Shiv Dayal, C.J.
1. The petitioner appeared in the LL.B. (Part-I) examination of the Awadhesh Pratap Singh Vishwavidyalaya, Rewa (hereinafter called the 'Rewa University') held in the month of April 1976. The University has not declared his result but has withheld it on the ground that he was not eligible to appear in the examination and his admission card was cancelled and consequently his examination has been cancelled. The petitioner seeks a writ of mandamus directing the University to declare his result.
2. The petitioner appeared in the examination as an ex-student candidate. According to the University he was not eligible to appear as an ex-student candidate and, therefore, the admission card, which was issued to him was by mistake and consequently it was cancelled.
3. The petitioner was a regular student of LL.B. (Part-I) in 1967 in the teaching department of the Saugor University. He did not succeed in the examination. In October 1975, he applied to the Registrar for permission to appear in LL.B. (Part-I) examination of the Rewa University and on the recommendation of the Dean, the Registrar issued a letter dated December 17, 1975, according him permission to appear in the examination. He submitted a regular application form. On April 24, 1976, he got an admission card from the Superintendent of the Examination. On April 26, 1976, the examination commenced. The petitioner appeared in all the papers. Then he went away to his village in the interior. There, on May 14, 1976, he got an envelope from the University conveying to him that his admission card had been cancelled.
4. The case for the University is that the petitioner was an ex-student of the Saugor University but he was not an 'ex-student candidate of the Rewa University'. That being so, he could not appear as an ex-student candidate in the LL.B (Part-I) examination of Rewa University. The Registrar was persuaded by the recommendations of the Professor of Law and it was by mistake that the Registrar granted him permission. That permission was erroneous and contrary to the provisions of the rules. The petitioner was not eligible to appear in the LL.B. (Part-I) examination as an ex-student candidate. It was on April 22, 1976, that the University cancelled the admission card and conveyed this both to the Superintendent of the Examinations and the candidate. Learned counsel for the University placed before us the Despatch Register for our inspection. It is clear that the envelope addressed to the petitioner was sent by post to his village address. Perhaps that was the only address with the University. However, the fact remains that the envelope was never delivered to the petitioner until he reached his village after taking the whole of the examination.
5. The petitioner's contentions are that since the letter of permission was issued to him as back as on December 17, 1975, and, that apart, an admission card was issued to him, and further he actually appeared in the examination without any objection, the University is estopped from withholding his result. To consider the petitioner's case of eligibility was a quasi-judicial act. The petitioner was entitled to a notice. Rules of natural justice were violated when his examination and the admission card were cancelled without giving him an opportunity of being heard. The petitioner has relied on Krishan v. Kurukshetra University AIR 1976 SC 376.
6. Rules of natural justice are not codified. Principles of natural justice are not statutory. They are fundamental rights of judicial procedure which have been evolved to ensure fair adjudication wherever rights of an individual are affected. Their aim is to prevent miscarriage of justice. Where there is violation of principles of natural justice, proceedings can be quashed by certiorari. Acts of public authorities, judicial, quasi-judicial or administrative, can be challenged when the rules of natural justice have been contravened,
7. However, the rules of natural justice are not capable of definition. They vary according to the constitution of the statutory body and the statute under which they function. But they depend to a great extent on the facts and circumstances of the case and the framework of the law applicable to it. 'Eminent Judges have at times used the phrase 'the principles of natural justice'. The phrase is, of course, used only in a popular sense and must not be taken to mean that there is any justice natural among men. Among most savages there is no such thing as justice in the modern sense. In ancient days, a person wronged executed his own justice. Amongst our own ancestors, down to the thirteenth century, manifest felony, such as that of a manslayer taken with his weapon, or a thief with the stolen goods, might be punished by summary execution without any form of trial. Again every student has heard of corn-purgation and of ordeal and it is hardly necessary to observe that (for example) a system of ordeal by water in which sinking was the sign of guilt and floating the sign of innocence, a system which lasted in this country for hundreds of years, has little to do with modern ideas of justice. It is unnecessary to give further illustrations. The truth is that justice is a very elaborate conception, the growth of many centuries of civilization; and even now the conception differs widely in countries usually described as civilised.' This is what Maugham, J. said in Maclean v. The Workers' Union (1929) 1 Ch 602 at p. 624. It is always in the light of the statutory rules and provisions that the question whether or not rules of natural justice have been contravened is to be decided. Said Raman Nayar, J. in P. N. Kurien v. P. S. Raghavan AIR 1970 Ker 142 at p. 150:--
'Although the requirements of natural justice must necessarily vary according to the circumstances of each case, the test as to whether there has been a violation is simple, disarmingly simple although, perhaps for that very reason, difficult of application in practice..... .It is essentially whether there has been such a manifest failure of justice as to shock the conscience......what would be the reaction of a fair-minded person of ordinary sense and ordinary sensibility who has been informed of all that has happened.''
