Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Leading judgment on duty of disciplinary authority in departmental enquiry

 Recently the entire law on the subject has been reviewed and reiterated in Chamoli District Co-operative Bank Ltd. Vs. Raghunath Singh Rana and others, AIR 2016 SC 2510 and Court has culled out certain principles as under: 
"i) The enquiries must be conducted bona fide and care must be taken to see that the enquiries do not become empty formalities. 
ii) If an officer is a witness to any of the incidents which is the subject matter of the enquiry or if the enquiry was initiated on a report of an officer, then in all fairness he should not be the Enquiry Officer. If the said position becomes known after the appointment of the Enquiry Officer, during the enquiry, steps should be taken to see that the task of holding an enquiry is assigned to some other officer. 
(iii) In an enquiry, the employer/department should take steps first to lead evidence against the workman/delinquent charged and give an opportunity to him to cross-examine the witnesses of the employer. Only thereafter, the workman/delinquent be asked whether he wants to lead any evidence and asked to give any explanation about the evidence led against him. 
(iv) On receipt of the enquiry report, before proceeding further, it is incumbent on the part of the disciplinary/punishing authority to supply a copy of the enquiry report and all connected materials relied on by the enquiry officer to enable him to offer his views, if any." 
15. The principal of law emanates from the above judgments is that initial burden is on the department to prove the charges. In case where inquiry is initiated with a view to inflict major penalty, department must prove charges by adducing evidence by holding oral inquiry. 
16. From perusal of enquiry report it is demonstrably proved that no oral evidence has been held. When a major punishment could have been imposed, department has to prove charges against delinquent/employee by examining witnesses and by documentary evidence. In the present case no witness was examined by department neither any one has been examined to prove relied on documents in oral inquiry. 
17. It is trite law that the departmental proceedings are quasi judicial proceedings. The Inquiry Officer functions as quasi judicial officer. He is not merely a representative of the department. He has to act as an independent and impartial officer to find out the truth. The major punishment awarded to an employee visit serious civil consequences and as such the departmental proceedings ought to be in conformity with the principles of natural justice. Even if, an employee prefers not to participate in enquiry the department has to establish the charges against the employee by adducing oral as well as documentary evidence. In case charges warrant major punishment then the oral evidence by producing the witnesses is necessary. 
18. We may hasten to add that the a above mentioned law is subject to certain exception. When the facts are admitted or no real prejudice has been caused to employee or no other conclusion is possible, in such situation the order shall not be vitiated.
HIGH COURT OF JUDICATURE AT ALLAHABAD, LUCKNOW BENCH 

SERVICE BENCH No. - 585 of 2011 

State of U.P. V 
 Aditya Prasad Srivastava 
Hon'ble Sudhir Agarwal,J. 
Hon'ble Ravindra Nath Mishra-II,J. 

Dated: 17.01.2017 

1. Heard learned Standing Counsel for petitioner and perused the record. 
2. This writ petition under Article 226 of the Constitution of India has arisen from judgment and order dated 10.06.22010 passed by State Public Service Tribunal, Lucknow (hereinafter referred to as the (Tribunal") in Claim Petition No. 1849 of 1999 filed by claimant-respondent no. 1 challenging order of punishment dated 05.02.1997 and appellate order dated 05.11.1998 passed by Registrar, Cooperative Societies, imposing punishment of stoppage of two increments without cumulative effect, recovery of Rs. 17298/- and 'Censure'. Besides, appellate authority has also held that period of suspension shall be treated to be on duty but for the period of suspension no salary, except subsistence allowance shall be paid. 
3. Tribunal found that though Inquiry Officer was appointed since inquiry for major penalty was initiated by departmental authority after placing respondent no. 1 under suspension but no oral inquiry was conducted and after receiving reply from concerned employee Inquiry officer submitted report and thereafter order of punishment was passed, said proceedings are wholly illegal and contrary to law. In the result, Tribunal has allowed claim petition and set aside order of punishment. It also held that claimant-respondent no. 1 shall be entitled for all consequential benefits. 
4. Learned Standing Counsel appearing for petitioner submitted that since charges were supported by documentary evidences, therefore, no oral inquiry was found necessary. 
5. However, from charge sheet (page 59 of paper book) we find that documents which were relied in support of charges included some preliminary inquiry report and other documents of concerned society. In respect of charge no. 6 a complaint made by employees was also one of the document relied in support of charge. Aforesaid preliminary inquiry report and complaint etc. could not have been treated to be a valid evidence admissible even in departmental inquiry unless author of aforesaid documents are examined and delinquent employee is given opportunity to cross-examine the same. It cannot be said that in every case where documents are relied, oral inquiry is not to be conducted. It is settled that unless contents of a document which is not admitted, are proved by the author, who is examined before the inquiry officer and is available for cross examination by the delinquent employee, such document cannot be deemed to be proved and therefore such document cannot be relied to hold a delinquent employee guilty and to impose punishment upon him. We are fortified in taking this view by Apex Court's judgment in M/s Bareilly Electricity Supply Co. Ltd., Vs. The Workmen and others, AIR 1972 SC 330 where Court in para 14 of the judgment has observed as under: 
"But the application of principle of natural justice does not imply that what is not evidence can be acted upon. On the other hand what it means is that no materials can be relied upon to establish a contested fact which are not spoken to by persons who are competent to speak about them and are subjected to cross-examination by the party against whom they are sought to be used. When a document is produced in a Court or a Tribunal the question that naturally arises is, is it a genuine document, what are its contents and are the statements contained therein true. When the Appellant produced the balance-sheet and profit and loss account of the Company, it does not by its mere production amount to a proof of it or of the truth of the entries therein. If these entries are challenged the Appellant must prove each of such entries by producing the books and speaking from the entries made therein. If a letter or other document is produced to establish some fact which is relevant to the enquiry the writer must be produced or his affidavit in respect thereof be filed and opportunity afforded to the opposite party who challenges this fact. This is both in accord with principles of natural justice as also according to the procedure under Order XIX Civil Procedure Code and the Evidence Act both of which incorporate these general principles. Even if all technicalities of the Evidence Act are not strictly applicable except in so far as Section 11 of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 and the rules prescribed therein permit it, it is inconceivable that the Tribunal can act on what is not evidence such as hearsay, nor can it justify the Tribunal in basing its award on copies of documents when the originals which are in existence are not produced and proved by one of the methods either by affidavit or by witness who have executed them, if they are alive and can be produced. Again if a party wants an inspection, it is incumbent on the Tribunal to give inspection in so far as that is relevant to the enquiry. The applicability of these principles are well recognised and admit of no doubt." (para-14) (emphasis added) 
6. Moreover, when a departmental inquiry has been initiated with an intention to impose major penalty and Inquiry Officer is appointed, it is incumbent upon Inquiry Officer to hold oral inquiry else entire proceedings are vitiated in law. This Court may usefully refer to a discussion on this issue by a recent judgment of Supreme Court and a series of decisions of this Court. 
7. In State of Uttar Pradesh Vs. Saroj Kumar Sinha, (2010) 2 SCC 772, Court has held :- 
"An inquiry officer acting in a quasi-judicial authority is in the position of an independent adjudicator. He is not supposed to be a representative of the department/ disciplinary authority/ Government. His function is to examine the evidence presented by the Department, even in the absence of the delinquent official to see as to whether the unrebutted evidence is sufficient to hold that the charges are proved. In the present case the aforesaid procedure has not been observed. Since no oral evidence has been examined the documents have not been proved, and could not have been taken into consideration to conclude that the charges have been proved against the respondents." 
"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 wholly 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." (emphasis added) 
8. Similar view was taken in Roop Singh Negi v. Punjab National Bank, (2009) 2 SCC 570 where Court said:- 
"Indisputably, a departmental proceeding is a quasi-judicial proceeding. The enquiry officer performs a quasi-judicial function. The charges levelled 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." 
9. This Court also has taken same view earlier in Subhash Chandra Sharma Vs. Managing Director, U.P. Co-op. Spinning Mills Federation Ltd., Kanpur and another, 2000(1) UPLBEC 541 and said:- 
"In our opinion after the petitioner replied to the charge-sheet a date should have been fixed for the enquiry and the petitioner should have been intimated the date, time and place of the enquiry and on that date the oral and documentary evidence against the petitioner should have been led in his presence and he should have been given an opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses against him and also he should have been given an opportunity to produce his own witnesses and evidence. If the petitioner in response to this intimation had failed to appear for the enquiry then an ex parte enquiry should have been held but the petitioner's service should have not been terminated without holding an enquiry. In the present case it appears that no regular enquiry was held at all. All that was done that after receipt of the petitioner's reply to the charge-sheet he was given a show-cause notice and thereafter the dismissal order was passed. In our opinion this was not the correct legal procedure and there was violation of the rules of natural justice. Since no date for enquiry was fixed nor any enquiry held in which evidence was led in our opinion the impugned order is clearly violative of natural justice." 
"In Meenglas Tea Estate v. The workmen., AIR 1963 SC 1719, the Supreme Court observed "It is an elementary principle that a person who is required to answer a charge must know not only the accusation but also the testimony by which the accusation is supported. He must be given a fair chance to hear the evidence in support of the charge and to put such relevant questions by way to cross-examination as he desires. Then he must be given a chance to rebut the evidence led against him. This is the barest requirement of an enquiry of this character and this requirement must be substantially fulfilled before the result of the enquiry can be accepted". 
