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Doctrine of pleasure in India: Constitution and Case Law

Updated: May 19

The Indian Constitution, a living document, encapsulates various principles that govern the administrative machinery of the country. Among these principles, the Doctrine of Pleasure holds an Important position, especially in the context of public service and employment. This doctrine, deeply rooted in the common law system, has evolved over the years, adapting to the constitutional framework of India. This article delves into the intricacies of this doctrine, exploring its origin, development, and current application in Indian constitutional law.

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doctrine of pleasure and indian constitution

Origins and Common Law Antecedents

The Doctrine of Pleasure finds its genesis in the common law system, particularly in the relationship between the Crown and its subjects. Historically, it was established that the Crown could not be bound or limited by contracts in matters concerning the welfare of the state.

This principle, known as the Doctrine of Pleasure, implied that a civil servant held their office at the Crown's pleasure and could be dismissed without any reason. The maxim "durante bene placito" (during pleasure) encapsulates this concept.

In the UK, where Parliament is supreme, the doctrine of pleasure can be overridden under a statute enacted by Parliament. This common law notion of the doctrine had initially been brought to India, where under Section 96B(1) of the 1919 Act, the power was given to the Secretary of State to make rules curtailing its effect.

Incorporation into Indian Constitutional Framework

The Indian Constitution, while adopting various aspects of the British Parliamentary system, also incorporated the Doctrine of Pleasure in India, particularly in the context of public employment. This is predominantly observed in Articles 310 and 311 of the Constitution.

The Supreme Court also explained the balance between Articles 309, 310, and 311 in the following terms:

[F]or a government servant to discharge his duties faithfully and conscientiously, he must have a feeling of security of tenure. Under our Constitution, this is provided for by the Acts and rules made under Article 309 as also by the safeguards in respect of the punishments of dismissal, removal or reduction in rank provided in clauses (1) and (2) of Article 311. It is, however, as much in public interest and for public good that government servants who are inefficient, dishonest or corrupt or have become a security risk should not continue in service and the protection afforded to them by the Acts and rules made under Article 309 and by Article 311 be not abused by them to the detriment of public interest and public good (Tulsiram Patel Case)

Art. 310(1) laid down the principle that every Government employee - in a defence service or a civil service - held his office ‘during the pleasure of the President or the Governor.’ Art. 310(1) embodies a rule of constitutional doctrine pertaining to the tenure of service. It was, however, possible to provide in special cases by contract to pay compensation for early termination of service. Otherwise, the doctrine of pleasure cannot be fettered or limited by a contract.

Also, it cannot be fettered or limited by Rules made under Art. 309 or by an Act of Parliament/State legislature. Article 309 is subject to Art. 310. Thus, pleasure is not fettered by ordinary legislation (State of U.P. v Babu Ram Upadhya AIR 1961 SC 751).

In UOI v Tulsiram Patel (AIR 1985 SC 1416), held that the Acts or Rules made in pursuance of Art. 309, were subject to the doctrine of pleasure in India contained in Art. 310(1), and except to the extent that the pleasure had been restricted by the “express provisions of the Constitution” such as Art. 311, no restrictions could be placed on the exercise of pleasure by an Act or Rules framed under Art. 309.

Article 310 and Doctrine of Pleasure

Article 310(1) cements the Doctrine of Pleasure in the Indian context. It states that every member of the defense service, the civil service of the Union, or an all-India service, as well as those holding any post under the Union or a State, serves at the pleasure of the President or the Governor, respectively. This effectively means that the tenure of government employees is not absolute and can be curtailed by the authority they serve under.

However, the Constitution also provides safeguards and balances. For instance, Article 310(2) provides exceptions for certain categories of employment, and other Articles (like Articles 124, 148, 217, 218, and 324) specify protected tenures for high constitutional offices.

Article 311: Safegurading Doctrine of Pleasure

Article 311 introduces significant limitations to the Doctrine of Pleasure. It ensures that a civil servant cannot be dismissed, removed, or reduced in rank without an inquiry where they are informed of the charges against them and given a reasonable opportunity to defend themselves. This article was designed as a constitutional safeguard to ensure fairness and prevent arbitrary actions.

Judicial Interpretations and Landmark Judgments

The Indian judiciary has played a crucial role in interpreting and shaping the application of the Doctrine of Pleasure within the constitutional framework. Several landmark judgments have defined its contours.

  1. Roshan Lal Tandon v Union of India (AIR 1967 SC 1889): This case emphasized that a government servant's rights and obligations are determined by statute or statutory rules, which can be unilaterally altered by the government.

  2. C Sankaranarayanan v State of Kerala (1971) 2 SCC: The Supreme Court held that the powers conferred by Article 309 cannot be limited by any agreement, reinforcing the supremacy of the Doctrine of Pleasure.

  3. State of U.P. v Babu Ram Upadhya (AIR 1961 SC 751): It was clarified that the Doctrine of Pleasure cannot be limited by an Act of Parliament or by rules made under Article 309, emphasizing the constitutional nature of this doctrine.

  4. Union of India v Tulsiram Patel (AIR 1985 SC 1416): This case is pivotal in explaining the balance between Articles 309, 310, and 311. The Court acknowledged that while government servants need security of tenure, the Doctrine of Pleasure is essential for removing those who are inefficient or corrupt.

Public Policy and the Doctrine of Pleasure

The underpinning of the Doctrine of Pleasure is public policy. The government must ensure that its servants act in the interest of the public, and their continuation in service should align with public welfare. This doctrine serves as a tool to uphold efficiency and integrity in public service.

