Art 226 | Failure to comply with legislative provisions under the guise of plenary jurisdiction is tantamount to the transgression of well-defined limits: Calcutta HC

The Calcutta High Court recently overturned an order in which a school principal was instructed to leave her position and also demoted to the position of assistant teacher observing that the courts must exercise restraint in exercising their full powers and not issue prescription in disregard of the applicable Statutory Rules.

A bench comprising Judge Harish Tandon and Judge Rabindranath Samanta observed,

“The courts imposed restraint in the exercise of full powers and judicial review so as not to override statutory provisions and make an order in disregard of statutory rules or applicable law in this regard. The imposition of a sanction in disciplinary proceedings can can only be achieved by adhering to the procedures and standards set out in the aforementioned rules and, therefore, assuming the jurisdiction of the disciplinary authority and finding misconduct in ignorance of the aforementioned procedural provisions does not can withstand the anvil of jurisprudence.

Judge Abjijit Gangopadhyay in the order under appeal had concluded that the director concerned was totally unfit to discharge her duties and had thus deprived herself of all these powers in the exercise of the plenary jurisdiction supposed to have been reserved before the Court of Writs. The judge had issued such a direction against the principal for deliberately refusing to issue a No Objection Certificate (NOC) and release order to a teacher who had requested permission to be transferred to another school for reasons health.

While enumerating the extent of the powers conferred on a Court in the exercise of plenary jurisdiction, the Court emphasized,

What can be discerned from the above observations from the above reports that the court does not embark on a journey on an uncharted ocean of power in uninformed perception, which would be good and bad for society. Judges must act according to well-informed traditions, the procedure of law and do justice to the rider so that in proceeding on such ground he does not cause injustice to another.”

The Court further held that plenary power is inherent in every court to prevent miscarriage of justice and can be traced back from Section 142 of the Constitution of India where the Supreme Court can pass such decree or make such order as is necessary to do full justice in any cause or matter pending before it. It was further noted that Clause 2 of Section 142 creates a brindle and subject to the provision of any Act passed by Parliament, the plenary power conferred under Section 142 of the Constitution of India being inherent in but contemporaneous with the powers which are specifically conferred on the court by various statutes, but not limited thereto. It was emphasized that this plenary power is complementary and never intended to supplant the law.

We also relied on the Supreme Court’s decision in Supreme Court Bar Association v. Union of India & Anr in which it has been held that the statutory rules or the law which apply in the field cannot be overridden in the exercise of plenary jurisdiction.

In view of the law stated in the above report, there is no ambiguity in considering that the plenary power reserved for the court is somewhat blurred and does not consist in traveling in an uncharted ocean having no limitation but in the circumference of the statutory provisions of the law applicable to a particular subject. Such power is eminent and apparent from the relevant provisions of Section 226 of the Constitution, but must undertake its journey on statutory ground to prevent any misuse or abuse of such powers”it has been listed below.

The Court further noted that the power to impose a sanction on a director of an educational establishment is governed by the decree of 2018 and that to attribute to itself the competence of the disciplinary authority and find fault in the ignorance of the aforementioned procedural provisions cannot withstand the anvil of judicial jurisprudence.

Thus, the Court annulled the part of the contested order by which the director was deprived of the powers to perform the duties and functions in that capacity and relegated to a lower position that of teaching assistant, noting,

“..therefore, the usurpation of powers under the guise of full jurisdiction overriding the provision of the substantive law was unjustified and amounts to an exaggeration of the said powers and the transgression of well-defined limits.”

Case Title: State of West Bengal and Ors v. Gandhi Memorial Girls’ High School & Ors.

Case citation: 2022 LiveLaw (Cal) 210

Click here to read/download the order

Thelma J. Longworth