The Madhya Pradesh High Court recently observed that public interest is also an element on the consideration of which an employee can be placed under suspension. The Court further held that even if it is alleged that the particular department of the employee did not suffer any loss due to him, the same cannot make him immune to suspension.
The division bench of Justice Sujoy Paul and Justice D.D. Bansal observed-
…it cannot be forgotten that if the respondent, a senior officer is reinstated by staying the suspension order, he can scuttle the inquiry or investigation or can win over the witnesses of the departmental inquiry. This is within the province of the disciplinary authority to decide whether an employee is required to be suspended or not because suspension is a step towards ultimate result of an investigation or inquiry.
The facts of the case were that the Respondent/Petitioner, an Assistant Commissioner at Excise Department, was placed under suspension. It was alleged by the Department that he had failed in his duty to monitor the illegal activities of liquor shopkeepers on a regular basis. Aggrieved with his order of suspension, he had moved the Writ Court to challenge the same.
The Writ Court set aside his order of suspension, observing that there was no material placed on record to show any direct relation of the Respondent/Petitioner with the alleged irregularity. The Writ Court had also held that the alleged actions of the Respondent/Petitioner had not caused any financial loss to the State's Exchequer and further that there was no possibility of him influencing the inquiry being conducted against him. Moreover, the Writ Court had noted that the disciplinary authority had passed the order of suspension without application of mind.
Aggrieved with the observations of the Writ Court, the State argued that the Department was within its rights to suspend the Respondent/Petitioner, pursuant to the provision under Rule 9(1)(a) of M.P. Civil Services (Classification, Control and Appeal) Rules 1966 ('CCA Rules'). The State also submitted that it was not open to the Writ Court to either examine the correctness of the allegations or to examine whether there existed sufficient material to place the employee under suspension. This, the State asserted, was the prerogative of the Competent Authority to place the employee under suspension and rely on the adverse material at appropriate occasion.
The State, thus, argued that the Writ Court had gone wrong while entering into the merits of the case.
It was further submitted by the State that the observations made in the impugned order passed by the Writ Court would have implication on the ongoing Departmental Enquiry against the Respondent/Petitioner. Therefore, it was prayed that the appeal be allowed and the impugned order granting stay on the suspension of the Respondent/Petitioner be set aside.
Per contra, the Respondent/Petitioner submitted that his order of suspension was passed in a mechanical manner and without proper application of mind. He also argued that the State did not incur any loss due to his alleged delinquency. He further asserted that since there was no element of his control over the witnesses cited by the Department for his enquiry, he could influence them as they belonged to a different department. Therefore, he argued that the Writ Court had rightly granted Stay on his suspension order and thus, the appeal was liable to be dismissed.
Examining the submissions of the parties and documents on record, the Court observed that as per CCA Rules, an employee can be placed under suspension during the pendency of an investigation, inquiry or trial. The Court noted that one such ingredient on the strength of which the suspension order can be passed is very much available and therefore, it cannot be said that suspension order was passed without there being any reason at all.
Placing its reliance on the decision of the Apex Court in U.P. Rajya Krishi Utpadan Mandi Parishad and others v. Sanjiv Rajan, the Court noted that the scope of judicial review against a suspension order is very limited and that whether charges are baseless, malicious or vindictive, cannot be gone into at the stage of examining the validity of a suspension order.
The Court then scrutinized the observations of the Supreme Court in State of Orissa v. Bimal Kumar Mohanty, wherein it was held that the authority should also keep in mind public interest of the impact of the delinquent's continuance in office while facing departmental inquiry or trial of a criminal charge-
A minute reading of this portion makes it clear that public interest is also an element on the consideration of which an employee can be placed under suspension. Thus, Merely because it is not alleged that the department has suffered any loss, the employee does not get any immunity from suspension.
Analysing the impugned order in the context of the jurisprudence laid out by the Supreme Court, the Court held that the Writ Court erred in staying the suspension order-
In this view of the matter, in our opinion, learned Single Bench was not justified in asking for the sufficient material on the strength of which the suspension order can be justified. It amounts to conducting a roving inquiry. In imputation of charges, it was clearly mentioned that respondent's involvement cannot be ruled out. Whether or not employer will be able to establish it in the inquiry is not the subject matter of adjudication at this stage.
With the aforesaid observations, the Court set aside the order passed by the Writ Court and accordingly, the Appeal was allowed.
Case Title: STATE OF MADHYA PRADESH v SATYA NARAYAN DUBEY
Citation: 2022 LiveLaw (MP) 147