This article is written by Ms. Sushree Surekha Choudhury from KIIT School of Law. The article gives a descriptive overview of Article 311 of the Indian Constitution and provisions therein with the help of relevant judicial pronouncements.
This article has been published by Sneha Mahawar.
Table of Contents
Articulation of Article 311 of the Indian Constitution was provisioned for facilitating the dismissal or removal of civil servants in India. While it looks like a negative provision that enables the government to remove or dismiss people from power, it is also at the same time a form of protection or safeguards against unlawful and unreasonable dismissal and removal. Since the article makes it a mandate that no person below the rank of the one who appointed that civil servant is eligible to remove him, it puts a reasonable restriction on such dismissal or removal. The origins of the article trace back to the times of British rule in India or so to say, the idea behind the formation of Article 311 is derived from English jurisdiction where a civil servant was eligible to hold office only at the pleasure of the crown. It is a common law system that is adopted under Article 310 as the ‘Doctrine of Pleasure’. The common law system granted the crown immense powers and the crown could terminate the office of any civil servant at will. Although the same rule is adopted in India, it has been attributed to reasonable restrictions.
Application of Article 311
Article 311 makes provision for dismissal or removal of persons employed as civil servants, under the union, and in different states. The legal interpretation of the article would mean, under Article 311(1) the following people cannot be dismissed or removed from their office, by anyone subordinate in rank than the one who appointed them:
- A member of civil services of the union,
- A member of All-India civil services,
- A member of civil services of a particular state,
- A person holding a civil post under the union,
- A person holding a civil post under a particular state.
Clause 2 of Article 311 puts reasonable limits on the first clause by stating that the person so proposed to be dismissed or removed, must be given a reasonable opportunity of being heard and there shall be a proper inquiry conducted where such person shall be informed about the charges levied against him in detail.
Exceptions to Article 311
Mentioned below are the exceptions to both clauses of Article 311:
- There comes an exception to Article 311(1) which states that the provisions of the article shall be applicable only to civil servants, i.e., public servants or public officers. It is not applicable to defense personnel or any other kind of service under the union or state governments.
- Article 311(2) that speaks that there must be a proper inquiry and a reasonable opportunity of being heard must be provided, comes with certain exceptions:
- When a person is dismissed, removed, or reduced in rank due to criminal charges against him and has been thereby convicted, an inquiry is not needed to be held under Article 311(2),
- When the person in authority who is entitled to dismiss, remove or reduce the rank of such civil servant, deems it unnecessary to hold any further inquiry has the power to not hold such inquiry, for reasons that must be recorded in written form, before dismissing, removing or reducing the rank of such civil servant,
- When the President of India or Governor of a state is satisfied that it is essential to dismiss or remove such a civil servant from his office for upholding the security and sovereignty of the state, can direct such dismissal or removal without conducting any inquiry.
Doctrine of pleasure
Article 311 is facilitated after the application of Article 310 and both articles could be said to be interrelated. Article 310, popularly known as the doctrine of pleasure, is a provision of the Indian Constitution that states that the civil servants hold office at the pleasure of the President at Union and the Governors for the states. Whereas, Article 311 is eligible for dismissing or removing civil (public servants) only, under Article 310, defense personnel hold office too. However, provisions of Article 311 are not applicable to them. Thus, the officers appointed under Article 310 hold office at the pleasure of the executive and are subject to dismissal, removal, or reducing rank by the application of Article 311. Finally, the decision of the entitled authority to make decisions, in regard to the need to hold an inquiry, shall be final (Article 311(3)).
Exceptions to the doctrine of pleasure
Although the President of India and the Governors of respective states enjoy powers under the doctrine of pleasure, it comes with certain exceptions. The following cannot be dismissed or removed under grounds of contravention of the doctrine of pleasure:
- Supreme Court judges cannot be dismissed or removed before their tenure is complete (Article 124),
- Judges of high court cannot be dismissed or removed before the expiry of their tenure (Article 218),
- The chief election commissioner cannot be put into the purview of the doctrine of pleasure (Article 324),
- The chairman and members of the public service commission are an exception to Articles 310 and 311 (Article 317).
Purpose of Article 311
The purpose behind the articulation of the provisions of Article 311 is to give certain security to the civil servants. Article 311 fulfills this purpose in the following manner:
- It vests the government servants with security in the tenure of their service.
- It provides protection against corruption leading to arbitrary dismissal, removal, or demotion of honest civil servants.
- The infringement of provisions of Article 311 that prescribes a manner in which the removal or dismissal of civil servants can take place is enforceable in a court of law. This means that if a civil servant is removed, dismissed, or demoted without following the directions as has been laid down by this article, the civil servant can reach the court of law for remedy. If infringement is proved, the civil servant is deemed to never have been dismissed, removed, or demoted.
