Read Order: State of U.P & Others vs. State Public Service Tribunal & Others

Pankaj Bajpai

Prayagraj, March 31, 2022: While considering the validity of an order passed by the U.P. State Public Services Tribunal, Lucknow whereby the benefits withheld due to the punishment order were directed to be refunded to the legal representatives of the deceased individual (second respondent) posted as Collection Amin at Jahanabad, the Allahabad High Court has observed that a departmental inquiry against government servant is not to be treated as a casual exercise and the principles of natural justice are required to be observed so as to ensure not only that justice is done but is manifestly seen to be done. 

The object being to ensure that the delinquent is treated fairly in proceedings which may culminate in imposition of a major penalty against him, added the Court. 

A Division Bench of Justice Dr. Yogendra Kumar Srivastava and Justice Manoj Kumar Gupta observed that departmental proceedings pursuant to which the punishment order has been passed having thus not followed the procedure prescribed under the U.P. Government Servant (Discipline and Appeal) Rules, 1999, and there being several procedural infirmities in the conduct of enquiry, the order of punishment has rightly been held to be legally unsustainable.

Going by the background of the case, disciplinary proceedings were initiated against the second respondent while he was posted as Collection Amin at Jahanabad, District Pilibhit and a charge-sheet was issued whereupon an inquiry was conducted and a report was submitted holding the respondent guilty of the charges. Thereafter, the order of punishment was passed whereby the respondent was reverted to his original pay scale in addition to award of adverse entry in his character role. 

The Tribunal taking into consideration the inquiry report came to a conclusion that neither any date, time or place was fixed by the inquiry officer nor any oral evidence was led and only on the basis of some documentary evidence, the respondent was held guilty of the charges. It was also held that the respondent was not afforded any opportunity to adduce evidence and was denied reasonable opportunity of defence. Referring to Rule 7 of the U.P. Government Servant (Discipline and Appeal) Rules, 1999, the Tribunal proposed that even in a case where the delinquent employee does not submit any reply to the charge-sheet, the inquiry officer is not absolved from his duty to record oral evidence and provide an opportunity to adduce evidence in defence, the inquiry was held to be vitiated.

Taking notice of the fact that the respondent had expired during the pendency of the claim petition, the Tribunal held that no fruitful purpose would be served in remitting the matter for fresh inquiry and in view thereof, the benefits withheld due to the punishment order have been directed to be refunded to the legal representatives of the respondent. 

After considering the submissions, the High Court observed that the legal position with regard to grant of reasonable opportunity to a delinquent employee to place his defence during the course of a departmental inquiry and the necessity of observance of principles of natural justice and following the due procedure is fairly well settled. 

The Tribunal has also recorded that even the reply submitted by the employee to the show cause notice issued by the disciplinary authority consequent to the inquiry and the defence raised therein have not been accorded consideration and the disciplinary authority has passed the order of punishment only on the basis of inquiry report in gross disregard to the provisions under the Rules, 1999 and also the principles of natural justice, added the Court.  

Speaking for the Bench, Justice Srivastava observed that administrative authorities are obliged in law to follow their own regulations, policies and procedures with regard to conduct of departmental proceedings and non-adherence thereto would have potential of causing serious prejudice to the person concerned in the inquiry proceedings and would clearly amount to denial of a reasonable opportunity to submit a plausible and effective rebuttal to the charges being enquired into.

In the present case, as the inquiry officer failed to fix any date, place or time in the conduct of inquiry and the absence of any witness having been examined to support the charges leveled against the respondent-employee has led to a situation where the delinquent has been condemned unheard, added the Bench. 

Accordingly, the High Court concluded that the entire proceedings, being a violation of principles of natural justice and total disregard of procedural fairness, had rightly been held by the Tribunal to be vitiated.

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