This article has been written by Anjali Singh and updated by Pujari Dharani. This article explains the doctrine of legitimate expectation, including its origin, essential elements, types, results, and exceptions, among other things. This article also contains important case laws in relation to the doctrine of legitimate expectation.

It has been published by Rachit Garg.


“A man should keep his words. All the more so when the promise is not a bare promise but is made with the intention that the other party should act upon it”

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Administrative Law is overarching in nature and it is difficult to categorize its multiple functions in watertight compartments. Consequently, multiple principles and doctrines have been formulated to ensure proper functioning of the administration. Such as principles of natural justice, the principle of proportionality, unreasonableness, the judicial obligations of the local public authorities, etc. One among them is the doctrine of legitimate expectation, which is not explained in any Indian statutory enactment or law. However, this doctrine played a significant role in developing Indian administrative law, especially the law relating to the theory of judicial review.

Let us see how the doctrine of legitimate expectation can be invoked to check arbitrary administrative actions.

The doctrine of legitimate expectation

The doctrine of ‘Legitimate Expectations’ is one amongst several tools incorporated by the Court to review administrative action. This doctrine pertains to the relationship between an individual and a public authority. According to this doctrine, the public authority can be made accountable in lieu of a ‘legitimate expectation’. A person may have a reasonable or legitimate expectation of being treated in a certain way by the administrative authorities owing to some consistent practice in the past or an express promise made by the concerned authority.

Origin of doctrine of legitimate expectations

The doctrine is not a specific legal right engraved in a particular statute or rule book. The first time, an attempt was made to establish the principles of the doctrine were in the case of Council of Civil Service Unions and Others v. Minister for the Civil Service ([1985] AC 374), that the decision by the public authority should affect the person such that-

  • His rights or obligations are altered, which are enforceable by or against him
  • He is deprived of some benefit or advantage which he had been permitted by the authorizing body in the past and which he could have legitimately expected to enjoy until a valid ground for withdrawal of the same was communicated to him or he had been assured by the decision making body that such a benefit or advantage would not be withdrawn until him being given an opportunity of contending reasons as to why they were withdrawn.

What is a legitimate expectation

The term “legitimate expectation”, which was coined by Lord Denning in 1969, is an expectation of an ordinary man to have benefit or relief, which is a consequence of a promise or representation, either express or implied, made by the administrative authority concerned or its prior established practice. Hence, a legitimate expectation is an expectation to be treated in a particular way by the administrative authority or to receive some benefit as a matter of public law, although no such enforceable right is conferred on him under private law. Thus, this doctrine creates a central space between ‘no claim’ and a ‘legal claim’.

The Supreme Court of India described this doctrine accurately in Ram Pravesh Singh and Ors. v. State of Bihar and Ors. (2006), as “a person can be said to have a ‘legitimate expectation’ of a particular treatment, if any representation or promise is made by an authority, either expressly or impliedly, or if the regular and consistent past practice of the authority gives room for such expectation in the normal course”. Thus, the Supreme Court, through various judgements, has developed this doctrine in order to keep a check on the abuse of administrative power by public bodies.

Whether legitimate expectation is a legal right

There is no legal right conferred on an expectant, the person who has a legitimate expectation, in the application of the doctrine of legitimate expectation in administrative actions. As it is not a legal right, it is not absolutely enforceable in all cases. This doctrine is a concept designed by the courts; hence, it is up to the courts to decide on its enforceability.

Therefore, the legitimate expectation is neither a legal right given to an expectant nor a duty of administrative authority, but rather a procedural aspect on the part of the courts for invoking their power of judicial review of administrative actions that affect the said person, based on the requirement.

The legitimate expectation may not be a distinct enforceable legal right, but if the same is not given due consideration by the public authority in a decision-making process, it is said that the decision taken by the authority has violated the rule of non-arbitrariness, an essential concomitant of the rule of law, and the same can be invalidated on the ground of arbitrariness. In this regard, the Supreme Court stated, in M. P. Oil Extraction and Anr. etc. v. State of Madhya Pradesh and Ors. (1997), “the doctrine of ‘legitimate expectation’ operates in the domain of public law and, in appropriate cases, constitutes a substantive and enforceable right.


