The Supreme Court has said that a quasi-judicial authority acting in exercise of its statutory powers ‘must act fairly and must act with an open mind’ while initiating a show cause proceeding.
‘Justice is rooted in confidence and justice is the goal of a quasi-judicial proceeding also,’ said the apex court bench of Justice G.S. Singhvi and Justice Asok Kumar Ganguly said in their judgment Friday.
Speaking for the bench Justice Ganguly said: ‘If the functioning of a quasi-judicial authority has to inspire confidence in the minds of those subjected to its jurisdiction, such authority must act with utmost fairness.’
Its fairness was obviously to be manifested by the language in which charges were couched and conveyed to the person proceeded against, the judgment said.
The court said that a show cause proceeding was meant to give the person a reasonable opportunity to make his objections against the proposed charges indicated in the notice.
‘If on a reasonable reading of a show-cause notice a person of ordinary prudence gets the feeling that his reply to the show cause notice will be an empty ceremony and he will merely knock his head against the impenetrable wall of prejudged opinion, such a show cause notice does not commence a fair procedure…,’ the court said.
The court said while issuing a show-cause notice, the authorities must take care to keep an open mind as they were to act fairly in adjudging the guilt or otherwise of the person proceeded against.
‘It is obvious that at that stage (issuance of show cause notice) the authority issuing the charge-sheet, cannot, instead of telling him the charges, confront him with definite conclusions of his alleged guilt,’ the judgment said.
‘If that is done, as has been done in this instant case, the entire proceedings initiated by the show cause notice gets vitiated by unfairness and bias and the subsequent proceedings become an idle ceremony,’ the court said.
The apex court said this while setting aside a Bombay High Court verdict upholding the cancellation of the registration of ORYX Fisheries Private Limited by the Marine Products Export Development Authority (MPEDA).
The MPEDA acted on the complaint of Sharjah-based Cascade Marine Food LLC that ORYX had supplied it shrimps worth $83,000 which were decomposed and unfit for human consumption. ORYX denied the charge.
While quashing the high court order and restoring the registration of ORYX, the judgment said that if the authorities were so inclined ‘they can proceed from the stage of show cause notice afresh but strictly in accordance with law and following the fair procedure indicated in this judgment’.
In this case from the show cause notice it was clear that the MPEDA demonstrated a ‘totally closed mind at the stage of show cause notice itself’, the apex court said.
Such a closed mind is inconsistent with the scheme of rule 43 of the MPEDA which deals with the cancellation of the registration of a company engaged in the production, procurement, processing and export of sea-foods.