Read Order: Baldev Singh Sandhu v. Union of India and Others

Monika Rahar

Chandigarh, June 10, 2022: While dealing with a case wherein departmental proceedings were initiated against the Commissioner of Income Tax at Ahmedabad, for disproportionate growth in his assets from 1999 to 2005, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has held that it is settled principle that no hard and fast rule is applicable that the departmental proceedings have to be stayed at the instance of the employee at his/her asking. 

Justices G.S. Sandhawalia and Vikas Suri while adding that due regard has to be taken to the fact that departmental proceedings cannot always be delayed, held, “The petitioner, thus, cannot be allowed to blow hot and cold at his own convenience.”

The Court was dealing with a challenge to the order of the Central Administrative Tribunal, Chandigarh Bench, Chandigarh (‘the Tribunal’) whereby the Tribunal declined to stay the departmental proceedings which were initiated against the petitioner. 

In this case, an FIR under Sections 13 (2), 13 (1) (e) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 read with Section 109 of the Indian Penal Code was lodged against the petitioner who was then working as a Commissioner of Income Tax at Ahmedabad, on account of the fact that his assets grew disproportionate to his known sources of income from the year 1999 onwards. 

In 2012, under Rule 14 of the Central Civil Services (Classification, Control & Appeal) Rules, 1965 (1965 Rules), Articles of Charge and the Statement of Imputation of misconduct and misbehaviour were served upon him, apart from the fact that by abusing his official position and by corrupt and illegal means, he had acquired properties from 1995 to 2005. 

There were allegations that without taking prior permission of the competent authority in violation of the provisions of Rule 18 (2) and (3) of the Central Civil Services (Conduct) Rules, 1964 (‘1964 Rules’) he made the investments and also failed to maintain absolute integrity, devotion to duty and acted in a manner unbecoming of a public servant and contravened the provisions of Rule 3 (1) (i to iii) of the 1964 Rules, was among the article of charge. 

In 2014, an Inquiry Officer was appointed and the petitioner filed an Original Application seeking quashing of the appointment so made and in the alternative, the petitioner prayed for the issuance of direction to complete the inquiry proceeding in a time-bound period. The tribunal thus directed the respondents to conclude the enquiry proceeding expeditiously. 

In the departmental proceedings, the charge sheet was issued in 2012 while in the criminal case registered against the accused, the charge sheet was framed in 2015 on the same set of circumstances. 

It is to be noted that after the petitioner superannuated in 2015, he prayed in the present Original Application filed in September 2021 for keeping the inquiry proceedings in abeyance till the conclusion of the criminal trial in the FIR. Seeing this change of heart (as in 2014 an alternative prayer of directions to complete the proceedings expeditiously was made), the Tribunal found that the petitioner attempted to play hide and seek and there is a inherent contradiction in both the prayers and he could not be allowed to make the said prayer at this stage. 

Further, while dismissing the original application filed by the petitioner herein, the Tribunal came to the conclusion that there was a lapse on the part of the successive Inquiry Officers and they failed to conclude the inquiry proceedings, though an undertaking was given in the Original Application of 2014. 

Resultantly, directions were issued to the Union Revenue Secretary to place the entire matter before the disciplinary authority, who had to monitor the whole inquiry proceedings, keeping in view the law laid down by the Apex Court in Prem Nath Bali Vs. High Court of Delhi & others, (2015) 16 SCC 415.

Before the High Court, it was the case of the petitioner’s counsel that the Tribunal was in error in not staying the departmental proceedings and that since the petitioner was being prosecuted on the criminal side and a charge sheet was framed under various provisions of Prevention of Corruption Act, his defence would be prejudiced in case the departmental proceedings were allowed to continue. 

Also, the Counsel contended that the 1965 Rules provided that a mandate was there that the inquiry proceedings should be concluded within a period of six months, which was extendable up to six months at a time while referring to sub-Rule 24 of Rule 14 of 1965 Rules, after recording of reasons. It was accordingly submitted that the charge sheet was issued on January 05, 2012, but the proceedings were not culminated, leading to the miscarriage of justice to the petitioner. 

After hearing the counsel for the petitioner, the Court opined that no hard and fast rule was applicable to the effect that the departmental proceedings have to be stayed at the instance of the employee at the asking and that due regard has to be taken to the fact that, unlike in the present case where proceedings have lingered for a decade, departmental proceedings cannot always be delayed. 

Further, the Court observed that out of 195 prosecution witnesses, 32 were examined and 63 witnesses were yet to be examined and there were also 77 covering witnesses.

On the issuance and framing of two charge sheets (one in the departmental proceedings and the other on the criminal side), the Court was of the opinion that both the charge sheets were operating within different frameworks. 

Also, the Bench noticed that the delay which occurred in the present case was on account of a large number of witnesses who were arrayed by the CBI and the Bench was of the considered opinion that the petitioner was not to be granted the benefit of staying the proceedings as provided for since the matter already lingered for the last over a decade and that the Tribunal rightly directed the monitoring of the said case so that it could be concluded at the earliest. 

Thus, keeping in mind allegations levelled against the petitioner which go deep into his misconduct as a public servant, the Court did not deem it appropriate to stay the departmental proceedings. Also, the Bench considered the fact that on an earlier occasion the petitioner himself was keen to get the proceeding completed within a time-bound frame. 

“The petitioner, thus, cannot be allowed to blow hot and cold at

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