For, the disciplinary proceedings instituted against the respondent cannot brook any further delay which is already pending for more than 10 years, the Bench observed.
The Supreme Court in State Bank of India & Ors. Vs. Neelam Nag, has held that pendency of a criminal case against an employee cannot be the sole basis to suspend the disciplinary proceedings initiated against him/her for an indefinite period.
In the instant case, a complaint for criminal breach of trust was lodged against a bank employee in February 2007. In September 2008, the competent authority initiated departmental inquiry against her.
Contending that Clause 4 of the Memorandum of Settlement, which grants protection to bank employees from facing departmental proceedings until the completion of the trial of the criminal case, the delinquent employee approached the High Court against initiation of disciplinary proceedings. A Single Bench order staying disciplinary proceedings until conclusion of criminal trial was later modified by the Division Bench observing that the authority would be free to proceed further in the disciplinary proceedings as soon as the case from the prosecution side is closed. The bank then approached the apex court.
Referring to Stanzen Toyotetsu India Private Limited vs. Girish V. & Ors., the Bench comprising Chief Justice T.S. Thakur and Justice A.M. Khanwilkar observed: “The pendency of the criminal case against the respondent cannot be the sole basis to suspend the disciplinary proceedings initiated against the respondent for an indefinite period; and in larger public interest, the order as passed in Stanzen’s case be followed even in the fact situation of the present case, to balance the equities.”
With regard to the clause, the Bench observed: “On the plain language of Clause 4, in our opinion, it is not a stipulation to prohibit the institution and continuation of disciplinary proceedings, much less indefinitely merely because of the pendency of criminal case against the delinquent employee. On the other hand, it is an enabling provision permitting the institution or continuation of disciplinary proceedings, if the employee is not put on trial by the prosecution within one year from the commission of the offence or the prosecution fails to proceed against him for want of any material.”
The court, however, has stayed the disciplinary proceedings until the closure of recording of evidence of prosecution witnesses cited in the criminal trial and further observed: “If the trial is not completed within one year from the date of this order, despite the steps, which the trial court has been directed to take, the disciplinary proceedings against the respondent shall be resumed by the inquiry officer concerned. The protection given to the respondent of keeping the disciplinary proceedings in abeyance shall then stand vacated forthwith upon expiring of the period of one year from the date of this order.”
Read the Judgment here.