1 Feb 2022 6:47 AM GMT
The Supreme Court on Monday observed that remedies under Article 226 of the Constitution are available and intervention is warranted when disciplinary authority's findings are malafide or perverse, not based on evidence or are based on consideration of irrelevant material or by ignoring relevant material, or are such that they could not have been rendered by any reasonable person placed in...
The Supreme Court on Monday observed that remedies under Article 226 of the Constitution are available and intervention is warranted when disciplinary authority's findings are malafide or perverse, not based on evidence or are based on consideration of irrelevant material or by ignoring relevant material, or are such that they could not have been rendered by any reasonable person placed in like circumstances.
The bench of Justices KM Joseph and S Ravindra Bhat was considering a civil appeal assailing Calcutta High Court's judgment dated December 16, 2008 ("impugned judgment").
In the impugned judgment, the division bench had set aside Single Judge's decision of dismissing the respondent's challenge to his dismissal from bank's service.
While dismissing the appeal in United Bank Of India V. Biswanath Bhattacharjee the bench said,
"The bank is correct, when it contends that an appellate review of the materials and findings cannot ordinarily be undertaken, in proceedings under Article 226 of the Constitution. Yet, from H.C. Goel onwards, this court has consistently ruled that where the findings of the disciplinary authority are not based on evidence, or based on a consideration of irrelevant material, or ignoring relevant material, are mala fide, or where the findings are perverse or such that they could not have been rendered by any reasonable person placed in like circumstances, the remedies under Article 226 of the Constitution are available, and intervention, warranted. For any court to ascertain if any findings were beyond the record (i.e., no evidence) or based on any irrelevant or extraneous factors, or by ignoring material evidence, necessarily some amount of scrutiny is necessary. A finding of "no evidence" or perversity, cannot be rendered sans such basic scrutiny of the materials, and the findings of the disciplinary authority. However, the margin of appreciation of the court under Article 226 of the Constitution would be different; it is not appellate in character."
The respondent ("employee") on January 18, 1971 was appointed as a cashier cum clerk by the bank and was later promoted to Junior Management Officer Scale-1. From December 14, 1988 to May 30, 1990 he served as a branch manager and on October 23, 1997 disciplinary proceedings were initiated against alleging his complicity in 5 major charges issued by the bank.
The charges against the respondent were that he disbursed loans in favor of 12 fictitious persons in connection with the Integrated Rural Development Project introduced by the Central Government and not reflecting the appropriate subsidy amount in the bank's subsidy register.
Other charges against the employee were of deliberately ensuring missing of relevant papers in connivance with another employee and misappropriating the amount of ₹ 60,000/- forming the subsidy component.
The bank conducted an enquiry against the respondent for denying the charges. Based on the report submitted by the Enquiry Officer, the Disciplinary Authority on October 7, 2002 terminated respondent's employment.
The employee appealed this order which was dismissed on April 28, 2003. Aggrieved, the employee approached the Calcutta High Court which was dismissed by the Single Judge on May 15, 2007. The employee then again filed an appeal which was allowed by the Division Bench ("impugned judgment"). By the impugned judgment the division bench while allowing the appeal set aside the orders of the appellate and disciplinary authorities.
Submission Of Counsels
Appearing for the bank, Counsel urged that the High Court re-appreciated the evidence and altered the finding on facts of the disciplinary authority on the ground of insufficiency of evidence which was contrary to the settled proposition that courts, in judicial review, cannot weigh the evidence appreciated by a domestic tribunal.
Referring to the judgments in UP State Road Transport Corporation v Har Narain Singh 1998 (9) SCC 220; State Bank of India v Ram Dinkar Punde 2006 (7) SCC 212 and Government of A.P & Ors. v Mohd. Narsulla Khan 2006 (2) SCC 373, it was contended that the High Court erred in acting as an appellate authority and such action was in the teeth of law laid down by Top Court in several decisions. Counsel further argued that the impugned judgment was in error in holding that the enquiry officer's finding of guilt, leading to the employee's dismissal, was not based on any evidence.
On the other hand, Advocate Kunal Chaterjee on employee's behalf argued that the employee was found guilty in the enquiry proceedings and that the findings were not based on any evidence and were purely conjectural and clearly perverse.
Counsel further contended that the charge sheet was issued much later and the enquiry was conducted seven years later. It was also his contention that the management withheld documents which were directed to be produced in the enquiry which caused serious prejudice to the respondent as their production would have vindicated his position.
He further argued that though the scope of judicial review in departmental proceedings was restricted, clearly where it was shown that the outcome of the enquiry was either procedurally unfair or illegal, or its outcomes were based on findings that were based on irrelevant facts, without taking into consideration relevant facts, or are manifestly unreasonable, the court in exercise of its jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution, could interfere with the punishment imposed.
Supreme Court's Analysis
The bench in the judgment authored by Justice S Ravindra Bhat to adjudicate on the issue referred to the Top Court's judgements in Union of India v. H.C. Goel (1964) 4 SCR 718, T.N.C.S. Corpn. Ltd. v. K. Meerabai, (2006) 2 SCC 255, B.C. Chaturvedi v. Union of India (1995) 6 SCC 749, Bank of India v. Degala Suryanarayana (1999) 5 SCC 762, In Moni Shankar v. Union of India (2008) 3 SCC 484 and State Bank of Bikaner and Jaipur v. Nemi Chand Nalwaya (2011) 4 SCC 584
Recollecting Bernard Schwartz who said that judicial review- of administrative decisions: warrants a minimum level of scrutiny, the bench opined that the division bench conducting a kind of scrutiny that it did could not be a factor to hold its decision erroneous.
Relying on Roop Singh Negi v. Punjab National Bank (2009) 2 SCC 570 and J.D. Jain v Management of State Bank of India18 and State Bank of India v Hemant Kumar 2011 (2) SCC 22, the bench said,
"In the present case, however, the confessional statement was not by the respondent. Those who authored the confession, did not depose in the enquiry. Furthermore, no witness who heard the authors of the confession, deposed to it. At best then, that document bound the authors, not third parties, like the respondent. The enquiry officer clearly erred by relying on such extraneous matters, as the respondent could not be made a scapegoat for the confession of others, especially with regard to his role. The bank's charge about his complicity had to be proved by evidence. This document, containing others' confession, could not have been used against him."
While dismissing the appeal, the bench said,
"The appeal is unmerited. The appellant bank is directed to ensure that the respondent's services are deemed to be reinstated, and calculate all his benefits, including arrears of salary, pay increase (as applicable), increments, and all consequential benefits, and calculate his terminal benefits, and fix his pension, if admissible to him under the bank's regulations. The determination of these benefits shall be undertaken, and the payment of all amounts be made, within three months from date of this judgment. The appeal is dismissed without order on costs.."
Case Title: United Bank Of India V. Biswanath Bhattacharjee| Civil Appeal No. 8258 Of 2009
Coram: Justices KM Joseph and S Ravindra Bhat
Citation : 2022 LiveLaw (SC) 109
Click Here To Read/Download Judgement