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Maharashtra Municipal Corporation Act -Commissioner of Municipal Corporation Can Initiate Departmental Inquiry Against Additional Municipal Commissioner : Supreme Court

Sohini Chowdhury
2 April 2022 4:58 AM GMT
Maharashtra Municipal Corporation Act -Commissioner of Municipal Corporation Can Initiate Departmental Inquiry Against Additional Municipal Commissioner : Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court, on Thursday, held that the Commissioner of Municipal Corporation has the power to suspend or initiate departmental proceedings against the Additional Municipal Commissioner under the Maharashtra Municipal Corporation Act, 1949. A Bench comprising Justices L. Nageswara Rao and B.R. Gavai allowed a plea assailing the judgment of the Bombay High Court, which found that...

The Supreme Court, on Thursday, held that the Commissioner of Municipal Corporation has the power to suspend or initiate departmental proceedings against the Additional Municipal Commissioner under the Maharashtra Municipal Corporation Act, 1949.

A Bench comprising Justices L. Nageswara Rao and B.R. Gavai allowed a plea assailing the judgment of the Bombay High Court, which found that the power to suspend Additional Municipal Commissioner of Kalyan Dombivali Municipal Corporation was conferred neither on the Commissioner of Municipal Corporation nor the Corporation, but only the State Government.

Factual Background

Sanjay Gajanan Gharat (respondent no. 1) was appointed as Assistant Municipal Commissioner of the Kalyan Dombivali Municipal Corporation (KDMC/petitioner) in 1995 approved by the State Government on 01.02.1997 under Section 45 of the Maharashtra Municipal Corporation Act, 1949 ("MMC Act"). Later he was promoted to the post of Deputy Municipal Corporation of KDMC. In 2011, the MMC Act was amended and Section 39A was inserted which provided for creation of one or more posts of Additional Municipal Commissioner ("AMC"). By a Government Resolution dated 11.12.2011, a post of AMC was created for KDMC. On 06.01.2015 an additional post of AMC was created. The Selection Committee found respondent no. 1 suitable and recommended his name to the State Government. Accordingly, he was appointed to the post of AMC of KDMC in June, 21015. On 14.06.2018, an FIR was registered against him for offences punishable under the Prevention of Corruption Act. He was arrested and secured bail. The Commissioner of KDMC in exercise of power under Section 56(1)(b) of the MMC Act and Rule 4(1) of the Maharashtra Civil Services (Discipline and Appeal) Rules, 1979 ("MCS Rules") issued suspension order against the respondent no. 1 on 18.06.2018, which was ratified by the General Body of KDMC on 07.07.2018. Subsequently, on 20.06.2019, the General Body sanctioned to hold departmental inquiry against him. Accordingly, he was issued notice to appear before the Inquiry Officer appointed by the KDMC. He objected on the ground of jurisdiction and approached the Bombay High Court seeking withdrawal/cancellation of the suspension order and the notice of the departmental inquiry. By its order dated 06.04.2021, the High Court allowed the petition on the ground that suspension could be initiated only by the State Government as the respondent no. 1 was an employee of the State.

Contentions raised by the appellants

Senior Advocate, Mr. P.S. Patwalia appearing on behalf of KDMC submitted that though the State Government under Section 39A of the MMC Act, created the post, nonetheless, it was created for the KDMC. Referring to Section 56 he argued that it was only the KDMC which was competent to suspend the respondent no. 1 and initiate departmental proceedings against him. It was contended that since he was in custody for more than 48 hours, in view of Rule 4(2) of the MCS Rules, his suspension was deemed. Advocate, Mr. Rahul Chitnis appearing for the State of Maharashtra supported the contentions raised by Mr. Patwalia.

Contentions raised by the respondents

Senior Advocate, Mr. Anupam Lal Das appearing on behalf of the respondent no.1 submitted that he was appointed by the State Government under Section 39A of the MMC Act as the post of AMC is pari materia to that of the Commissioner who is appointed under Section 36 of the MMC Act. It was contended that the liabilities, restrictions and terms of service of the Commissioner and AMC was the same as per Section 39A(2) of the MMC Act. Placing reliance on Ajay Kumar Choudhary v. Union of India through its Secretary and Anr. (2015) 7 SCC 291, he argued that there was no requirement for continued suspension, moreso, when the charge-sheet was not submitted within 90 days.

