Supreme Court: In a case where a member of the Indian Forest Services (IFS) had alleged that his junior was promoted to the post of Principal Chief Conservator of Forests while his candidature was kept in sealed cover without any justification, the bench of Ajay Rastogi* and CT Ravikumar, JJ has held that in the absence of a disciplinary action for imposing minor/major penalties as contemplated under Rule 10 or Rule 8 of the All India Services (Discipline and Appeal) Rules, 1969 either initiated or pending, there could not be any occasion of proposing the penalty to be inflicted upon the delinquent officer.
In the case at hand, a complaint was made by a timber merchants against the appellant officer, leading to a preliminary enquiry against him. While the appellant submitted a detailed response to the show cause notice issued to him, no action was taken thereafter and the fact is that departmental enquiry for minor penalties under Rule 10 or major penalties under Rule 8 of the Rules 1969 admittedly has not been initiated against the appellant so far. What is pending against him is the show cause notice dated 22nd April, 2016 served upon him 7 pursuant to which he was called upon to submit his explanation within 15 days, failing which disciplinary proceedings be initiated against him under the Rules 1969.
In such circumstances, the Supreme Court explained that for the misconduct, if any, being committed by an officer under the All India Services (Conduct) Rules, 1968, the officer can be subjected to disciplinary enquiry as being contemplated under the scheme of Rules 1969, which has been framed by the Central Government in exercise of its power under sub-Section (1) of Section 3 of All India Services Act, 1951. That apart other provisions, under the Disciplinary Rules, schedule of penalties (minor/major) has been provided under Rule 6 to be imposed on the member of service for good and sufficient reasons and what would be the procedure to be followed for imposing minor/major penalties has been provided under Part IV of the Rules and to be more particular, procedure for imposing major penalties is provided under Rule 8 and for minor penalties, the procedure has been provided under Rule 10 of the Rules 1969.
In the case at hand, no disciplinary enquiry, as provided under the scheme of Rules 1969, has either been instituted or pending against the appellant and candidature of the appellant was considered for promotion to the post of Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, but kept in a sealed cover on the premise that a show cause notice served upon him on 22nd April, 2016 is pending.
The Court, hence, observed that in the absence of a disciplinary action for imposing minor/major penalties as contemplated under Rule 10 or Rule 8 of the Rules 1969 either initiated or pending, there could not be any occasion of proposing the penalty to be inflicted upon the delinquent officer and that doing so would be nothing but putting a cart before the horse.
“Before a disciplinary enquiry being initiated in terms of the procedure prescribed under Rules 1969, there could not be any possibility of proposing a punishment as being contemplated under 11 Rule 6 of the Rules 1969 and that could have been possible after the authorities have applied its mind in inflicting penalty for good and sufficient reasons. Neither the procedure as being known to the scheme of Rules 1969 nor further action, if any, initiated has been placed on record. The stage to inflict penalty upon the appellant, in the given facts and circumstances, does not arise.”
[Ajit Kumar Shrivastava v. State of Madhya Pradesh, 2022 SCC OnLine SC 1471, decided on 21.10.2022]