Chandigarh, May 21, 2022: While dealing with a case wherein a Punjab Police personnel, accused of keeping liaison with the people indulged in flesh trade (business of prostitution) and sending secret information of the police department to those people, was punished leading to the forfeiture of 7 years of his service permanently for future increments, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has observed the Inquiry Officer ought to have exonerated the petitioner when no evidence was led by the department.
The Bench of Justice Jaishree Thakur thus held, “Once no evidence was led by the department in order to substantiate the charges levelled against the petitioner, then the Inquiry Officer ought to have exonerated the petitioner.”
Brief facts of the case are that in 2014, the petitioner was posted as Head Constable with City Police Station Nawanshahr where allegedly, the business of prostitution was going on. On raids being conducted by the then DSP at the places where prostitution business was allegedly going, two FIRs were registered under the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act.
During the investigation, it came to light that the petitioner, who was posted in the said police station for a long time, was having intimacy with the ladies/men who were involved in this illegal business. Therefore, on the basis of the report of the DSP, Sub-Division, Nawanshahr, the Senior Superintendent of Police, SBS Nagar, suspended the petitioner from service w.e.f. February 9, 2015 and departmental inquiry was initiated against him.
Consequently, a charge sheet was served upon the petitioner levelling allegations that he was keeping liaison with the people indulging in flesh trade and was also sending secret information of the police department to those people. During the inquiry, the petitioner, while vehemently denying all the allegations levelled against him, examined as many as four witnesses (accused in the aforesaid two FIRs), who stated that they never met the petitioner; nor did they have any conversation with him.
The Inquiry Officer, vide his report (April 2015) held, “although the involvement-charges of this employee, with regard to the prostitution business and leaking information to the police department, with the accused persons (who deals in prostitution business) have not been proved on record, but secret and oral complaints have been received from the Area Incharge against this employee, (…) during investigation (…) conducted by the Area In-charge… the involvement of this employee with the persons who deals in prostitution business is came to light. Therefore, charges made in the charge sheet, against… [petitioner] are proved.”
The punishing authority issued a show cause notice, in reply to which petitioner denied all the allegations, but to no avail and eventually, vide order dated May 26, 2015, forfeiture of his 7 years’ service permanently for future increment was ordered.
Aggrieved, the petitioner the petitioner preferred an appeal before the appellate authority (the second respondent) who, vide its order dated December 28, 2015 partly accepted the appeal and reduced the punishment of forfeiture of 7 years’ service of the petitioner permanently for future increments to 4 years’ service, giving rise to the instant petition.
The case of the petitioner’s counsel was that once the Inquiry Officer himself held that the allegations of involvement of the petitioner in the prostitution racket or allegation of leaking information of the police department to the accused persons (who were dealing in prostitution business) were not proved on record, then the punishment of any kind was not permissible in law. It was submitted that no evidence was produced in order to substantiate the allegations levelled against the petitioner.
Per contra, the State counsel contended that after conducting thorough departmental inquiry, the Inquiry Officer came to the conclusion that secret and oral complaints were received from the Area In-charge against the petitioner regarding his intimacy with the persons who were involved in the business of prostitution. It was further stated that at all stages of the disciplinary proceedings, the rules of natural justice were scrupulously followed by the departmental authorities.
The court, after considering these rival submissions, observed that no direct evidence to establish a nexus between the petitioner and the accused were produced except for call records between the petitioner and one of the accused. The Court further observed that the fact that the petitioner contended in his defence that no person had given a statement against him under Section 161 of the Cr.P.C.
Also, noticed by the Court was the aspect of the inquiry officer proceeding with the punishment (against the petitioner) even after recording a finding that there was no material evidence and that the accused in the FIRs denied knowing the petitioner.
The Court then went on to peruse the provisions of Rule 16.24 (iv) of the Punjab Police Rules, 1934 to observe that if the allegations levelled against the accused/delinquent are not substantiated, then the Inquiry Officer shall discharge such accused himself and if he is not empowered to do so, then he shall recommend the discharge to the officers, who are so empowered.
The Court made reference to the case of State of Haryana and another v. Rattan Singh, wherein it was held that in a domestic inquiry, strict and sophisticated rules of evidence under the Evidence Act may not apply.
But at the same time, the Court added that on the basis of such purported hearsay evidence (some call record and secret information, which were not substantiated) and in the absence of any other evidence, legally admissible in disciplinary proceedings supporting the purported hearsay evidence, no reasonable and prudent person would have arrived at a finding/conclusion as was reached by the Disciplinary Authority in the present case.
Thus, keeping in mind the fact that no cogent evidence was led by the department in support of the allegations levelled against the petitioner, the instant writ petition was allowed.