Supreme Court: In a disciplinary proceeding where it was established that there was a breach of principles of natural justice as the relevant documents mentioned in the charge sheet were not supplied to the delinquent officer, the bench of MR Shah* and BV Nagarathna, JJ has reiterated the settled legal position that in a case where it is found that the enquiry is not conducted properly and/or the same is in violation of the principles of natural justice, the Court cannot reinstate the employee as such and the matter is to be remanded to the Enquiry Officer/Disciplinary Authority to proceed further with the enquiry from the stage of violation of principles of natural justice is noticed.
The Court was deciding the case where the respondent employee serving as a Junior Engineer at Balia found to have committed financial irregularities causing loss of Rs. 22,48,964.42/- to the Government. The Disciplinary Authority, concurring with the findings recorded by the Enquiry Officer, passed an order of recovery of Government loss from the salary; temporarily stopping two salary increments and the remarks given for the year 2017-2018.
The U.P. State Public Service Tribunal quashed the punishment mainly on the ground of Doctrine of Equality and also on the ground that the enquiry conducted was in breach of principles of natural justice in as much as the relevant documents mentioned in the charge sheet were not supplied to the delinquent officer. Allahabad High Court refused to interfere with the Tribunal’s order.
Doctrine of Equality
The Supreme Court did not agree with the Tribunal and High Court’s view on quashing and setting aside the order of punishment imposed by the Disciplinary Authority applying the Doctrine of Equality on the ground that other officers involved in the incident have been exonerated and/or no action has been taken against them. The Court explained,
“The Doctrine of Equality ought not to have been applied when the Enquiry Officer and the Disciplinary Authority held the charges proved against the delinquent officer. The role of the each individual officer even with respect to the same misconduct is required to be considered in light of their duties of office. Even otherwise, merely because some other officers involved in the incident are exonerated and/or no action is taken against other officers cannot be a ground to set aside the order of punishment when the charges against the individual concerned – delinquent officer are held to be proved in a departmental enquiry. There cannot be any claim of negative equality in such cases.”
Therefore, it was held that both the Tribunal as well as the High Court have committed a grave error in quashing and setting aside the order of punishment imposed by the Disciplinary Authority by applying the Doctrine of Equality.
Violation of principle of natural justice
As the enquiry is found to be vitiated and is found to be in violation of the principles of natural justice as the relevant documents mentioned in the charge sheet were not supplied to the delinquent officer, the Court remanded the matter to the Disciplinary Authority to conduct a fresh enquiry from the stage it stood vitiated, i.e., after the issuance of the charge sheet and to proceed further with the enquiry after furnishing all the necessary documents mentioned in the charge sheet and after following due principles of natural justice. The Court directed this exercise to be completed within a period of six months from the date of the present order.
[State of Uttar Pradesh v. Rajit Singh, 2022 SCC OnLine SC 341, decided on 22.03.2022]
*Judgment by: Justice MR Shah
For State: Senior Advocate V.K. Shukla
For respondent: Advocate Utkarsh Srivastava