Acting beyond authority constitutes a misconduct – Supreme Court

Acting beyond authority constitutes a misconduct. Dereliction in discharge of duties whether by negligence or deliberate intention or with casualness constitutes misconduct on the part of such employee/officer. 

Acting beyond authority constitutes a misconduct

ABCAUS Case Law Citation:
ABCAUS 2068 (2017) (09) SC

The Substantial Question of Law framed/urged for determination:
Whether the charges leveled against the appellant (employee), as set out above, were proved in the departmental proceedings before the Enquiry Officer or/and before the Tribunal? If yes, then whether the punishment imposed by the respondent(employer) on the appellant(employee) dismissing him from the service is just and proper?

Important Case Laws Cited/relied upon by the parties:
Damoh Panna Sagar Rural Regional Bank & Anr. v. Munna Lal Jain, (2005) 10 SCC 84)
Disciplinary Authority-cum-Regional Manager & Ors. Vs. Nikunja Bihari Patnaik, 1996(9) SCC 69)

Brief Facts of the Case:
The appellant was an assistant in the Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC) posted in at a Branch Office. It was noticed that the appellant had issued several receipts including special premium receipts to the policyholders without receiving any premium amount from them. The LIC placed the appellant under suspension and then issued the charge-sheet to the appellant. The appellant, in substance, admitted the issuance of receipts by him and also admitted non-receipt of the amount against any of these receipts from any of the policyholders.

The appellant submitted that he had neither any mala fide intention nor any oblique motive behind this. According to him it occurred due to the pressure of work and family circumstances/worries and prayed LIC to take lenient view in the case against him.

Dissatisfied with the reply of the appellant, the LIC conducted a Departmental Enquiry. During the Departmental Enquiry in which the appellant fully participated, the LIC adduced evidence to prove the charges against the appellant.

The Enquiry Officer, in his detailed report recorded the findings against the appellant and held that the charges leveled against the appellant was proved.

Accordingly, the LIC dismissed the appellant from the service in accordance with Life Insurance Corporation of India (Staff) Regulations, 1960.

The appellant preferred departmental appeal to Zonal Manager which was dismissed. The appellant then sought industrial reference to the Central Government Industrial Tribunal.

The Tribunal held that the LIC failed to prove the charges against the appellant for want of adequate evidence and, therefore, the dismissal order was liable to be set aside. It was, accordingly, set aside with a further direction to pay the entire retiral benefits to the appellant because, in the meantime, the appellant had attained the age of superannuation.

Challenging the order of the Tribunal, the LIC filed writ petition before the High Court. The Single Judge stayed the operation of the award of the Industrial Tribunal on condition that the LIC would pay a sum of Rs.50,000/- by way of ex-gratia payment to the appellant and then disposed of the writ petition giving liberty to the parties to apply before the Tribunal.

Against the order of the Single Bench, the LIC approached the Division Bench. The Division Bench allowed the appeal filed byLIC, setting aside the order of the Single Judge and the award of the Tribunal and upheld the dismissal order passed by the respondent.

Against this order of the Division Bench, the employee had filed this instant appeal by way of special leave before the Supreme Court.

Observations made by the Supreme Court:
The Supreme Court observed that by mere reading of the appellant’s reply it could be held that charges are proved. The appellant in no uncertain terms, admitted that he had issued the disputed premium/special premium receipts to the concerned policyholders and did not receive the amount from any of them.

The Supreme Court opined that the appellant had only said that such mistake occurred on his part due to heavy pressure of workload on him and some family circumstances/worries that were troubling him during those days which was hardly any defense to the charge. Also he himself requested for taking action against him with leniency.

The Supreme Court observed that the principle of natural justice was fully observed in departmental proceedings wherein the appellant throughout participated and no prejudice was noticed having been caused to the appellant while participating in the Enquiry proceedings. Also,  apart , despite the appellant virtually admitting the charges, the LIC had also adduced the evidence before the Enquiry officer and then before the Tribunal to prove the charges independently, which were rightly found acceptable by the Division Bench

The Supreme Court held that the charges against the appellant were proved not only on the strength of the admission of the appellant in his reply but also independently with the aid of the evidence led by the LIC before the Enquiry Officer and later before the Industrial Tribunal.

The Supreme Court opined that an employee, in discharge of his duties, is required to exercise higher standard of honesty and integrity. In a case where he deals with the money of the depositors and customers, it is all the more

necessary for him to be more cautious in his duties because he deals with the money transactions for and on behalf of his employer. Every such employee/officer is, therefore, required to take all possible steps to protect the interest of his employer. He must, therefore, discharge his duties with utmost sense of integrity, honesty, devotion and diligence and must ensure that he does nothing, which is unbecoming of an employee/officer.

The Supreme Court opined that good conduct and discipline are inseparable from the functioning of every employee/officer of any Institution and more when the institution deals with money of the customers.

The Supreme Court further observed that any dereliction in discharge of duties whether by way of negligence or with deliberate intention or with casualness constitutes misconduct on the part of such employee/officer.

The Supreme Court observed that there was no defense available to say that there was no loss or profit resulting in a case when officer/employee is found to have acted without authority as acting beyond one’s authority by itself is a breach of discipline and thus constitutes a misconduct rendering the delinquent to suffer the adverse orders

The findings of the Enquiry Officer, the punishment of dismissal was appropriate as provided in the service regulations and hence did not call for any leniency in awarding such punishment.

Acting beyond authority constitutes a misconduct

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