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Shri Mahadeo Naik v. Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation - (High Court of Bombay) (07 Feb 2017)

Inquiring officer and disciplinary authority are different; proceedings must be held in two separate stages



Since, 19 April 1988, Petitioner had been working as a bus driver with Respondent. On 10 May 1996, State Transport bus driven by Petitioner collided with a truck coming in the opposite direction, resulting into death of 2 passengers and injuries to several others Respondent issued a chargesheet against Petitioner, levelling charges of misconduct. Inquiry Officer found Petitioner to be guilty of gross negligence in driving and held his misconduct of indiscipline, severe damage and inconvenience to Corporation and public, breach of departmental circulars/directives and rash driving to be proved. Respondent thereafter issued a show cause notice. Being aggrieved by dismissal, Petitioner raised an industrial dispute. By its preliminary awards, Labour Court held the inquiry to be fair and proper and findings not to be perverse. After hearing parties on quantum of punishment, Court passed its final award, rejecting reference, finding the punishment to be proportionate.

There is no inherent infirmity in having disciplinary authority inquire into misconduct of a charge-sheeted employee. Decided cases lays down that where two authorities, namely, inquiring officer and disciplinary authority, are different, proceedings must be held in two separate stages, charge-sheeted employee having an opportunity to show cause separately both in enquiry and for punishment proposed on basis of inquiry. Under the discipline and appeal regulations framed by Respondent Corporation, as a general rule, Appointing Authority, or any Authority higher than it, is competent to initiate departmental proceedings and to hold enquiry against employee concerned and to award punishment ¬ (Clause 18). Without prejudice to competence of Appointing Authority or to inherent powers of any higher authority officers mentioned in Schedule 'C' of the regulations were appointed to be the competent authority to deal with acts of misconduct of different classes of employees and to inflict punishments as if they were the competent authority under Clause 18(Clause 19). It is not in dispute that, Divisional Traffic Officer, who conducted the inquiry and decided the punishment, was a competent authority within the meaning of these clauses, and could, therefore, hold the inquiry and also inflict the punishment. There is, accordingly, no substance in Petitioner's contention that there was breach of principles of natural justice by reason of fact that the inquiring authority and the disciplining authority were the same.

Inquiry was held on four dates. There was a presenting officer who submitted his report after he was examined. His cross¬examination was conducted by the Union's representative who was conducting the defence of the workman, and who was chosen for the task by the workman himself. Workman's evidence was recorded by competent authority with help of Union's representative; the former's signature was obtained on it. After the inquiry, findings of the competent authority were supplied to the workman, before he was asked to show cause in the matter of punishment proposed. There is, in the premises, adequate compliance with the principles of natural justice. Merely because questions were asked to the workman by the enquiry officer, it cannot be said that natural justice was denied to him.

Labour Court, in its award held that, Petitioner had failed to prove that enquiry conducted by the Respondent was not fair or proper. As for conclusion of enquiry officer on charges levelled against the Petitioner, Labour Court, in its second preliminary award on issue of perversity, accepted management's case that the enquiry officer had derived his findings on the basis of thereport submitted by the reporter, panchnama and other relevant documents on record as also oral evidence led by the parties and held that the findings of the enquiry officer were based on evidence and there was no perversity in them. Based on material before court, namely, reporter's report, police panchnama, statements of witnesses, etc., it cannot be said that, conclusion drawn by Court is such as no reasonable man, duly instructed in law, could ever have arrived at.


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