Praneet v. State of Punjab and Ors. - (High Court of Punjab and Haryana) (24 Mar 2017)
Court can interfere with departmental authority’s decision, if inquiry is not conducted in a fair manner by following rules of natural justice
Ratio: Inquiry has to be conducted in a fair manner by following rules of natural justice
Instant writ petition has been preferred seeking to challenge findings of inquiry report and for writ in nature of certiorari to quash impugned order by which punishment of stoppage of one increment with cumulative effect has been imposed by Respondent No. 1. On basis of irregularities in voter list pertaining to village Mubarak which includes delay in sending record to office of State Election Commission, amongst another charge, Petitioner was served with a Memo. Petitioner submitted a detailed reply and brought factual aspect of matter to notice of authorities. Thereafter, a charge sheet was issued to the Petitioner at instance of State Election Commission, and Commissioner, Jalandhar was appointed as an Inquiry Officer who submitted his report to Chief Secretary. Petitioner submitted that, punishment has been imposed after an inordinate delay of five years on completion of inquiry. Questions that requires to be decided in instant writ petition are, whether there is a delay in imposition of penalty after conclusion of the inquiry and the effect thereof; and whether there is violation of Rules 8(23)(i) and 24 of the Punjab Civil Services (Punishment and Appeal) Rules, 1970.
Rule 8 of the Punjab Civil Service (Punishment and Appeal) Rules 1970 lays down procedure for imposition of major penalty upon a delinquent officer, which clearly makes it mandatory for a procedure to be followed in holding of inquiry. Rule 8(23)(i) of Rules stipulates that, after inquiry has been completed a report is to be prepared which shall contain articles of charge and statement of imputation of misconduct or misbehaviour, include defence of government employee in respect of each article of charge and thereafter give a finding on each article of charge and reasons thereof. Language in rule is mandatory and cannot be deviated from. Inquiry report notices charges that have been levelled against Petitioner, and then notices contentions of Petitioner in written statement against the charges levelled against him, and thereafter inquiry officer proceeded to hold that, charges stood proved against Petitioner.
This Court cannot sit as a Court of appeal over findings given in inquiry report or on matter of punishment imposed upon a delinquent officer. However, as held in the case of High Court of Judicature at Bombay versus Shashikant S. Patil, interference with decision of a departmental authority can be permitted in exercise of jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, (i) if such authority had held proceedings in violation of principles of natural justice or in violation of statutory regulations prescribing mode of inquiry; and (ii) if a decision of authority is vitiated by consideration extraneous to the evidence and merits of the case or if conclusion made by authority on very face of it is wholly arbitrary or capricious that no reasonable person could have arrived at such a conclusion.
There is no discussion of statement and evidence as produced before inquiry officer in inquiry report. Therefore, inquiry report is faulty. In instant case, Inquiry Officer has acted in an arbitrary manner while illegally ignoring evidence before him and, therefore, if inquiry report is based on no consideration of evidence, it cannot be sustained in law.
Section 128 of Punjab State Election Commission Act, 1994, provides immunity to Election Commission or any person acting under directions of Election Commission from any suit or legal proceedings in case any act is done in good faith. Categorical stand herein is that, Petitioner was not on receipt of communication issued by State Election Commission not to make additions and deletions in voters list without prior approval and acted in good faith to update voter lists which issue has not been dealt with by Inquiry Officer, thus drawing a presumption in favour of delinquent officer. Statements of witnesses have not been dealt with as well.
Admittedly, Petitioner was served with a memo regarding irregularities in electoral rolls on 10th August, 2004. Thereafter, it was proposed to hold a regular inquiry by order dated 7th October, 2005 and inquiry officer submitted his report on 01st July, 2008 and eventually by impugned order, major penalty was imposed of stoppage of one increment with cumulative effect. Despite inquiry having been completed on 1st July, 2008, punishment came to be imposed after a period of 5 years. There is no explanation forthcoming as to why matter was not concluded in a reasonable time frame. A similar matter came up for consideration before this Court in a Rajender Kumar Sood Junior Engineer versus State of Punjab, where Single Bench held that 'such a long delay leads to conclusion that, proceedings against Petitioner must have been dropped.
In instant case, there has been an inordinate delay in imposing punishment. State is expected to act in a fair manner which would necessarily mean to act in accordance with law and with promptitude. In case, there is a delay in issuance of a charge sheet, Courts are known to have stepped in to rescue of delinquent officer. It is also well settled that a person would be denied relief in case, he does not approach Courts in time by applying law of limitation and invoking the principles of delay and latches. Therefore, delay in imposing punishment after an inordinate delay of 5 years and thereby keeping Damocles' sword hanging, is certainly not warranted, when coupled with fact that, inquiry is vitiated.
High Court opined that, inquiry report suffers from vice of being in violation of Rule 8(23)(i) of Punjab Civil Service (Punishment and Appeal) Rules 1970 as there is no discussion of evidence produced on record by Petitioner and findings are contrary to evidence on record. Inquiry report itself is vitiated and any punishment thereto would be unsustainable.
Relevant : State of U.P. vs. Saroj Kumar SinhaMANU/SC/0082/2010
Tags : PUNISHMENT IMPOSITION LEGALITY