Promissory estoppel inapplicable in a situation where a student has knowledge about failure in examination: Orissa HC holds ‘Charan Panda case’ to be bad in law

Orissa High Court

Orissa High Court: In a reference made by the Division Bench to Larger Bench to decide the correctness of a decision made by another Division Bench in case of Nrusingha Charan Panda v. The Secretary, Board of Secondary Education, Orissa, 1992 SCC OnLine Ori 134, wherein it was held that the rule of promissory estoppel is applicable in situation of a person who had no knowledge about his failure in matriculation examination and joined services post completing higher education. The fullBench of S. Muralidhar, C.J., S.K Panigrahi and M.S Raman, JJ., said that the appellant cannot claim that she was unaware of the fact that she had failed in “Education” subject. Thus, in the circumstances, the question of applying the doctrine of promissory estoppel in her case does not arise. Further, held that the decision of the Division Bench in Charan Panda is no longer a good law.


In the matter at hand, the appellant enrolled herself in Bachelor of Arts programme (“B.A.”) and passed the same in 1999, even after knowing the fact that she had failed in “English” and “Education” paper subject in her +2 Council of Higher Secondary Education (“CHSE”) examination and no “certificate of passing” was awarded to her. She appeared in compartment paper for “English” and passed the same, but chose not to appear for compartment examination of subject “Education”.

Later, when she wanted to enroll herself in B.Ed. course, it was established that she had failed in the “Education” subject and therefore, CHSE adjudged her “fail” and refused to issue “certificate of passing”.

The appellant preferred an intra-court appeal before the Division Bench against the order of the Single-Judge Bench, contending that the principle of promissory estoppel would apply in her favor and relied on the decision of another Division Bench in Charan Panda(supra), and urged that she had “no knowledge” of her not passing the “Education” subject and thus, CHSE could not deny her from issuance of the passing certificate. The Division Bench, hearing the appeal, did not agree with the conclusion in Charan Panda(supra) and referred the appeal to the Larger Bench of the High Court for the correctness of the decision.

Court’s Analysis:

The Court said that the ingredients for the application of the doctrine of estoppel, as explained in several judgments of the Supreme Court, are as follows:

a. That there was a representation or promise regarding something,

b. that the representation or promise was intended to affect/alter the legal relationship of the parties and to be acted upon, and,

c. that it is, one on which, the other side has, in fact, acted to its prejudice.

One exception is that if the individual had “knowledge” about the truth/fact of the matter, then the doctrine of estoppel will not apply.

Placing its reliance on Suresh Chandra Choudhury v. Berhampur University, 1986 SCC OnLine Ori 65 and Reeta v. Berhampur University, 1992 SCC OnLine Ori 51 the Court held that “one of the requirements of applicability of the principle of estoppel is the person concerned must show that he was not aware of the true state of things or that he had no means to know the same”. Thus, it evidentially said that the decision in Chandra Panda required reconsideration and was no longer a good law.

The Court applied the above-mentioned principles in the present case and enunciated that the appellant cannot claim that she was unaware of the fact that she had failed in “Education” subject. The CHSE marksheet given to her just after declaration of the results, made clear of the fact that she was aware of her “fail” status in the “Education” subject. There was no occasion for the appellant to be under a misconception as to that fact. Thus, in the circumstances, the question of applying the doctrine of promissory estoppel in her case does not arise.

Further, the Court said that directing the authorities to issue and deliver the original certificate of passing in the CHSE examination to the appellant would be tantamount to compelling the authority to act against the law. There can be no estoppel against the law.

[Litumanjari Pradhan v. Chairman, Council of Higher Secondary Education, Bhubaneswar, 2023 SCC OnLine Ori 1375, decided on 31-03-2023]

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