The punishment of dismissal is not disproportionate to corrupt employee, observed the Supreme Court while dismissing the appeal of a CISF officer dismissed from service for indulging in corruption.
The bench comprising Justices NV Ramana, S. Abdul Nazeer and Surya Kant observed that charges such as corruption, misappropriation and gross indiscipline are grave and ought to be dealt with strictly.
Pravin Kumar, joined the Central Industrial Security Force in January, 1995 as a Sub-Inspector. Later he was posted in Crime and Intelligence Wing and was specifically entrusted with conducting surprise searches of personnel and taking strict action against anyone indulging in corruption. He was later dismissed from service after conducting a disciplinary inquiry in which the charges of corruption and extra-constitutional conduct were found proved. The Bombay High Court dismissed his writ petition challenging the disciplinary inquiry.
Employer always retains the right to conduct an independent disciplinary proceeding, irrespective of the outcome of a criminal proceeding.
In this case, the authorities, in addition to appointment of enquiry officer, registered a criminal complaint with the CBI. After investigation, the CBI did not find adequate material to launch criminal prosecution. The contention raised by the delinquent employee was that he should be exonerated in disciplinary proceedings as no criminal charge sheet was filed by the CBI after enquiry. Rejecting the said submission, the bench observed that the employer always retains the right to conduct an independent disciplinary proceeding, irrespective of the outcome of a criminal proceeding.
It is beyond debate that criminal proceedings are distinct from civil proceedings. It is both possible and common in disciplinary matters to establish charges against a delinquent official by preponderance of probabilities and consequently terminate his services. But the same set of evidence may not be sufficient to take away his liberty under our criminal law jurisprudence.Such distinction between standards of proof amongst civil and criminal litigation is deliberate, given the differences in stakes, the power imbalance between the parties and the social costs of an erroneous decision. Thus, in a disciplinary enquiry, strict rules of evidence and procedure of a criminal trial are inapplicable, like say, statements made before enquiry officers can be relied upon in certain instances
Scope of Judicial Review in Service Matters.
The court also explained the scope of Judicial Review in Service Matters. It said that the power of judicial review discharged by Constitutional Courts under Article 226 or 32, or when sitting in appeal under Article 136, is distinct from the appellate power exercised by a departmental appellate authority.
"It would be gainsaid that judicial review is an evaluation of the decisionmaking process, and not the merits of the decision itself. Judicial Review seeks to ensure fairness in treatment and not fairness of conclusion. It ought to be used to correct manifest errors of law or procedure, which might result in significant injustice; or in case of bias or gross unreasonableness of outcome.
It is thus well settled that the Constitutional Courts while exercising their powers of judicial review would not assume the role of an appellate authority. Their jurisdiction is circumscribed by limits of correcting errors of law, procedural errors leading to manifest injustice or violation of principles of natural justice. Put differently, judicial review is not analogous to venturing into the merits of a case like an appellate authority."
Punishment of dismissal was not disproportionate to the allegation of corruption
The Court also dismissed the plea that the punishment of dismissal was disproportionate to the allegation of corruption. It said that the Disciplinary Authority has wide discretion in imposing punishment for a proved delinquency, subject to principles of proportionality and fair play.
"Such requirements emanate from Article 14 itself, which prohibits State authorities from treating varying degrees of misdeeds with the same broad stroke. Determination of such proportionality is a function of not only the action or intention of the delinquent, but must also factor the financial effect and societal implication of such misconduct. But unlike in criminal cases, in matters of disciplinary proceedings Courts only interfere on grounds of proportionality when they find that the punishment awarded is inordinate to a high degree, or if the conscience of the Court itself is shocked. Thus, whereas imposition of major penalty (like dismissal, removal, or reduction in rank) would be discriminatory and impermissible for trivial misdeeds; but for grave offences there is a need to send a clear message of deterrence to the society. Charges such as corruption, misappropriation and gross indiscipline are prime examples of the latter category, and ought to be dealt with strictly.
The Court added that the punishment of dismissal from service is far from disproportionate to the charges of corruption, fabrication and intimidation which have unanimously been proven against the delinquent officer. The Court said:
Taking any other view would be an anathema to service jurisprudence. If we were to hold that systematic corruption and its blatant coverup are inadequate to attract dismissal from service, then the purpose behind having such major penalties, which are explicitly provided for under Article 311 of the Constitution, would be obliterated. Still further, the appellant's actions would most probably have caused huge consequential losses to BPCL and lowered the reputation of the CISF amongst members of the public. Given the paramilitary nature of the appellant's force, a sense of integrity, commitment, discipline, and camaraderie is paramount. This expectation is only heightened in the case of the appellant given how he was specifically tasked with weeding out corruption and conducting surprise raids. Once shattered through acts of intimidation, forgery, and corruption; only the severest penalty ought to be imposed."
Case name: Pravin Kumar vs. Union of IndiaCase no.: CIVIL APPEAL NO. 6270 of 2012Coram: Justices NV Ramana, S. Abdul Nazeer and Surya Kant