Mansimran Kaur

New Delhi, May 21,2022: The Supreme Court has held that the standard of proof required in criminal proceedings is different from the standard of proof required in departmental enquiries as the   same   charges   and   evidence   may   lead  to different results in the two proceedings.

A Division Bench of Justice M.R. Shah and B.V. Nagarthna opined that the High Court cannot act as an Appellate Authority and re-appreciate the evidence on record while pursuing the petition instituted under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, allowed the present appeal filed by the employer- SBI.

Facts relevant for perusal of the present appeal were that the respondent- delinquent officer was working as a Deputy Manager at SBI Bank, There was a requirement to collect Rs. 10 lakhs from Peenya Industrial Estate Bank. Consequently, on the basis of forged letter, the delinquent officer withdrew Rs. 10 lakhs, In pursuance of the same, the local Head Officer lodged a complaint with CBI. Thereafter, a departmental enquiry was initiated against the delinquent officer and later, the Appointing Authority conceded with the findings of the Enquiry Officer and imposed the penalty of dismissal from services which were confirmed by the Appellate Authority. 

Subsequently, the respondent instituted writ petition before the Single Judge of the High Court. By the time the writ petition was disposed of, the respondent- attained the age of superannuation.  The single Judge through its order set aside the order of punishment and directed the Bank to give all consequential benefits to the original writ petitioners except   back   wages   as   in   the meantime he attained the age of superannuation. Aggrieved by the same, the Bank filed the writ appeal before the Division Bench of the High Court. Simultaneously, the delinquent officer also filed writ appeal against the denial of back wages. Both the appeals were decided and disposed of by a common judgment and order. By the common impugned judgment, the Division Bench dismissed both the appeals. Aggrieved by the same, the Bank preferred the present appeal before this Court. 

After hearing the submissions of both the parties at length, the Court stated that from the departmental enquiry it was clearly proven that the delinquent officer prepared the false letter and committed the alleged fraud.  It was also observed that through the impugned judgment and order of the High Court it appeared as if the High Court was acting as the Appellate Authority. The Top Court opined that The High Court in exercise of powers under Article 226/ 227 of the Constitution of India re-appreciated the evidence on record which otherwise was impermissible.

Reliance was placed on the case of Nand Kishore Prasad vs. State of Bihar and Others and it was stated that the High Court committed a grave error in interfering with the order passed by the disciplinary authority.The Bench said, “…fact   that   the   criminal   court  acquitted   the respondent by giving him the benefit of doubt, will not in any way render a completed disciplinary proceeding invalid nor affect   the   validity   of   the   finding   of   guilt   or   consequential punishment.”

The Top Court opined that seeing the seriousness of the charge proved of misappropriating the sum of Rs.10 lakhs and not depositing the same with the Bank, it couldnot be said that the order of dismissal was disproportionate to the charge.  Thus, the Apex Court set aside the impugned judgment passed by the Division Bench of the High Court.  Accordingly, the order passed by the Management dismissing the respondent- delinquent officer on proved charge and misconduct was restored and the appeal was allowed. 

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