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Chief Executive Officer, Krishna District Co-operative Central Bank Ltd. And Anr v. K. Hanumanta Rao And Anr. - (Supreme Court) (09 Dec 2016)

Courts cannot usurp function of disciplinary authority, decision qua nature and quantum prerogative of disciplinary authority



A departmental inquiry was conducted against Respondent No.1, an employee of Appellant, into certain charges of misconduct. In said inquiry, charges were proved and as a result disciplinary authority inflicted punishment of dismissal from service upon Respondent No.1. High Court vide impugned judgment has altered said penalty of dismissal to that of stoppage of two increments for a period of three years.

Courts, while exercising their power of judicial review over such matters, do not sit as appellate authority. Decision qua the nature and quantum is prerogative of disciplinary authority. It is not function of High Court to decide the same. It is only in exceptional circumstances, where it is found that punishment/penalty awarded by disciplinary authority/ employer is wholly disproportionate, that too to an extent that it shakes conscience of Court, that Court steps in and interferes. No doubt, award of punishment, which is grossly in excess to allegations, cannot claim immunity and remains open for interference under limited scope for judicial review.

There was no such finding by High Court to the effect that, punishment awarded to Respondent No.1 was shockingly disproportionate. It is not the function of the High Court to impose a particular punishment even in those cases where it was found that penalty awarded by the employer is shockingly disproportionate. In such a case, the matter could, at the best, be remanded to the disciplinary authority for imposition of lesser punishment leaving it to such authority to consider as to which lesser penalty needs to be inflicted upon the delinquent employee. No doubt, the administrative authority has to exercise its powers reasonably. However, the doctrine that powers must be exercised reasonably has to be reconciled with the doctrine that the Court must not usurp the discretion of the public authority. Court must strive to apply an objective standard which leaves to the deciding authority the full range of choice.

In Lucknow Kshetriya Gramin Bank & Anr. v. Rajendra Singh, well-ingrained principle of law formulated that it is the disciplinary authority, or appellate authority in appeal, which is to decide nature of punishment to be given to a delinquent employee keeping in view seriousness of the misconduct committed by such an employee. Courts cannot assume and usurp the function of the disciplinary authority. In instant matter, since punishment imposed was not shockingly disproportionate, no question of remitting case to disciplinary authority arises. Supreme Court quashed impugned judgment of Division Bench of High Court.

Relevant : Lucknow Kshetriya Gramin Bank & Anr. v. Rajendra Singh


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