30 Aug 2023 5:15 AM GMT
The Andhra Pradesh High Court has recently held that the order of acquittal in criminal proceedings will have no bearing on departmental proceedings unless the acquittal is clean or honourable.The Division Bench of Justice Ravi Nath Tilhari and Justice Manmadha Rao was hearing a petition challenging the order of the Andhra Pradesh Administrative Tribunal (APAT) dismissing the...
The Andhra Pradesh High Court has recently held that the order of acquittal in criminal proceedings will have no bearing on departmental proceedings unless the acquittal is clean or honourable.
The Division Bench of Justice Ravi Nath Tilhari and Justice Manmadha Rao was hearing a petition challenging the order of the Andhra Pradesh Administrative Tribunal (APAT) dismissing the petitioner's application to reinstate him back to his appropriate post of Junior Assistant in the office of the District Registrar, after being acquitted in the criminal case.
"We are of the considered view, that in such circumstances, the acquittal of the petitioner is on the technical ground. In the absence of the document having been proved as fraudulent or fake it was held that the prosecution did not prove the charge beyond reasonable doubt. Such an acquittal, in our view, would not be a clean acquittal or an honourable acquittal."
In 1992, when the petitioner was promoted from the post of attender to the post of Junior Assistant in the Registrar's office, it was found that the matriculation certificate the petitioner had submitted was false. The petitioner was suspended with immediate effect and was also disallowed increments.
Following this, a departmental enquiry was conducted and the finding of the enquiry was that the Certificate was not original. The petitioner was given a chance to plead his case, and after hearing him, in 1994, he was removed from service by the Inspector General Registration and Stamps.
A criminal case was also initiated against the petitioner under section 471 of the IPC, wherein he was convicted in the trial court and acquitted in the Appeal. Upon acquittal, the petitioner filed an application for reinstatement before the concerned department and also filed an application before the APAT seeking the same relief, however, both applications were denied.
The issues raised before the Court were whether the Inspector General had the authority to enhance punishment, whether the petitioner was entitled to reinstatement after acquittal, and whether the punishment was appropriate.
The Court after referring to Rule 40 of the Andhra Pradesh Civil Services (Classification, Control and Appeal) Rules, 1991 held that the Inspector was well within his rights to enhance punishment, provided that the concerned government servant was given a fair hearing, which in the present case he was.
The petitioner also contended that once he was acquitted in the criminal case, the ground for removal from service was not sustained and hence should be reinstated to the appropriate position.
The Bench referred to the judgement passed by APAT and held that the Tribunal had acquitted the petitioner on a technical ground because the prosecution could not establish their case beyond reasonable doubt, and not because it was an honourable acquittal. The Court further observed that the records submitted by the petitioner's College showed that, he had not cleared his matriculation exam.
While appreciating the judgement passed by the Supreme Court in S. Bhaskar Reddy and another vs. Superintendent of Police and another, the Court noted the difference between an honourable acquittal and an acquittal arising out of the prosecution’s failure to create a case beyond reasonable doubt.
"It is difficult to define precisely what is meant by the expression "honourably acquitted". When the accused is acquitted after full consideration of prosecution evidence and that the prosecution had miserably failed to prove the charges levelled against the accused, it can possibly be said that the accused was honourably acquitted."
Reliance was placed on Union of India & Ors vs. Methu Meda to hold that the employer is to be given discretion as to whether the employee should or should not be reinstated based on the nature of the acquittal.
The Court emphasized that departmental enquiry cannot be equated to a criminal trial. It noted that, the departmental enquiry is based on probabilities, and that the petitioner had pleaded mercy in the proceedings for submitting forged certificates.
"Consequently, we are of the considered view that the acquittal in criminal appeal of the petitioner, given the finding recorded in the departmental proceedings on preponderance of evidence, shall not affect the order of punishment in departmental proceedings.”
The Bench lastly observed that considering the nature of the charge proved, the punishment of removal from service is not 'shockingly disproportionate' and deserves no interference.
Case Title: Kollipara Koteshwara Rao (died) vs. Inspector General of Registration & Ors.
Counsel for Petitioner: P.S.P Suresh Kumar
Click Here To Read/Download Judgment