Dismissing appeals filed by the Centre, the Delhi High Court on Thursday directed it to promote IRS Officer Ashok Kumar Aggarwal and give him all consequential benefits.
The Bench comprising Justice Siddharth Mridul and Justice Deepa Sharma upheld the order passed by the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) quashing two memorandum of charges issued against Mr. Aggarwal, observing that they were issued at the instance of the CBI which had some axe to grind against Mr. Aggarwal.
The Court observed, "The totality of the facts and circumstances of the case clearly show the bias on the part of authorities of such a nature which constitutes malice and malafide. The malice and malafide has been repeatedly deprecated, while dealing with the matters between the parties, i.e., the respondent, CBI and the petitioners. We are, therefore, of the view that the Tribunal has rightly concluded on the basis of undisputed facts and circumstances and after recording in details the reasons for reaching such conclusion that the charge sheets were vitiated."
Mr. Aggarwal was the Deputy Director of the Enforcement Directorate (Delhi zone) in 1997-1998 when he dealt with a probe into alleged FERA violations by a businessman. He was however suspended in December 1999 after the CBI accused him of framing the said businessman.
18 years later, in January, 2016, the High Court had quashed the order to prosecute Mr. Aggarwal, and had slammed the CBI for misdirecting the investigation and withholding material evidence against him. The Court had also issued guidelines relating to grant of sanction to prosecute public Servants.
The Court was now hearing a challenge against an order passed in February 2016 by CAT, whereby it had quashed two memorandum of charges against Mr. Aggarwal, and had issued directions to the Centre to give all such promotions to him as had been given to his juniors. The CAT had also directed that the officer be given all consequential benefits and for that purpose, his ACRs written up to 1,999 shall be considered.
The Centre had submitted that it was beyond the Tribunal's jurisdiction to look into the sufficiency of material to prove allegations of misconduct. It had further contended that the Tribunal could not have relied on internal notings by officers.
The Court, however, did not agree with these submissions, opining that the Tribunal had correctly relied on such notings to rule that there was a delay in issuing the first memorandum and that the officers were unsure of the gravity of the allegations.
It observed, "There can be no doubt that internal notings of the officers at various levels are opinions on the subject, which ultimately led to the final decision, and notings in isolation have no value attached to them and it is the final decision of the authority which matters. But, the notings at different levels reflect the decision making process. The Tribunal has rightly relied on these internal notings to ascertain the factual position as to whether the decision making authority had sufficient material before him while taking the decision to approve the memorandum of charges and recommending disciplinary enquiry."
The Court further opined that the two criminal cases were registered against Mr. Aggarwal by the CBI with "malafide intentions and it is nothing but reflection of malice of CBI against the respondent". It also observed that "legal bias and malafide" was apparent through the mechanical review of the suspension order for 13 years and its extension despite the Tribunal having quashed it.
In fact, the Court observed that the Centre was also "harassing" Mr. Aggarwal, taking note of the fact that the latter had to approach the Court several times to prevent his transfer and to get a posting in Delhi despite orders to this effect having been pronounced by the Court. It observed,
"The petitioners too were not lagging behind the CBI when it came to harassing the respondent. After the suspension order was revoked, they transferred him in gross violation of the transfer policy and it was only on the intervention of the Court that the transfer order was cancelled. The authorities still challenged the said order before this Court and obtained an ex-parte stay on 24.12.2014.
The respondent filed an application under Section 340 Cr.P.C for perjury, alleging that it was obtained on false presentation of facts. Not only was the stay vacated by the Court on 09.01.2015, but the petitioners were allowed to withdraw the said writ petition on 12.02.2015, on their undertaking, to post the respondent in Delhi. Despite the said undertaking, the respondent was not given any posting for 11 months and was given one only on the intervention of the Court, and this conduct shows nothing but malice."
The Court, therefore, upheld the Tribunal's order and dismissed the appeals.