calcutta high court

Calcutta High Court: In a writ petition seeking a writ of mandamus to quash the Enquiry Officer’s report, the penalty order of the disciplinary authority, and the appellate court’s order, a single-judge bench comprising of Hiranmay Bhattacharyya,* J., dismissed the writ petition due to the petitioner’s failure to demonstrate a violation of natural justice and upheld the Bank’s actions as justified.

Factual Matrix

In the instant matter, the petitioner is seeking a writ of mandamus to quash the Enquiry Officer’s report dated 27-12-2014, the penalty order of the disciplinary authority dated 29-01-2015, and the appellate court’s order dated 13-04-2016.

The petitioner, a Manager at the Amtala Branch of the United Bank of India, faced major penalty proceedings under the 1976 Regulations for alleged irregularities during the period from 01-09-2012 to 08-08-2013. The chargesheet included 14 charges accusing the petitioner of extending undue financial benefits to KCC borrowers, exposing the bank to significant financial loss. The Enquiry Officer submitted a report on 27-12-2014, leading to the disciplinary authority imposing a major penalty of dismissal on 29-01-2015. The petitioner’s appeal was dismissed on 13-04-2016. Alleging a violation of natural justice in the disciplinary proceedings, the petitioner filed a writ petition.

Parties’ Contentions

The petitioner claimed gross violations of natural justice, citing the non-supply of the list of documents and management witnesses’ affidavits. The petitioner argued that the proceedings concluded hastily, denying adequate time for document inspection. The petitioner contended that the disciplinary inquiry, resulting in the loss of livelihood, must adhere to the principles of natural justice. The petitioner called for the set-aside of the disciplinary proceedings, including dismissal, and reinstatement with financial benefits.

The Bank disputed the petitioner’s claims, contending that the petitioner had sufficient opportunity for defense during the inquiry. It was asserted that Article 226 jurisdiction should not act as an appellate court. Emphasizing the gravity of the proven charges, the Bank argued that the punishment of dismissal is justified. The bank relied on legal precedents supporting the bank’s right to take disciplinary action for proven misconduct. The Bank maintained that the Court should not interfere unless there is a serious error in the decision-making process or a shocking disproportionality in the punishment.

Court’s Analysis

The Court reviewed the scope of judicial review and the principles laid down in Syed Yakoob v. K.S. Radhakrishnan, AIR 1964 SC 477 and P. Gunasekaran (2015) 2 SCC 610, emphasising the limited scope of judicial review under Articles 226/227 of the Constitution of India. The Court observed that the bank has the right to take disciplinary action against employees for proven misconduct, particularly when dealing with public money.

“Petitioner, at the relevant point of time, was the Senior Manager of the Bank. He was, therefore, required to exercise higher standards of honesty and integrity while dealing with the money of the depositors and the customers of the Bank. From the aforesaid discussion it is evident that the petitioner failed to take steps to protect the interest of the Bank.”

The Court scrutinised the petitioner’s claim of a gross violation of natural justice, noting that the petitioner had the opportunity to inspect documents during the inquiry. The Court found that no prejudice was caused to the petitioner due to the alleged non-supply of documents, rejecting claims of gross violation of natural justice.

Applying legal precedents, the court determined whether the Enquiry Officer’s report meets the standards of a speaking order and whether the petitioner suffered prejudice. Citing Anil Kumar v. Presiding Officer, (1985) 3 SCC 378, the Court stressed that disciplinary proceedings affecting livelihood require adherence to natural justice, and the Enquiry Officer’s report must be a reasoned one. The Court found that the Enquiry Officer’s report is detailed, meets the requirements of a speaking order, providing sufficient reasons for the findings and the petitioner failed to demonstrate how the alleged non-supply of documents caused prejudice.

The Court validated the disciplinary authority’s decision, asserting no shockingly disproportionate punishment and no infirmity in the decision-making process. The Court held that the disciplinary proceedings were conducted fairly and dismissed the petitioner’s argument of gross violation of natural justice.

“Taking into consideration the number of charges levelled against the petitioner, the nature of the charges proved as well as the period during which such act continued, this Court is of the considered view that the punishment inflicted upon the petitioner cannot be said to be shockingly disproportionate.”

Court’s Decision

The Court rejected the writ petition, finding no evidence of gross violation of natural justice. The Court upheld the disciplinary actions, including dismissal, as justified based on proven charges. The petitioner’s plea for reinstatement and financial benefits was denied.

[Sri Sanjib Roy v. PNB, 2023 SCC OnLine Cal 4804, order dated 04-12-2023]

*Judgment by Justice Hiranmay Bhattacharyya

Advocates who appeared in this case :

Mr. Kallol Bose, Senior Advocate Mr. Nilanjan Pal, Mr. Biswanath Samanta, Counsel for the Petitioner

Mr. R.N. Majumder, Md. S.M. Obaidullah, Counsel for the Respondent/Bank

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