13 Jan 2121

Delaying the start of the investigation or prolonging it would prejudice and anguish the employee - Karnataka High Court

Case : Sri B. S. Ramaswamy v. State of Karnataka and Ors. Writ Petition No. 5838/2020

Court : Karnataka High Court

Bench : Justice M. Nagaprasanna

Decided on : 13 Jan 2121

The Relevant Statutes

Article 226 and 227 of the Constitution of India

Rule 15(1) of the Central Civil Services (Classification, Control and Appeal) Rules, 1957

Brief Facts & Procedural History

1. In the year 1996, the petitioner was appointed as a First Division Assistant in respondent No.2 – Mysore Urban Development Authority (hereinafter referred to as ‘Authority' for short) and while working as a First Division Assistant, the Disciplinary Authority placed the petitioner and others on suspension by an official memorandum owing to certain omissions and commissions. The order of suspension was reversed and the petitioner was restored into service in 2005, following which a charge sheet was issued against the petitioner. The second respondent appointed the Enquiry Officer and the Presenting Officer four years after the charge sheet was issued, instructing the inquiry processes to be undertaken by the charge sheet and concluded within three months.

2. The investigation was started by the Enquiry Officer. After about 9 years of no cooperation from the Authority in terms of producing any document or witness in support of the charge sheet, the Enquiry Officer closed the investigation and found the petitioner not guilty of the allegations, and submitted a report finding the petitioner not guilty of the allegations.

3. Following receipt of the Enquiry Officer's report, the Disciplinary Authority - the Commissioner of the Mysore Urban Development Authority issued an order directing a denovo inquiry to be conducted against the petitioner and others on the same charge sheet that was issued, 13 years after the charge sheet was issued, and the inquiry proceedings are now underway. The experienced counsel for respondent No.2 notifies the Honourable High Court of Karnataka at Bengaluru that the inquiry procedures have come to a close and that the Enquiry Officer has submitted his report. In the writ petition, the order by which the Disciplinary Authority mandated the start of a denovo investigation against the petitioner is challenged.

The Issue(s) of the Case

Whether the judgement dated 27.06.2018, which directs the petitioner to be subjected to a denovo investigation by appointing a new Enquiry Officer on the identical charge sheet that was previously issued, valid?

The Observations of the Court

1. The Honourable Karnataka High Court referred to the cases of Vijay Shankar Pandey v. Union of India reported in (2014) 10 SCC 589 and K.R. Deb v. CCE reported in (1971) 2 SCC 102, As a result of the law laid down by the Apex Court in the cases qua the facts prevailing in the case at hand, the Disciplinary Authority's act in directing the conduct of a denovo enquiry because the authority did not accept the findings of the Enquiry Officer is vitiated.

2. Honourable High Court of Karnataka at Bengaluru observed that the principle under which the current proceedings, which are being challenged, would be vitiated is the delay in mandating the performance of a denovo inquiry, as it wants to investigate into a charge sheet from 2005 in 2018. In this case, the law is clear that delaying the start of the investigation or prolonging it would prejudice and anguish the employee.

3. Honourable High Court of Karnataka at Bengaluru observed that the issue at hand is not one in which the second respondent lacked jurisdiction to investigate the accusations, but rather one in which jurisdiction was lost due to excessive delay. If the second respondent could not prove the allegations levelled against the petitioner in a thirteen-year investigation, it would be unjust and unfair to subject the employee to the rigours of disciplinary proceedings all over again, especially given the fact that the petitioner has long since retired after reaching the age of superannuation.

4. Honourable High Court of Karnataka at Bengaluru observed that In a large number of cases, disciplinary proceedings are initiated by the issuance of a charge sheet and are not completed within a reasonable time, and the employee against whom the proceedings are pending is kept on tenterhooks and denied service and terminal benefits that would otherwise be available to him but for the pendency and protraction of such proceedings, apart from caucus, the employee is kept on tenterhooks and denied service and terminal benefits that would otherwise be available to him but for the pendency and protraction It's not that the government has done nothing to solve the problem. From time to time, the government has issued formal memos setting time limitations for conducting and concluding departmental investigations.

5. A relevant official memorandum was published, stating that the maximum time limit for concluding a departmental investigation of a government employee was set at 21 months. This was then changed by another official memorandum, which set a 9-month deadline for the conclusion of the investigation from the time it began. Another formal memorandum released reiterates the aforementioned official memorandum. According to the aforementioned official memorandum, an investigation into a delinquent employee must be concluded within nine months of the beginning of the investigation, i.e., the issue of a charge sheet.

6. Honourable High Court of Karnataka at Bengaluru observed that even though the aforementioned official memorandum exists, it is rarely implemented by the State or its agents, most notably in the instance at hand. As a result, the State and its agencies must follow the timelines outlined in the aforementioned official memos to the word and spirit, rather than storing them in cold storage. As a result, the State Government and all of its agencies, including departmental inquiries handed to the Lokayukta by the Government by Rule 14-A of the KCS(CCA) Rules, must comply with the timelines set in the aforementioned memos. Any deviation from the schedule must be documented in writing, otherwise, there will be a proliferation of instances similar to the one at hand.

The Decision Held by the Court

Honourable High Court of Karnataka at Bengaluru held

1. The writ petition is allowed with costs of Rs.25,000/- to be paid to the petitioner.

2. Respondent No.2's ruling dated 27.06.2018 is set aside.

3. All subsequent procedures brought in response to the decision mandating a denovo inquiry dated June 27, 2018, are annulled.

4. The petitioner is entitled to all of the advantages that would result from the order being quashed in order.

5. Respondent No.2 is ordered to release all unpaid terminal benefits to the petitioner on his retirement within fifteen days of receipt of a copy of this judgement, failing which, the petitioner will be entitled to interest at the rate of six per cent from the date it became due until it is paid.

6. The petitioner is also entitled to any notional promotion that has been withheld due to the pending procedures.

7. The Secretary of the Department of Personnel and Administrative Reforms will receive a copy of this order.

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