A high court can interfere with disciplinary inquiry or orders passed by the competent authority if the probe itself is vitiated on account of violation of principles of natural justice, the Supreme Court has said.
The apex court said that in a case where the disciplinary authority arrives at a finding that is unsupported by evidence or records a finding which no reasonable person could have arrived at, then the writ court is justified in examining the matter.
“It is true that a writ court is very slow in interfering with the findings of facts recorded by a departmental authority on the basis of evidence available on record. But it is equally true that in a case where the disciplinary authority records a finding that is unsupported by evidence whatsoever or a finding which no reasonable person could have arrived at, the writ court would be justified, if not duty bound, to examine the matter and grant relief in appropriate cases,” a bench headed by Chief Justice T S Thakur said.
The bench also comprising Justice A M Khanwilkar said, “Non-application of mind by the inquiry officer or authority, non-recording of reasons in support of the conclusion arrived at by them are also grounds on which the writ courts are justified in interfering with the orders of punishment.”
“The writ court will certainly interfere with disciplinary inquiry or the resultant orders passed by the competent authority on that basis if the inquiry itself was vitiated on account of violation of principles of natural justice, as is alleged to be the position in the present case,” the bench said.
The apex court made the observation while quashing the order of departmental authority against a former Allahabad Bank employee whose services were terminated in 2005 following an inquiry against him, saying “the inquiry officer, the disciplinary authority and the appellate authority have faltered in discharge of their duties resulting in miscarriage of justice”. It had also noted that the bank employee Krishan Narayan Tewari’s claim that he was not given a fair chance to lead evidence in his defence was not rebutted effectively by the bank.
The bank had challenged the order of the Allahabad High Court which had held Tewari not guilty saying the departmental as well as appellate authority did not apply mind while deciding the matter. It had contended that the high court had exceeded its jurisdiction in re-appreciating the evidence and holding the respondent not guilty.
The bank in its appeal had said that that so long as there was some evidence on which the disciplinary authority could rest its findings, sufficiency or insufficiency of such evidence could not be gone into by a writ court.
It had further said that even if there was any infirmity in the orders passed by the disciplinary authority or the appellate authority, the proper course for the high court was to remand the matter back to either of the authorities for doing the needful afresh. “The respondent’s case that the inquiry was conducted without giving a fair and reasonable opportunity for leading evidence in defence has not been effectively rebutted by the appellant. More importantly the disciplinary authority does not appear to have properly appreciated the evidence nor recorded reasons in support of his conclusion.”
“To add insult to injury the appellate authority instead of recording its own reasons and independently appreciating the material on record, simply reproduced the findings of the disciplinary authority,” the bench said, adding that the high court was right in interfering with the orders passed by the authorities.
The bench, however, refused to grant full salary arrears to Tewari, the former officer-in-charge of bank’s Sultanpur branch in Uttar Pradesh, and directed the bank to release 50 per cent salary and retirement benefits to him.
The apex court also noted that it could not order fresh inquiry or send the matter back to the disciplinary authority as Tewari, now 65, suffered many ailments, and ordering any probe would be “very harsh” on him.