The Supreme Court has held that regular inquiry as per the service rules is necessary for termination of the services of an employee, when it is stigmatic and punitive.
The Court was dealing with the appeal by Dr. Vijayakumaran C.P.V, an Associate Professor of Central University of Kerala, whose services were terminated after he was found to have sexually harassed some students.
He was on probation then. When complaints of sexual harassment were raised against him by 40 students at various points of time, an Internal Complaints Committee was constituted as per the provisions of the University Grants Commission (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal of Sexual Harassment of Women Employees and Students in Higher Educational Institutions) Regulations, 2015 (for short, 'the 2015 Regulations').
The Committee found merits in the complaints and recommended his removal. Based on this, the termination letter was issued by the Vice Chancellor.
After unsuccessfully challenging the termination in the High Court, he approached the Supreme Court. Since the termination is stigmatic and punitive, a formal enquiry as per the departmental rules was necessary, he argued.
Agreeing with his argument, a 3-judge bench of the SC led by Justice A M Khanwilkar observed that the termination order was "ex-facie stigmatic and punitive".
"the appellant has been subjected to a formal inquiry before the Committee constituted under statutory regulations to inquire into the allegations bordering on moral turpitude or misconduct committed by the appellant and that inquiry culminated in a finding of guilt against the appellant with recommendation of the Executive Council to proceed against the appellant as per the service rules. In such a situation, it is unfathomable to construe the order as order of termination simplicitor", observed the bench, also comprising Justice Hemant Gupta and Dinesh Maheshwari.
Such an order could be issued only after subjecting the incumbent to a regular inquiry as per the service rules, the bench said.
The SC precedents Indra Pal Gupta vs. Managing Committee, Model Inter College, Thora (1984) 3 SCC 384, Dipti Prakash Banerjee vs. Satyendra Nath Bose National Centre for Basic Sciences, Calcutta & Ors (1999) 3 SCC 60, Pavanendra Narayan Verma vs. Sanjay Gandhi PGI of Medical Sciences & Anr (2002) 1 SCC 520 etc were referred.
The apex court also found fault with the University for not dealing with the complaint under the POSH Act.
"Upon receipt of complaints from aggrieved women (girl students of the University) about the sexual harassment at workplace (in this case, University campus), it was obligatory on the Administration to refer such complaints to the Internal Committee or the Local Committee, within the stipulated time period as predicated in Section 9 of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (for short, 'the 2013 Act'). Upon receipt of such complaint, an inquiry is required to be undertaken by the Internal Committee or the Local Committee in conformity with the stipulations in Section 11 of the 2013 Act. The procedure for conducting such inquiry has also been amplified in the 2015 Regulations. Thus understood, it necessarily follows that the inquiry is a formal inquiry required to be undertaken in terms of the 2015 Regulations.
The allegations to be inquired into by such Committee being of "sexual harassment" defined in Section 2(n) read with Section 3 of the 2013 Act and being a serious matter bordering on criminality, it would certainly not be advisable to confer the benefit on such employee by merely passing a simple order of termination. Such complaints ought to be taken to its logical end by not only initiating departmental or regular inquiry as per the service rules, but also followed by other actions as per law. In such cases, a regular inquiry or departmental action as per service rules is also indispensable so as to enable the employee concerned to vindicate his position and establish his innocence. We say no more."
The Court partly allowed the appeal, setting aside the termination and ordering his reinstatement. However, the question of back wages was left upon, subject to the further departmental action contemplated by the University on the issue.
Case DetailsTitle : Dr Vijayakumaran CPV vs Central University of Kerala and othersCase No : Civil Appeal 777/2020Coram : Justices A M Khanwilkar, Hemant Gupta and Dinesh Maheshwari.Appearances : Advocate Reshmitha R Chandran for appellant