The principles of natural justice are meant to ensure fairness in the activities of the state and shields individuals against arbitrary action. State action that violates these principles will be struck down as per the judgement passed by a bench of the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir consisting of Justice Sanjeev Kumar and Justice Javed Iqbal Wani in the case of Mahesh Chander Sharma &another v Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir [WP(C) No.970/2020] on 16th June 2021.
Petitioner no: 1 leased out his premises in Jammu to petitioner no: 2 for commercial purposes and an electric connection was sanctioned by the respondents for a commercial load of 50KV-90KV for the leased property since 2016. The petitioners have been paying the electricity bills regularly every month without a single default, however in the month of January 2020, a bill was sent from the respondents showing an opening balance of Rs.17,00,556 and an additional monthly bill of Rs.74,249. The petitioners described the bill of Rs.17,74,805 as completely arbitrary, illegal and uncalled for as they have never defaulted a single payment and should not be having any arrears. It was also stated that procedure laid down in Section 126 of the Electricity Act, 2003 was not considered at all while computing the bill in question. The respondent’s counsel argued that the actual energy consumption for the petitioners for the month of January 2020 is Rs.74,249 which was calculated correctly as per the relevant laws and the opening balance of Rs.17,74,805 was a result of a wrong calculation. The respondents pointed out that the inspection and calculation was conducted by a third party called M/S Yadav Measurements Pvt. Ltd. on the direct instructions of the Government. It was also added that similar calculation mistakes had been found in other records as well and that the petitioners were not targeted intentionally.
The court noted that although the calculation errors were caused by an independent agency contracted by the Union Government, the respondents had the duty to listen to the petitioners and allow them to explain their side of the story. By not allowing the petitioners to voice their problems with the bill, the respondents have to uphold the principle of audi alteram partem and have hence violated the principles of natural justice. The case of Mohinder Singh Gill v Election Commission of India [(1978) 1 SCC 405] was cited where it was held that principles of natural justice are designed to ensure fairness in action by the state and public bodies hence making it a part of Article 14 of the Indian Constitution.
Justice Sanjeev Kumar concluded that “For the foregoing reasons, I find merit in this petition and, accordingly, the same is allowed. The impugned bill in so far it pertains to the demand of Rs.17,00,556.00, is quashed. The petitioners shall, however, deposit the monthly bill for the month of January, 2020, as also for the subsequent months within a period of one month without any fail”.