12 Jan 2023 2:15 PM GMT
Observing that a minor contradiction in witness deposition wouldn’t render the entire evidence of the witness unacceptable, the Bombay High Court upheld the dismissal of an Assistant Traffic Inspector (ATI) of MSRTC for allegedly demanding and accepting bribe.Justice Sandeep V. Marne of Aurangabad bench was dealing with a writ petition by MSRTC challenging Labour Court’s decision to quash...
Observing that a minor contradiction in witness deposition wouldn’t render the entire evidence of the witness unacceptable, the Bombay High Court upheld the dismissal of an Assistant Traffic Inspector (ATI) of MSRTC for allegedly demanding and accepting bribe.
Justice Sandeep V. Marne of Aurangabad bench was dealing with a writ petition by MSRTC challenging Labour Court’s decision to quash the ATI’s dismissal. There was a contradiction between the charge sheet in the domestic inquiry and the complainant’s testimony about who exactly accepted the bribe amount.
“existence of minor contradiction is deposition would not render the entire evidence of a witness completely unacceptable...Considering the overall evidence of the Complainant Shri. Dhivare, it does appear probable that the Respondent not only demanded the gratification but also probably accepted the same. Whether he accepted it himself or through Shri, Kayasth is not the relevant factor.”
One Ravindra Gosavi, an ATI, was dismissed from service of MSRTC after a domestic inquiry. The charge sheet alleged Gosavi demanded Rs. 25000/- from a bus driver who was dismissed from service. In lieu of the amount, Gosavi promised to cancel his dismissal notice. It further alleged that the complainant-driver paid Rs.10,000/- to one Sajay Kayasth, a bakery owner at Dhule Bus Station. Thereafter Gosavi was arrested by the Anti-Corruption Bureau.
The Labour Court set aside the dismissal order and directed reinstatement of service with full back wages and continuity of service. MSRTC’s revision application was rejected by the Industrial Court. Hence the present petition.
Advocate Shinde for MSRTC contended that sufficient evidence is available and the charge in the domestic inquiry was to be proved on the basis of preponderance of probability and that is satisfied on production of evidence of the complainant.
Advocate Patil for Gosavi contended that there is a contradiction in the evidence of the complainant-driver as he said that the Rs. 10,000 was paid directly to Gosavi whereas the charge sheet alleged that the payment of bribe was done to the bakery owner.
After the Labour Court delivered Award I against MSRTC, it filed affidavit of evidence of the complainant-driver before the Labour Court. He deposed that Gosavi demanded Rs. 25,000/- and he agreed to pay Rs. 10000/- advance. Gosavi instructed the bakery owner to accept and keep the amount. However, instead of paying the amount to the bakery owner, he gave the cash to Gosavi.
The court reiterated that the charge in a departmental inquiry has to be proved on the test of preponderance of probability and not beyond reasonable doubt. If a person of ordinary prudence concludes that an alleged event is probable, it is sufficient to prove misconduct in a domestic enquiry, the court stated.
The court noted that the complainant-driver is consistent in his stand that he paid the bribe and it was meant to be paid to Gosavi.
Had this been a criminal trial, contradiction about who exactly accepted the amount would make the testimony of the complainant unbelievable, the court said.
Applying the test of preponderance of probability, the court said that the charge of acceptance of bribe can be held to be proved on the basis of the complainant’s deposition as there is direct evidence and there is no dispute that the bribe was meant for Gosavi.
Besides, the evidence proves that Gosavi demanded bribe in exchange of saving the complainant from dismissal and instructed the bakery owner to accept the bribe, the court noted. This part of misconduct alone is grave enough to warrant the dismissal, the court held.
The Labour Court had stressed on the lack of corroborative evidence and pendency of the criminal trial while deciding against MSRTC.
The court failed to understand why any corroborative evidence is needed for proof of charge in a domestic enquiry. “If the complainant to whom demand of illegal gratification is made and who has paid the gratification to the delinquent employee, adduces evidence supporting said allegations, it is not necessary for the employer to produce any corroborative evidence to prove the charge.”
Further, pendency of criminal trial is absolutely irrelevant for domestic enquiry, the court stated.
Gosavi was facing serious charges and a minor contradiction in the complainant’s evidence cannot be reason to let him scot-free in respect of the serious allegations, the court held
The court held that the Labour Court and Industrial Court erred in permitting technicalities to take precedence over the purpose of domestic enquiry despite the complainant’s testimony remaining unshattered in the cross examination.
They should have appreciated that the complainant mustered the courage to approach the ACB and stood with this testimony till Labour Court, the court said. “The action taken by Petitioner Corporation, which dismissed Respondent with a view to wipe out corruption from system, is directed by Labour & Industrial courts not only to reinstate him but is further saddled with financial burden of paying him backwages”, the court noted.
Therefore, the court set aside the judgments of the Labour Court as well as the Industrial court.
Case no. – Writ Petition No. 12267 of 2022
Case Title – Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation and Anr. v. Ravindra Adhar Gosavi
Citation - 2023 LiveLaw (Bom) 21
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