Not open for Courts to usurp function of disciplinary authority; Can’t substitute one disciplinary punishment with other: SC

Supreme Court: The Division Bench of Ajay Rastogi* and Abhay S. Oka, JJ.,    set aside the judgment of the Delhi High Court wherein it had substituted the penalty of removal from service with confinement of respondent from 1.00 p.m. to 10.00 p.m. in quarter guard jail without noticing the mandate of the nature of punishments indicated under Section 11(1) of the Central Reserve Police Force Act, 1949 (CRPF). The Bench expressed,

“The scope of judicial review on the quantum of punishment is available but with a limited scope. It is only when the penalty imposed appears to be shockingly disproportionate to the nature of misconduct that the Courts would frown upon.”

Factual Matrix

In 2003, the wife of respondent was under treatment of Dr. Nazir, Gynaecologist (complainant). The case against the respondent was that he along with his wife had forcibly entered into the chamber of the complainant and asked him to attest the reimbursement of medical claims and upon his refusal, the respondent verbally abused and physically struck the Complainant, resulting in injuries. The respondent not only misbehaved and abused the complainant while on duty but to conceal his misconduct, he made a false allegation of sexual harassment on his wife against the complainant.

A departmental inquiry was conducted by the disciplinary authority and after affording an opportunity of hearing, the disciplinary authority found both the charges proved against the respondent. Therefore, taking note of the gravity of the charges and all other factors into consideration, the authorities concerned punished the respondent with the penalty of removal from service.

Observation and Analysis

The scheme of Section 11 of the Act 1949 mandates that the competent authority may, subject to rules made thereunder, award in lieu of, or in addition to, suspension or dismissal any one or more punishment if found guilty of misconduct in his capacity as member of the force. The use of words ‘in lieu of, or in addition to, suspension or dismissal’, appearing in Section 11(1) clearly indicates that the authorities mentioned therein are empowered to award punishment of suspension or dismissal to member of the force who is found guilty and in addition to, or in lieu thereof, the punishment mentioned in clause (a) to (e) may also be awarded.

Considering the Statutory provisions, the Bench opined that Section 11 of the Act 1949 had been completely overlooked by the High Court while examining as to whether the punishment of removal from service could be inflicted in lieu of or in addition to dismissal from service to member of the force, if the misconduct stands proved in the course of disciplinary inquiry. Stating out the difference between dismissal and removal from service, the Bench said,

“The only difference between the two is that in the case of dismissal, it precludes the employee from seeking future employment in the Government while in the case of removal, he is not disqualified from any future employment.”

Opining that the nature of allegations against the respondent was grave in nature, the Bench termed the same as unpardonable once proved. The Bench observed that if the authority had considered it appropriate to punish the respondent with penalty of removal from service, it would leave no place for sympathy for retention in service and that too in a discipline force like CRPF.

Scope of judicial discretion

“The well ingrained principle of law is that it is the disciplinary authority, or the appellate authority in appeal, which is to decide the nature of punishment to be given to the delinquent employee.”

Opining that it is not open for the Courts to assume and usurp the function of the disciplinary authority, the Bench stated that even in cases where the punishment imposed by the disciplinary authority is found to be shocking to the conscience of the Court, normally the disciplinary authority or the appellate authority should be directed to reconsider the question of imposition of penalty. The Bench clarified, it is only in rare and exceptional cases where the court might to shorten the litigation may think of substituting its own view as to the quantum of punishment in place of punishment awarded by the competent authority that too after assigning cogent reasons.

Conclusion

Consequently, the Bench opined that the High Court had fell in error in interfering with the punishment, which could lawfully be imposed by the departmental authorities for his proven misconduct and the High Court should not have substituted its own discretion for that of the authority; as what punishment was required to be imposed, was a matter which fell exclusively within the jurisdiction of the competent authority.

Accordingly, the Bench observed that the scheme of the Act 1949 of which reference had been made was completely overlooked by the High Court and interference had been made in the quantum of punishment which may not apply to member of the discipline force. Consequently, the appeal was allowed and the impugned judgment was set aside.

[Union of India v. Ex. Constable Ram Karan, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 1041, decided on 11-11-2021]


Kamini Sharma, Editorial Assistant has put this report together


Appearance by:

For Union of India: Madhavi Divan, ASG

For the Respondent: Ashok Agrwaal, Advocate


*Judgment by: Justice Ajay Rastogi

Know Thy Judge | Justice Ajay Rastogi

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