Limitations and Exceptions of Doctrine of Pleasure

Although the Doctrine of Pleasure is a fundamental aspect of the Indian Constitution, allowing public servants to serve at the discretion of the President or the Governor, it is not absolute and is subjected to specific limitations and exceptions. These limitations, as established by judicial interpretations and constitutional provisions, ensure that the exercise of this doctrine is balanced with the need to safeguard the rights of government employees.

1. Exceptions Under Article 310(2)

As per Article 310(2) of the Constitution, there are exceptions to the Doctrine of Pleasure. This article exempts individuals who possess special qualifications and are appointed to a civil post for a fixed term, not being a member of a defense service, an all-India service, or a civil service of the Union or State. This provision creates a subset of government positions where the Doctrine of Pleasure does not apply in its traditional sense.

2. Safeguards Under Article 311(2)

Article 311(2) provides a significant constitutional safeguard. It restricts the power of the President or the Governor by ensuring that civil servants cannot be dismissed, removed, or demoted without a proper inquiry where they are informed of the charges and given a fair opportunity to defend themselves.

This protection underlines the principle that while public servants serve at the pleasure of the President or Governor, their removal must still adhere to the principles of natural justice.

3. Alignment with Fundamental Rights

The exercise of the Doctrine of Pleasure is also controlled by the Fundamental Rights enshrined in the Constitution. It cannot be applied in a discriminatory or unfair manner.

The Supreme Court, in Kameshwar Prasad vs State of Bihar (AIR 1962 SC 1166), invalidated Rule 4A of the Bihar Government Servant’s Conduct Rules, 1956, as it was found violative of the fundamental rights under Article 19(a) and (b) – emphasizing that the application of the Doctrine of Pleasure in India is subject to the bounds of fundamental rights.

4. Exclusion for Specific Offices

Certain high constitutional offices are excluded from the purview of the Doctrine of Pleasure. This includes the Judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, the members of the Union and State Public Service Commissions, and the Chief Election Commissioner.

These positions enjoy a secured tenure, and their removal is governed by specific procedures detailed in the Constitution, ensuring stability and independence in their functioning.

5. Requirement of Consultation under Article 320(3)(c)

Article 320(3)(c) introduces another limitation on the Doctrine of Pleasure. It mandates that the respective Public Service Commission must be consulted on all disciplinary matters affecting a person serving in a civil capacity under the Government of India or a State. This consultation requirement adds an additional layer of scrutiny and fairness in disciplinary actions against civil servants.

6. Superannuation and Continuation in Service

It has been established that the Doctrine of Pleasure does not empower the President or Governor to force a government servant to continue in service beyond the age of superannuation, except in cases where their services are required in the public interest, as held in Pratap Singh vs State of Punjab (MR 1964 SC 72). This ruling ensures that the Doctrine of Pleasure is not misused to extend service against the will of an employee.

7. Parliamentary Authority to Amend

Finally, the Constitution provides that the Parliament, exercising its power under Article 368, can repeal Article 310(1), thereby potentially removing the Doctrine of Pleasure. This power of constitutional amendment underscores the supremacy of the Constitution and the parliamentary authority in shaping the framework of public service.

Delegation of doctrine of Pleasure in India

Under Article 310(1) of the Indian Constitution, the President or Governor has the authority to exercise the Doctrine of Pleasure, which can be carried out either with the assistance and on the recommendation of the Council of Ministers or as delineated in the Acts or Rules established under Article 309.

Evolution of Judicial Interpretation

In the landmark case of State of U.P. v Babu Ram Upadhya, it was initially determined that the power to dismiss a public servant, under the constraints of Article 311, did not fall within the executive power described in Article 154. Instead, it was viewed as a constitutional power, one that could not be delegated to officers subordinate to the Governor.

This interpretation suggested a more centralized control of this power, emphasizing its constitutional significance.

However, this perspective underwent a change with the judgment in Moti Ram Deka v N.E.F. Railway (AIR 1964 SC 600). In this case, the Supreme Court overruled the majority opinion in Babu Ram Upadhya. This pivotal shift indicated a more flexible approach towards the delegation of the Doctrine of Pleasure.

Clarification in Union of India v Tulsiram Patel

The issue received further clarification in the case of Union of India v Tulsiram Patel (AIR 1985 SC 1416). The Supreme Court held that the exercise of the Doctrine of Pleasure by the President or Governor does not necessitate their personal involvement. Recognizing it as an executive power within the ambit of Articles 53(1), 74(1), 77(1), 154(1), 163(1), and 166(1), the judgment established that this power could be exercised by the President or Governor based on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers.

Implications of Delegation

This understanding of the Doctrine of Pleasure as an executive power significantly expands its operational scope. It implies that while the ultimate authority rests with the President or Governor, the practical application of this power can be administered through various channels within the governmental structure, under the guidance and advice of the Council of Ministers. This delegation ensures a more dynamic and responsive application of the Doctrine of Pleasure in the administration of public service.


The Doctrine of Pleasure, as embedded in the Indian Constitution, is a complex blend of historical common law principles and constitutional safeguards. While it grants significant powers to the executive in matters of public employment, it is balanced by constitutional protections and judicial oversight.

This doctrine, thus, functions as a critical mechanism in the administrative machinery of India, ensuring that the public service remains efficient, responsive, and accountable to the public interest. The judiciary's role in interpreting and applying this doctrine has been paramount in maintaining this balance, ensuring that while the state has the necessary powers to manage its workforce, the rights of the individual employees are not unduly compromised.

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