When a departmental enquiry is conducted against the Government servant, it cannot be treated as a casual exercise. The enquiry proceedings also cannot be conducted with a closed mind. The Inquiry Officer has to be totally unbiased. The rules of natural justice are required to be observed to ensure not only that justice is done but is manifestly seen to be done. The object of rules of natural justice is to ensure that a Government servant is treated fairly in proceedings which may culminate in imposition of punishment including dismissal/removal from service.
In Roop Singh Negi v. Punjab National Bank, (2009) 2 SCC 570, it was held as under:
“Indisputably, a departmental proceeding is a quasi judicial proceeding. The enquiry officer performs a quasi-judicial function. The charges leveled against the delinquent officer must be found to have been proved. The enquiry officer has a duty to arrive at a finding upon taking into consideration the materials brought on record by the parties. The purported evidence collected during investigation by the investigating officer against all the accused by itself could not be treated to be evidence in the disciplinary proceeding. No witness was examined to prove the said documents. The management witnesses merely tendered the documents and did not prove the contents thereof. Reliance, inter alia, was placed by the enquiry officer on the FIR which could not have been treated as evidence.” Ram Prakash Pal v. Chairman, 2018 (4) AWC 3952.
The expression “honourable acquitta” was considered by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Deputy Inspector General of Police v. S. Samuthiram, (2013) 1 SCC 598. In that case the Hon’ble Court was concerned with a situation where disciplinary proceedings were initiated against a police officer. Criminal case was pending against him under Section 509 IPC and Section 4 of the Eve Teasing Act. He was acquitted in that case because of the non-examination of key witnesses. There was a serious flaw in the conduct of the criminal case. Two material witnesses turned hostile. Referring to the judgment of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in RBI v. Bhopal Singh Panchal, (1994) 1 SCC 541, wherein in somewhat similar fact situation, the Hon’ble Court upheld a bank’s action of refusing to reinstate an employee in service on the ground that in the criminal case he was acquitted by giving him benefit of doubt and, therefore, it was not an honourable acquittal. It was further held that the High Court was not justified in setting aside the punishment imposed in the departmental proceedings. It was observed that the expressions “honourable acquittal”, “acquitted of blame” and “fully exonerated” are unknown to the Criminal Procedure Code or the Indian Penal Code. They are coined by judicial pronouncements. It is difficult to define what is meant by the expression “honourably acquitted”. The Hon’ble Court expressed that when the accused is acquitted after full consideration of the prosecution case and the prosecution miserably fails to prove the charges leveled against the accused, it can possibly be said that the accused was honorably accused.” State of Madhya Pradesh v. Abhijit Singh Pawar, 2018 (4) ESC 782.
An order of suspension of the Head or a Teacher, as the case may be, would become inoperative after lapse of sixty days but would continue to exist though inoperative but would become effective immediately on approval of District Inspector of Schools. In the event of the District Inspector of Schools disapproving the suspension, the order would become non est and would not exist in the eye of law unless the order of disapproval is set aside by the competent court/authority. The District Inspector of Schools while exercising power under sub-section (7) of Section 16 G of the U.P. Intermediate Education Act acts in a supervisory capacity. He has to record brief reason to accord approval or disapproval to any order of suspension passed by the Management. The District Inspector of Schools has to examine the papers so transmitted but would have no right to address on the merit of the charges, but has only to see on, prima facie basis, as to whether, charges have any substance. The issue in that regard has to be examined in departmental enquiry to be held against the Principal/Teacher. Committee of Management, D.P.S.N. Inter College v. State of U.P., 2018 (5) AWC 4767.
In Deputy Commissioner v. J. Hussain, (2013) 10 SCC 106, it was held that power of review of punishment ordinarily is not availed by a Court or Tribunal. Court while undertaking judicial review of matter is not supposed to substitute its own opinion on reappraisal of facts. In exercise of power of judicial review, court can interfere with the punishment imposed only when it is found to be totally irrational or is outrageous in defiance of logic. It was further observed “this limited scope of judicial review is permissible and interference is available only when punishment is shockingly disproportionate, suggesting lack of good faith. Otherwise, merely because in the opinion of the court lesser punishment would have been more appropriate, cannot be a ground to interfere with the discretion of the departmental authorities.” It further observed that it is only when punishment is found to be outrageously disproportionate to the nature of charge, principle of proportionality comes into play. Yogendra Kumar v. Union of India, 2018 (5) AWC 4858.
In Salahuddin Ansari v. State of U.P., 2008 (3) ESC 1667, it was held that non holding of oral inquiry is a serious flaw which can vitiate the order of disciplinary proceeding including the order or punishment. It was held as under:
“Non-holding of oral inquiry in such a case, is a serious matter and goes to the root of the case. In Subhash Chandra Sharma v. Managing Director, 2000 (1) UPLBEC 541, while considering the question as to whether holding of an inquiry is necessary or not, held that if no oral inquiry is held, it amounts to denial of principles of natural justice to the delinquent employee.” Mohan Law Garg v. State of U.P., (2019) 2 UPLBEC 1184.
Acquittal by a criminal court would not debar an employer from exercising the power to conduct departmental proceedings in accordance with the rules and regulations. The two proceedings, criminal and departmental, are entirely different. They operate in different fields and have different objectives. In the disciplinary proceedings, the question is whether the respondent is guilty of such conduct as would merit his removal from service or a lesser punishment, as the case may be, whereas in the criminal proceedings, the question is whether the offences registered against him under the Prevention of Corruption Act are established, and if established, what sentence should be imposed upon him. The standard of proof, the mode of inquiry and the rules governing inquiry and trial in both the cases are significantly distinct and different. Karnataka Power Transmission Corporation Ltd. v. C. Nagaraju, (2019) 10 SCC 367.
Clause (1) of Article 311 of the Constitution of India states that persons employed in civil services or posts under the Union or the States or members of the All India Service shall not be dismissed, removed or reduced in rank by an authority subordinate to that by which he/she was appointed. Clause (2) provides that such a person could be dismissed or removed or reduced in rank only after an inquiry in which he has been informed of the charges against him and after being afforded a reasonable opportunity of being heard in respect of those charges. The second proviso incorporates exceptions when the need for holding an inquiry under clause (2) can be dispensed with. Clause (b) of the Second Proviso to Article 311(2) can be invoked to impose a punishment of dismissal, removal or reduction in rank on the satisfaction, to be recorded in writing, that it is not reasonably practicable to conduct an inquiry before imposing the punishment. The Hon’ble Apex Court in Jaswant Singh v. State of Punjab, (1991)1 SCC 362, relying on an earlier decision in Union of India v. Tulsiram Patel, (1985) 3 SCC 398, has affirmatively held that the obligation of the competent authority to record reasons when passing an order under clause (b) to the second proviso to Article 311(2) is mandatory, and it was inter alia observed:
“It was incumbent on the respondents to disclose to the court the material in existence at the date of the passing of the impugned order in support of the subjective satisfaction recorded by Respondent No. 3 in the impugned order. Clause (b) of the Second Proviso to Article 311(2) can be invoked only when the authority is satisfied from the material placed before that it is not reasonable practicable to hold a departmental enquiry. It was observed as under: “A disciplinary authority is not expected to dispense with a disciplinary inquiry lightly or arbitrarily or out of ulterior motives or merely in order to avoid the holding of an inquiry or because the Department’s case against the Government servant is weak and must fail.” Hari Niwas Gupta v. State of Bihar, (2020) 3 SCC 153.