E.P. Royappa v. State of Tamil Nadu

Author: Konda Lakshmi Pravalika, Sri Padmavati Mahila Visvavidyalayam


Equality before the law implies that no individual, regardless of their status or position, is above the law. It ensures that everyone is subject to the same legal principles and processes, without any special privileges. On the other hand, equal protection of laws requires that laws be applied equally and without discrimination to all individuals in similar circumstances.                                                                                     

A Pivotal precedent was established by the landmark ruling of the Supreme Court in E.P. Royappa v. State of Tamil Nadu[1]. A bench comprising Chief Justice A.N. Ray, Justice D.G. Palekar, Justice Y.V. Chandrachud, Justice P.N. Bhagwati, and Justice V.R. Krishnaiyer, emphasized: “Equality is a dynamic concept with many aspects and dimensions and it cannot be ‘cribbed cabined and confined’ within traditional and doctrinaire limits. From a positivistic point of view, equality is antithetic to arbitrariness. In fact, equality and arbitrariness are sworn enemies; while one upholds the rule of law in a republic, the other aligns with the whim and caprice of an absolute monarch.” 

The Supreme Court articulated that equality is a dynamic concept with various dimensions. It asserted that equality and arbitrariness are fundamentally incompatible, with arbitrariness being contrary to both political logic and constitutional law. Acts of arbitrariness are deemed unequal and thus violate Article 14[2] of the Constitution. The  Court has emphasized that differentiation is not inherently discriminatory as long as there is a rational basis for it. The court acknowledged that Article 14 prohibits class legislation but allows for reasonable classification. Any statute failing to meet the essential requirements of Article 14 would be deemed void, and no legislative act could be considered “arbitrary.” An order lacking a valid determining principle would be deemed arbitrary, with valid classification serving as the determining principle. Article 14 does not guarantee freedom from arbitrariness, rather, it ensures that classification follows norms laid down by the Supreme Court to avoid arbitrariness.

Keywords: Equality, arbitrariness, public servant, Mala fide, Supreme Court, Constitution.


Judgement Cause TitleE.P.Royappa vs State of Tamil Nadu & Anr
Case NumberWrit Petition No. 284 of 1972
Judgement Date23 November, 1973
CourtSupreme Court of India
QuorumA.N.Ray,  D.G.palekar,                       Y.V. Chandrachud, V.R. Krishnaiyer
AuthorA.N. Ray
CitationAIR 1974 SCC 555
Legal Provisions InvolvedConstitution of India — Arts. 14, 16, and 32   Indian Administrative Service (Pay) Rules, 1954 – Rule 9(1)   Indian Administrative Service (Cadre) Rules, 1954 – Rule 4(2)        


In the landmark case of ‘E.P. Royappa v. State of Tamil Nadu (1973)‘, the Supreme Court, comprising justices Y. V. Chandrachud, P. N. Bhagwati, and V. R. Krishna Iyer, made significant observations on Article 14 of the Indian Constitution. The Court emphasized that Article 16 embodies the fundamental guarantee of equality of opportunity in matters concerning employment or appointment to any office under the State. While Art. 16 stands as a distinct fundamental right due to its crucial role in ensuring equality of opportunity in public employment, it is, in essence, an application of the broader concept of equality enshrined in Article 14. Article 14 serves as the overarching principle, while Art. 16 is a specific instance applying the doctrine of equality to public employment. Both articles are rooted in the principle of equality and the prohibition of discrimination. The Court stressed that equality is not to be narrowly construed but is instead a dynamic concept with multiple dimensions, resistant to being confined within rigid limits.The Court further asserted that equality and arbitrariness are inherently opposed. While equality is fundamental to the rule of law in a republic, arbitrariness aligns with the whims of an absolute monarch. Acts of arbitrariness are inherently unequal and thus violate both Art. 14 and Art. 16. State actions must be based on relevant principles applicable uniformly to all similarly situated individuals, without being influenced by extraneous or irrelevant considerations. Any deviation from this principle constitutes a mala fide exercise of power, prohibited by both Art. 14 and Art. 16. The Court clarified that the scope of Art. 14 and Art. 16 extends beyond cases where a public servant has a right to a particular post. Even in cases of officiating positions, a public servant can allege a violation of Article 14 and 16 if they have been subjected to arbitrary or unfair treatment or a mala fide exercise of power by the State machinery[3].


