Legal Correspondent

''Disciplinary proceedings distinct''

High Court had lost sight of well-settled law, scope of criminal proceedings Disciplinary authority has exclusive power to consider evidence

New Delhi: The Supreme Court has given its nod for yet another reason for dismissal of an employee from service. It held that acquittal in criminal proceedings would not prevent the disciplinary authority from dismissing a delinquent employee.

The court, in a series of judgments, had approved dismissal of a worker for "sleeping" during office hours, for "using abusive language," for "assaulting" his boss, for gheraoing senior officers in an organisation and for long absence from duty. In all these cases it held that punishment for such acts of misconduct by employees could not be construed as disproportionate to the charge.

In the present case, allowing an appeal by the Tamil Nadu Civil Supplies Corporation, a Bench of Justice Ruma Pal and Justice A.R. Lakshmanan said the High Court had misconceived in reaching the conclusion that the acquittal of the respondent clinched the issue before the departmental enquiry was a misconception.

The Bench said the High Court had lost sight of the well-settled law and the scope of criminal proceedings in the court and that disciplinary proceedings in a departmental enquiry were quite distinct and exclusive and independent.

Exclusive power

It held that the disciplinary authority had the exclusive power to consider the evidence with a view to maintaining discipline. "They are invested with the discretion to impose appropriate punishment keeping in view the magnitude or gravity of the misconduct. The High Court cannot substitute its own conclusion on penalty and impose some other penalty."

The Bench said the High Court had failed to consider the fact that it would be virtually impossible for the Corporation to reinstate the respondent found guilty of misappropriation and other malpractices, thereby causing enormous loss in stock and cash to the Corporation.

In this case, one K. Meerabai, an employee of the Corporation, was charged with misappropriation of Rs. 9.86 lakh in collusion with other staff members, and suspended from service. The Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, Egmore, dismissed the criminal complaint. Meanwhile, the High Court also quashed the suspension order. However, after the enquiry, she was dismissed from service and the High Court ordered reinstatement with payment of back wages.