New Delhi, February 14, 2022: Substituting the punishment of removal from service with compulsory retirement of a bank employee, the Supreme Court has opined that the punishment of removal from service for the proved charges of breach of trust , misuse of official position and misconduct, was too harsh and disproportionate for the said employee. The Top Court considered the fact that it could be a case of loss of confidence in the employee by the Bank.
A Division Bench of Justice M.R. Shah and Justice B.V. Nagarathna observed that the High Court was justified in holding that in the limited jurisdiction available to the High Court in exercise of powers under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, the High Court is not required to reappreciate the evidence and/or interfere with the findings recorded by the inquiry officer accepted by the disciplinary authority.
Going by the background of the case, Umesh Kumar Pahwa (Appellant) was serving as a Branch Officer at Pratap Pur Branch of Uttarakhand Gramin Bank (Respondent) and had put in 28 years’ of service. While he was serving at Branch, a complaint was made against him by one borrower of the Bank namely Karamjeet Singh alleging that the appellant had sanctioned the limit of loan of Rs.1,50,000/- which was later on reduced to Rs.75,000/-. Four other persons also made the complaint against the appellant. On receiving the complaint, the Chairman of the Bank transferred him to another branch of the Bank, during pendency of the inquiry pertaining to said complaints.
Later, disciplinary proceedings were initiated against the appellant and charge-sheet was issued to him, and upon that, the Bank decided to initiate an inquiry for a major punishment. The inquiry officer held some charges as proved. Challenging the same, the appellant contended that the findings of the Inquiry Officer were perverse and against the principle of natural justice. He also made allegations of bias against the Chairman of the Bank.
Thereafter, after considering the inquiry report and giving opportunity to the appellant, the disciplinary authority/Chairman of the Bank passed an order of removal of the appellant from service. The High Court confirmed the order of removal from service of the appellant. Hence, the present appeal.
After considering the submissions, the Apex Court found that the High Court had observed that the appellant demanded a bribe from Karamjeet Singh solely on the basis of his cross-examination.
However, complainant had a reason to speak against the appellant as his loan amount was reduced from Rs.1,50,000/- to Rs.75,000/- by the appellant, added the Court.
Speaking for the Bench, Justice Shah noted that it is the case on behalf of the appellant that considering the material and his capacity a decision was taken to reduce the loan amount from Rs.1,50,000/- to Rs.75,000/- which was taken in the interest of the bank.
“There are allegations of bias against the Chairman right from the very beginning. Even at one point of time the Chairman was charge-sheeted for the offences under Sections 323, 354, 504, 506 IPC on the complaint filed by the wife of the appellant and on the basis of complaint filed by a woman delegate. It is true that subsequent thereto the criminal proceedings were quashed by the High Court. Be that it may, there were specific allegations of bias against the Chairman and the Bank right from the initiation of the departmental proceedings made by the appellant”, added the Bench.
Even looking to the charges proved in the departmental proceedings, Justice Shah found that as such, there was no financial loss caused to the Bank and on the contrary a decision was taken by the appellant to reduce the loan amount from Rs.1,50,000/- to Rs.75,000/- in the case of Karamjeet Singh, the complainant, which could be said to be the decision made in the bank’s interest.
Accordingly, the Apex Court modified the order of the High Court to the extent substituting the punishment from that of removal of service to that of compulsory retirement.