8. In the present case, the facts are peculiar. The Registrar of the University intimated to the petitioner as back as in December 1975, that he was eligible to appear in the LL.B. (Part-I) examination. This was even before his application on the prescribed pro forma was filed. Further, the University admittedly issued an admission card permitting the petitioner to appear in that examination. Above all, the petitioner received the admission card and he appeared in all the papers from first to last 'without anybody objecting to his appearance. It was only subsequently that he got an intimation by post directly from the University that his admission card was cancelled. He got the intimation of cancellation of his admission card in his village after he had taken the whole of the examination.
9. This was not a case of any fraud practised by the petitioner upon the University or College authorities. It is not as if he had misstated any facts or had suppressed any facts. It also does not appear that there was any collusion between the petitioner and any of the University authorities. Even before us the learned counsel for the University contends that this was a case of mistake.
10. At this stage, we shall recall the relevant provisions. Ordinance No. 6, Clause l(ii) defines 'ex-student candidate' thus:--
' 'Ex-student candidate' means a person who was admitted to an examination as a regular candidate and was not declared successful thereat or was not able to appear in the examination though admission card was correctly issued to him by the University and seeks admission again to the said examination.'
The expression 'regular candidate' is also defined in the same Ordinance as follows:--
'1(i) 'Regular candidate' means a person who has prosecuted a regular course of study in a University Teaching Department, School of Studies or College and seeks admission to an examination of the University as such.'
The word 'University' is defined in Section 4 (xvii) of the Act thus:--
' 'University' means the University deemed to be established under this Act and specified in the Second Schedule,'
(Underlined by us)
Now, by virtue of Section 2(ii) of the Act,
'the Universities established under the repealed enactments shall be deemed to be the Universities established under this Act and shall be Known by the names ol the respective Universities with headquarters at place and territorial jurisdiction over the areas as specified in the Second Schedule'.
11. Section 2 of the Act must now be adverted to. The relevant portion of that repealed and saving section may be reproduced here:--
'Section 2. As from the date appointed under Sub-Section (3) of Section 1 (hereinafter in this section and Section 3 referred to as the appointed date), the following consequences shall ensue, namely :--
(i) the enactments mentioned in the First Schedule shall stand repealed (hereinafter in this section and Section 3 referred to as the repealed enactment);
(ii) the Universities established under the repealed enactments shall be deemed to be the Universities established under this Act and shall be known by the name of the respective Universities with headquarters at places and territorial jurisdiction over the areas as specified in the Second Schedule;......'
(underlined by us)
In the First Schedule the enactments repealed are:--
(1) The University of Saugar Act, 1946 (No. 16 of 1946);
(2) The Madhya Bharat Vikram University Act, 1955;
(3) The Jabalpur University Act, 1956;
(4) The Ravi Shankar University Act, 1963;
(5) The Indore University Act, 1963;
(6) The Jiwaji University Act, 1963;
(7) The Awadhesh Pratap Singh Vishwa-vidyalaya Adhiniyam, 1968;
(8) The Bhopal Vishwavidyalaya Adhiniyam, 1970.
In the Second Schedule are enumerated the above Universities in the first column, their headquarters in the second column and their territorial judisdiction in the third column.
12. Learned counsel for the University relied on Section 5 of the Awadhesh Pratap Singh Vishwavidyalaya Adhiniyam 1*968, (No. 22 of 1968) and contended that the petitioner was entitled to appear as an ex-student candidate only within three years from the commencement of that Act. In other words, he could be treated as an ex-student candidate up to the first day of July 1971, but not thereafter. The petitioner applied for appearing in the examination of 1976. He was, therefore, not eligible. Section 5 of that Act runs thus:--
'5. Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act or the Statutes, Ordinances and Regulations made thereunder.
