1. On August 20, 1963 the Divisional Forest Officer, Kachar Division in the Slate of Assam invited, for the years 1963-66, tenders for purchase of the forest produce in the Lakhipur range. The first respondent Hari Singh offered a bid of Rs. 6,543/-and the fourth respondent Safique Uddin offered Rs. 6,667-67 ps. At the suggestion of the Divisional Forest Officer the first respondent raised his offer to Rs. 6,667-67. On October 16, 1963 the Divisional Forest Officers provisionally accepted the tender of the first respondent. The acceptance was subject to an order in appeal to the Conservator of Forests. In appeal by the fourth respondent the Conservator of Forests, Assam, without issuing a notice of the appeal or giving any other intimation to the first respondent set aside the acceptance of the first respondent's tender. The Conservator observed:--
'I find that there is valid and reasonable ground for admittance of the appeal petition. Hence the appeal petition is admitted and the Divisional Forest Officer's settlement order is set aside.
The settlement of the Case Mahal No. 3 for 1963 66 is hereby made with the appellant Shri Safique Uddin highest tendered at his offer of Rs. 6,667,67 np.
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The High Court of Judicature for Assam & Nagaland has in a petition moved by the first respondent directed that the order of the Conservator be quashed and the proceeding be remanded to the Conservator of Forests to hear the appeal filed by the fourth respondent Safique Uddin according to law. The High Court held that the Conservator of Forests acted in violation of the principles of natural justice because he did not give the first respondent an opportunity of being heard when passing impugned order. Against that order the State of Assam has preferred this appeal The respondents have not appeared before the Court and we are not informed about the further progress in the case pursuant to thedirection given by the High Court. The period for which the settlement was made has also expired but the case raises a question of principle of some importance and it is necessary to deal with the argument raised by the state.
2. Counsel for the state of Assam contended that the state was dealing with its own property and it was, as expressly set out in the terms of auction, not bound to accept the highest or any tender and that the superior officers were competent not withstanding the order made by the Divisional Forest Officer to accept any tender they thought proper and in the interest of the State to accept. It was urged that the proceeding before the Divisional Forest Officer and before the Conservator of Forests was essentially administrative and the last named officer was under no obligation to give notice to the first respondent or to hear him before modifying the order of the Divisional Forest Officer and rejecting the older of the first respondent which was already accepted.
3. The Divisional Forest Officer was, it is true, not bound toaccept the highest or any tender. His action was purely administrative and unless it was shown to be mala fide it was not subject tointerference by the Courts. But when an appeal lay against theaction of the Divisional Forest Officer, in our judgment, a duty wassuperimposed by the clearest implication that the appellate officermust act fairly and in consonance with the rules of natural justice.The appellate authorities could interfere with the order on grounds which stand the test of reason, and are not arbitrary orirrelevant.
4. The Conservator of Forests is invested with power to hear an appeal against an order which is administrative in character, but in the absence of any clear indication to the contrary, he is, when herein the appeal under a duty to act judicially. In Province of Bombay v. Kusaldas Advani, (1) Das, J., set out certain principles for determining whether an officer invested with power is required to act judicially, and observed (p. 725) :
'xxx 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 Nagendra Nath Bora and Anr. v. The Commissioner of Hills Division, Sinha, J., speaking for the Court observed (p. 1253) :
'It is true that no one has an inherent right to settlement of liquor shops,' but when the State, by public notice, invites candidates for settlement to make their tenders, and in pursuance, a number of persons make such tenders each one makes a claim for himself in opposition to the claims of the others, and the public authorities concerned with the settlement, have to choose from amongst them If the choice had rested in the hands of only one authority like the District Collector on hissubjective satisfaction as to the fitness of a particular candidate without his orders being amenable to an appeal or appeals or revision, the position may have been different. But Section 9 of the Act has laid down a regular hierarchy of authorities, one above the other, with the right of hearing appeals or revisions, Though the Act and the rules do not, in express terms, require reasoned orders to be 'recorded, yet, in the context of the subject matter of the rules, it becomes necessary for the several authorities to pass what are called 'speaking orders'. Where there is a right vested in an authority seated by statute, be it administrative or quasi-judicial, to hear judicially, that is to say in an objective manner, impartially and after giving reasonable opportunity to the parties concerned in the dispute to place their respective cases before it x x x x x'
In Shivaji Nathubhai v. The Union of India, Wanchoo, J., speaking for the Court observed (P. 781) :
'Now when a lease is granted by the State Government, it is quite possible that there may be no application for review by those whose applications have been refused. In such a case the order of the State Government would be final. It would not therefore be in our opinion right to say that no right of any kind is created in favour of a person to whom the lease is granted by the State Government x x x At any rate, when the statutory rule grants a right to any party aggrieved to make a review application to the Central Government it certainly follows that the person in whose favour the order is made has also a right to represent his case before the authority to whom the review application is sade. It is in the circumstances apparent that as soon as Rule 52 gives a right to an aggrieved party to apply for review a LIS is created between him and the party in whose favour the grant has been made. Unless therefore there is anything in the statute to the contrary it will be the duty of the authority to act judicially and its decision would be a quasi-judicial act.'
It is therefore clear that the duty of an authority invested with power to decide a question to act judicially need not arise from express enactment; it may result from necessary implication of the statute.
5. In the present case the Divisional Forest Officer had accepted the lender of the first respondent. If the first respondent carried cut the conditions, he was entitled to call upon the Divisional Forest Officer to settle the forest produce in his favour. The order was according to the conditions of sale, subject to appeal and on that account liable to be set aside by the Conservator of Forests. But when deciding an appeal against the order of the Divisional Forest Officer, the Conservator of Forests had to act fairly and in manner consistent with the rules of natural justice that is, to consider the respective claims after giving an opportunity to the persons directly interested in the result of the appeal, to make their representations and to consider them objectively. Investment of power to entertain an appeal with authorityto pass an order to the prejudice of one of the claimants primafacie implies a duty to act judicially, and there is nothing in the Actwhich negatives that implication The first respondent had madehis offer and that offer was accepted after he increased the amount initially tendered by him. The order of the Divisional ForestOfficer accepting the tender of the first respondent could be setaside after a hearing consistent with the minimum requirementsof a judicial approach that is the first respondent should havebeen given an opportunity to convince the Conservator of Foreststhat the order of the Divisional Forest Officer was correct, legaland proper.
6. The Conservator of Forests hearing an appeal acted in violation of the rules of natural justice when he failed to give notice of appeal to the first respondent whose tender had been accepted though provisionally, and set aside the order without giving the first respondent an opportunity of hearing.
The appeal therefore fails and is dismissed. There will be no order as to costs.