Let us illustrate that a state government introduced a ‘drinking water supply’ programme to remote areas where people were walking miles to get drinking water. In the notification of the programme, the names of all villages are mentioned as initial targets. However, through another notification, the government removed a few previously mentioned villages without citing any reasons. In this case, the legitimate expectations of the people from these villages, which are excluded from the purview of the scheme, are violated. If the decision to exclude those villages by the state government is just and reasonable, the Court cannot intervene. Contrarily, if it was unfair and arbitrary, the Court would accept the matter and hold the government responsible. Therefore, the doctrine of legitimate expectation ensures that the administrative authorities are abiding by the principles of natural justice.

Case survey

Origin and development of doctrine of legitimate expectations in India

The Doctrine of Legitimate Expectation was first discussed in the Indian arena in the case of State of Kerala v. K.G. Madhavan Pillai ((1988) 4 SCC 669). Herein a sanction was issued for the respondents to open a new aided school and to upgrade the existing schools, however, an Order was issued 15 days later to keep the previous sanction in abeyance. This Order was challenged by the respondents instead of violation of principles of natural justice. The Supreme Court ruled that the sanction had entitled the respondents to legitimate expectation and the second order violated principles of natural justice.

In another Supreme Court case, Navjyoti Coop. Group Housing Society v. Union of India ((1992) 4 SCC 477), wherein the new criteria for allotment of land was challenged. In the original policy, the seniority with regard to the allotment was decided based on the date of registration. Subsequently, a policy change was made in 1990, changing the criteria for deciding seniority based on the date of approval of the final list.

The Supreme Court thought that the Housing Societies were entitled to ‘legitimate expectation’ owing to the continuous and consistent practice in the past in matters of allotment. The court further elucidates on the principle stating that the presence of ‘legitimate expectations’ can have different outcomes and one such outcome is that the authority should not fail ‘legitimate expectation’ unless there is some justifiable public policy reason for the same.

It is further emphasized that the availability of reasonable opportunity to those likely being affected by the change in a policy which was consistent in nature is well within the ambit of acting fairly. The Honorable Court held that such an opportunity should have been given to the Housing Societies by way of a public notice.

The Supreme Court elaborated on the nature of the doctrine of legitimate expectations in Food Corporation of India v. Kamdhenu Cattle Feed Industries ((1993) 1. S.C.C. 71), that the duty to act fairly on the part of public authorities, entitles every citizen to have legitimate expectation to be treated fairly and it is imperative to give due importance to such an expectation to satisfy the requirement of non-arbitrariness in state action or otherwise it may amount to abuse of power. The Court further made a remarkable point that such a reasonable or legitimate expectation may not be a directly enforceable legal right but failure in taking it into account may deem a decision arbitrary. To decide whether an expectation is a legitimate one is contextual and has to be decided on a case-by-case basis.

In Union of India v. Hindustan Development Corporation ((1993) 3 SCC 499), the Supreme Court has dealt with the doctrine in great detail, starting with the explanation of the scope of the doctrine in Halsbury’s Laws of England, Fourth Edition, Volume I (I) 151 which says that a person can have a legitimate expectation of being treated in a certain fashion even though he doesn’t have a legal right to receive the same.

Origin and development of doctrine of legitimate expectations in English Law

The Court discusses that how the doctrine of legitimate expectations first stepped into English Law in the case of Schmidt v. Secretary of State for Home Affairs ((1969) 2 Ch. 149) wherein it was observed that a foreigner who had been given leave to enter the United Kingdom, had the right to be heard and had a legitimate expectation of being allowed to stay for the allowed time.

The Court further goes on to discuss the famous case of A.G. of Hong Kong v. Ng Yuen Shiu ((1983) 2 A.C. 629) wherein Lord Fraser had observed that if a public authority has vowed to follow a procedure, it is imperative that it acts fairly and fulfils its promise, in the interest of good administration. The Court remarks that there is an absence of meaning and scope of the doctrine of legitimate expectation given by the Supreme Court and henceforth it would like to elaborate on the subject. The Court distinguishes expectation from anticipation and states that an expectation can be said to be legitimate only if it has a legal sanction or is backed by a procedure or custom that has been followed consistently.

