Category Archives: Departmental Enquiry

Departmental Enquiries – Cannot be Treated As A Casual Exercise

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.

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Power of – Review of Punishment

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.

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Non-Holding of Oral Inquiry – Is a Serious Flaw

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.

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Enquiry Proceedings – Confessional Statement

The scope of interference in disciplinary proceedings by the Courts is to a limited extent especially when the domestic enquiry has been conducted and due opportunity has been given to the delinquent official. Certainly the court can look into the points whether the enquiry was conducted in fair manner and principles of natural justice were followed, but in the given set of facts, the petitioner had himself made a confessional statement that he did not want to continue with the enquiry proceedings and admitted his guilt. Courts are not supposed to perform the duties of appellate authority to scan the evidence, but the role of courts is limited to the extent that the Court is to see whether domestic enquiry was conducted in a fair manner and due opportunity was given to the delinquent official. Gurjant Singh v. Industrial Tribunal, Patiala, 2019 (160) FLR 209.

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Exceptions – From Holding An Inquiry

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.

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Major Punishment – Examination of Witnesses

In Subhash Chandra Sharma v. Managing Director, 2000 (1) UPLBEC 541, it was held as under:

          “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 defense. In Punjab National Bank v. A.I.P.N.B.E. Federation, AIR 1960 SC 160, 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 ACC Ltd. v. Their Workmen, 1963 (7) FLR 269, and in Tata Oil Mills Co. Ltd. v. Their Workmen, 1963 (6) FLR 257.

          Even if the employee refuses to participate in the enquiry, the employer cannot straightaway dismiss him, but he must hold an ex-parte enquiry where evidence must be led vide Imperial Tobacco Co. Ltd. v. Its Workmen, 1961 (3) FLR 524 and Uma Shanker v. Registrar, 1992 (65) FLR 674.

          Hon’ble Supreme Court in Roop Singh Negi v. Punjab National Bank, 2009 (120) FLR 610, 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 proceedings. Not 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.”

          Similar view has been taken in Sohan Lal v. U.P. Co-operative Federation Ltd., 2013 (139) FLR 723:

          “The principle of law emanates from the above judgments are that initial burden is on the department to prove the charges. In case of procedure adopted for inflicting major penalty, the department must prove the charges by oral evidence also.

          From the perusal of the enquiry report it is demonstrably proved that no oral evidence has been led by the department. When a major punishment is proposed to be passed, the department has to prove the charges against the delinquent/employee by examining the witnesses and by documentary evidence. In the present case, no witness was examined to prove the documents in the proceedings.

          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 visits serious 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 the enquiry, the department has to establish the charges against the employee by adducing oral as well as documentary evidence. In case the charges warrant major punishment, then the oral evidence by producing the witnesses is necessary.” Lalta Prasad v. State of U.P., 2019 (161) FLR 183.        

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Vague Charges – Enquiry Cannot Sustain

Hon’ble Apex Court in Union Of India v. Gyan Chand Chattar, (2009) 12 SCC 78, has clearly held that no enquiry can be sustained on a vague charge. It was held as under:

“An enquiry is to be conducted against any person giving strict adherence to the statutory provisions and principles of natural justice. The charges should be specific, definite and giving details of the incident which formed the basis of charges. No enquiry can be sustained on vague charges. Enquiry has to be conducted fairly, objectively and not subjectively. Finding should not be perverse or unreasonable, nor the same should be based on conjectures and surmises. There is a distinction in proof and suspicion. Every act or omission on the part of the delinquent cannot be a misconduct. The authority must record reasons for arriving at the finding of fact in the context of the statute defining the misconduct.”

It was held in Anant R. Kulkarni v. Y.P. Education Society and others, (2013) 6 SCC 515, that it is absolutely clear that the charge sheet is vague and does not establish any charge, therefore, no enquiry can be proceeded on the basis of that. Tej Singh v. State of U.P., 2018 (3) ESC 1454.

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