In S.C. Girotra v. United Commercial Bank 1995 Supp. (3) SCC 212, the Supreme Court set aside a dismissal order which was passed without giving the employee an opportunity of cross-examination. In State of U.P. v. C. S. Sharma, AIR 1968 SC 158, the Supreme Court held that omission to give opportunity to the officer to produce his witnesses and lead evidence in his defence vitiates the proceedings. The Court also held that in the enquiry witnesses have to be examined in support of the allegations, and opportunity has to be given to the delinquent to cross-examine these witnesses and to lead evidence in his defence. In Punjab National Bank v. A.I.P.N.B.E. Federation, AIR 1960 SC 160, (vide para 66) the Supreme Court held that in such enquiries evidence must be recorded in the presence of the charge-sheeted employee and he must be given an opportunity to rebut the said evidence. The same view was taken in A.C.C. Ltd. v. Their Workmen, (1963) II LLJ. 396, and in Tata Oil Mills Co. Ltd. v. Their Workmen, (1963) II LLJ. 78 (SC). 
Even if the employee refuses to participate in the enquiry the employer cannot straightaway dismiss him, but he must hold and ex-parte enquiry where evidence must be led vide Imperial Tobacco Co. Ltd. v. Its Workmen, AIR 1962 SC 1348, Uma Shankar v. Registrar, 1992 (65) FLR 674 (All)." 
10. The above judgment was followed by a Division Bench in Subhas Chandra Sharma v. U.P.Co-operative Spinning Mills and others reported 2001 (2) UPLBEC 1475 wherein Court held: 
"In cases where a major punishment proposed to be imposed an oral enquiry is a must, whether the employee request, for it or not. For this it is necessary to issue a notice to the employee concerned intimating him date, time and place of the enquiry as held by the Division Bench of this Court in Subhash Chandra Sharma v. Managing Director, (2000) 1 UPLBEC 541, against which SLP has been dismissed by the Supreme Court on 16-8-2000." 
11. This Court in Rajesh Prasad Mishra v. Commissioner, Jhansi Division, Jhansi and others reported 2010 (1) UPLBEC 216, after a detailed analysis of earlier precedents on the subject, observed as under: 
"Now coming to the question, what is the effect of non-holding of oral inquiry, I find that, in a case where the inquiry officer is appointed, oral inquiry is mandatory. The charges are not deemed to be proved suo motu merely on account of levelling them by means of the charge sheet unless the same are proved by the department before the inquiry officer and only thereafter it is the turn of delinquent employee to place his defence. Holding oral enquiry is mandatory before imposing a major penalty, as held by Apex Court in State of U.P. & another Vs. T.P.Lal Srivastava, 1997 (1) LLJ 831 as well as by a Division Bench of this Court in Subhash Chandra Sharma Vs. Managing Director & another, 2000 (1) U.P.L.B.E.C. 541. 
The question as to whether non holding of oral inquiry can vitiate the entire proceeding or not has also been considered in detail by a Division Bench of this Court (in which I was also a member) in the case of Salahuddin Ansari Vs. State of U.P. and others, 2008(3) ESC 1667 and the Court has clearly held that non holding of oral inquiry is a serious flaw which vitiates the entire disciplinary proceeding including the order of punishment." 
12. In Mahesh Narain Gupta v. State of U.P. and others, (2011) 2 ILR 570, also this Court had an occasion to deal with the same issue and held: 
"At this stage, we are to observe that in the disciplinary proceedings against a delinquent, the department is just like a plaintiff and initial burden lies on the department to prove the charges which can certainly be proved only by collecting some oral evidence or documentary evidence, in presence and notice charged employee. Even if the department is to rely its own record/document which are already available, then also the enquiry officer by looking into them and by assigning his own reason after analysis, will have to record a finding that hose documents are sufficient enough to prove the charges. 
In no case, approach of the Enquiry Officer that as no reply has been submitted, the charge will have to be automatically proved can be approved. This will be erroneous. It has been repeatedly said that disciplinary authority has a right to proceed against delinquent employee in exparte manner but some evidence will have to be collected and justification to sustain the charges will have to be stated in detail. The approach of the enquiry officer of automatic prove of charges on account of non filing of reply is clearly misconceived and erroneous. This is against the principle of natural justice, fair play, fair hearing and, thus, enquiry officer has to be cautioned in this respect." 