This case can be categorized as a landmark one in the Indian discourse since it specifically draws the realm of the doctrine stating that it does not involve a ‘crystallised right’ and thus does not pave the way for a direct claim for relief and the doctrine can be confined to the right of fair hearing in a situation where a promise has been withdrawn or negative. A substantive expectation doesn’t necessarily amount to an absolute right unless the decision-maker is not able to justify the withdrawal by overriding public interest and more importantly such a decision should be founded in arbitrariness, unreasonableness and not justifiably taken in public interest.

The Court further enunciated that if the issue involves a question of policy or change in policy then the Courts must remain in their domain and refrain from interfering. Thus legitimate expectation may lead to judicial review but the scope of relief that can be given by the Court is very limited.

Essential elements of the doctrine of legitimate expectation

The doctrine of legitimate expectation can be invoked by a person in civil litigation seeking judicial intervention or control over administrative actions if the below essential elements of the said doctrine are fulfilled.

The expectation must be legitimate

To apply the above-mentioned doctrine of legitimate expectation, the expectation grown in a person’s mind must be legitimate or reasonable. If any prudent and ordinary man expects the same responsiveness or attitude from a particular public authority, then the expectation is said to be legitimate. If the expectation is just a random thought not derived from or inferred from a particular past event, it cannot be considered legitimate. Therefore, the court considers the question of the legitimacy of the expectation as a question of fact and decides, not given the expectant’s perception but from the view of the larger public interest.

Furthermore, expectation is not synonymous with anticipation, wish, desire, or hope, irrespective of their legitimacy. Also, mere disappointment does not result in legal consequences. The legitimate expectation is not even equated with terms like ‘claim’ or ‘demand’, which are sought before the courts to enforce the rights they lost, violated, or left unimplemented.

The legitimacy of an individual’s expectations does not depend upon the moral obligations of the public authority. Instead, legitimacy is decided based on the laws or customs or, at least, the established practice of the authority, provided it has consistency in its practice.

Presence of an established and regular practice or express promise

There must be an established and regular practice or an express promise on the part of the administrative authority concerned. The term “established and regular practice” refers to the practices that are within the powers of the authority and that have been performed regularly by a particular public authority in the past for a considerable period. Because of such prior, established practice, the applicant or claimant has a legitimate expectation.

Relationship between expectant and administrative authority

There must be an established relationship between government authorities and the expectant. The relationship can be a commercial transaction, a dealing, or even a negotiation on a particular issue. The only requirement is that the expectant should have been engaged in a recognised relationship with the authorities concerned. If the party, either in the past or present, has no relationship with the authority, then he cannot invoke the doctrine of legitimate expectation.

Besides this, the other essential aspect is that the established practice, because of which the expectant gained a legitimate expectation, shall be concerning the aforesaid dealing or negotiation.

Presence of an arbitrary decision by the administrative authority

The decision taken by the administrative authority regarding the issue raised by the claimant must be arbitrary, unfair, unreasonable, and violative of the principles of natural justice. If the court finds that the public authority has not considered factors such as public interest or policy while passing an order, which is against the claimant, who is not even heard before taking such a decision, then there is a strong basis for invoking the doctrine of legitimate expectation. Contrarily, if the administrative authority took a decision in view of the larger public interest or according to policy, the court would not interfere with the functioning of the public authority, except in cases where the administrative decision constitutes an abuse of power. If there is no abuse of power and the decision taken by the authority is bona fide, the administrative actions will not go through judicial review. 

Otherwise, if the administrative authority made the decision on fair and reasonable terms, the court will interfere and strike down such a decision or order, even if it affects the legitimate expectation of the claimant. Therefore, the doctrine of legitimate expectation is implemented in case of the presence of an arbitrary decision, not in the case of procedural fairness.

The claimant must have a locus standi

Besides the above essential element, which ensures a foundation to invoke the doctrine of legitimate expectation, the claimant must also prove that his case has locus standi to get a judicial review of the administrative actions by applying the said doctrine. However, in Union of India and Ors. v. Hindustan Development Corporation and Ors. (1993), the Supreme Court decided that “legitimate expectation gives the applicant sufficient locus standi for judicial review“. Thus, the doctrine of legitimate expectation comes with the doctrine of locus standi.