(i) any student of a college situate within the territorial limits of the University and affiliated to the University of Saugor, or
(ii) any other student; who immediately prior to the 1st day of July 1968 was studying or was eligible as the case may be, for any examination of the University of Saugor, shall be permitted to complete his course in preparation therefor and the University shall provide for such period not exceeding three years, and in such manner as may be prescribed by the Statutes for the instruction, teaching, training and examination of such students in accordance with the course of studies of the University of Saugor.''
This section merely provides that a candidate who conies within clause (i) or (ii) shall be permitted to complete his course in the manner prescribed by the Statutes for the instruction, teaching, training and examination in accordance with the course of studies of the University of Saugor. To put it differently, for the candidates who come within category (i) or (ii) the course of studies of the University of Saugor will apply, although the examination will be held by the Awadhesh Pratap Singh Vishwavidya-laya. The provision is not meant for application to students as ex-student candidates, but it provides an exception that although such student would take an examination to be given by the Awadhesh Pratap Singh University, it will be in accordance with the course of studies of the University of Saugor. Thus, this section is not relevant at all to the point before us.
13. Shri Ram Pal Singh then argued that in order to entitle a candidate to appear as an ex-student candidate, he must have had prosecuted a regular course of studies in a College, which is maintained by or admitted to the privileges of the 'University concerned'; but not otherwise. The argument is that if the candidate had, for instance, prosecuted his studies in a College, which is now within the jurisdiction of the Awadhesh Pratap Singh Vishwavidyalaya, although at the time that he so prosecuted his studies, that College was not within its territorial limits, he would still be an ex-student candidate within the definition.
14. The argument, on the other side, is that since the University of Saugor is, within the meaning of Section 2(i) and (ii), also a University established under the Act, the petitioner would be an ex-student candidate if he had prosecuted his studies in any College maintained by or admitted to the privileges of the Saugor University, And, this was so inasmuch, as the petitioner had prosecuted his studies in the University 'Teaching Department' of the Saugor University.
15. The argument would not be wholly without force that immediately before the commencement of the Madhya Pra-desh Vishwavidyalaya Adhiniyam, 1973, all the Universities enumerated in Sch. I and Schedule II had been functioning within the same State of Madhya Pradesh so that a College for the purposes of the Act would be any College within the territorial limits of any of the Universities described in the Second Schedule. It can reasonably be argued in favour of the petitioner that since the University of Saugor (Second Schedule) was established under the University of Saugor Act, 1946 (First Schedule), it is, by statutory fiction, a University 'deemed to be a University under this Act' [Section 2(ii)]. Therefore, the Saugor University is a 'University' within the meaning of the definition contained in 5. 4 (xvii) of the M. P. Vishwavidyalaya Adhiniyam, 1973. That being so, the petitioner was a 'regular candidate' within the definition of that term in Ordinance 6, Clause 1 (i) inasmuch as the petitioner had prosecuted a regular course of studies in the Saugor University teaching department. It then follows as a necessary consequence that under Ordinance No. 6, Clause 1(ii) he is an ex-student candidate. It has not been disputed by the University that the petitioner was admitted to an examination as a regular candidate and was not declared successful. This view of the matter is not only plausible and arguable but prima facie it has force,
16. However, it is not necessary to finally resolve the above debate for the purposes of the present case and the point which is before us. It is sufficient to say that the petitioner could have profitably placed that interpretaion before the University authorities if he had been given an opportunity to do so; that is where natural justice was attracted. No such opportunity was given to the petitioner; that is where there is violation of natural justice.
17. Cases where occasion arises for refusal to permit 'a candidate to appear in an examination or cancel his examination may broadly be categorised thus:
(i) Where the candidate practised fraud on the authorities, or was guilty of mis-statement or suppression of facts in his application, form on the basis of which admission to examination was granted;
(ii) where there is some technical defect in the filling of the form or where there was any deficiency, such as shortage in attendance, which defect or deficiency could be condoned by the authorities in exercise of discretion vested in them under the statute, Rules or Regulations;
(iii) where the candidate was patently ineligible on the particulars supplied by him; and
(iv) where the question of eligibility depends upon interpretation of any provision of law, or rules or regulations having the force of law, and two interpretations are reasonably possible.
