Much of the laws in India owe their existence to the British, and even now, in the present age, we rely on several principles borrowed by the common law system. The system of civil services was also brought to us by the British Raj, and after independence, it was accorded constitutional status under Article 309 of the Constitution of India. The doctrine of pleasure, also owing its origin to the English common law, finds its place in the Indian Constitution, under Article 310, and applies to the civil servants of the country.
Briefly stating, the doctrine of pleasure implies that since the members of the civil services are servants of the State, they enjoy their position and power as per the pleasure of the State.
Origin of Doctrine of Pleasure
The rule of pleasure originated from the Latin phrase durante bene placito (reges) which means “during good pleasure (of the King)”. In Dunn v. R., the Court of Appeal was of the view that a person who was in service of the Crown was to be employed for a tenure determined by the Crown, i.e. at the pleasure of the Crown. Such employment was in the interest of the public, and only under exceptional circumstances was the Crown subjected to restrictions in dismissal of its servants.
In Shenton v. Smith, the Privy Council held that the doctrine of pleasure was a ‘necessity’, since the dismissal of a servant of the Crown resulting in the proving of an offence in front of a jury would result in difficulty, and it would be an impediment to the working of the executive.
In England, the Crown is the Executive Head of the State and civil servants form a part of the Executive, both in England as well as India. As per the doctrine of pleasure, the Crown can terminate the service of a civil servant without notifying them of the termination. No civil servant can sue the Crown for wrongful termination or for damages of any kind. The principle behind this doctrine is that if the Crown feels that the service of a particular member of the civil services is against public policy, the Crown should have the right to end such service without having regard to the consequences that may ensue from the opposite side, i.e. the servant.
Doctrine of Pleasure India
Article 310 of the Indian Constitution states that every member of the defence or of the civil services, whether of the Union or of All-India Service, or a person holding a post connected with defence or a civil post of the Union holds office as per the pleasure of the President. In the respective states, every member of the civil services of the state or a person who holds a civil post of the state, holds their position as per the pleasure of the Governor. India follows a federal system of government, where the country is run by the Union at the centre and by the State in the respective states. The head of the Union Executive is the President, thus the members of the civil services of the Union enjoy the office as long as the President allows so. Similarly, the head of the State Executive is the Governor, and the members of the state civil services enjoy their office as long as the Governor allows them.
Limitations of Doctrine of Pleasure
Even though the doctrine of pleasure has been taken from England, it is not followed in the exact manner as over there. The doctrine can be subject to limitations through constitutional provisions. An Indian public servant can sue the State for arrears of salary, which is evident from the word “except” used in Article 310. However, in T. R. Rangarajan v. Govt. of India, the Supreme Court of India held that no public servant has the right to strike, whether morally or legally, and that if a member of the civil services felt aggrieved by any act of the government or any organ of the government, they could approach the appropriate court or tribunal and seek remedy for the same.
But a public servant cannot be dismissed except as per the rules mentioned under Article 309 and the procedure under Article 311(2) and the Fundamental Rights in the Constitution of India. The doctrine of pleasure can also be invoked by a public servant themselves as compulsory termination in the interest of public when they attain 50 years of age or have spent 25 years in service. The government does reserve the right to retire a public servant against their wish, but the servant can take voluntary retirement as well. The government also has a right to abolish a post of civil service, which, if exercised in bad faith, is subject to judicial review.
Article 311 of the Indian Constitution lays down certain safeguards for civil servants. Accordingly, civil servants cannot be removed from service by the government through the rule of pleasure unless Article 311 has been followed. The right to terminate a public servant is not a personal right of the President/Governor; the Council of Ministers has to be consulted with before such a step can be taken. A point worth noting here is that Article 311 is observed only when a public servant is to be dismissed, removed or reduced in rank by way of punishment. Thus, it becomes difficult to ascertain as to when a termination or reduction order would be deemed as punishment. In Parshottam Lal Dhingra v. Union of India, the Supreme Court stated that to determine this question, there were two tests, namely, whether the public servant possessed the right to hold office, and whether such office had lead him to produce evil consequences. If such a servant had the right to hold that office or rank, then any reduction or removal would amount to punishment, and the servant would be protected under Article 311. Both, Articles 310 and 311, apply to all government servants, whether permanent or temporary, in office or on probation.
The judiciary in our country has been rendered independent so as to uphold the system of checks and balances in the government. As a result, the judiciary is exempt from the application of the doctrine of pleasure, which means that the judges of the High Courts of the states and the judges of the Supreme Court cannot be removed following the whims and wishes of the legislature. In Union of India v. Balbir Singh, the Court held that it had the power to examine the satisfaction on the basis of which the President or the Governor dismissed a public servant. If the satisfaction is such that it has unrelated to the security of the State then it would be considered irrelevant and the Court can hold such dismissal as invalid.
Further, there are certain other categories of persons employed by the State, inclusive of but not limited to defence personnel, the Indian Audits and Accounts Department, Public Sector Undertakings and persons employed on a special contract, for whom separate rules of appointment and dismissal are reserved and they are subject to those rules alone.
The executive is considered the backbone of the government. The legislature sure is responsible for the paperwork of the country but the groundwork is done by the executive, which includes a large part of our population. Every civil servant is the servant of the government, and due to this relationship, the servants are liable to hold their positions, ranks and the powers arising from the same for as long as the government wants. However, wrongful exercise of the doctrine of pleasure can damage the legislature-executive relationship, thus the exercise of the rule of pleasure must be done cautiously and only under necessary situations, such as threat to the State or violation of public policy. The Constitution itself provides certain safeguards so that the executive is not exploited by its heads, and it is in this manner that the doctrine of pleasure in India differs from that of England. It is commendable that at such an early stage of the country’s development, our Constitution makers were aware of the corruption that the executive may have to face in the near future, and Articles 310 and 311 come as a safe call to such servants in distress.
 (1896) 1 QB 116.
 1895 AC 229 (PC).
 State of Bihar v. Abdul Majid, AIR 1954 SC 245.
 AIR 2003 SC 3032.
 AIR 1958 SC 36.
 LAC. No. 103 of 1992/1997.