Circumstances for the formation of legitimate expectation

Circumstances which may lead to the formation of legitimate expectations were postulated in Madras City Wine Merchants v. State of Tamil Nadu ((1994) 5 SCC 509) naming-

  • If there was some explicit promise or representation made by the administrative body
  • That such a promise was clear and unambiguous
  • The existence of a consistent practice in the past which the person can reasonably expect to operate in the same way

It was laid down in P.T.R. Exports (Madras) Pvt. Ltd. And Others vs. Union of India and others (AIR 1996 SC 3461) that the doctrine of legitimate expectations has no role to play when the appropriate authority is empowered to take a decision under an executive policy or the law itself and that the Government is not restricted from evolving new policy on account of ‘legitimate expectations’ as and when required in public interest.

The Supreme Court ruled in M.P. Oil Extraction v. State of M.P ((1997) 7 SCC 592) that the doctrine of legitimate expectations operates in the realm of public law and is considered a substantive and enforceable right in appropriate cases. It was held that the industries had a legitimate expectation with regards to past practice and the renewal clause, that the agreements are renewed in a similar manner.

In National Buildings Construction Corporation v S. Raghunathan ((1998) 7 SCC 66), respondents were brought on deputation for an overseas project that was to be carried out in Iraq by NBCC (Government Company). The Respondents chose to draw their salary in the same scale as of employee of Central P.W.D along with Deputation allowance. They were also given foreign allowance at 125% of the basic pay, however, their basic pay was revised. It was contended by them that this allowance should be paid out of the revised pay scale.

  • The claim which was based on legitimate expectations was rejected by NBCC. The Court agreed with the decision that no such promise or agreement was carried out by NBCC.
  • The Court while elaborating on the doctrine, stated that the doctrine has its genesis in the administrative law and that Government departments ought not to act in an unfettered manner guided by abuse of discretion.
  • The Court also pointed to a procedural aspect stating that the contention of ‘legitimate expectation’ should have been raised in the pleadings itself, and thus the High Court was erroneous in allowing the plea at the stage of arguments in the absence of pleadings and affidavit to support the same.

It can be inferred from the aforementioned case that the doctrine has both substantive and procedural facets to it.

It was reiterated in the case of Bannari Amman Sugars Ltd. V. CTO ((2005) 1 SCC 625) that guarding legitimate expectation should not come at the cost of non-fulfilment of an overriding public interest, so to say that in case a legitimate expectation of a person is not fulfilled, the decision making body can hide behind the veil of ‘overriding public interest’.

Types of legitimate expectations

Legitimate expectations can be broadly divided into two types, namely, procedural legitimate expectation and substantive legitimate expectation.

Procedural legitimate expectation

The person claiming to have legitimate expectation has previously possessed an enforceable right, which was taken away as a result of administrative conduct. Wherever the claimant has a legitimate and reasonable expectation of having procedural protection, such as providing a fair hearing or being consulted before taking a decision or a change in policy affecting them adversely, the court provides procedural protection to the claimant. Because of the provision of procedural expectation on the ground of legitimate expectation, the concept of fairness is being met in administrative activities. Thus, providing notice and giving a fair opportunity to the decision-maker before making any decisions is the result of invoking the principle of “procedural legitimate expectation”.

Substantive legitimate expectation

Let’s say that the public authorities have given an assurance relating to the rights of an individual. Subsequently, the said individual will gain a legitimate expectation that his or her enforceable right will not be defeated. However, the right has been violated due to the conduct of the administration authorities, like policy changes. Due to such a violation of rights, the aggrieved party can invoke the doctrine of legitimate expectation. The court may grant the right that is defeated after examining the facts of the case. This is called the “principle of substantive legitimate expectation”.