  • The petitioner, a member of the Indian Administrative Service in Tamil Nadu, was assigned to act as Additional Chief Secretary on July 11, 1969, when the post was temporarily created for a duration of one year.
  • In November 1969, when the position of Chief Secretary to the State became vacant, the petitioner was selected for the role, being deemed the most suitable candidate.
  • Approval for the appointment was granted by the Chief Minister after reviewing the draft order.
  • Upon the State Government’s recommendation to consider the Chief Secretary and the First Member of the Board of Revenue as interchangeable selection posts, the Central Government, through a notification dated January 14, 1970, equated the pay of the First Member, Board of Revenue to that of the Chief Secretary.
  • Subsequently, by notification dated August 31, 1970, the Government of India elevated the pay, rank, and status of the Chief Secretary’s post to that of the Secretary to the Government of India, surpassing all other cadre posts in the State, including that of the First Member, Board of Revenue.
  • On April 17, 1971, the State Government sanctioned the creation of a temporary post of Deputy Chairman in the State Planning Commission at the Chief Secretary grade for one year, appointing the petitioner to the role with entitlements equivalent to those of the Chief Secretary. However, the petitioner did not assume this position and instead went on leave.
  • Upon the petitioner’s return from leave, the post of Deputy Chairman was reestablished for another one-year term at the Chief Secretary grade, and the petitioner was appointed to the role. However, the petitioner contested the extension of the Deputy Chairman’s tenure beyond one year, citing Rule 4(2) of the Indian Administrative Service (Cadre) Rules, 1954.
  • Subsequently, the State Government created a temporary position of Officer on Special Duty to streamline and rationalize the Sales Tax Act, at the Chief Secretary grade, and appointed the petitioner to that role. However, the petitioner did not assume this position and instead proceeded on leave.
  • After transferring the petitioner from the Deputy Chairman role in the Planning Commission to the Officer on Special Duty position for revising Sales Tax laws, the State Government abolished the previously sanctioned Deputy Chairman post and created a new Deputy Chairman post at the grade of First Member, Board of Revenue, with a monthly pay of Rs. 3000. A First Member of the Board of Revenue was appointed to this new post.
  • Additionally, upon the petitioner’s transfer from the Chief Secretary position, a person junior to the petitioner was promoted as Chief Secretary and confirmed in that role.
  • The petitioner filed a writ petition under Article 32 of the Constitution, seeking a mandamus or any other appropriate writ to challenge the validity of his transfer from the Chief Secretary position to the Deputy Chairman role and then to the Officer on Special Duty position.
  • The petitioner argues that these transfers were violative of Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution, as the Deputy Chairman and Officer on Special Duty roles were inferior in rank and status compared to that of Chief Secretary.
  • Furthermore, the petitioner alleges that these transfers were made in a mala fide manner, not due to the necessities of administration or public service, but rather because the second respondent was displeased with the petitioner and sought to remove him from his position.


  1. Whether the petitioner’s transfers to subsequent positions contrary to the proviso of Rule 4(2) of the Indian Administrative Service (Cadre) Rules, 1954, and Rule 9[sub-r.(1)] of the Indian Administrative (Pay) Rules, 1954?
  2. Whether the transfers violate Article 14 and Article 16 of the Constitution of India?
  3. Whether the respondent’s act of transferring the petitioner done in a mala fide manner or not?


  1. The counsels for Petitioner / Appellant submitted that the appointment was in contradiction to the proviso to rule 4(2) of the Indian Administrative Service (Cadre) Rules, 1954, and rule 9 (sub-rule 1) of the Indian Administrative Service (Pay) Rules 1954.
  2. Additionally, the petitioner contended that the appointment violated fundamental rights enshrined in Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution. They argued that the roles of Deputy Chairman, State Planning Commission, and Officer on Special Duty were considered to be of lower rank and status compared to the position of Chief Secretary, thereby infringing upon the principle of equality and equal opportunity.
  3. Furthermore, the petitioner alleged that the appointment was driven by ulterior motives and personal grudge rather than genuine administrative requirements. They claimed that the second respondent(the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu), was displeased with the petitioner due to various incidents detailed in the petition. As a result, the appointment was perceived as a means to sideline or remove the petitioner from their position, rather than being made in the interest of effective governance or public service.


  1. The counsels for Respondent submitted that the petitioner was appointed in an acting capacity to the position of Chief Secretary, and this appointment was justified under Fundamental Rule 9(19)[4]. According to this rule, a government servant officiates in a post when they perform the duties of a position held by another individual or when the government deems it appropriate to appoint a government servant to act in a vacant position that no other government servant holds.
    1. The respondents argued that the actions taken by respondent number 2 were not hasty and were not driven by malicious intent. Therefore, they asserted that the petitioner’s argument lacks merit.


