Kanwar Natwar Singh vs. Directorate of Enforcement (Supreme Court)

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DATE: October 8, 2010 (Date of publication)
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Click here to download the judgement (natwar_singh_natural_justice.pdf)

Non-furnishing of “all documents” does not violate principles of natural justice

Natwar Singh & Jagat Singh (“Natwar Singh”) were alleged to have dealt in and acquired Foreign Exchange totaling US $ 8,98,027 in respect of some Iraq oil contracts in contravention of FEMA. A notice was issued asking Natwar Singh to show-cause why an inquiry should not be held against them. In response, Natwar Singh demanded that the Adjudicating Authority furnish “copies of all documents in … possession in respect of the instant case, including the 83000 documents allegedly procured by one Virender Dayal“. The Adjudicating Authority furnished copies of the documents as were relied upon by it but declined to furnish copies of other documents and decided to hold an inquiry in accordance with FEMA. This non-furnishing of “all documents” was challenged by Natwar Singh in the Delhi High Court which dismissed the challenge. Natwar Singh challenged the decision of the High Court in the Supreme Court. HELD, dismissing the appeal:

(i) The extent of applicability of principles of natural justice depends upon the nature of inquiry, the consequences that may visit a person after such inquiry from out of the decision pursuant to such inquiry. The right to fair hearing is a guaranteed right. Every person before an Authority exercising the adjudicatory powers has a right to know the evidence to be used against him. Dhakeswari Cotton Mills Ltd. vs. CIT 26 ITR 775 (SC) followed;

(ii) However, the principles of natural justice do not require supply of documents upon which no reliance has been placed by the Authority to set the law into motion. Supply of relied on documents based on which the law has been set into motion would meet the requirements of principles of natural justice;

(iii) The concept of fairness is not a one way street. The principles of natural justice are not intended to operate as roadblocks to obstruct statutory inquiries. Duty of adequate disclosure is only an additional procedural safeguard in order to ensure the attainment of the fairness and it has its own limitations. The extent of its applicability depends upon the statutory framework;

(iv) The only object of Natwar Singh’s unreasonable insistence for supply of all documents was obviously to obstruct the proceedings and he has been able to achieve that object as is evident from the fact that the inquiry initiated as early as in the year 2006 still did not even commence;

(v) Also: Observations of Courts are not to be read as Euclid’s theorems nor as provisions of the statute. The observations must be read in the context in which they appear. A line or a word in a judgment cannot be read in isolation or as if interpreting a statutory provision to impute a different meaning to the observations.

See Also: Principles of Natural Justice by Justice Smt. Sujata V. Manohar, Supreme Court of India (Retd.) & Principles of Natural Justice by V. H. Patil, Advocate

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