In the initial stages of the development of the doctrine of legitimate expectation, there is only one kind of relief, i.e., issuing a notice, for the aggrieved party who has a legitimate expectation and nothing more. That is, there is only a principle of procedural legitimate expectation. However, the doctrine developed much and included the principle of substantive legitimate expectation as well through various decided cases. Therefore, the current evolved doctrine of legitimate expectation not only provides a fair hearing to the claimant but also grants a right that was infringed arbitrarily. Furthermore, the Supreme Court said, in Punjab Communications Ltd. v. Union of India and Ors. (1999), “the protection for the substantive legitimate expectation was based on Wednesbury reasonableness”.

Important considerations by the court

All the above-discussed essential elements are important considerations for a court when dealing with cases where the doctrine of legitimate expectation is invoked by the claimant. As already explained, a legitimate expectation for an individual arises due to the conduct of the administrative body, whether it is an established practice or a promise to provide a benefit. Once the individual is deprived of a benefit or right because of an administrative decision or change of policy, he or she can go against such a decision in court on the grounds of legitimate expectation.

Whenever the doctrine of legitimate expectation is invoked by the expectant, the court should consider the larger public interest and ensure it is not unfairly carried away with the expectation of the claimant. If there is no public interest in taking such a decision, the administrative authority must respect the claimant’s legitimate expectations. Another important consideration for the court is to determine to what extent the legitimate expectation of the claimant can be protected in light of administrative conduct.

In case of substantive legitimate expectation, the court has no right to alter the new policy, even if it has infringed on the rights of an individual. The principle allows the court only to examine and decide whether the policy change is illogical or unreasonable. Even the question of the overriding effect of public interest on the principle of substantive legitimate expectation should not be dealt with by courts but by decision-makers. Thus, the decision maker, i.e., the public body, is the one who should decide on the matter of policy, such as whether to withdraw the new policy, which has the effect of defeating the rights of an individual, or make changes to the new policy. The court interferes only when the policy in question is irrational or perverse. This was observed by the Supreme Court in the case of Punjab Communications Ltd. v. Union of India and Ors. (1999).

Result of invoking the doctrine of legitimate expectation

Once an individual, during court proceedings, expresses his legitimate expectation, the court may grant a benefit or relief in favour of the expectant according to the previous conduct or activities performed by the authority. However, relief from the administrative authorities cannot be claimed directly in all cases where the doctrine is applied because the applicant has no definite and absolute right to claim relief. The grant of relief is decided based on the merits of the case.

The relief may be vitiating the administrative action, making the promise made by the authority unenforceable, or withdrawing the dealing between the expectant and the administrative authority. For the above purposes, writs like mandamus or certiorari can be passed.

Limited in scope

The legitimate expectation shall be only one of the grounds for seeking a judicial review of an administrative action by the court, but the scope of the grant of relief is very limited, as stated by the Supreme Court of India in the case of Union of India and Ors. v. Hindustan Development Corporation and Ors. (1993).

Right to be heard

The applicant, by virtue of the doctrine of legitimate expectation, is conferred with the right to have a fair hearing before a judgment is passed, and, thus, the doctrine has a close relationship with the right to be heard. This will ensure that the non-statutory administrative powers of public authorities are enforced with the application of ethics of fairness and reasonableness. Therefore, the doctrine of legitimate expectation protects the principle of natural justice in the actions of public authorities by retaining the established practice or keeping its promise.

Exceptions against the legitimate expectation

The famous authority for the doctrine of legitimate expectation, Ram Pravesh Singh and Ors. v. State of Bihar and Ors. (2006), the Supreme Court observed that there are a few defences to make the plea of legitimate expectation inapplicable. The Court said, “public interest, policy change, the conduct of the expectant or any other valid or bonafide reason given by the decision-maker, may be sufficient to negative the ‘legitimate expectation’.” Thus, the legitimate expectation has a few exceptions. Let us look at more exceptions.

Contrary to law

If the expectation of the claimant is contrary to law or any statutory enactment, such an expectation cannot be said to be a legitimate expectation, rather, it would be an ignorance of law that cannot be excused by the State. 

For instance, a cinema theatre cannot carry on shows without getting a license from a licensing authority. The Supreme Court dealt with a case, Ved Gupta v. Apsara Theatres (1983), where a person was managing a theatre without a license in contravention of the order passed by the District Magistrate. Talking about the doctrine of legitimate expectation, the Court observed: “The writ-petitioners could not also have any legitimate expectation that they will be allowed to run the theatre without a licence in violation of the law. In the absence of legitimate expectation being available to the petitioners, there was no obligation on the part of the District Magistrate to afford them a hearing before passing the impugned order.

