,-provided they are allowed to work in an atmosphere in which they can be quite independent of the administrative departments. I have spoken of the Board of Revenue of Bengal which has, on the whole, a tradition for a fair trial. I cannot say the same thing of all other administrative tribunals notably of the Income-tax Act Tribunals, a decision by which shuts out further investigation by any court except on a reference by that tribunal.

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