  1. Article 14 of the Indian Constitution : “The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India[5].
    1. Article 16 of the Indian constitution : “Equality of opportunity in matters of public employment[6].
    1. Article 32 of the Indian constitution : “Article 32 grants every individual the right to move the Supreme Court for the enforcement of their fundamental rights. This means that if someone believes their fundamental rights have been violated, they can approach the Supreme Court directly for relief. It also ensures that not only do individuals have the right to move the Supreme Court, but the Court also has the power to issue appropriate orders, directions, or writs for the enforcement of fundamental rights[7].
    1. Rule 9(1) of Indian Administrative Service (Pay) Rules, 1954  : No member of the Service shall be appointed to a post other than a post specified in Schedule III, unless the State Government concerned in respect of posts under its control, or the Central Govt. in respect of posts under its control as the case may be, make a declaration that the said post is equivalent in status and responsibility to a post specified in the said schedule[8].
    1. Rule 4(2) of Indian Administrative Service (Cadre) Rules, 1954: “The Central Government shall, ordinarily at the interval of every five years, re-examine the strength and composition of each such cadre in consultation with the State Government or the State Governments concerned and may make such alterations therein as it deems fit: Provided that nothing in this sub-rule shall be deemed to affect the power of the Central Government to alter the strength and composition of any cadre at any other time: Provided further that State Government concerned may add for a period not exceeding two year and with the approval of the Central Government for a further period not exceeding three years, to a State or Joint Cadre one or more posts carrying duties or responsibilities of a like nature to cadre posts[9].


The bench rejected the petition unanimously.                                                                                           

1. Justices Bhagwati, Chandrachud, and Krishna Iyer clarified that the petitioner’s promotion to Chief Secretary was temporary, indicated in the authenticated order. Chief Justice Ray and Justice Palekar highlighted the previous Chief Secretary’s retention of lien until retirement, preventing substantive filling of the position.                                                                      

2. Justices Bhagwati, Chandrachud, and Krishna Iyer affirmed that the State of Tamil Nadu lacked authority to introduce new posts like Deputy Chairman, State Planning Commission, and Officer on Special Duty into the Cadre, while Chief Justice Ray stated this alteration violated the Cadre Rules.                                                                        

3. Justice Bhagwati noted discrepancies in ranking for Deputy Chairman and Officer on Special Duty but stated the petitioner’s acceptance precluded challenging their validity. Violation of Rule 9(1) did not constitute an infringement of fundamental rights.                                                                    

4. Justice Bhagwati dismissed the argument of arbitrary transfers and promotions as lacking sufficient evidence. The petitioner’s allegations of malice against the Chief Minister were deemed baseless.                                              

5. The burden of proving malice fell heavily on the petitioner, with the Court dismissing their allegations against the Chief Minister due to lack of evidence.             

6. Consequently, the petition was dismissed based on the aforementioned findings.


The Supreme Court determined that both positions required individuals of high competence, viewing them as equally important as the petitioner’s top-tier cadre posts. The petitioner’s expertise led to their appointment as Officer on Special Duty, with both roles considered equal in status and responsibility. The government’s actions were found to lack ill intent, as the petitioner diligently fulfilled their duties without objection. No evidence supported the petitioner’s allegations against the Chief Minister, resulting in the dismissal of the petition. The verdict rendered by the honorable justices remains a well-regarded judgment in law and continues to be applicable. Both the verdict and the justices’ opinions hold a significant place in Indian jurisprudence.

[1]E.P.Royappa v. State of Tamilnadu, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1327287/

[2]Article 14, of the Indian Constitution.

[3]What the Supreme Court said on Article 14 in E P Royappa Case?https://thelawmatics.in/what-supreme-court-said-on-article-14-in-e-p-royappa-case/ (last visited Feb.25, 2024).

[4]Fundamental Rule 9(19), http://www.bareactslive.com

[5]Article 14, of the Indian Constitution, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/367586/

[6]Article 16, of the Indian  Constitution, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/211089/

[7]Article 32, of the Indian Constitution, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/981147/

[8]Rule 9(1) of Indian Administrative Service (Pay) Rules, 1954, https://mahaias.maharashtra.gov.in/mahaias/rules/pay_rule.htm

[9]Rule 4(2) of Indian Administrative Service (Cadre) Rules, 1954, https://dopt.gov.in/sites/default/files/Revised_AIS_Rule_Vol_II_IAS_Rule_01_0.pdf

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