Party Alleging Bias Need To Show Only Reasonable Likelihood Of Its Existence And Not Absolute Proof : Delhi HC [Read Judgment]
"Bias connotes a state of mind, and establishment thereof is, therefore, necessarily an uphill exercise. It is for this reason that the degree of proof, where bias is alleged, is somewhat diluted, with the law requiring, not absolute proof of bias, but a reasonable apprehension of a real likelihood that bias exists".
The Delhi High Court on Monday set aside the appointment of Vice-Principal of Air Force Bal Bharati School on the ground that the selection process was vitiated by reasonalbe likelihood of bias.
The judgment was delivered by a single bench of Justice C. Hari Shankar in the case Kalpana Mehdiratta v Air Force Bal Bharati School.
Her case was that the participation of the Principal (Respondent 5) in the Departmental Promotion Committee (DPC) for the selection of Vice Principal vitiated the process as she had engaged in "direct litigative contest" with the Principal earlier.
The case of the Petitioner, Kalpana Mehdiratta was that she had applied for the position of Vice-Principal in 2013, wherein the Respondent No. 5 was recommended and selected. Subsequently, she challenged the decision of the DPC to appoint Respondent No. 5 to the said position. In the interregnum, the Respondent No. 5 was promoted as the Principal. This promotion also came to be challenged by the Petitioner.
During pendency of the aforementioned round of litigation, another notification calling for applications to the position of Vice Principal was notified by the school in 2015. The Petitioner participated in the selection process but failed, allegedly due to the bias of the DPC.
It was submitted that the DPC comprised of Respondent no. 5 who was inimically disposed against the Petitioner. Further, it also had members from the 2013 DCP whose order had been challenged by the Petitioner.
While the court said that assuming bias on part of the administrative authority, whose decision, taken in its official capacity, was questioned in a court, was far-fetched, it agreed that presence of Respondent No. 5 on the selection panel reeked with bias.
"It would be stretching incredulity to a breaking point if one were to assume that an administrative authority, whose decision, taken in his official capacity, was questioned in a court, was, merely for that reason, biased…
Given the fact that the petitioner had competed, with Respondent No. 5, in the matter of consideration for the promotion as Vice-Principal by the DPC…and had gone on to challenge, not only the promotion of Respondent No. 5 as Vice-Principal…but also her subsequent promotion as Principal…and given the ordinary course of human conduct, this Court is of the opinion that a reasonable basis existed, for the petitioner, to apprehend bias, against her, by Respondent No. 5," the court observed.
Justice Hari Shankar went on to observe that a party imputing the allegations of bias did not need to produce absolute proof of bias. He explained that the subjectivity attendant upon bias made it difficult to be proved by concrete evidence and thus, the party apprehending bias only needs to show reasonable likelihood of its existence.
"Bias connotes a state of mind, and establishment thereof is, therefore, necessarily an uphill exercise. It is for this reason that the degree of proof, where bias is alleged, is somewhat diluted, with the law requiring, not absolute proof of bias, but a reasonable apprehension of a real likelihood that bias exists. This, in turn, is actually a manifestation of the extension, to administrative law, of the principle that justice should not only be done, but should manifestly be seen to have been done. Having said that, the likelihood of bias must be "real", and the apprehension, thereof, "reasonable". It is but human, for one who has been subjected to a grossly arbitrary administrative dispensation, to see shadows behind every pillar. Every such shadow cannot, however, invite judicial cognizance. The law pursues the substance, not the shadow," he said.
"Bias is, jurisprudentially, elusive and nebulous, in equal measure. Being dependent, as it is, on psychoanalysis of the person, against whom bias is alleged, the El Dorado of absolute proof is unattainable, while examining a plea of bias. It is for this reason that the governing test, in such cases, is the existence of a "reasonable apprehension, of a real likelihood" of bias."
Reliance was placed on S. Parthasarathi v. State of Andhra Pradesh, (1974) 3 SCC 459.
Accordingly, the court set aside the appointment of the Vice-Principal and asked a review DPC to reconsider the Petitioner's application.