- An aggrieved civil servant can also reach a state administrative tribunal or Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) for redressal.
- Termination of service of a civil servant is deemed to be punishment under this article if the civil servant holding office had such a right. If during his appointment he had the right to hold office and was thereby terminated, such termination will automatically mean a punishment under Article 311. Elsewise, termination of a civil servant who was holding office without having the right to hold such office, the termination of such civil servant from his office, or his demotion shall not be deemed to be punishment under Article 311.
- For a civil servant holding office temporarily, it shall be deemed to be punishment under Article 311 if he was terminated from office due to any contravention or as a punishment for wrongdoing.
In the case of Parshotam Lal Dhingra v. Union of India (1957), the Supreme Court discussed two tests to determine whether the termination of a civil servant from his office is a punishment under Article 311 of the Indian Constitution. Those tests were to determine whether:
- The civil servant had the right to hold the office or the rank to which he was appointed,
- Such a civil servant has been visited with evil consequences.
- Protection under Article 311 is applicable to people appointed as civil servants in all natures- permanent civil servants, temporary civil servants, officiating civil servants, or civil servants on probation.
Opportunity of being heard and the 42nd Constitutional Amendment
Article 311(2) makes provision for making proper inquiry while dismissing, removing, or reducing the rank of a civil servant. This states that every such civil servant that is to be dismissed, removed, or reduced in rank must be given a reasonable opportunity of being heard. He must be given a chance to procure and admit evidence and prove his case. Such inquiry can however be omitted if the person in authority thinks it just to do so. Such exception to Article 311(2) is applicable when there are criminal charges levied on the civil servant, if the authority deems fit or if the security and sovereignty of the nation is in question.
This reasonable opportunity of being heard was originally given to the civil servant at both the inquiry phase as well as the punishing phase. However, the 42nd Amendment to the Indian Constitution brought changes. The 1976 Amendment Act removed the punishing phase. The punishment phase is when the inquiry is completed and charges against the civil servant are proved beyond a reasonable doubt. As such, when punishment is being determined appropriate to be effective, the civil servant no longer gets the opportunity to speak and make representations against the punishment being decided for him. Thus, the current stand is such that, the civil servant against whom the imposition of Article 311 is alleged, gets a reasonable opportunity to make representations in the inquiry stage and no further. Once the charges levied against him are proven, he no longer has a right to bargain his case to the jury.
The Supreme Court has elaborated on what comes within the ambit of ‘reasonable opportunity of being heard/ making representation’ as:
- Such a civil servant must be produced with an opportunity to deny guilt,
- Such a civil servant must get an opportunity to build his innocence, he must be clearly told about the charges leveled against him and the grounds for levying those charges,
- Such a civil servant under allegations has the right to defend themselves by cross-examining the witnesses against him,
- Such a civil servant has the right to produce witnesses in his support,
- Such a civil servant has the right to be examined himself,
- Such a civil servant has a right to have access to the final inquiry report before the disciplinary committee considers the report as final, for the civil servant’s observations and comments to be added.
Process of departmental inquiry
When the allegations are made against a civil servant, the first step is the initiation of an inquiry on these changes. This inquiry takes place through the following steps:
- An inquiry officer is appointed.
- The charges levied on the civil servant are determined.
- A charge sheet containing information on these charges is presented to the civil servant.
- The civil servant is given the option- to choose a lawyer to represent him or he can choose to represent himself.
- Witnesses if any, if required, are called upon during the continuance of the inquiry procedure.
- The appointed inquiry officer makes a final report.
- This final report is presented to the civil servant for his comments or observations, if any.
- The report is then considered final and charges are either proven against the civil servant or he might come out as an innocent person.
- The final report is submitted to the appropriate government for further decision-making.
- This civil servant under question can reach courts, state administrative tribunals, or Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) for further appeal.
Other relevant articles of the Indian Constitution
Some other provisions of the Constitution that are relevant to civil services in India are as follows:
- Article 53 of the Indian Constitution speaks about the executive power of the union, i.e., the power of the President to make decisions for the union of India. The civil servants of the nation, thus hold office at the pleasure of the President.
- Article 154 of the Indian Constitution speaks about the executive power of the states, i.e., the power of Governors of different states to make decisions under their executive power. The civil servants of the states, thus hold office at the pleasure of the Governor of the state where they are holding office.
- The officers subordinate to the President and to the Governors of different states are known to be officers of permanent civil services. They are governed by Part XIV of the Indian Constitution, under Article 308-323.
- Article 309 grants the Parliament and state legislatures the following powers:
- Make regulations on the recruitment of civil servants,
- Terms and conditions of service of these recruited civil servants,
- These functions extend to the civil servants in public services, civil posts, and posts in reference to the union or any state.
