Administrative law

This article is written by Ozasvi Amol. The article aims to discuss the dictum laid down by the Supreme Court in the case of A.K. Kraipak v. Union of India in detail. The article delves into various concepts  like natural justice and judicial fairness. It discusses the principle of natural justice in the context of administrative law. The article also explores the issue of the use of natural justice in administrative proceedings and explains how the present judgement provides a solution to it.


The principle of natural justice is derived from the words ‘Jus Natural’, which means a system of law based on the idea of what is right and what is wrong. It is not a codified law but is based on rules laid down by the court. It is a natural law and finds no place in any statute or Constitution, but principles of natural justice are those rules that are established by the courts and provide the bare minimum for the protection of an individual’s rights against any arbitrary and inconsistent actions that may be taken by administrative authority, judicial or quasi-judicial body while enforcing a decision that directly or indirectly impacts an individual’s rights.  Natural justice is imbibed in all the laws. It is the pre-involved idea or notion already built into the statutes. Even though they are not coded, they are enforced and accepted by the courts. The guidelines are meant to distance the authorities from making unfair decisions. Candidly, one may describe the term natural justice as making an intelligent and reasonable decision in a particular case and doing what is fair and no person should be glued to an unfair and unreasonable proceeding or judgement. 

It must be noted that natural justice is not a separate branch of law; it simply supplements the existing law. Moreover, natural justice is the soul and spirit of any judicial proceeding. Two main rules pertaining to natural justice are:

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  • Hearing rule or Audi alteram partem: which means both parties must be heard. It includes reasoned decision which means that the order, decision or judgement given in court by the presiding authorities has a valid and reasonable basis. 
  • Bias Rule or Nemo debet esse judex in propria causa: which means the authority sitting in the judgement should be impartial. 

The instant case A.K. Kraipak v. Union of India (1970)  is one of the judgements where the Hon’ble Supreme Court held that fair adjudication is not only limited to judicial functions but also in administrative matters. The case is considered an imperative dictum on the issue of personal bias.  

Basic details of the case


Hon’ble C.J., J.M. Shelat, K.S. Hegde, A.N. Grover, Vashishtha Bhargava, JJ and Hon’ble Mr. Justice M. Hidayatullah




AIR 1970 SC 150


A.K Kraipak & other officers 


Union of India

Use of natural justice in administrative law

Natural justice is not a new concept; rather, it is an incredibly ancient concept that has its genesis in the prehistoric era. The Romans and Greeks also understood this idea. In the era of Adam, Kautilya, and Ashashastra, natural justice was recognised. According to the Bible, God prohibited Eve and Adam from eating the fruit of knowledge. Before the punishment was handed down, Eve was given an opportunity to defend herself, and Adam’s case was handled in a similar manner. It was later that the English jurists came to embrace the idea of natural justice. The terms ‘lex-naturale,’ and ‘jus-naturale’ defined equity, natural law and natural justice in ancient Rome as the roots of the word natural justice.

The purpose of the principle is:

  • Providing an equitable opportunity for everyone to be heard. 
  • Fairness is a concept to fill the legal gaps and loopholes. 
  • To protect fundamental rights, which are a key component of the Constitution.
  • An injustice must not be committed.

A chance to be heard must be provided to all the parties involved and the court must notify the parties of the conclusion and the reasoning of the case and remove favouritism. These are considered elementary and fundamental parts of natural justice. According to the Supreme Court, courts and administrative authorities exist so that they can arrive at a decision that is not only logical but fair as well as not arbitrary. Curbing injustices from taking place is the main objective of natural justice.

When can one claim natural justice

When functioning as a tribunal or in a quasi-judicial capacity, such as a panchayat, natural justice may be used. It comprises the idea of justice, fundamental moral precepts, and different instances of biases. It also unfolds the necessity of natural justice and the specific circumstances in which its principles do not apply.

As a fundamental assumption of natural justice, which promotes justice and fairness, it was held in the Province of Bombay v. Khushaldas Advani (1950) case that natural justice would be applicable on statutory grounds. 

Facts of the case

The petition was raised by A.K. Kraipak and some other gazetted officers. As per the Indian Forest Service (Initial Recruitment) Regulation, 1966 framed under 4(1) of the Indian Forest Service (Recruitment) Rules made under the Indian Forest Service Act , 1951 , a special selection board was constituted for selecting the officers in Jammu and Kashmir forest department in the senior and junior scale amongst officers serving at the forest department of the State of J&K. 

The chief conservator of the state’s forest was one of the board members under the selection board so constituted. At the time of the board’s selection, he was an acting chief commissioner appointed to replace the conservator of forests against whom an appeal was pending with the state government. Among the applicants expecting selection by Indian Forest Service (IFS) was the acting chief conservator.

Although the acting chief conservator did not participate in the selection board while his name was considered, he participated in the discussion when the names of applicants were being considered. He also participated in selecting the order of preference of the selected candidates in the board’s meeting.

The name of the acting chief conservator appeared at the top of the list, while the names of the other three conservators, including the officer who superseded the name, were omitted from the list. As per the Regulation, the list and records were sent by the Ministry of Home Affairs to the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) along with its observations and further, the UPSC provided its recommendations for the post of officer for which the Indian government announced the list.

The conservators whose names were omitted from the list and the other aggrieved officers filed a petition in the Supreme Court. The aggrieved officers petitioned this court under Article 32 of the Constitution of India to quash the notification.