In our opinion (i) in the first category of cases no question of estoppel arises. The authorities will be within their rights to cancel the admission card or the examination on the discovery of fraud. This is because a person, who practices fraud or makes a mis-statement or suppresses material facts cannot claim estoppel. Fraud vitiates everything, (ii) In the second case, if admission card has been issued to the candidate and he has appeared even in one paper of the examination, estoppel will operate against the authorities. The reason is that the authorities will be deemed to have represented to the candidate that the defect has been cured or the deficiency has been condoned. Where the examination has not yet begun, whether the authorities will be estopped from cancelling the admission card will depend upon the facts of each case. (iii) In the third category of cases, there will be no estoppel, the principle being that there can be no estoppel against the statute. For instance, if a candidate has not passed the B.A. examination and has applied for appearing in LL.B. examination, even if an admission card has been issued and even if the candidate had stated the facts truthfully, the authorities will be entitled to cancel the admission card and the examination, (iv) It will depend upon the peculiar facts of each case falling under the fourth category whether or not estoppel will operate against the authorities to cancel the examination once a candidate has appeared in a single paper. In such a case, the authorities may be deemed to have accepted the other possible interpretation, which is in favour of the candidate.
18. The present case falls under the fourth category. We have pointed out above that the interpretation of the expression 'ex-student candidate' admits of two reasonable interpretations, when examined in the light of all the relevant definitions. The petitioner first received permission from the Registrar as back as in December 1975. Secondly, admission card was issued by the University and delivered to the petitioner through proper authority. The petitioner appeared in and took the entire examination. In these circumstances, the University could not turn round and say that there was a mistake in issuing the admission card on the other possible interpretation of the definitions. This is a case of promissory estoppel.
19. In Union of India v. Anglo Afghan Agencies, AIR 1968 SC 718 their Lordships observed (at p. 727):
'Even though the case does not fall within the terms of Section 115 of the Evidence Act, it is still open to a party who has acted on a representation made by the Government to claim that the Government shall be bound to carry out the promise made by it, even though the promise is not recorded in the form of a formal contract as required by the Constitution.'
20. It was strenuously contended for the University that the admission card was issued under a mistake and the University was, therefore, within its power under Clause 21 (3) (a) of Ordinance No. 6 to cancel the admission card. In this context, it must be recalled that the Registrar of the University had issued a letter to the petitioner informing him that he was eligible to appear in the examination. That was as back as in December 1975. But that apart, the University was well aware on April 22, 1976, that it had issued an admission card for the petitioner, and that the examination was going to commence on the 26th April. What the University did was merely to send the cancellation order to the Superintendent of the examination. Firstly, the University did not take care to see that the order of cancellation was served on the petitioner. It was a very important decision taken by the University so far as the candidate was concerned, and that decision was taken only four days before the commencement of the examination and that too behind his back. That being so, it was the duty of the University to ascertain that the cancellation order was served on the candidate before the examination began. This it did not do. On the contrary, the admission card was handed over to the petitioner by proper authority on the 24th April and he appeared in the first paper on the 26th April and also in all the subsequent papers to the last, without any one objecting. Secondly, although the University issued the cancellation order directly to the candidate, what it did was to send it on the 22nd April by post at the petitioner's village address which is in the interior. The University could not rest assured that the cancellation order would be received by the petitioner before the 26th April in his village. It was 'bound to presume that the candidate would have started for Rewa to appear in the examination. If the University did not act with care and caution, which was reasonably expected, the candidate cannot be made to suffer. It was held in Geeta Mishra v. Utkal University, AIR 1971 Orissa 276, that the principle of estoppel applies also to a representation made under mistake, and a fraudulent intention is not necessary to create a estoppel. See also Registrar v. Sundara, AIR 1956 Mad 309, and Delhi University v. Ashok Kumar, AIR 1968 Delhi 131. In the Delhi case, it was, however, made clear that their decision had no application to a case where a student is guilty of fraud, deception or concealment of material particulars, while seeking and obtaining admission. Although these are cases relating to admission, we think the principle applies to the present case as well,
21. The case of R. K. Saha v. Medical College, AIR 1976 Cal 347 was different. There, admission had been sought to pre-medical course on wrong basis that the petitioner belonged to Scheduled Caste. To such a case, the principle of estoppel would not apply. So also the case of S. A. Manjunath v. University of Bangalore, AIR 1967 Mys 119, is distinguishable. There it was held on the facts of that case that absence of notice had not resulted in any injustice to party. It was observed that the principle followed by a quasi-judicial tribunal is not absolute and rigid and an obligation to observe it depends upon the facts and circumstances of each case.