- Article 310 of the Indian Constitution speaks about the doctrine of pleasure. The doctrine of pleasure means that a person holding office as a civil servant or a civil post in India, under the union or in any state, shall hold such office at the pleasure of the President of India or the Governors of the respective states.
- Article 311 of the Indian Constitution speaks about the dismissal, removal, or reduction in rank of the civil servants for reasons to be specified after a due procedure is followed and only by the person in authority who must not be below the rank of the officer that had appointed such a civil servant.
- Article 312 of the Indian Constitution speaks about the All India Services.
- Government of India (Transaction of Bills) Rules (1961) are a set of rules that govern the working, functioning, and manner in which the officers of permanent civil services are to assist the President and the Governors, respectively.
Relevant case references
Mentioned below are a few case references that are relevant to civil servants, their rights, and constitutional provisions regarding the same:
Sukhbans Singh v. State of Punjab (1962)
With the question of ‘Is termination of service of a government servant punishment under Article 311?’, the Supreme Court in the circumstances of one case, Sukhbans Singh v. State of Punjab, held that suspension from service of a government servant does not fall within the category of dismissal, removal, or reduction in rank under Article 311. Thus, such suspended government servants cannot seek redressal from courts or tribunals as a constitutional guarantee as provided under Article 311(2).
Shyam Lal v. State of Uttar Pradesh (1953)
In another case, Shyam Lal v. State of Uttar Pradesh, involving a similar question of law, a compulsory retirement by a government servant does not amount to dismissal, removal, or reduction in rank under Article 311 and thus, the government servant cannot have a cause of action under Article 311(2).
State of Bihar v. Abdul Majid (1954)
In yet another case, State of Bihar v. Abdul Majid, the Supreme Court while discussing the rights of civil servants in India, held that a civil servant has the right to sue for arrears of his salary, due from the government. This was a progressive judgment that allowed the civil servants to reach courts for seeking their pending salaries and arrears.
Union of India v. Balbir Singh (2017)
In reference to the doctrine of pleasure, in this landmark judgment of Union of India v. Balbir Singh, the Supreme Court held that even though there is a right vested in the head of the union (the President of India) and the head of each state (the Governors) to terminate the departmental inquiry on charges levied against a civil servant, that grants him an opportunity of being heard, the decisions of the court will be final. The courts are vested with the ultimate power to ensure the civil servants are not removed from office by illicit means. The court can make a detailed inquiry of the same and if satisfied, the court has the power to overrule the decision of termination by the President or Governor.
Union of India and Anr. v. Tulsiram Patel (1985)
In the case of the Union of India and Anr. v. Tulsiram Patel, the Supreme Court of India discussed the exceptions to Article 311(2), i.e., cases where the disciplinary inquiry may be omitted by the person having authority. The Supreme Court held that the prudency test had to be applied. It has to be tested what a reasonable man of ordinary prudence would do in a situation as per the facts and circumstances on a case-by-case basis. The court further stated that in case the civil servant is convicted of criminal charges, he can be dismissed or removed from his office without holding any departmental inquiry.
State of Punjab v. Kishan Dass (1971)
In the case of State of Punjab v. Kishan Dass, the Supreme Court held that a mere reduction in the salary of a government servant cannot be termed as a reduction in rank of a government servant to invoke Article 311. This decision played an important role in establishing the importance of Article 311 and that it cannot be invoked on every little transactional detail unless it strictly fulfills the elements of Article 311 to be invoked. The court stated that the salaries may be reduced for a host of departmental reasons and so, it will not be considered a reduction in the rank of the government servant. Judgments like this help the courts to avoid piles of petty cases.
State of Uttar Pradesh and Anr. v. Audh Narain Singh and Anr. (1964)
In this case the State of Uttar Pradesh and Anr. v. Audh Narain Singh and Anr., the respondent was appointed as a Tahsildar in the Cash Department of Government Treasury in Azamgarh district of Uttar Pradesh. He was appointed by the Treasurer, with the approval of the Collector of Azamgarh. He was subsequently removed from his position after receiving instructions from the Collector to do so. He filed a case under Article 311(2) for being removed without getting a reasonable opportunity of representing his case. The question of law here was whether the position of the respondent could come under the category of civil servant/civil post under Article 311(1)?
The Supreme Court held that the respondent held office at the Cash Department of the State after being appointed to the post by the Treasurer with due consent of the Collector. He held a civil post in this department and thus, qualified as a government servant under Article 311(1). He was removed from his post without proper procedure being followed and so, this removal is deemed invalid. The Tahsildars receive remuneration directly from the state and are subject to scrutiny and power of District Officers in case of dismissal, removal, reduction in rank, or disciplinary inquiry against charges levied. Thus, the respondent is protected by Article 311 and cannot be removed without following Article 311 strictly.
