Doctrine of Public Accountability in Administrative Law

Doctrine of Public Accountability under Indian Administrative Law

Introduction

Public accountability relates to the relationship between the government and the general public. The concept of an elected legislature which is actually a system a checks and balances has led to the establishment of democracy in our country. A democracy is basically a system where various authorities exist independently of each other and also have the power to hold the other authorities responsible and accountable for their actions.

Public accountability in our country is the result of its existing federal structure which in turn is a 2 way process:-

  1. Upward accountability: Control of the government such as the jurisdiction to dissolve, approve and audit fiscal plans of administrative authorities
  2. Downward accountability: This is comparatively weaker authority since it rests only with the general public through the power of electoral process.

Doctrine of Public Accountability in the Indian Administrative Law

The application of the doctrine of Public Accountability on a practical basis in India has not been so successful because of the many hindrances it has been facing. There have been many systems which have been put into place for the purpose of formal accountability such as laws for Right to Information and e-governance but they have not been not been working their fullest potential. For example, the RTI Act of 2005 was one of the best acts passed in the year 2005 but the enforcement and monitoring of the same has been ignored.

The government has formulated mandates and provided the public agencies with the necessary funds but they have not instilled the necessary efforts for the proper assessment and required penalties to hold these agencies accountable. Despite the regular conduct of parliamentary reviews and auditing of accounts publicly, the follow-ups have always left a necessity for even more transparency. It is very much visible in the current scenario that formal mechanisms of accountability tend to work only when there is guarantee of actual accountability on ground.

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In the context of administrative law, the growth and advancement of the doctrine of Public Accountability has led it in playing a crucial role in creating a firm check in the case of any misuse of power by the government servants and creating a speedy and just method of relief to the victims who have suffered any exploitation.

The underlying principle of the doctrine of public accountability is that the power and discretion held by the administrative authorities is subjected to the public trust which is placed in their hands and the same must be exercised only in the realization of such a conviction.

Origin and Development of the Doctrine of Public Accountability

1. Attorney General of India v. Amritlal Prajivandas

The validity of the SAFEMA Act was challenged in this case because it mandated for the properties to be released which were received as a result of smuggling or any other malafide activity.

2. DDA v. Skipper Construction Corporation

The priority in this case was given to the general public and were defrauded despite not being aware whether there existed a fiduciary relationship or not and whether a police officer was involved in the same or not. It was held that the respondent is “authorized to pass orders irrespective of the above-mentioned requirements which includes even the illegal acquirement of properties.”

3. Nilabati Behera v. State of Orissa

Due to the judgment pronounced in this case, the courts are now supposed to award compensation and also exemplary costs if it’s a case of violation of fundamental rights because power has been abused by a police officer. It was held in this case that “recognition of such a claim exists under public law”. The victims’ human rights are suggested to be given protection by constitution by means of public law review under Article 32 and 226 of the Indian Constitution. The doctrine of Public Accountability also portrays shows instances of judicial activism since courts have begun to recognize that the authorities are accountable properly especially the ones who do carry out their statutory duties efficiently.

Enforcement of the Doctrine of Public Accountability through RTI

One reason for not getting enough participation by the public is the lack of information on how the government works. In the case of SP Gupta v. President of India, the court stressed upon the significance of open government and held that the reason for demanding an openness in the government’s functions is because of the people’s right to vote and choosing their representatives for the coming 5 years and later returning to their cocoon without showing absolutely any interest in the government does not comprise a democracy.

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The court held that “any secrecy must not exist in a government where agents are held responsible for their conduct” in the case of Raj Narain v. State of UP. In another case of Dinesh Trivedi v. Union of India, the court said that to ensure that the public participate in the democratic processes, all important decisions taken by the government must be conveyed to the public including the basis thereof. The judgement given by SC in this case has given rise to a new scope for administrative law in India in particular and democracy in general.
The RTI Act of 2005 being a landmark legislation includes the central, state as well as local governments including all public authorities within its domain. Also, it has a significant application on the legislature and judiciary as well. The word ‘information’ under the act includes “the right to inspect work, documents and records that are held by the government and also permits the extraction of certified samples for verification.”

The RTI Act is based on the principle of ““minimum disclosure” and “minimum exceptions” i.e. revealing almost all information and making an exception in cases where the information is absolutely necessary to be kept confidential.” The only way for government offices to deal with frivolous applications is by voluntarily making all the information available to the public.

RTI has been the most effective in tackling and eradicating corruption. The best example is where “Parivartan”, a civil society in Delhi collected all the necessary information about the flow of public funds and how this information was useful in holding the government accountable.

Landmark Judgements

1. Medical Council of India case (Dr Ketan Desai v. The State)

Facts: The petition was against the President of Medical Council of India – Ketan Desai challenging the bungling done with respect to admissions to medical colleges in Ghaziabad, Pune and Punjab which was done on a large scale and also granting recognition to those colleges. The petition consisted of figures from the income tax raid which showed an unexplained receipt for 6.5 million rupees in the form of bank drafts in the name of his wife and daughter.

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Judgement: It was held that actions taken by Desai are directly under the ambit of a public servant since the maintenance of uniform standards and to accordingly give recognition to medical colleges on the basis of such criteria is the main goal of the Medical Council. In this case, Desai has taken undue advantage of his position as a President and misused his power. Accordingly, he was charged with a penalty as fine and take into custody as well in addition to being removed from his position. Cases like these give an example how the public servants enjoy undue benefits while the public gets defrauded.

2. Commonwealth Games case ( Suresh Kalmadi v. The CBI)

Facts: Mr. Suresh who was the Chief-in-charge of the CWG Organising Committee awarded the contract of TSR to a very expensive firm thereby causing a huge loss to the government. When delved deeper into the facts, it was revealed that a conspiracy had been hatched for the awarding to the contract to the expensive firm despite the availability of a cheaper option. After the difference of costs between MSL Spain and Swiss Timing, a huge loss of Rs 95 crore was calculated. Eventually after being arrested, an appeal was filed in the Supreme Court by Suresh Kalmadi which has been ongoing till date.

Judgement: Finally, the burden was on the government to bear the costs which was 1000% more than the original cost due to the malpractice of a public servant. Eventually, the taxpayers were defrauded and burdened because they would have to pay higher price for the lack of accountability.

References

1. Attorney General of India v. Amratlal Prajivandas, 1994 SCC (5) 54
2. Delhi Development Authority v. Skipper Construction Company, 1996 SCC (4) 622
3. Nilabati Behera v. State of Orissa, 1993 SCR (2) 581
4. SP Gupta v. President of India, AIR 1982 SC 149
5. Raj Narain v. State of Uttar Pradesh, 1975 SCR (3) 333
6. Dinesh Trivedi v. Union of India (1997)
7. Dr Ketan Desai v. The State, Civil Appeal no.02 of 2010
8. Suresh Kalmadi v. The CBI, Civil appeal no. 1692 of 2000

Author: Haritha Malepati,
3rd year BBA LLB, Symbiosis Law School, Hyderabad

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