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Application of de facto doctrine in India

The doctrine of de facto officer states that the decisions taken by an official, within the jurisdiction of his office and in the interest of public or any third party, holding the office by virtue of his appointment are valid and not void even though his own appointment is found to be invalid/inappropriate.

This doctrine might be appearing to be a theory that developed recently but in the case named The Abbe de Fountaine, dating back to 1431, Chief Justice Babington admitted that this theory was not new, even at that period of time. From this point of time, this doctrine was developed and flourished to the whole of Europe and then the globe.

The doctrine was introduced in the legal sphere for the sake of principles like policy and necessity, required for the protection of public and individual interests involved in the official acts of the persons exercising their official duties even being unlawfully appointed to that post.

According to this doctrine, an officer(de facto) appointed to that specific post while discharging his duty within the sphere of their jurisdiction, in the interest of public and not for his own appeasement, are generally held valid and binding as if the decisions were taken by the de jure officials.

In the case of Central Bank of India v. C. Bernard[1], the Supreme Court clarified this doctrine by the mentioning the essentials of this doctrine which were to be applied in its application and held that this concept has two requisites and they are:
  1. There must be possession of office and the performance of the duties thereto.
  2. The color of the title, i.e., the apparent right to the office and the acquiescence in the possession there of by public.

It was further stated that this doctrine could not be applied to a usurper, an intruder or total stranger to the office. Furthermore, in the case of Veerendra Kumar Gautam[2], the Supreme Court held that it was immaterial that how an appointment was made in an office of under the law, the material that is relevant is that he should be clothed with the insignia of office and exercises its powers and functions. The official acts of that officer are held to be valid under this framework of doctrine as it is presumed to be born of necessity and public policy to thwart the trivial confusion and infinite mischief.

In the case of Dr.Srikant Sharma and Ors v. State of Bihar[3], the petitioners were appointed as principals of various colleges under Magadh University, but it was found that the members of commission made for the purpose of appointing of the principals of the concerned colleges, were held to be ineligible and thus their appointment was held to be invalid and void. The court held that the members of the commission were found to be ineligible much after the date of appointment of the petitioners was made and thus this case would attract the de facto doctrine and thus the appointment of the petitioners is just and valid. Had appointment of the members of that commission been found to be invalid before the appointment of the petitioners, then this appointment would have been turned void as the members of that commission would have been ceased to be the members of the commission and thus the de facto doctrine would have lost its applicability as it is not applied to an usurper or intruder or any person who holds the office by force.

Furthermore, in the case of Ranajoy Bose[4], the main argument of the petitioner against the complaint filed by District Health Officer,was that only the Health Officer of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation was the only person to initiate a proceeding under section 20(1) of Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954. The respondent contended that on a casual reading of the relevant sections of the PFA Act, Calcutta Municipal Act, 1951 and notification under section 20(1) of the PFA Act, it is clear that the District Health Officer is also authorized for the launch of complaints within their respective cases. The court agreeing to the argument of the defendant said that:
if the authority who granted the consent for launching prosecution in the case had not been already vested with such power under the statute, then the question of applying de facto doctrine to the order passed by such incorporated authority does not arise and held that the de facto doctrine would not be applied to this case.

In the case of Gokaraju Rangaraju v. State of Andhra Pradesh[5], the judgments pronounced by the sessions judge were held to valid and binding even though his own appointment was invalid and the judgments delivered by him acting as a judge, engrossed the de facto doctrine as he was action under the color of a lawful authority (office in this case), having the same powers, functions and efficacy as that of a de jure judge.

To conclude, it must be kept in mind that the de facto doctrine could be applied in the matters of where there has been an appointment which is invalid/defective but still the decisions taken by de facto officer who has been given the color of the office by the virtue of such appointment, are held to be valid and binding as if they have been pronounced by a de jure officer. It is also to be noted that this doctrine could not be applied to a usurper or an intruder, who is a total stranger to the office.

This doctrine was devised for the purpose of protection of rights of the people or individuals who having no fault on their part would have suffered if this doctrine were not present. The application of this doctrine also saves the expenditure of the authorities as the authority and the parties concerned with the decisions taken by the de facto officer would have to go for the same process again for the fulfillment of that specific purpose.

  1. (1991)1 SCC 319
  2. (2016)14 SCC 18
  3. (1998)2 BLJR 1406
  4. (2002)4 SCC 704.
  5. 1981 AIR 1473

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