There are several principles that help to control the abuse of discretionary power by the administration such as principles of illegality, irrationality, etc, Doctrine of Proportionality is also one of that principle among them. This doctrine of proportionality was originated in Prussia and developed in 19th century Europe. The doctrine is widely used by the Courts to examine procedure, method, and priorities of administrative authorities to reach a decision and also works as a ground for judicial review.
Proportionality means that the administrative action should not be more drastic than it ought to be for obtaining the desired result. The doctrine is also explained by using various expressions such as “canon should not be used to shoot a sparrow” or “taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut”. Thus, the objective of doctrine is to balance means with ends. In India, courts have been following this doctrine for a long time, most importantly the doctrine shares reasonableness which helps the court to test this reasonability while exercising the power of judicial review.
Proportionality is an action that should be followed with a ground of reasonableness instead of using it excessively to achieve a desired result.
The doctrine of proportionality used in fundamental rights when a decision was taken overrides a fundamental right without sufficient reasonableness. The doctrine involves two tests in the context of fundamental rights that are ‘Balancing test’ which examines excessive or heavy penalties, infringements of right, and ‘Necessity test’ which involves infringement of the fundamental right to the least restrictive alternative.
Application of Doctrine of Proportionality
This doctrine of proportionality applies to-
1) Administrative discretionary action
2) constitutionality of law where fundamental rights are involved
3) Quantum of punishment
So, the doctrine of proportionality is applied in case of arbitrary discretionary action of administration or invasion of the fundamental right by administrative action or when the excessive quantum of punishment imposed by the authority. Here the court balances its adverse effects following the principle of proportionality.
The doctrine of proportionality can be better understood in light of a case of the hon’ble Supreme court which helps to determine the practical aspect and working of this doctrine.
Overview of the Case
The Title of the case is Coimbatore District Central Cooperative Bank v. Coimbatore District Central Co-op. Bank Employees Assn . The case was decided by The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India on 23 April 2007 by the two-judges bench of Justice C.K. Thakker and Tarun Chatterjee. The case involves the matter related to the doctrine of proportionality.
Facts in Brief
- The facts of the case are, the respondents were employees of the bank and they went on a strike called by their union which was illegal and unlawful. conciliation proceedings initiated to settle the matter, as result 134 workmen resumed duty but 53 workmen refused to join duty.
- Disciplinary action was taken against them; the committee did not remove them from service but their 1-4 years of cumulative increment was taken away and payment of salary stopped during the period of suspension.
- The matter went to labor court and it upheld the charges against them and refused to set aside the punishment.
- In an appeal to the High Court single judge and subsequently division bench, the court said workmen were not entitled to wages for the period they had not worked but the stoppage of one to four annual increments with cumulative effect was considered as harsh as it would adversely affect the workmen and their families. Therefore, the court reduces punishment by setting aside the stoppage of increments.
- The Division Bench said that though the question of choice and quantum of punishment is within the discretion of the Management but the stoppage of increment was incorrect.
- So, the High court reduced the punishment on compassionate grounds that they have a family and without these increments, they will not be able to sustain and the order was challenged by the management in the appeal to the supreme court.
Question of law
- Whether the punishment given under Administrative authority is correct or not?
- Whether the High court can reduce the quantum of punishment imposed by the administrative authority i.e. District Central Co-operative Bank?
- Whether the High Court can substitute the decision of the administrative body by its own decision under Art. 226 of the Constitution?
The judgment of the Apex Court
- The Supreme Court observed that HC was not justified in reducing the punishment as it reduced the punishment on the compassionate ground which is not a valid ground for applying the doctrine of Proportionality. Therefore, the decision of a single judge and division bench of the High Court was declared incorrect by the supreme court.
- The Hon’ble Supreme Court further observed that the high court under Art. 226 of the Constitution cannot substitute the discretionary powers that have been given to administrative bodies by its own decision.
From the above analysis of cases, it can be concluded that the doctrine of proportionality is a vital organ of judicial review and its need arises with the growth of administrative law.
According to it, The courts can only interfere in the cases where the punishment is given is disproportionate to the misconduct done by the individual or in a case where the proper reason of punishment is absent and when the Fundamental Rights of the person is violated and shocks the conscience of the court, in these kinds of cases, the court is empowered to review the quantum of punishment by itself or remit it to tribunals for reconsideration.
But the doctrine cannot be used to reduce the punishment on compassionate grounds like used in this case which further set aside by the Hon’ble Supreme Court.
Therefore, it is very useful for the Courts to check the abuse of discretionary power by the administrative body
- P. Massey, Administrative Law (Eastern Book Company, Lucknow, 9th edn., 2018).
 (2007) 4 SCC 669
Author: RISHABH MANCHANDA,
Delhi Metropolitan Education affiliated to GGSIPU/ 2nd Year/ Law Student