22. Shri Rampal Singh relied on the following decisions in support of the proposition that there can be no estoppel against statute. Maritime Electric Co. Ltd. v. General Dairies Ltd. (1937) 1 All ER 748; Re Parent Trust & Finance Co. Ltd. (1937) 4 All ER 396; Southend-on-Sea Corp. v. Hodgson (Wickford) Ltd. (19-61) 2 All ER 46; Kok Hoong v. Leong Cheong Kweng Mines Ltd. (1964) 1 All ER 300; N. Setharamaiha v. Kotaiah, AIR 1970 SC 1354; Amar Singriji v. State of Rajas-than, AIR 1955 SC 504; Bihar E. G. F. Co-op. Society v. Sipahi Singh, AIR 1977 SC 2149; Mathura Parshad & Sons v. State of Punjab, AIR 1962 SC 745; Excise Commr. v. Ram Kumar, AIR 1976 SC 2237 and Gappulal v. State of M. P., 1971 MPLJ 547 : (1971 Tax LR 285). As we have said above, that proposition is well established, but on the facts and circumstances of the present case, these cases are clearly distinguishable.
23. In K. R. Shenoy v. Udipi Municipality, AIR 1974 SC 2177, it was held that an excess of statutory power cannot be validated by acquiescence in or by the operation of an estoppel. The Court declines to interfere for the assistance of persons who seek its aid to relieve them against express statutory provision. Lord Selborne in Maddison v. Alderson, (1883) 8 AC 467, said:
'Courts of equity would not permit the statute to be made an instrument of fraud.'
The view that we take does not run counter to the above observations. Those observations would apply to cases falling under the first and third categories (supra), but not to the second or fourth.
24. In Board of High School v. Ghanshyam, AIR 1962 SC 1110, their Lordships referred to the principles enunciated in Province of Bombay v. Khushaldas 1950 SCR 621 : AIR 1950 SC 222.
'The principles, as I apprehend them are:
(i) that if a statute empowers an authority, not being a court in the ordinary sense, to decide dispute arising out of a claim made by one party under the statute which claim is opposed by another party and to determine the respective rights of the contesting parties who are opposed to each other, there is a lis and prima facie in the absence of anything in the statute to the contrary it is the duty of the authority to act judicially and the decision of the authority is a quasi-judicial act and
(ii) that if a statutory authority has power to do any act which will prejudicially affect the subject, then, although there are not two parties, apart from the authority and the contest is between the authority proposing to do the act and the subject opposing it, the final determination of the authority will yet be a quasi-judicial act provided the authority is required by the statute to act judicially.
In other words, while the presence of two parties, besides the deciding authority will prima facie and in the absence of any other factor impose upon the authority the duty to act judicially, the absence of two such parties is not decisive in taking the act of the authority out of the category of quasi-judicial act if the authority is nevertheless required by the statute to act judicially.'
Then, their Lordships observed as follows (at pp. 1113-14):
'Now it may be mentioned that the statute is not likely to provide in so many words that the authority passing the order is required to act judicially, that can only be inferred from the express provisions of the statute in the first instance in each case and no one circumstance alone will be determinative of the question whether the authority set up by the statute has the duty to act judicially or not. The inference whether the authority acting under a statute where it is silent has the duty to act judicially will depend on the express provisions of the statute read along with the nature of the rights affected, the manner of the disposal provided the objective criterion if any to be adopted, the effect of the decision on the person affected and other indicia afforded by the statute. A duty to act judicially may arise in widely different circumstances which it will be impossible and indeed inadvisable to attempt to define exhaustively.'
