Read Judgment: State of Uttar Pradesh And Ors. V. Rajit Singh 

Pankaj Bajpai

New Delhi, March 23, 2022: Observing that the Doctrine of Equality ought not to have been applied when the Enquiry Officer and the Disciplinary Authority held that the charges were proved against the delinquent officer, the Supreme Court has opined that merely because some other officers involved in the incident were exonerated and/or no action was taken against other officers could not be a ground to set aside the order of punishment when the charges against the delinquent officer were held to be proved in a departmental enquiry.

However, as the enquiry was found to be vitiated and was found to be in violation of the principles of natural justice in as much as it was alleged that the relevant documents mentioned in the charge sheet were not supplied to the delinquent officer, a Division Bench of Justice M.R Shah and Justice B.V Nagarathna remanded the matter to the Disciplinary Authority to conduct a fresh enquiry from the stage it stood vitiated. 

Going by the background of the case, Rajit Singh (respondent – employee) was serving as a Junior Engineer at Balia. An enquiry was conducted by a Departmental Task Force where it was found that he had committed financial irregularities causing loss to the Government and disciplinary proceedings were initiated against the respondent and others. Thereafter the Enquiry Officer held the charges alleged against the respondent employee as proved and consequently also held the misconduct proved. The Disciplinary Authority concurred with the findings recorded by the Enquiry Officer and passed an order of recovery of Government loss of Rs. 22,48,964.42  as per the rules from the salary; temporarily stopping two salary increments. 

The Tribunal however, quashed the punishment mainly on the ground of Doctrine of Equality and also on the ground that the enquiry conducted was in breach of principles of natural justice in as much as the relevant documents mentioned in the charge sheet were not supplied to the delinquent officer. This order was upheld by the High Court as well. Hence, present appeal by the State.  

After considering the submissions, so far as the quashing and setting aside the order of punishment imposed by the Disciplinary Authority applying the Doctrine of Equality on the ground that other officers involved in the incident have been exonerated and/or no action has been taken against them, is concerned, the Apex Court observed that on the said ground, the order of punishment could not have been set aside by the Tribunal and the High court.

Finding that role of the each individual officer even with respect to the same misconduct is required to be considered in light of their duties of office, the Apex Court opined that there cannot be any claim of negative equality in such cases and therefore, both the Tribunal as well as the High Court have committed a grave error in quashing and setting aside the order of punishment imposed by the Disciplinary Authority by applying the Doctrine of Equality.

Speaking for the Bench, Justice Shah found that in a case where it is found that the enquiry is not conducted properly and/or the same is in violation of the principles of natural justice, in that case, the Court cannot reinstate the employee as such and the matter is to be remanded to the Enquiry Officer/Disciplinary Authority to proceed further with the enquiry from the stage of violation of principles of natural justice is noticed and the enquiry has to be proceeded further after furnishing the necessary documents mentioned in the charge sheet, which are alleged to have not been given to the delinquent officer in the instant case.

Accordingly, the Tribunal as well as the High Court ought to have remanded the matter to the Disciplinary Authority to conduct the enquiry from the stage it stood vitiated, added the Bench. 

The Apex Court therefore remanded the matter to the Disciplinary Authority to conduct a fresh enquiry from the stage after the issuance of the charge sheet and to proceed further with the enquiry after furnishing all the necessary documents mentioned in the charge sheet and after following due principles of natural justice.

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