Analysis by the Supreme Court

On perusal of Section 39A of the MMC Act, the Court was of the view that though the post of AMC was created by the State Government, it was created for KDMC. It noted that though the selection and appointment of the respondent no. 1 to the post of AMC was carried out by the State Government, he was specifically appointed for the KDMC. Therefore, he is an employee of KDMC. The Court observed that though the powers, functions and duties of the AMC are same as that of the Commissioner, the legislature subjected AMC to the control of the Commissioner. Moreover, it was noted that Section 2(9) of the MMC Act which defines 'Commissioner' includes Commissioner, but not AMC, signifying the control of Commissioner over AMC. Referring to Section 56 which deals with imposition of penalties on municipal officers, the Court was of the view that the Commissioner was empowered to suspend any officer, whether appointed by the Corporation or any other competent authority. However, in case of 'post equivalent to or higher in rank than the post of Assistant Commissioner', in terms of Section 56(1)(a)it is required to take prior approval from the Corporation. The Court opined that the Section 56(1)(a) would include the post of AMC. When a Transport Manager or officers appointed under Section 45 of the MMC Act is suspended by the Commissioner they are to inform the Corporation, which is to confirm the suspension within a period of six months or else the suspension would come to an end. Referring to Philips India Ltd. v. Labour Court, Madras And Ors. (1985) 3 SCC 103, Sultana Begum v. Prem Chand Jain (1997) 1 SCC 373, Jagdish Singh v. Lt. Governor, Delhi And Ors. (1997) 4 SCC 435 and Commissioner of Income Tax v. Hindustan Bulk Carriers (2003) 3 SCC 57, the Court stated that two provisions of the statute, which appears to be in conflict ought to be construed in such a manner that there is no head-on clash and the Courts are to see to it that none of the provisions are rendered otiose. Further citing Mahadeo prasad Bais (Dead) v. Income Tax Officer 'A' Ward, Gorakhpur and Anr. (1991) 4 SCC 560, K.P. Varghese v. Income Tax Officer, Ernakulam And Anr. (1981) 4 SCC 173 and State of Tamil Nadu v. Kodaikanal Motor Union (P) Ltd. (1986) 3 SCC 91, it noted that courts should endeavor to avoid an unjust or absurd result while interpreting statutes. In view of the judgment in Sanjay Ramdas Patil v. Sanjay And Ors. (2021) 10 SCC 306, it stated that a statute is to be interpreted in a manner that it preserves its workability.

The Court noted -

"It has further been held that if the court has a choice between two interpretations, the narrower of which would fail to achieve the manifest purpose of the legislation, such an interpretation will have to be avoided. The court should avoid a construction which would reduce the legislation to futility. A broader interpretation which would bring about an effective result, will have to be preferred."

On harmonious construction of Sections 2(9), 39A and 56 of the MMC Act, the Court held -

"…the Commissioner of the Municipal Corporation will have the power to suspend or initiate departmental proceedings against an AMC, who is an officer, superior in rank to the Assistant Commissioner. However, in case of suspension of such an officer, the only requirement would be to report to the Corporation, with reasons thereof, and if such a suspension is not confirmed by the Corporation within a period of six months from the date of such suspension, the same shall come to an end. In our considered view, any other interpretation would lead to absurdity and anomaly, and therefore will have to be avoided."

Respondent no. 1's objection to prolonged suspension was rejected. However, the Court directed the departmental proceedings to be concluded within a period of four months, during which period the suspension would continue.

Case Name: Kalyan Dombivali Municipal Corporation v. Sanjay Gajanan Gharat And Anr.

Citation: 2022 LiveLaw (SC) 337

Case No. and Date: Civil Appeal No. 2643 of 2022 | 31 Mar 2022

Corum: Justices L. Nageswara Rao and B.R. Gavai

Headnotes

Section 39A of the Maharashtra Municipal Corporation Act, 1949 - appointment of the Additional Municipal Commissioners - State Government created post and made appointment, but for Kalyan Dombivali Municipal Corporation - Additional Municipal Commissioner to exercise power subject to the control of the Commissioner - respondent no. 1 was an employee of the Kalyan Dombivali Municipal Corporation.

Section 56 of the Maharashtra Municipal Corporation Act, 1949 - imposition of penalties on municipal officer and servants - the Commissioner was empowered to suspend any officer, whether appointed by the Corporation or any other competent authority - in case of 'post equivalent to or higher in rank than the post of Assistant Commissioner', in terms of Section 56(1)(a) it is required to take prior approval from the Corporation - when a Transport Manager or officers appointed under Section 45 of the MMC Act is suspended by the Commissioner they are to inform the Corporation, which is to confirm suspension within a period of six months or else the suspension would come to an end - the Commissioner of the Municipal Corporation will have the power to suspend or initiate departmental proceedings against an AMC, who is an officer superior in rank to the Assistant Commissioner.

Rules of Interpretation of Statutes - it is the duty of the court to avoid a head­-on clash between two sections of the Act and to construe the provisions which appear to be in conflict with each other in such a manner so as to harmonise them - when two conflicting provisions in an Act cannot be reconciled with each other, they should be so interpreted that, if possible, effect should be given to both - if the court has a choice between two interpretations, the narrower of which would fail to achieve the manifest purpose of the legislation, such an interpretation will have to be avoided - an interpretation, which will result in anomaly or absurdity, should be avoided - the statute has to be interpreted in such a manner that it preserves its workability.

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