[Missing Court Documents] Madras HC Refuses To Interfere With Disciplinary Authority's Order Against Head Clerk, Calls It Grave Misconduct

Upasana Sajeev

30 Jan 2024 3:55 AM GMT

  • [Missing Court Documents] Madras HC Refuses To Interfere With Disciplinary Authoritys Order Against Head Clerk, Calls It Grave Misconduct

    The Madras High Court recently refused to quash the punishment imposed on the Head Clerk of the Principal District Munsif Court, Srivilliputhur in connection with the missing of two plaints and pro-notes in plaints. The bench of Justice D Krishnakumar and Justice R Vijayakumar held that the order of imposing a punishment of stoppage of two increments with cumulative effect was not in...

    The Madras High Court recently refused to quash the punishment imposed on the Head Clerk of the Principal District Munsif Court, Srivilliputhur in connection with the missing of two plaints and pro-notes in plaints.

    The bench of Justice D Krishnakumar and Justice R Vijayakumar held that the order of imposing a punishment of stoppage of two increments with cumulative effect was not in any way disproportionate to the misconduct and gross dereliction of duty committed by the Head Clerk. The court added that the Head Clerk, who was in charge of the custody of the documents had committed grave misconduct and even chose not to bring the matter to the notice of the Presiding Officer.

    β€œThe petitioner was in-charge of custody of plaint and the documents annexed to the plaint and the said documents had gone missing which is a grave misconduct. Therefore, this Court does not find that the punishment of stoppage of two increments with cumulative effect imposed by the Disciplinary Authority and confirmed by the Appellate Authority are in any way disproportionate to the proved mis-conduct,” the court observed.

    Background

    On October 28, 2002, Advocate G Ramasamy had filed four plaints before the Principal Munsif Court, Srivilliputhur. On 31st October, these plaints were returned. However, when Ramasamy approached the office to take back the returned plaint, he noted that two plaints were missing that the pro-notes attached to the two other plaints were also missing. He thus lodged a complaint with the Principal District Munsif, Srivilliputhur.

    Following the complaint, a memo was issued to the petitioner Paulraj who was the head clerk during the time calling for an explanation. Though an explanation was submitted, finding it to be unsatisfactory, a charge memo was issued under Rule 17(b) of Tamil Nadu Civil Services (Discipline and Appeal) Rules. The Additional District Munsif was appointed as the Enquiry Officer who later concluded that no other employee was instructed to handle the documents as contended by Paulraj.

    The Enquiry Officer also noted that despite being aware of the missing documents, Paulraj had not brough the same to the notice of the Presiding Officer and did the same only after the complaint was lodged. Based upon the Enquiry Officer's finding, the Principal District Judge imposed a punishment of stoppage of increments with cumulative effect. On appeal, the above punishment was upheld by the Registrar General of Madras High Court.

    Paulraj challenged the order of punishment contending that neither the disciplinary authority, nor the appellate authority had considered the fact that Paulraj was on leave after returning the plaint and was thus not aware of the alleged missing and one Renganayaki was placed in-charge as the Assistant Head Clerk during the relevant point of time. It was also submitted that the Assistant Head Clerk was in charge of having safe custody of returned bundles and as Head Clerk, he was not responsible for the alleges missing of the plaint.

    It was also contended that the entire enquiry was vitiated since the District Munsif had issued the charge memo and had himself conducted the enquiry and appeared as witness. It was also argued that the charge memo was without jurisdiction as the appointing authority was the Principal Judge.

    The respondents however submitted that as per the evidence of the District Munsif, no one was placed as Assistant Head Clerk during the relevant period and the filed plaints were verified by Paulraj himself. Thus, being responsible for the safe custody of the returned plaint, Paulraj had committed gross negligence for which the punishment was rightly imposed.

    The court noted that the missing plaints were later found to be in the custody of another counsel which proved that the documents had gone missing due to the gross dereliction of duty. The court also noted that though Paulraj was aware of the missing plaints, he had not made any complaints to the presiding officer until the formal complaint was lodged.

    Regarding the point of jurisdiction, the court noted that though District Munsif was not the appointing authority, he was the immediate higher authority and as per settled position of law, an immediate higher authority was empowered to issue charge memo and conduct enquiry.

    Thus, finding the punishment imposed to be proportionate, the court dismissed the plea.

    Counsel for the Petitioner: Mr.R.V.Rajkumar

    Counsel for the Respondent: Mr.D.Venkatesh

    Citation: 2024 LiveLaw (Mad) 46

    Case Title: S Paulraj v The Principal District Judge and Another

    Case No: W.P(MD).No.6324 of 2009

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