It is stated in 11 Halsbury (Simonds) 66:
'When the statute under which a tribunal is set up permits it to reach its decision on its own knowledge and without any evidence, then if it has observed the formalities prescribed by the statute and has not excluded any evidence tendered to it, its decision cannot be impugned. Where, however, a tribunal, which has power to make such inquiry as it thinks fit, decides a case on a matter of fact discovered by the tribunal itself on inspecting the premises in question, it will be a breach of natural justice if it does not inform the parties and give them a chance of dealing with it.'
The present case falls under the latter class of cases.
25. In Board of High School and Intermediate Education U. P. v. Kumari Chittra, AIR 1970 SC 1039 their Lordships made weighty observations as follows (at p. 1040):
'Whether a duty arises in a particular case to. issue a show cause notice before inflicting a penalty does not depend on the authority's satisfaction that the person to be penalised has no defence but on the nature of the order proposed to be passed.
'We agree with the High Court that the impugned order imposed a penalty. The petitioner had appeared in the examination and answered all the question papers. According to her she had passed. To deny her the fruits of her labour cannot but be called a penalty. We are unable to appreciate the contention that the Board in 'cancelling her examination' was not exercising quasi-judicial functions. The learned counsel urges that this would be casting a heavy burden on the Board. Principles of natural justice are to some minds burdensome but this price--a small price indeed--has to be pail if we desire a society governed by the rule of law. We should not be taken to have decided that this rule will also apply when a candidate is refused admission to an examination. We are not concerned with this question and say nothing about it.'
In State of Mysore v. Shivabasappa, AIR 1963 SC 373 their Lordships observed:
'Tribunals exercising quasi-judicial functions are not Courts and that therefore they are not bound to follow the procedure prescribed for trial of actions in Courts nor are they bound by the strict rules of evidence. They can, unlike Courts, obtain all information material for the points under enquiry from all sources, and through all channels, without being fettered by rules and procedure which govern proceedings in Court. The only obligation, which the law casts on them is that they should not act on any information which they may receive unless they put it to the party against whom it is to be used and give him a fair opportunity to explain it. What is fair opportunity must depend on the facts and circumstances of each case but where such an opportunity had been given, the proceedings are not open to attack on the ground that the enquiry was not conducted in accordance with the procedure followed in Courts.'
26. In the present case, we have no hesitation in holding that there was a breach, of natural justice, when the University did not issue a show cause notice to the petitioner but cancelled his examination taking him unawares. The only reason which has been placed before us at the hearing of this petition is that the petitioner could not be considered as an ex-student candidate on the true construction of the provisions which we have referred to above. Now, as soon as the University realised what it calls a 'mistake,' it was obligatory for the University to have called upon him to explain why his admission card be not cancelled. He could have placed before the University the other interpretation which was in his favour. It cannot be assumed that the University could not possibly accept that interpretation. It is not necessary for us to finally express our opinion on the two rival interpretations suggested above. It is sufficient to say that it was not impossible that the University would have accepted the interpretation in favour of the petitioner particularly in respect of the meaning of the expression 'University established under this Act.' Thus, there being also violation of natural justice, the petitioner is entitled to a suitable writ.
27. In Shri Krishan v. Kurukshetra University, AIR 1976 SC 376 their Lordships observed in paragraph 7 :
'It is obvious that during this period of four to five months it was the duty of the University authorities to scrutinise the form in order to find out whether it was in order. Equally it was the duty of the Head of the Department of Law, before submitting the form to the University to see that the form complied with all the requirements of law. If neither the Head of the Department nor the University authorities took care to scrutinise the admission form, then the question of the appellant committing a fraud did not arise. It is well settled that where a person on whom fraud is committed is in a position to discover the truth by due diligence, fraud is not proved. It was neither a case of suggestio falsi, or sup-pressio veri. The appellant never wrote to the University authorities that he had attended the prescribed number of lectures.'
28. On the above discussion, it must be held that (1) the petitioner's case falls under the fourth of the categories we have enumerated above; (2) that in the facts and circumstances of the case, the University was estopped from cancelling the examination; and (3) that there was violation of natural justice when no notice was given to the petitioner before cancelling the admission card and the examination.
29. In the result, the order passed by the University cancelling the petitioner's examination is quashed. Further, a mandamus shall issue to the respondent-University to declare the petitioner's result within two weeks from today. The University shall pay to the petitioner Rupees 100/- as costs. The amount of security deposit shall be refunded to the petitioner.