SC: Show cause notice for blacklisting must spell out intention to blacklist

The Hon’ble Supreme Court, on 16th November 2020, in the matter of Umc Technologies Private Limited v. Food Corporation Of India And Anr. pronounced that for a show cause notice to constitute the valid basis of a blacklisting order, such notice must spell out clearly, or its contents be such that it can be clearly inferred therefrom, that there is intention on the part of the issuer of the notice to blacklist the noticee.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court observed that:

The first principle of civilised jurisprudence that a person against whom any action is sought to be taken or whose right or interests are being affected should be given a reasonable opportunity to defend himself. The basic principle of natural justice is that before adjudication starts, the authority concerned should give to the affected party a notice of the case against him so that he can defend himself. Such notice should be adequate and the grounds necessitating action and the penalty/action proposed should be mentioned specifically and unambiguously. An order travelling beyond the bounds of notice is impermissible and without jurisdiction to that extent. (Para 13)

Specifically, in the context of blacklisting of a person or an entity by the state or a state corporation, the requirement of a valid, particularized and unambiguous show cause notice is particularly crucial due to the severe consequences of blacklisting and the stigmatization that accrues to the person/entity being blacklisted. (Para 14)

Blacklisting has the effect of denying a person or an entity the privileged opportunity of entering into government contracts. This privilege arises because it is the State who is the counterparty in government contracts and as such, every eligible person is to be afforded an equal opportunity to participate in such contracts, without arbitrariness and discrimination. Not only does blacklisting takes away this privilege, it also tarnishes the blacklisted person’s reputation and brings the person’s character into question. Blacklisting also has long-lasting civil consequences for the future business prospects of the blacklisted person. (Para 14)

A prior show cause notice granting a reasonable opportunity of being heard is an essential element of all administrative decision-making and particularly so in decisions pertaining to blacklisting which entail grave consequences for the entity being blacklisted. In these cases, furnishing of a valid show cause notice is critical and a failure to do so would be fatal to any order of blacklisting pursuant thereto. (Para 19)

For a show cause notice to constitute the valid basis of a blacklisting order, such notice must spell out clearly, or its contents be such that it can be clearly inferred therefrom, that there is intention on the part of the issuer of the notice to blacklist the noticee. Such a clear notice is essential for ensuring that the person against whom the penalty of blacklisting is intended to be imposed, has an adequate, informed and meaningful opportunity to show cause against his possible blacklisting. (Para 21)

The mere existence of a clause in the Bid Document, which mentions blacklisting as a bar against eligibility, cannot satisfy the mandatory requirement of a clear mention of the proposed action in the show cause notice. (Para 25)

Copy of judgement:Judgement_16-Nov-2020

-Adv. Tushar Kaushik

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