Personal Liability: Forging New Tools of Accountability in Public Law

Published date01 March 2021
Date01 March 2021
Subject MatterArticles
Personal Liability:
Forging New Tools of
Accountability in
Public Law
M. P. Chengappa1 and Adya Jha1
In 1991, two decisions passed by benches headed by Kuldip Singh J. marked
an unprecedented shift to holding public officers personally liable to pay dam-
ages for arbitrary orders. The Supreme Court of India imposed damages to the
quantum of fifty lakh rupees on Captain Satish Sharma, the former Minister of
Petroleum and Natural Gas, for arbitrarily allotting fifteen petrol outlets out of
his discretionary quota to allottees related to him or his officials. Similarly, Sheila
Kaul, the former Minister of Urban Development, was ordered to pay damages
of sixty lakh rupees for illegal allotment of shops from her discretionary quota to
her associates. While the two decisions ushered in a revolution of personal liabil-
ity in the arena of public law, one was overturned by a review judgement, and
the other has been simply forgotten despite being upheld in the review petition.
In light of the growing number and prominence of misfeasance by public officers,
this article considers the need for rethinking the theory of personal liability to
compensate the public or individual loss adequately, deter the officials and assess
it as an alternative to traditional mechanisms of public accountability.
Public accountability, personal liability, abuse of power, payment of compensation
Administrative law is premised on the popular saying about the relationship
between ascendancy and obligation––with great power comes great responsibil-
ity. Theoretically, it ensures administrative accountability of ofcials vested with
Indian Journal of Public
67(1) 27–39, 2021
© 2021 IIPA
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/00195561211010559
1 West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences, Salt Lake City, IN-WB West Bengal, India.
Corresponding author:
Adya Jha, West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences, 12 LB Block, Salt Lake City, Sector-III,
Salt Lake City, IN-WB West Bengal 700098, India.

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