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Even If Punishment Imposed By Disciplinary Authority Is Disproportionate, Court Should Not Normally Decide Quantum; Matter Should Be Sent Back : Supreme Court

LIVELAW NEWS NETWORK
12 Nov 2021 10:48 AM GMT
Even If Punishment Imposed By Disciplinary Authority Is Disproportionate, Court Should Not Normally Decide Quantum; Matter Should Be Sent Back : Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court reiterated that the scope of judicial review on the quantum of punishment imposed in disciplinary proceedings is limited."Even in cases where the punishment imposed by the disciplinary authority is found to be shocking to the conscience of the Court, normally the disciplinary authority or the appellate authority should be directed...

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The Supreme Court reiterated that the scope of judicial review on the quantum of punishment imposed in disciplinary proceedings is limited.

"Even in cases where the punishment imposed by the disciplinary authority is found to be shocking to the conscience of the Court, normally the disciplinary authority or the appellate authority should be directed to reconsider the question of imposition of penalty", the bench of Justices Ajay Rastogi and Abhay S. Oka  observed.

The court added that it is only in rare and exceptional cases where the court might to shorten the litigation may think of substituting its own view as to the quantum of punishment in place of punishment awarded by the competent authority that too after assigning cogent reasons(Case :Union of India vs. Ex Constable Ram Karan)

.In this case, disciplinary proceedings were initiated against a CRPF constable and the competent authority imposed a punishment of removal from service. Allowing the writ petition filed by the constable, the High Court observed that the punishment of removal from service is disproportionate to the proved misconduct. The court then substituted the punishment to his confinement from 1.00 p.m. to 10.00 p.m. in quarter guard jail as the adequate punishment with a further direction for his reinstatement

The Apex court, in the appeal filed by Union of India, noted that the nature of allegations against the constable are grave in nature as he not only threatened the Doctor- complainant but  misbehaved and abused and injured him and made false allegations against him of sexual harassment to his wife. The court said that it is the disciplinary authority, or the appellate authority in appeal, which is to decide the nature of punishment to be given to the delinquent employee. In this context, it observed:

23. Even in cases where the punishment imposed by the disciplinary authority is found to be shocking to the conscience of the Court, normally the disciplinary authority or the appellate authority should be directed to reconsider the question of imposition of penalty. The scope of judicial review on the quantum of punishment is available but with a limited scope. It is only when the penalty imposed appears to be shockingly disproportionate to the nature of misconduct that the Courts would frown upon. Even in such a case, after setting aside the penalty order, it is to be left to the disciplinary/appellate authority to take a call and it is not for the Court to substitute its decision by prescribing the quantum of punishment. However, it is only in rare and exceptional cases where the court might to shorten the litigation may think of substituting its own view as to the quantum of punishment in place of punishment awarded by the competent authority that too after assigning cogent reasons.

The court also noticed the principles set out in Lucknow Kshetriya Gramin Bank (Now Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh Gramin Bank) and Another vs. Rajendra Singh in this regard:

  1. When charge(s) of misconduct is proved in an enquiry the quantum of punishment to be imposed in a particular case is essentially the domain of the departmental authorities.
  2. The courts cannot assume the function of disciplinary/departmental authorities and to decide the quantum of punishment and nature of penalty to be awarded, as this function is exclusively within the jurisdiction of the competent authority.
  3. Limited judicial review is available to interfere with the punishment imposed by the disciplinary authority, only in cases where such penalty is found to be shocking to the conscience of the court
  4. Even in such a case when the punishment is set aside as shockingly disproportionate to the nature of charges framed against the delinquent employee, the appropriate course of action is to remit the matter back to the disciplinary authority or the appellate authority with direction to pass appropriate order of penalty. The court by itself cannot mandate as to what should be the penalty in such a case.
  5. The only exception to the principle stated in para 19.4 above, would be in those cases where the co-­delinquent is awarded lesser punishment by the disciplinary authority even when the charges of misconduct were identical or the co-­delinquent was foisted with more serious charges. This would be on the doctrine of equality when it is found that the employee concerned and the co­-delinquent are equally placed. However, there has to be a complete parity between the two, not only in respect of nature of charge but subsequent conduct as well after the service of charge­sheet in the two cases. If the co-­delinquent accepts the charges, indicating remorse with unqualified apology, lesser punishment to him would be justifiable."

Setting aside the High Court judgment, the court observed thus while allowing the appeal:

What punishment was required to be imposed, in the facts and circumstances of the case, was a matter which fell exclusively within the jurisdiction of the competent authority and the interference made by the High Court is in a cavalier manner while recording the finding of penalty to be disproportionate without taking into consideration the seriousness of the misconduct committed by the respondent which is unpardonable and not sustainable in law.

Case name and Citation: Union of India vs. Ex Constable Ram Karan | LL 2021 SC 640

Case no. and Date: CA 6723 OF 2021 | 11 November 2021

Coram: Justices Ajay Rastogi and Abhay S. Oka

 Click here to Read/Download Judgment

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