[Case Brief] Pratap Singh v/s State of Punjab, 1964

CaseS. Pratap Singh v The State of Punjab, AIR 1964 SC 72
CourtBefore Supreme Court of India
BenchJustice Sudhir Ranjan Das, K. Subbarao, N. Rajagopala Ayyangar, Raghubar Dayal, J.R. Mudholkar.
Author of the judgementJustice Rajagopal Ayyangar (Majority) and Justice Raghubar Dayal (Minority).
Decided On2nd September 1963
Advocate for the appellantIn Person
Advocate for respondentC.K. Daphtary, Attorney General, Mohinder Singh Punnu, Deputy Advocate-General, Punjab and B. R. G. K. Achar

The case of Pratap Singh v State of Punjab is a dispute regarding the revoking of leave preparatory to retirement of civil surgeon, and his subsequent suspension on ground of a departmental enquiry, which entailed that he would be unable to retire on reaching date of compulsory retirement, until the charge was dealt with and final orders passed. What was dealt with in the case was whether there was abuse of discretionary powers by the Chief Minister when issuing such orders against the appellant. Thus the area of administrative law pertinent to the case is ‘judicial review of administrative discretion’.

Author of the judgementRuha Shetty
KeywordsJudicial Review, Administrative Discretion,Compulsory Retirement, Mala Fide.

Introduction and Procedural History:

The legality of these orders was challenged by the appellant on various grounds in the petition that he filed in the High Court. It was alleged that unjustified personal grievances arose between the appellant and Sardar Pratap Singh Kairon, Chief Minister of Punjab, in or about 1960, that the impugned orders were passed mala fide in the exercise of power, if any, vested in the respondent, the State of Punjab in the Ministry of Health, that this was an abuse of power and was intended to feed the grudge of the Chief Minister against him.

The petition was dismissed by the learned Judges, but on application by the appellant, he was granted a certificate of fitness on the strength of which he has filed the appeal to the Supreme Court.

Relevant facts concerning the dispute:

1) The appellant was requested by the Chief Minister to perform an operation on his son, Surinder Singh, in April 1960. The Chief Minister desired that after the operation his son should stay under the care of the appellant. Surinder, however, left the appellant’s place and it was alleged that the Chief Minister became angry for the supposed negligence of the appellant.

2) The Chief Minister and the members of his family made several requests to the appellant to show undue favours to certain patients who were recommended to the appellant. These were complied with, but when subsequently the appellant refused to comply with further requests the Chief Minister allegedly turned hostile.

3) The Chief Minister’s wife had been asking for medicines to be sent to her by the appellant for the use of herself, and her relations. The Chief Minister’s wife also wanted some expensive articles like Singer Sewing machines etc. to be sent to her. This the appellant initially did, but the refusal to comply with further demands of the same type allegedly angered the Chief Minister.

4) The appellant at the instance of the Chief Minister accommodated one Kirpa Singh, a friend of the Chief Minister’s son, in his own house and besides provided him with board. This went on for about 7 months but in or about April, 1960 the appellant desired Kirpa Singh to look out for a lodging and board elsewhere and the latter had to do so. This was alleged to be a further cause of irritation and anger for the Chief Minister.

5) It was alleged that the Chief Minister developed hostility towards the appellant because of an accusation against the Appellant that he was unduly liberal with some Akali prisoners. This accusation was false and was later not pressed.

6) The Chief Minister desired to have the help of the appellant as an expert to instruct the police officers who were conducting the prosecution in what is known as the Karnal Murder case. The appellant had given some sort of assurance to the Chief Minister that the prosecution would succeed, however the case ailed. Allegedly, the Chief Minister became very angry with the appellant because the assurance was given to him that the prosecution would succeed, but did not hold true.

7) One Dr. Dhillon who was a Junior Medical Officer in the Punjab Medical Service accompanied the Chief Minister as a medical attendant in 195657. Under the rules the Chief Minister was not entitled to this type of medical attention. There was some dispute as regards the salary payable to Dr. Dhillon during the period when he was with the Chief Minister. The appellant was requested to give a false certificate regarding the services of Dr. Dhillon. The appellant refused to comply this demand and this was allegedly a further source of irritation and hostility.

