Doctrine of Equality in Disciplinary Proceedings
State of Uttar Pradesh and Ors. Versus Rajit Singh
AIR 2022 SC 1551
6. At the outset, it is required to be noted that the Enquiry Officer held the respondent – delinquent officer guilty for the misconduct alleged and the charges levelled against him of causing monetary loss to the extent of Rs. 22,48,964.42/- and other charges, which are held to be proved. Thereafter, the Disciplinary Authority imposed the punishment after giving the respondent opportunity to meet the findings recorded by the Enquiry Officer and thereafter imposed the punishment. The Tribunal set aside the order of punishment imposed by the Disciplinary Authority by mainly applying the Doctrine of Equality and by observing that as other officers involved in the incident were exonerated and/or no action was taken against them, therefore, no action was warranted against respondent also. The Tribunal has also observed and held that even otherwise, the enquiry proceedings were in breach of the principles of natural justice in as much as the relevant documents mentioned in the charge sheet were not at all supplied to the delinquent officer. The order passed by the Tribunal has been confirmed by the High Court by the impugned judgment and order.
7. Now, so far as the quashing and setting aside the order of punishment imposed by the Disciplinary Authority applying the Doctrine of Equality on the ground that other officers involved in the incident have been exonerated and/or no action has been taken against them, is concerned, we are of the firm view that on the aforesaid ground, the order of punishment could not have been set aside by the Tribunal and the High court. The Doctrine of Equality ought not to have been applied when the Enquiry Officer and the Disciplinary Authority held the charges proved against the delinquent officer. The role of the each individual officer even with respect to the same misconduct is required to be considered in light of their duties of office. Even otherwise, merely because some other officers involved in the incident are exonerated and/or no action is taken against other officers cannot be a ground to set aside the order of punishment when the charges against the individual concerned – delinquent officer are held to be proved in a departmental enquiry. There cannot be any claim of negative equality in such cases. Therefore, both the Tribunal as well as the High Court have committed a grave error in quashing and setting aside the order of punishment imposed by the Disciplinary Authority by applying the Doctrine of Equality.
8. It appears from the order passed by the Tribunal that the Tribunal also observed that the enquiry proceedings were against the principles of natural justice in as much as the documents mentioned in the charge sheet were not at all supplied to the delinquent officer. As per the settled proposition of law, in a case where it is found that the enquiry is not conducted properly and/or the same is in violation of the principles of natural justice, in that case, the Court cannot reinstate the employee as such and the matter is to be remanded to the Enquiry Officer/Disciplinary Authority to proceed further with the enquiry from the stage of violation of principles of natural justice is noticed and the enquiry has to be proceeded further after furnishing the necessary documents mentioned in the charge sheet, which are alleged to have not been given to the delinquent officer in the instant case. In the case of Chairman, Life Insurance Corporation of India and Ors. Vs. A. Masilamani, (2013) 6 SCC 530, which was also pressed into service on behalf of the appellants before the High Court, it is observed in paragraph 16 as under:-
“16. It is a settled legal proposition, that once the court sets aside an order of punishment, on the ground that the enquiry was not properly conducted, the court cannot reinstate the employee. It must remit the case concerned to the disciplinary authority for it to conduct the enquiry from the point that it stood vitiated, and conclude the same. (Vide ECIL v. B. Karunakar [(1993) 4 SCC 727], Hiran Mayee Bhattacharyya v. S.M. School for Girls [(2002) 10 SCC 293], U.P. State Spg. Co. Ltd. v. R.S. Pandey [(2005) 8 SCC 264] and Union of India v. Y.S. Sadhu [(2008) 12 SCC 30]).”
9. From the impugned judgment and order passed by the High Court, it appears that when the aforesaid submission and the aforesaid decision was pressed into service, the High Court has not considered the same on the ground that the other officers involved in respect of the same incident are exonerated and/or no action is taken against them. Applying the law laid down in the case of A. Masilamani (supra) to the facts of the case on hand, we are of the opinion that the Tribunal as well as the High Court ought to have remanded the matter to the Disciplinary Authority to conduct the enquiry from the stage it stood vitiated. Therefore, the order passed by the High Court in not allowing further proceedings from the stage it stood vitiated, i.e., after the issuance of the charge sheet, is unsustainable.
- This reply was modified 4 days ago by advtanmoy.