In a case of departmental inquiry proceedings where the disciplinary authority had already made up its mind to accept the findings of the inquiry report and decided to award punishment to the delinquent officer, even before sending the inquiry report to the delinquent officer, the Supreme Court held that it was a violation of principles of natural justice due to which the departmental inquiry proceedings were set aside and the disciplinary authority was directed to start the inquiry again from the stage at which the said illegality occurred. This decision was delivered by a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justices S.A. Bobde and Ashok Bhushan in the case of H.P. State Electricity Board Ltd. v. Mahesh Dahiya [Civil Appeal No.10913 Of 2016, arising out of SLP(C) No. 25742 OF 2015].
The petitioner in this case was working in H. P. State Electricity Board, Shimla as Senior Executive Engineer. Disciplinary proceeding against the petitioner were initiated under Rule 14 of CCS(CCA) Rules, 1965 for the following charge:
“That the said Er. Mahesh Dahiya while functioning as Sr. Executive Engineer [Elect] in the office of the Chief Engineer (Comm.] HPSEB, Shimla-4 during the period from 2005-06 proceeded on leave on 30.07.2005 on medical ground. Er. Dahiya was repeatedly directed vide Chief Engineer [Comm.] HPSEB, Shimla-4 letter dated 25.08.2005, 07.09.2005, 26.10.2005 and 02.12.2005 to appear before the Medical Board but Respondent failed to do so. Thus, Dr. Dahiya has willfully absented himself from official duties and has disobeyed the directions of his superiors. Respondent has therefore acted in a manner which is unbecoming of an officer of his status. The said Er. Mahesh Dahiya, Sr. Executive Engineer [Elect.] has thus violated the provisions of Rule-3(i)(ii) (iii) of CCS Conduct Rules, 1964 and which made him liable for disciplinary action under Rule-14 of CCS[CCA] Rules-1965.”
The officer was awarded the penalty of compulsory retirement. In his petition before the Single Judge bench and the Division Bench of the high court, both came to the conclusion that copy of the inquiry report was supplied to the writ petitioner on 02.04.2008 whereas Disciplinary Authority-cum-Whole Time Members of the Board had already made up their mind to impose a major penalty on the writ petitioner even without supplying the copy of the inquiry report which has prejudiced the writ petitioner. The Single Judge has also held that Disciplinary Authority failed to prove that absence from the duty was wilful nor any such findings have been recorded by the Inquiry Officer, whereas, the writ petitioner has submitted the medical certificate to prove that he was suffering from Tuberculosis (T.B.). The Single Judge had also issued notice to Doctor Sharma of Rohtak who had issued the certificate to the writ petitioner who appeared before the learned Single Judge and proved his certificate. The order of penalty was set aside by the High Court.
In appeal before the Supreme Court, the court held that present is not a case of not serving the inquiry report before awarding the punishment rather the complaint has been made that before sending the inquiry report to the delinquent officer, Disciplinary Authority has already made up its mind to accept the findings of the inquiry report and decided to award punishment of dismissal. Both the Single Judge and the Division Bench of the high court on the aforesaid premise came to the conclusion that principle of natural justice have been violated by the Disciplinary Authority.
The Supreme Court observed as under:
“Both the learned Single Judge and the Division Bench have heavily relied on the fact that before forwarding the copy of the report by letter dated 02.04.2008 the Disciplinary Authority-cum-Whole Time Members have already formed an opinion on 25.02.2008 to punish the writ petitioner with major penalty which is a clear violation of principle of natural justice. We are of the view that before making opinion with regard to punishment which is to be imposed on a delinquent, the delinquent has to be given an opportunity to submit the representation/reply on the inquiry report which finds a charge proved against the delinquent. The opinion formed by the Disciplinary Authority-cum-Whole Time Members on 25.02.2008 was formed without there being benefit of comments of the writ petitioner on the inquiry report. The writ petitioner in his representation to the inquiry report is entitled to point out any defect in the procedure, a defect of substantial nature in appreciation of evidence, any misleading of evidence both oral or documentary. In his representation any inputs and explanation given by the delinquent are also entitled to be considered by the Disciplinary Authority before it embarks with further proceedings as per statutory rules. We are, thus, of the view that there was violation of principle of natural justice at the level of Disciplinary Authority when opinion was formed to punish the writ petitioner with dismissal without forwarding the inquiry report to the delinquent and before obtaining his comments on the inquiry report. We are, thus, of the view that the order of the High Court setting aside the punishment order as well as the Appellate order has to be maintained.”
However, the Supreme Court held that that present is the case where the High Court while quashing the punishment order as well as Appellate order ought to have permitted the Disciplinary Authority to have proceeded with the inquiry from the stage in which fault was noticed i.e. the stage under Rule 15 of CCS (CCA) Rules. Accordingly, the Supreme Court issued the following directions:
(1) All proceedings of Disciplinary Authority after submission of the inquiry report dated 29.12.2007 including punishment order dated 25.8.2009 and Appellate order dated 10.12.2009 are set aside.
(2) The Disciplinary Authority shall forward the inquiry report as per Rule 15(2) of 1965 Rules. The writ petitioner be allowed 15 days’ time to submit his representation to the inquiry report.
(3) After receipt of representation of the writ petitioner to the inquiry report, the Disciplinary Authority may proceed and take a decision in accordance with Rule 15 of 1965 Rules.
(4) The Disciplinary Authority shall complete the proceedings and pass appropriate orders within a period of three months from the date of receipt of representation of the writ petitioner to the inquiry report.
Read full order of the court: