Read Judgement: L/ASI Seema vs State of Haryana & Ors.

Vivek Gupta

Chandigarh, July 26, 2021: Dismissing the plea of a police officer facing corruption charges, claiming that a criminal case and departmental inquiry cannot proceed simultaneously as both are based on the same facts and evidence, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has held that the purpose of departmental inquiry and of prosecution in a criminal case are two different aspects and can be held simultaneously.

The division bench of Justice Rajan Gupta and Justice Karamjit Singh said the standard of proof in a criminal case is altogether different from that in a departmental inquiry. In case of disciplinary enquiry, the technical rules of evidence have no application. Also, in such a situation the action of the department cannot be termed as double jeopardy as has been held in The Divisional Controller, KSRTC vs. M.G. Vittal Rao, 2012.

The brief facts of the case are that an FIR dated 1.3.2020 under Sections 7/13 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 was registered against the ASI for demanding a bribe of Rs 5,000.

The petitioner was placed under suspension and departmental action has also been initiated against her on the basis of the same charges. Her plea was that the aforesaid criminal case and the departmental inquiry cannot proceed simultaneously as both of them are based on the same facts and evidence. 

She also denied the allegations of corruption and stated that she was made a “scapegoat” and that she never demanded or accepted any bribe from Rakesh Kumar.

After hearing both the parties, the Single Judge of the high court dismissed the writ petition following which the petitioner went for appeal before the present bench.

Deciding the matter, the bench held that it is a well-settled position in law that proceedings in criminal cases and departmental proceedings can go on simultaneously except where departmental proceedings and criminal cases are based on the same set of facts and evidence. At the same time, the Court cannot ignore the fact that the purpose of departmental inquiry and of prosecution in criminal cases are two different aspects.

The bench added that it is generally seen that the criminal cases do not proceed quickly, whereas the departmental proceedings are concluded within a short span of time. 

“Admittedly, the appellant is a member of the police force. The departmental inquiry is being conducted against her to maintain discipline in the department and efficiency of public service. It would therefore be expedient that the departmental proceedings against the appellant are conducted and completed expeditiously. The disciplinary inquiry cannot be delayed unduly,” the HC ruled.

The Bench took cognisance of the fact that due to the prevalent COVID-19 pandemic, it will take a considerable long time for the criminal court to conclude the trial. 

“This being the situation, we are of the view that no ground is made out in the present case to stay the departmental proceedings till the conclusion of the criminal trial. We are also of the opinion that even no direction could be given to the effect that common witnesses in departmental proceedings and the criminal trial would first be examined in the criminal trial and only thereafter in the departmental proceedings, as it would also prejudice the interest of the department. In view of the above, we do not find any illegality or perversity in the impugned order passed by the learned Single Judge. Consequently, the appeal is hereby dismissed being devoid of merits,” HC held.

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