In addition to this, the Supreme Court, in Assistant Excise Commissioner v. Issac Peter (1994), held that the rule of legitimate expectation cannot be used as a plea in order to modify, alter, or vary the express terms of the contract between the parties, especially if the contract is statutory in nature.

Unsuccessful applicant

If the application for receiving a license or other equivalent documents is rejected on the grounds of not fulfilling any requirements for the same, the unsuccessful applicant cannot invoke the doctrine of legitimate expectation to have a fair hearing. In this regard, the Andhra Pradesh High Court, in Government Of Andhra Pradesh v. H.E.H. the Nizam VIII of Hyderabad (1992), said: “In India, the theory of legitimate expectation applies only to a fair hearing which the petitioner had before his application was rejected or to a final favourable order in pursuance of a similar intermediate order.

Non-appointment for bona fide reasons

Let us illustrate that a person who has secured a rank or merit to be in the list of selected people is not recruited or appointed by the selecting authority to a post in the government service for which he applied and secured merit, not because of the arbitrariness of the said authority but on the ground of bona fide reasons using his discretionary powers. In this kind of scenario, the court cannot interfere with the fair decision taken by the authority, even if the legitimate expectation of the claimant is affected. However, if the court finds arbitrary or unfair terms in the rejection of the appointment of the selected candidate, then the doctrine of legitimate expectation can be invoked, and a right to be heard is granted to the candidate. 

The right decision in this regard is Union Territory of Chandigarh v. Dilbagh Singh and Ors. (1992). In this case, the Supreme Court said that the qualified or selected candidate has no indefeasible right to be appointed to a civil post and, hence, cannot claim a right to be heard before the appointment is rejected for valid reasons.

Public interest

As already discussed, public interest is one of the important considerations that the court should take into account. Always, the interest of the larger public will be on a higher pedestal and can even override a legitimate expectation of an aggrieved party. The Supreme Court advised the courts that are dealing with the question of the legitimacy of the expectation of the claimant to decide the question “not according to the claimant’s perception but in larger public interest wherein other more important considerations may outweigh what would otherwise have been the legitimate expectation of the claimant”, in Food Corporation of India v. Kamdhenu Cattle Feed Industries (1992).

Additionally, the benefit on the ground of legitimate expectation cannot be granted by the Court if the expectation is against the provisions of a statutory enactment whose objective is the public good. This was strongly affirmed by the Supreme Court in the case of Howrah Municipal Corporation and Ors. v. Ganges Rope Co. Ltd. and Ors. (2003).

Change in the policy

The benefit of the doctrine of legitimate expectation cannot be granted to the claimant if there is a change in the policy. This can be understood through the case law, S. B. International Ltd. and Ors. v. Assistant Director General of Foreign Trade and Union of India (1996). The Government of India introduced the ‘Duty Exemption Scheme’ under which materials that are required for export promotion are allowed to be imported without collecting duties, with the condition of satisfying a value addition that will be notified by the Government through public notice. On a later date, the public notice specified that the value addition is 1000% in the case of frozen marine products. After a few months, the value addition was changed to 1900%. Before this change, the petitioner, S. B. International Limited, made multiple applications for the advance license as it entered into many dealings for export with the view of the present policy. The petitioner contended that the new value addition would not be applied to the company because its application was made before the change and pleaded with the court to make the 1000% value addition applicable in his case based on the rule of promissory estoppel. The Supreme Court denied the plea of promissory estoppel as the rule does not apply in the case of a change in policy and dismissed the appeal.

