Read Order: M/S INDIA OIL CORPORATION LTD. Vs. SHRI RAJENDRA D.  HARMALKAR 

Mansimran Kaur

New Delhi, April 22,2022: The Supreme Court has held that the power of judicial review is confined and can be  exercised in extraordinary cases. In  matters wherein the order passed by the Disciplinary Authority imposing punishment is under challenge, the same can only be entertained if there is any procedural irregularity found while conducting the Disciplinary proceedings. 

A Division Bench of Justice M.R. Shah and B.V. Nagarathna allowed the present appeal by observing that the intervention of the High Court is highly narrow and confined in such matters.

The present appeal was instituted by the Disciplinary Authority – Indian Oil Corporation pursuant to the impugned judgement and order passed by the High Court of Bombay dated June 29, 2015 wherein the High Court directed the Authority to resume the employment of the original petitioner without any back wages and other benefits in lieu of  of the punishment of dismissal awarded by the Disciplinary Authority. Hence, the present appeal was filed.

Facts relevant for the perusal of the present appeal were that the original petitioner was initially appointed as a casual employee in the year 1982. Thereafter he filed an application for the position of refuelling helper stating that he had passed the Secondary School Leaving Certificate from the Karnataka Secondary Education Board and therefore fulfilled the qualification requirement for the same. Thereafter, the original petitioner was employed as the helper. 

However in the year 2003, the Chief Vigilance Officer received a complaint against the  original petitioner that he had submitted false and forged SSLC. So, a department enquiry was initiated against the original petitioner. Chargesheet was served to him with charges of wilful  insubordination or disobedience and of giving false information.

After taking into consideration the gravity of the acts of misconduct proved, the Disciplinary Authority imposed the punishment of dismissal from services. The appeal preferred by the original writ petitioner came to be dismissed.

The original petitioner at this stage, was also prosecuted by the Trial Court, however the Trial Court acquitted him by giving him the benefit of doubt priorly on the ground that the original SSLC was not brought on the record. 

Feeling aggrieved and dissatisfied with the order of dismissal passed by the Disciplinary Authority confirmed by the Appellate Authority, the original writ petitioner preferred the writ petition before the High Court. It was the case on behalf of the original writ petitioner that he admitted the alleged guilt of misconduct on the assurance of a lenient view being taken by the authorities. It was also argued that there was no minimum educational qualification and age limit (minimum or maximum) prescribed to secure the job or even for the promotion.

The High Court observed that the punishment of dismissal was grossly disproportionate  to the misconduct committed by the petitioner. Therefore, the High Court through its impugned judgement and order directed the Authority to reinstate the original petitioner from the date of dismissal from service, however the benefit of back wages and other benefits were not to be provided to the original petitioner. 

Feeling aggrieved and dissatisfied with the impugned judgement and order passed by the High Court allowing the writ petitioner and interfering with the order of punishment imposed by the Disciplinary Authority, the Indian Oil Corporation – employer – Disciplinary Authority had preferred the present appeal.

The Counsel for the appellant sternoulsy contended that the High Court erred in interfering with the order of the punishment imposed by the Disciplinary Authority pursuant to the charge of giving false information regarding his father’s name, his qualification by producing a fake and false SSLC was held to be proved. It was also submitted by the Counsel that the Criminal Court acquitted the original writ petitioner by giving him a benefit of doubt and submitted that the same was not an  honourable acquittal . It was further submitted that the original petitioner was working with the petroleum unit of Reliance Industries as a driver for the period between 2006 to 2017. Therefore, denying the back wages and promotion by the High Court by the impugned judgement and order cannot be said to be any punishment at all. Reliance was placed on the rulings in Om Kumar v. Union of India,  Union of India v. G. Ganayutham, Union of India v. Dwarka Prasad Tiwari, and Union of India v. Diler Singh wherein emphasis was laid upon the  proposition that the High Court’s intervention under Article 226 of the Constitution of India is confined and can only be exercised in cases wherein procedural irregularity is found while conducting the disciplinary proceedings. 

The Apex Court after considering the submissions from both the sides, delved into the question of law as to whether the High Court can intervene in the matters of disciplinary proceedings and to what extent judicial review can be exercised.

To deal with the same reliance was placed on the judgment in Om Kumar’s case (Supra) wherein after considering the Wednesbury principles and the doctrine of proportionality, it was opined that the question of the quantum of punishment in disciplinary matters is primarily to be dealt by the disciplinary authority and the jurisdiction of the High Courts under Article 226 of the Constitution or of the Administrative Tribunals is limited and is confined to the applicability of one or other of the well known principles known as ‘Wednesbury principles.

Further reliance was placed on the case of B.C. Chaturvedi v. Union of India wherein it was held that the High Court/Tribunal, while exercising the power of judicial review, cannot normally substitute its own conclusion on penalty and impose some other penalty.

If the punishment imposed by the disciplinary authority or the appellate authority shocks the conscience of the High Court/ Tribunal, it would appropriately mould the relief, either directing the disciplinary/appellate authority to reconsider the penalty imposed, or to shorten the litigation, it may itself, in exceptional and rare cases, impose appropriate punishment with cogent reasons in support thereof.

Keeping in view the aforesaid observations, the Court in the instant case observed that the petitioner was dismissed by the Authority for producing fake certificates which certainly amounts to grave misconduct. Therefore, the Court opined that  the Disciplinary Authority was justified in imposing the punishment of dismissal from service. It was further observed that the acquittal of the petitioner by the Criminal Court under Sections 468 and 471 of the IPC was on the ground that he was given benefit of doubt and was the same was not an  honourable acquittal. 

It was further observed that it is the settled position of law that unless and until it is found that the punishment imposed by the Disciplinary Authority is shockingly disproportionate and/or there is procedural irregularity in conducting the inquiry, the High Court would not be justified in interfering with the order of punishment imposed by the Disciplinary Authority.

In the light of the above observations and findings, the Apex Court allowed the appeal. Accordingly, the impugned  judgement and order of the High Court was quashed and the order passed by the Disciplinary Authority was upheld.

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