8) The appellant’s further case is that as a result of these incidents or sources of irritation and displeasure of the Chief Minister, the Chief Minister was thinking of taking some steps against him and that he got a complaint against him on October 29, 1960 which he sent up for investigation. The complaint was that on July 5, 1960 he had refused to examine a woman patient who had come to the hospital with an outdoor chit and that the husband of the woman was forced to pay a sum of Rs. 16.00 for her examination at his residence. On the excuse that this complaint had been made, the appellant was transferred from Jullundur to Amritsar by an order dated December 6, 1960. It was stated by the appellant that in the State officers were usually transferred only during the months March or April, so that the education of their children etc. might not be interrupted by the change of station, but that his transfer in December was therefore out of the ordinary and done with a view to inconvenience and humiliate him and deprive him of his practice at Jullundur. The appellant thus having realised the hostility of the Chief Minister and not desiring to continue much longer in service, made an application for leave preparatory to retirement. He was reaching the age of 55 on June 15, 1961 and he applied for leave until that period. His leave was sanctioned with effect from December 18, 1960 and this was gazetted on January 27, 1961. It is this leave that was revoked by the impugned orders on June 3, 1961 and under these the appellant was placed under suspension and an inquiry was started later in the matter.

9) Between these two dates i.e. between December 1960 and June 1961, however, some events happened which set out in the petition require to be stated. After the leave was sanctioned, in the issue of the Weekly newspaper Blitz dated the 15th January, 1961 there appeared an article in which allegations were made against the Chief Minister. Several of the allegations were those which we have mentioned earlier as having been made by the appellant in his petition and stated to be the reasons for the hostility of the Chief Minister. The appellant however was not named as such in the article. It would have been apparent anyone acquainted in the matter that the appellant had inspired the article.

Arguments of the appellant: 

  1. Every one of the impugned orders of June 1961 against him were illegal for the reason that such action on the part of Government was contrary to and not permitted by the relevant Service Rules applicable to him.
  2. The orders, assuming them to be within the power of Government on a proper interpretation of the rules were passed mala fide, by or at the instance of the Chief Minister, Punjab, who was personally hostile to him by reason of certain incidents and circumstances which he set out and that the impugned orders were prompted by the desire on the part of the Chief Minister to wreak personally his vengeance on the appellant.


Issues before the Supreme Court:

  1.  Whether the impugned orders passed on June 1961 against the appellant were illegal or not?
  2. Whether the Chief Minister passed the impugned orders with mala fides or not?

Decision Held:

On the first issue, all the judges agreed that the issue of ultra vires was not made out, and the exercise of powers in issuing the orders by the Chief Minister was intra vires. On the second issue, the majority decision held that the orders were passed with mala fide intention, whereas the minority decision was that there was no mala fides, and the orders were good in law.

Thus, by a majority of three judges, the appeal was allowed, and the impugned orders revoking the leave granted and placing the appellant under suspension and the order dated June 29, 1961 directing an inquiry into the charges against him were both set aside.

Ratio of the author of the judgment:

(Majority Opinion)

The dominant motive which induced the Government to take action against the appellant was not to take disciplinary proceedings against him for misconduct which it bona fide believed he had committed, but to wreak vengeance on him for incurring his wrath and for the discredit that he had brought on the Chief Minister by the allegations that he had made in the article which appeared in the Blitz in its issue dated January 15, 1961 followed by the communication to the same newspapers by the appellant’s wife, in which these allegations were affirmed and in large part have found to be true.

Further it has also been noted by the majority judges that some of the charges against the appellant which were to be the subject of departmental enquiry relate to a period long anterior to June 1961. This strengthens the belief that the action against the appellant was taken because of the charges made against the Chief Minister in the article in the Blitz.

(Minority opinion) 

The judges of the minority decision analysed each allegation and came to the conclusion that none of the facts put forth by the appellant, even if proved to be true, could be taken to show that there was mala fide on the part of the Chief Minister.

The conclusion is irresistible that the appellant and his wife rushed to the Press so prematurely, even if they could be said to be actuated with laudable motives of bringing improvement in the administration of the State, to create a shield for the appellant in case the police investigation that was in progress against him culminated in the formulation of formal charges against him and in the instituting of a formal departmental enquiry against him. The design was on the part of the appellant and cannot be said to be on the part of the Chief Minister, who can be responsible for various orders of Government as the Minister in charge of the department and as head of the Administration.

Leave a Reply