Article 14 and Legitimate Expectation

It is a well-known fact that the actions of the State and its agencies must conform to the principle of non-arbitrariness and fairness, which is one of the main features of Article 14 of the Constitution of India, in all its activities. Hence, the public authority has some limitations or restrictions in using its powers because absolute power corrupts absolutely. The State and its authorities should ensure that their activities are for the public good because Article 14 imposes on the State, including public authorities, the obligation to function fairly and justly. In Food Corporation of India v. Kamdhenu Cattle Feed Industries (1992), the Supreme Court observed: “This (Article 14) imposes the duty to act fairly and to adopt a procedure which is `fair play in action’. Due observance of this obligation as a part of good administration raises a reasonable or legitimate expectation in every citizen to be treated fairly in his interaction with the State and its instrumentalities, with this element forming a necessary component of the decision-making process in all State actions.” For the implementation of this aspect of non-arbitrariness under Article 14, it is necessary for the administrative authorities to fairly consider the legitimate expectations of claimants while rendering a decision or passing an order, even though it is not a vested right. 

It is now an established fact that Article 14 of the Indian Constitution can be enforced not only in cases of arbitrary ‘class legislation’, but also in cases of arbitrary ‘state action’. Therefore, the doctrine is being hailed as a fine principle of administrative jurisprudence for reconciling power with liberty.

Important case laws

Scheduled Caste and Weaker Section Welfare Association v. State of Karnataka (1991)

This case is an apt example of case law where the principles of natural justice have taken force and justice for the poor people is served based on legitimate expectations.

The facts of the case are that the Karnataka government announced a particular area as the “slum clearance area”, which was cancelled through another notification, causing a violation of the legitimate expectation of those people residing in the before-mentioned area. On examining all the facts of the case, the Supreme Court decided that there was an apparent infringement of the principles of natural justice.

Punjab Communications Ltd. v. Union of India and Ors. (1999)

In this case, the Supreme Court held that the legitimate expectation can be both procedural and substantive because this doctrine goes with the concept of the rule of law, which implements fairness in both procedural and substantive aspects. In this case, the Court further clarified that the procedural aspect of legitimate expectation is granting the right to be heard or any other proper procedure before the authority makes any change to its previous decision. Whereas, the substantive aspect of the doctrine is the grant or continuance of some benefit, which is substantive in nature. Both of these aspects should be provided to the claimant; if not, then the authorities must cite reasonable grounds for the same as well as provide a fair chance to the expectant before taking a decision or passing an order. 

Dr. (Mrs.) Chanchal Goyal v. State of Rajasthan (2003)

In this case, the appellant is Dr. Chanchal Goyal, who was recruited under the local self-government department, the government of Rajasthan. In the appointment order, it was specified that her recruitment is purely temporary, i.e., for the period of six months or till she was selected by the Rajasthan Public Service Commission, whichever is earlier. Generally, her continuance cannot go beyond one year in the absence of the approval of the service commission. However, by virtue of the successive extension orders, her tenure ended even after one year. Later, on the terms of the appointment order, she was removed from the post. She took the plea of legitimate expectation. The Supreme Court rejected the plea and ruled that “mere continuance in service does not imply waiver (of the stipulation mentioned in the appointment order)”.


The doctrine has undoubtedly gained significance in the Indian Courts, giving locus standi to a person who may or may not have a direct legal right. The doctrine of legitimate expectations very well leads to a procedural right i.e. right to judicial review in India but the substantive aspect of the doctrine can be said to be in a budding stage. There has been hesitance amongst academicians as to whether the doctrine should apply to substantive rights at all. It has been argued that application of the doctrine to substantive rights might result in failure of separation of powers and would qualify as overstepping of Judiciary’s powers.

Besides this, the doctrine of legitimate expectation in public law, i.e., administrative law, was praised as it helps the court deliver justice to the people who could not seek relief based on the statutory provisions or law. It also makes the State and its authorities or departments accountable and responsible towards the people of the country. Thus, we can conclude that the doctrine of legitimate expectation is based on the principle that public power is a trust that must be exercised in the best interest of its beneficiaries, i.e., the people.


  1. Lord Denning “Recent Development in the Doctrine of Consideration”, Modern Law Review, Vol. 15, 1956.
  2. A.K.Srivastava, Doctrine of Legitimate Expectation (1995),
  3. Confederation of Ex-Servicemen v. Union of India, AIR 2006 SC 2945.
  4. B.N.Pandey, Doctrine of Legitimate Expectation, Banaras Law Journal, Vol. 31 (2002).
  5. Sarica AR, Doctrine of legitimate expectations, ACADEMIKE,

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