Writ court justified interfering with disciplinary enquiry-orders for violation of natural justice, non-application of mind, non-recording of reasons-SC

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Writ court justified interfering with disciplinary enquiry and orders if it suffers from violation of  principles of natural justice or exhibit non-application of mind or non-recording of reasons by the Enquiry Officer or the Disciplinary Authority-Supreme Court

Writ court justified interfering with disciplinary enquiry

ABCAUS Case Law Citation:
ABCAUS 1094 (2017) (01) SC

Important Case Laws Cited:
Roop Singh Negi v. Punjab National Bank & Ors.
Kuldeep Singh v. Commissioner of Police & Ors.
Nand Kishore v. State of Bihar
Kailash Nath Gupta v. Enquiry Officer, Allahabad Bank & Ors.
State Bank of Bikaner & Jaipur v. Nemi Chand Nalwaya
Mohd. Yunus Khan v. State of U.P. & Ors.

The Grievance:
The appellant bank was aggrieved by the judgment of the Allahabad High Court, Lucknow Bench, quashing the order passed by the Disciplinary Authority and by the Appellate Authority directing removal of the respondent from the service of the appellant-bank.

Brief Facts of the Case:
The respondent was employed with the appellant-bank and was posted as Officer in-charge at the one of the appellant-bank’s branch in the State of Uttar Pradesh. The respondent had been placed under suspension in contemplation of a disciplinary enquiry initiated against him. The respondent had pleaded not guilty but the Enquiry Officer concluded the enquiry proceedings within a span of about forty-five days and submitted report holding the respondent as guilty on all counts except two which were held proved but only partially. The Disciplinary Authority of the appellant bank accepted the findings and passed an order removing the respondent from service.

Aggrieved, the respondent preferred a departmental appeal which was dismissed by the Appellate Authority. The respondent then questioned the two orders before the High Court in a writ petition. The High Court came to the conclusion that neither the Disciplinary Authority nor the Appellate Authority had applied their mind or recorded reasons in support of their conclusions. The High Court held that the order passed by the disciplinary authority and the appellate authority were unsustainable in law. The High Court found that the findings recorded by the Disciplinary Authority and affirmed by the Appellate Authority were perverse and were based on no evidence whatsoever. The High Court observed that the Appellate Authority had not applied its mind independently and simply cut and pasted the findings of the Disciplinary Authority while dismissing the appeal.

The High Court quashing the orders, directed the bank to provide all service/retiral benefits to the petitioner within ninety days of the order.

Contentions of the Appellant Bank:
It was contended that the High Court had exceeded its jurisdiction in re-appreciating the evidence and holding the respondent not guilty. It was argued that so long as there was some evidence on which the Disciplinary Authority could rest its findings, sufficiency or insufficiency of such evidence could not be gone into by a Writ Court.

Alternatively, it was submitted that even if there was any infirmity in the orders passed by the Disciplinary Authority or the Appellate Authority, on account of absence or insufficiency of the reasons in support of the findings recorded by them, the proper course for the High Court was to remand the matter back to the Appellate Authority or the Disciplinary Authority as the case may be for doing the needful afresh. The High Court could not, on account of absence of reasons or unsatisfactory appraisal of the evidence by them, quash the order of punishment and direct release of the service benefits due to the respondent.

Contentions of the Respondent:
It was contended that the enquiry conducted and the conclusion arrived at by the Enquiry Officer, Disciplinary Authority and the Appellate Authority suffered from fatal defects. Firstly, because the enquiry conducted by the Enquiry Officer was unfair and had resulted in gross miscarriage of justice on account of the failure of the Enquiry Officer to provide a reasonable opportunity to the respondent to lead evidence in his defense.

That the findings recorded by the Enquiry Officer and so also the Disciplinary Authority were unsupported by any evidence whatsoever and were perverse to say the least.

It was also argued that the orders were unsustainable also for the reason that the same did not disclose due and proper application of mind by the Disciplinary Authority and the Appellate Authority.

It was submitted that the order passed by the Appellate Authority was, in particular, bad in law as the same did not examine the material on record independently and had simply relied upon the findings of the Disciplinary Authority without adverting to the points which the respondent had raised in support of his challenge.

It was further submitted that the respondent had since superannuated and suffered a heart attack and a debilitating stroke confining him to bed. Any remand of the proceedings to the Appellate Authority to pass a fresh order or the Disciplinary Authority for re-examination and fresh determination of the respondent’s guilt would not only be harsh but would tantamount to denial of justice to him.

Observations made by the Supreme Court:
The Hon’ble Apex Court observed that normally a writ court would not hurry in interfering with the findings of facts recorded by a Departmental Authority on the basis of evidence available on record. But it is equally true that in a case where the Disciplinary Authority records a finding that is unsupported by any evidence whatsoever or a finding which no reasonable person could have arrived at, the writ court would be justified if not duty bound to examine the matter and grant relief in appropriate cases.

The Hon’ble Court stated that the writ court will certainly interfere with disciplinary enquiry or the resultant orders passed by the competent authority on that basis if the enquiry itself was vitiated on account of violation of principles of natural justice, as is alleged to be the position in the present case. Non-application of mind by the Enquiry Officer or the Disciplinary Authority, non-recording of reasons in support of the conclusion arrived at by them are also grounds on which the writ courts are justified in interfering with the orders of punishment.

The Hon’ble Court opined that the High Court had found all the aforesaid infirmities in the order passed by the Disciplinary Authority and the Appellate Authority.  According to the Hon’ble Court, the respondent could not effectively rebut the respondent’s case that the enquiry was conducted without giving a fair and reasonable opportunity for leading evidence in defense.

It was observed that the Disciplinary Authority had not properly appreciated the evidence nor recorded reasons in support of the conclusion. Further, the Appellate Authority instead of recording its own reasons and independently appreciating the material on record, simply reproduced the findings of the Disciplinary Authority. Every one, the Enquiry Officer, the Disciplinary Authority and the Appellate Authority had faltered in the discharge of their duties resulting in miscarriage of justice and in that view the High Court was right in interfering with the orders passed by the Disciplinary Authority and the Appellate Authority.

The Hon’ble Court upheld the quashing of the orders than remanding them back to the concerned authorities and clarified that there might be situations where because of a long time lag or such other supervening circumstances the writ court considers it unfair, harsh or otherwise unnecessary to direct a fresh enquiry or fresh order by the competent authority. In view of the medical/physical conditions and age of the respondent any remand either to the Enquiry Officer for a fresh enquiry or to the Disciplinary Authority for a fresh order or even to the Appellate Authority would be very harsh and would practically deny any relief to the respondent.

Held:
The Hon’ble Supreme Court, upheld the quashing of the orders passed by the Disciplinary Authority and the Appellate Authority and ordered that the respondent shall be entitled to continuity of service till the date of his superannuation with all service benefits on that basis, The Respondent shall be entitled to only 50% of the salary for the period between the date of his removal from service till the date of superannuation. Retiral benefits shall also be released.

Writ court justified interfering with disciplinary enquiry

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