The Sachin Vaze case
Twice suspended before under several charges, cop Sachin Vaze was reinstated to his office in 2020. The following year, business tycoon Mukesh Ambani received threat letters followed by a bomb blast in his residence, Antilia. This was followed by the murder of Mansukh Hiren who was involved in the bombing case. Police officer Sachin Vaze was suspected to be involved in these cases and was arrested by National Investigation Agency (NIA) on suspicion to be guilty under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), 1967 of the Maharashtra Government. He was subsequently dismissed from service in Mumbai Police by Mumbai Police Commissioner. He was dismissed without any departmental proceedings being held. The Police Commissioner dismissed him under the provisions of exceptions under Article 311(2)(b). The Police Commissioner gave his reasons in writing as conducting the departmental inquiry before dismissing Sachin Vaze was not reasonably practicable. It was held valid in the instant case as Vaze remains dismissed, keeping in mind the gravity of offenses and the reasonability of applying the exception.
In a similar situation, a person dismissed can seek redressal from a court of law, the respective state’s administrative tribunal, or the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT).
Civil servants hold a rather respectable and important position in our nation. They are vested with great responsibility and are relied upon for various sovereign activities. They go through a rigorous process of scrutiny before they can finally be appointed to hold an office under the union of India or in a state. Holding such office vests obligations, duties, and responsibilities on these government servants, and they are expected to act with utmost honesty, sincerity, and integrity. With responsibilities and powers that vast, they are also given protection from illegal and unfair practices leading to their dismissal or removal, while also making provisions for it at the same time. First off, they hold office at the pleasure of the President of India at the union and at the pleasure of the Governor of a state where they are holding office. This is popularly known as the doctrine of pleasure and the provisions for it have been mentioned in Article 310 of the Indian Constitution. This comes with another interrelated and crucial provision, i.e., Article 311. Article 311 states that no civil servant can be dismissed from his office, removed from his office or his rank can be reduced, except by a person in authority of the same rank as the officer that appointed him. This provision gives protection and safeguards the rights of the civil servants by restricting the manner in which they can be dismissed, removed, or reduced in rank. Article 311 also makes a detailed provision for dismissal, removal, or reduction in rank to be effected. It stated that the civil servant must be provided with a reasonable opportunity of being heard. He must have an opportunity to represent his case, and produce pieces of evidence and witnesses in his favor. Thus, Article 311 makes a detailed prescription for holding a departmental inquiry on the charges levied against the civil servant. He gets an opportunity for fair representation in such inquiry and he is also informed about the charges leveled against him in detail. He is provided with a charge sheet and the final report is also shown to him where he is given an opportunity to make comments and observations. An aggrieved civil servant further has the right to seek redressal by way of appeal in a court of law or a state administrative tribunal or the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT). All these provisions are made to ensure a fair trial and protect civil servants against corrupt regimes and political innuendos. Several judicial pronouncements and incidents have shaped the law over the years and have bettered the protection and redressal mechanism.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
- Which article of the Indian Constitution speaks about the doctrine of pleasure?
Article 310 of the Indian Constitution talks about the doctrine of pleasure. It means that the civil servants of India shall hold office at the pleasure of the President at the union and the pleasure of the Governor of a particular state to hold office in that state.
- All India Services are defined under which article of the Indian Constitution?
Article 312 of the Indian Constitution speaks about the All India Services.
- Which kind of officers are exempted from the purview of Article 311?
Defense personnels are exempted from the purview of provisions of Article 311.
- What happens in a departmental inquiry?
In a departmental inquiry, the appointed inquiry officer makes a charge sheet of charges levied against the civil servant and hands him the charge sheet to inform him about the charges in detail. The departmental inquiry proceedings are held with openness and fairness and the civil servant is given a reasonable opportunity of being heard. After the production of evidence, witnesses, and proper scrutiny, a final report is prepared by the inquiry officer who after giving the civil servant an opportunity to make comments or observations to this report, submits it to the appropriate government for further action to be taken.
- Where can an aggrieved civil servant file a lawsuit against the outcome of the departmental inquiry proceedings?
An aggrieved civil servant can seek redressal from a court of law or they can reach a state administrative tribunal or the Central Administrative Tribunal to appeal their case.
- The doctrine of pleasure grants power to which authority in the country?
The power and privilege under the doctrine of pleasure are enjoyed by the President of India at the central level and the Governors of respective states for their state.
- Can suspension from service of a government servant or a compulsory retirement taken by a government servant come under the purview of Article 311?
No. A suspension from service of a government servant cannot invoke provisions of Article 311 (Sukhbans Singh v. State of Punjab). Nor can a compulsory retirement be brought under the purview of the constitutional right guaranteed under Article 311 (Shyam Lal v. State of Uttar Pradesh).
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