Whether punishment justified where the authority imposing punishment and approving it, is the same person? Supreme Court clarifies

Supreme Court: The 3-Judge Bench comprising of Uday Umesh Lalit, Hemant Gupta* and S. Ravindra Bhat, JJ., addressed the instant appeal filed against the order of the High Court of Judicature at Allahabad, whereby the High Court had declared the order of punishment passed by Milk Commissioner/Registrar as incorrect. The Supreme Court stated,

“In terms of the specific statutory regime referable to Section 122-A of the 1965 Act, Rule 15, would be the governing principle rather than Regulation 87 framed in exercise of regulation making power referable to the general dispensation under Sections 121 and 122 of the 1965 Act. Rule 15 does not contemplate that the Chairman of the Committee is required to have any prior concurrence of any authority.”

Issue before the Court

A petition was filed before the High Court to assail an order of punishment, whereby the one Jagpal Singh (employee) was ordered to be reverted to the minimum pay scale and the period of suspension was to be considered as a period spent by the employee in service. The order of punishment was passed after the prior approval Commissioner (Dairy Milk), designated as Registrar by the State Government. The said punishment was imposed due to manipulation in the weight measurement.

The employee contended that there was an undue and unexplained haste in passing the impugned order as the order was passed without taking prior approval under Regulation 87 of the Service Regulations from the competent authority i.e., the Uttar Pradesh Co-operative Institutional Service Board. The High Court found that the punishment order had been passed by the Chairman of the Administrative Committee and the approval for the punishment had also been granted by the same person. Therefore, relying on the case of Chandra Pal Singh v. State of U.P., 2018 SCC OnLine All 5992 the Court held that the approval in the instant case was inappropriate and was given by an incompetent authority.

Noticeably, the Administrative Committee in exercise of the powers conferred under Rule 10 of the Dairy Service Rules read with proviso to Rule 15 passed an office order that prior to imposing of penalty, the approval of Dairy Milk Commissioner/Registrar would be mandatory. It is in terms of the said Circular that the order of punishment was passed against the employee after approval from the Commissioner (Dairy Milk), discharging functions as the Registrar.

Findings of the Court

The Bench opined that the High Court in the impugned judgment and in Chandra Pal Singh’s case proceeded on wrong assumptions of facts and law. Pertinently, by a notification dated 17-11-1979 issued by the State Government, Pradeshik Co-operative Dairy Federation, Central or Primary Milk Societies, whose area of operation extends to more than one district or State and Co-operative Milk Unions, were taken out of the control of Uttar Pradesh Co-operative Institutional Service Board. Instead a Selection Committee was constituted in respect of Category I and II employees. Thereafter, it was the Selection Committee who was empowered for the purpose of recruitment, training and disciplinary control of the employees of Dairy Co-operative Societies until the Dairy Service Rules came into force upon publication of the Gazette on 29-08-1984. Section 122-A inserted in the 1965 Act which opens with a non-obstante clause should be taken to have an overriding effect over the general regime; accordingly,

“The Dairy Service Rules have been framed in exercise of the jurisdiction conferred under Section 122A of the Act. The Regulations can be framed by the Registrar or the State either under Section 121 or 122 of the Act or in terms of Rule 9 of the Dairy Service Rules. Such Rules would have precedence over the Regulations, which are framed or are required to be framed either by the Registrar or by the Authority entrusted with the task of recruitment, training and disciplinary control.”

The proviso to Rule 15 empowered the Administrative Committee constituted under Rule 5 as an Appointing Authority and the authority to exercise disciplinary control over the employees of the centralised services till the time regulations are framed. Thus, the Bench was of the view that the resolution dated 20-09-984 would be applicable in respect of other service conditions. However, with regard to disciplinary control, it would be the Dairy Service Rules which would be applicable.

Therefore, the Bench opined that in terms of proviso to Rule 15, the Chairman of the Administrative Committee is the Appointing and Disciplinary Authority. Hence, the Service Regulations would be inapplicable to determine the Appointing Authority and/or the Disciplinary Authority in respect of the employees of Co-operative Milk Societies. The Bench stated,

“The Resolution dated 20-09-1984 will not determine the Appointing or Disciplinary Authority, the same being covered by the Statutory Rule namely the Dairy Service Rules.”

Regulation 106 of the Service Regulations which empowers the State Government or the Registrar to pass such orders not inconsistent with the Regulations in respect of termination, dismissal or removal would not be applicable in the instant case, since the punishment imposed was of reversion and not of either termination, dismissal or removal. Therefore, the order of punishment passed by the Chairman of the Administrative Committee was by the competent Disciplinary Authority.

Sir William Wade in his Administrative Law stated:

“But there are many cases where no substitution is possible, since no one else is empowered to act. Natural justice then has to give way to necessity…” It was further stated: “In administrative cases the same exigency may arise. Where the statute empowers a particular minister or official to act, he will usually be the one and only person who can do so. There is then no way of escaping the responsibility, even if he is personally interested.”

The Milk Commissioner had been appointed as Registrar in exercise of the powers conferred on the State Government by the Act. The approval from the Registrar was in terms of the resolution of the Administrative Committee constituted in terms of Dairy Service Rules. Considering that the exercise of the powers under the Act were conferred by designation and the prior approval of the punishment was by the Registrar; if, incidentally, the person holding the post of Registrar was also Chairman of the Administrative Committee, it could not be said to be illegal.

Consequently, since the Chairman of the Administrative Committee happened to be the Registrar, the decision to impose punishment may not require prior approval. Hence, it was held that there was nothing wrong in the exercise of power by the Chairman, neither was there any error in the order of punishment passed by the Administrative Committee. The instant appeal was dismissed.

[Milk Union & Dairy Federation Centralized Services v. Jagpal Singh, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 245, decided on 23-03-2021]


Kamini Sharma, Editorial Assistant has put this report together 

*Judgment by: Justice Hemant Gupta

Know Thy Judge| Justice Hemant Gupta

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