The Supreme Court has reiterated that acquittal by a Criminal Court does not preclude a Departmental Inquiry against the delinquent officer and the Disciplinary Authority is not bound by the judgment of the Criminal Court if the evidence that is produced in the Departmental Inquiry is different from that produced during the criminal trial.
The bench comprising Justice L. Nageswara Rao and Justice Hemant Gupta observed thus while setting aside the High Court that had quashed a dismissal order of an employee on the ground that it could not have been passed since he was honourably acquitted by the Criminal Court.
The High Court had referred to judgments in Captain M. Paul Anthony v. Bharat Gold Mines Ltd. and G.M. Tank v. State of Gujarat to quash the dismissal order.
The Apex Court bench in In Karnataka Power Transmission Corporation Limited vs. C. Nagaraju noted that in Captain M. Paul Anthony, it was held that the ex parte departmental proceedings cannot be permitted to stand in view of the acquittal of the delinquent by the Criminal Court on the same set of facts and evidence. Similarly, on the basis that the evidence in both the criminal trial and Departmental Inquiry are the same, the order of dismissal was set aside in G.M. Tank. The Court observed that both these judgments does not apply to the facts of the instant case. The bench said:
Acquittal by a criminal court would not debar an employer from exercising the power to conduct departmental proceedings in accordance with the rules and regulations. The two proceedings, criminal and departmental, are entirely different. They operate in different fields and have different objectives. In the disciplinary proceedings, the question is whether the Respondent is guilty of such conduct as would merit his removal from service or a lesser punishment, as the case may be, whereas in the criminal proceedings, the question is whether the offences registered against him under the PC Act are established, and if established, what sentence should be imposed upon him. The standard of proof, the mode of inquiry and the rules governing inquiry and trial in both the cases are significantly distinct and different.
Referring to the judgment in Krishnakali Tea Estate v. Akhil Bhartiya Chah Mazdoor Sangh , the bench observed:
It is settled law that the acquittal by a Criminal Court does not preclude a Departmental Inquiry against the delinquent officer. The Disciplinary Authority is not bound by the judgment of the Criminal Court if the evidence that is produced in the Departmental Inquiry is different from that produced during the criminal trial The object of a Departmental Inquiry is to find out whether the delinquent is guilty of misconduct under the conduct rules for the purpose of determining whether he should be continued in service. The standard of proof in a Departmental Inquiry is not strictly based on the rules of evidence. The order of dismissal which is based on the evidence before the Inquiry Officer in the disciplinary proceedings, which is different from the evidence available to the Criminal Court, is justified and needed no interference by the High Court.
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