13. In another case in Subhash Chandra Gupta v. State of U.P., 2012 (1) UPLBEC 166, a Division Bench of this Court, after survey of law on this issue, said: 
"It is well settled that when the statute provides to do a thing in a particular manner that thing has to be done in that very manner. We are of the considered opinion that any punishment awarded on the basis of an enquiry not conducted in accordance with the enquiry rules meant for that very purposes is unsustainable in the eye of law. We are further of the view that the procedure prescribed under the inquiry rules for imposing major penalty is mandatory in nature and unless those procedures are followed, any out come inferred thereon will be of no avail unless the charges are so glaring and unrefutable which does not require any proof. The view taken by us find support from the judgement of the Apex Court in State of U.P. & another Vs. T.P.Lal Srivastava, 1997 (1) LLJ 831 as well as by a Division Bench of this Court in Subash Chandra Sharma Vs. Managing Director & another, 2000 (1) U.P.L.B.E.C. 541. 
A Division Bench decision of this Court in the case of Salahuddin Ansari Vs. State of U.P. and others, 2008 (3) ESC 1667 held that non holding of oral inquiry is a serious flaw which can vitiate the order of disciplinary proceeding including the order of punishment has observed as under:- 
"10....... Non holding of oral inquiry in such a case, is a serious matter and goes to the root of the case. 
11. A Division Bench of this Court in Subash Chandra Sharma Vs. Managing Director & another, 2000 (1) U.P.L.B.E.C. 541, considering the question as to whether holding of an oral 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. The aforesaid view was reiterated in Subash Chandra Sharma Vs. U.P.Cooperative Spinning Mills & others, 2001 (2) U.P.L.B.E.C. 1475 and Laturi Singh Vs U.P.Public Service Tribunal & others, Writ Petition No. 12939 of 2001, decided on 06.05.2005." 
14. Recently the entire law on the subject has been reviewed and reiterated in Chamoli District Co-operative Bank Ltd. Vs. Raghunath Singh Rana and others, AIR 2016 SC 2510 and Court has culled out certain principles as under: 
"i) The enquiries must be conducted bona fide and care must be taken to see that the enquiries do not become empty formalities. 
ii) If an officer is a witness to any of the incidents which is the subject matter of the enquiry or if the enquiry was initiated on a report of an officer, then in all fairness he should not be the Enquiry Officer. If the said position becomes known after the appointment of the Enquiry Officer, during the enquiry, steps should be taken to see that the task of holding an enquiry is assigned to some other officer. 
(iii) In an enquiry, the employer/department should take steps first to lead evidence against the workman/delinquent charged and give an opportunity to him to cross-examine the witnesses of the employer. Only thereafter, the workman/delinquent be asked whether he wants to lead any evidence and asked to give any explanation about the evidence led against him. 
(iv) On receipt of the enquiry report, before proceeding further, it is incumbent on the part of the disciplinary/punishing authority to supply a copy of the enquiry report and all connected materials relied on by the enquiry officer to enable him to offer his views, if any." 
15. The principal of law emanates from the above judgments is that initial burden is on the department to prove the charges. In case where inquiry is initiated with a view to inflict major penalty, department must prove charges by adducing evidence by holding oral inquiry. 
16. From perusal of enquiry report it is demonstrably proved that no oral evidence has been held. When a major punishment could have been imposed, department has to prove charges against delinquent/employee by examining witnesses and by documentary evidence. In the present case no witness was examined by department neither any one has been examined to prove relied on documents in oral inquiry. 
17. It is trite law that the departmental proceedings are quasi judicial proceedings. The Inquiry Officer functions as quasi judicial officer. He is not merely a representative of the department. He has to act as an independent and impartial officer to find out the truth. The major punishment awarded to an employee visit serious civil consequences and as such the departmental proceedings ought to be in conformity with the principles of natural justice. Even if, an employee prefers not to participate in enquiry the department has to establish the charges against the employee by adducing oral as well as documentary evidence. In case charges warrant major punishment then the oral evidence by producing the witnesses is necessary. 
18. We may hasten to add that the a above mentioned law is subject to certain exception. When the facts are admitted or no real prejudice has been caused to employee or no other conclusion is possible, in such situation the order shall not be vitiated. Reference may be made to the some of the decision of Supreme Court in K.L. Tripathi v. State Bank of India reported AIR 1984 SC 273; State Bank of Patiala v. S.K. Sharma reported AIR 1996 SC 1669; and Biecco Lawrie Ltd. v. West Bengal reported (2009) 10 SCC 32. 
19. In view of aforesaid exposition of law and well established principal it cannot be said that Tribunal has erred in setting aside order of punishment passed against Respondent-1, when admittedly no oral inquiry was conducted by petitioner. 
20. Writ petition lacks merit. Dismissed. 
21. Interim order, if any, stands vacated. 
Order Date :- 17.01.2017 

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