[Departmental Action] Enquiry Officer Cannot Return A Finding On Allegation Which Is Not Part Of Chargesheet: JKL High Court Reiterates
The Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh High Court has reiterated that an enquiry officer cannot return a finding on the allegation which is not part of the chargesheet.
A bench comprising Justice Sanjeev Kumar observed, "The mandate of the enquiry officer holding disciplinary enquiry is to conduct enquiry into the charges framed against the delinquent and restrict his finding to the charges framed. He cannot return his findings beyond the terms of his reference i.e., beyond the charges to be investigated or enquired into."
The Court was hearing the case of a CRPF personnel, facing departmental action following registration of a FIR under Section 302 RPC. Though he was acquitted in the criminal case, the High Court granted liberty to the Disciplinary Authority to hold an enquiry against the petitioner in accordance with CRPF Act and the rules framed thereunder. Thereafter, the Enquiry Officer submitted his report maintaining that the charges were not proved. However, the said report was rejected on the pretext that there are some shortcomings in the enquiry.
Subsequent to this, the Enquiry Officer amended his report with an observation that the charges framed against the petitioner were partially proved. Accordingly, the Disciplinary Authority imposed a penalty of stoppage of increment for a period of five years. This was under challenge in the subject petition.
Deciding the matter in controversy, the single bench observed, "I am in agreement with the learned counsel for the petitioner that both the charges framed against the petitioner have been held not proved by the Enquiry Officer".
Justice Kumar noted that from a reading of Article of charges it is abundantly clear that there is no charge with respect to any misconduct or remissness on the part of the petitioner in respect of handling of his service rifle as was held to be proved by the Enquiry Officer. The allegation against the petitioner was that he had committed an act of misconduct and remissness in his capacity as member of the Force as he allegedly made false transaction in the OR's Mess Cash Book and also misappropriated mess money.
"It is this allegation which the petitioner was asked to meet and enquiry was also conducted into that allegation. It was, thus, not open to the Enquiry Officer to return a finding that the petitioner had committed an act of misconduct and remissness in his capacity as a member of the Force by not keeping his official rifle in the safe custody. It is on the basis of this partial proof of the charge, the petitioner has been visited with penalty imposed vide order impugned", the bench added.
Expounding further on the matter the court observed that having regard to the fact that the allegation, which is said to have been proved against the petitioner in the enquiry, was not part of the charges framed against him, the entire impugned order is vitiated in law. Delinquent must know the charges he is going to meet in the disciplinary enquiry and may, accordingly, put up his defense, it said.
Finding of fact which are foreign to the charge and even if deducible from evidence recorded during enquiry, cannot be used against the delinquent, the bench emphasized.
Thus, the court allowed the petition and directed that the Petitioner shall be deemed to be in service with all consequential benefits as if he was never suspended.
Case Title : Laxman Das Vs Union of India & Ors
Citation : 2022 LiveLaw (JKL) 242
Coram : Justice Sanjeev Kumar
Counsel For Petitioner : Mr Rakesh Sharma
Counsel For Respondent : Mr L. K. Moza CGSC