Issue of the case

  1. Whether the principles of natural justice were violated in the given case?
  2. Whether the rules of natural justice apply to the current case’s proceedings, assuming that they are of administrative nature?
  3. Whether Petitioner’s grievance is valid?


Arguments of the petitioners

The petitioner argued that the appointment of the officers for the post was arbitrary and unconstitutional. They contended that the appointment was not based on merit but was based on personal bias and political influence. This, in turn, undermined the fairness of the process. They argued not only for specific appointments but for a decision that will be used as precedent. These precedents will preserve merit-based selection and ensure professionalism. Thus, the petitioners argued that the notification was in the teeth of Rule 4 and Regulation 5.

Arguments of the respondents

The respondents contended that the selection of the board’s authority is not quasi-judicial but administrative in nature. They further contended that the selection board was not quasi-judicial as they were not adjudging the rights; they were merely assigned the duty to appoint the officer. The term ‘adjudge’ meant only ‘worthy selection’.

They contended that the selection board was a group that made recommendations. Therefore, the petitioner’s grievances were baseless. Being in the administrative role they had to decide whether final selections were just or unjust. Finally, it was also contended that one personal bias cannot make the entire selection board questionable. Thus, the petitioner’s complaints are without merit. The only thing which must be determined is the final justness of the decision.


Decision of the court

The supreme Court held that the selection board’s decision of appointment was against the principles of natural justice. This is because there was a genuine bias and the presence of candidates might affect the final opinion of the board. The court examined the validity of the selection process and held that the selection board’s authority is administrative in character. The Court also decided that the natural justice principle extends beyond the judicial function. One cannot limit it to judicial bodies only. It is also applicable to executive and administrative bodies.

The court held the decision unconstitutional because it was contrary to the principle of natural justice. The court held that the function of the selection board was only to choose the officials and therefore it could not be regarded as quasi-judicial. 

The court further added that the aim of natural justice is to prevent the miscarriage of justice. One cannot deny that it cannot be used in administrative proceedings. The court held that even though the functions of the board were administrative, they had to act judicially. For the first time, the court, without any aid from any foreign judgement, decided that natural justice’s principles were limited not only to judicial functions but also to administrative functions. Thus, the selection made by the board was in violation of natural justice.

Case analysis

The article’s observation on the idea of natural justice makes it impossible to apply it in a narrower sense. The case is a watershed in the arena of administrative function and also helped in strengthening rule of law. The application of these principles before this judgement was only limited to the courts, but after the case of R. S. Dass v. Union of India (1986), they are now applicable to several court rulings, tribunals and administrative bodies. Modern administration cannot function without discretion but this discretion must be subject to legal constraints. The court cannot be in charge of administrative discretion at all times. Also, the non-use of the principle must be minimised. The concept of natural justice has to be applied across time. 

The judgement has a long-lasting impact on the administrative functions which provides that any sort of arbitrariness must be excluded. Also due process of law must be followed.

Aftermath of the case

Kraipak’s case expanded the scope of the right to a fair hearing and it also altered Indian Administrative Law from conceptualism to functionalism. Consequently, the case had a substantial impact on the growth of the application of principles of natural justice in administrative proceedings. The case has marked a shift in the natural justice’s jurisprudence. 

The instant case paved the way for several other cases. One such case is Chairman, Board of Mining Examination v. Ramjee (1977) where the court observed that the principles of natural justice imply the fairness with which a decision maker should proceed. The court also iterated that principles of natural justice must not be used in an abstract form. 

Justice Krishna Iyer in the case Swadeshi Cotton Mills v. Union of India (1981) lucidly explained the concept of the principle of natural justice “Once we understood the soul of the rule as fair play in action and it is so we must hold that it extends to both the fields. After all, administrative power in a democratic set-up is not allergic to fairness in action and discretionary executive justice cannot degenerate into unilateral injustice.”

The court further held in Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam Ltd. v. Girja Shankar Pant (2001) that principles of natural justice are not just meant to secure justice but also to prevent miscarriage of justice.

The principles of natural justice have captivated the attention of humans since prehistoric times. They serve as the fundamental cornerstone of legal doctrine. They support the law, not replace it. These ideas have to act as a guide to help decide which way the law should go. Therefore, what develops from the instant case is that even though the courts are making a difference between the administrative and quasi-judicial powers, at the same time there is a common element of fair procedure.


Thus, one can see that the subject matter and substance of natural justice are not static and have significantly changed their tint, idea and form with respect to societal value. The guidelines can be effectively applied to different cases as well as circumstances that society encounters. The basis for this must be fairness as well as fair play. “The decision maker should not be biased or prejudiced in a way that precludes fair and genuine consideration being given to the arguments advanced by the parties,” stated De Smith, Woolf, and Jowell. Thus, the exclusion of arbitrariness is a paramount element in the administrative proceedings. The functionaries of the state must act fairly, impartially and reasonably.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is Administrative law? Is it codified?

Administrative law is a branch of public law. The law is concerned with the power, composition, and duties of functionaries of the state. They are not codified laws instead they are judge-made laws.

What is Natural Justice?

Natural justice simply means to make a sensible and reasonable decision-making procedure on a particular issue.

What is a Quasi–judicial body?

Quasi-judicial body is an organisation other than the court which has power to interpret the law. 

What is the Rule of law?

Rule of law is predominance of law or supremacy of law as opposed to arbitrariness.


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