Observing that the nature of punishment to be imposed in disciplinary proceedings has to be examined based on the satisfaction of authorities who have a responsibility to uphold dignity, discipline and sanctity, the Madras High Court has upheld the punishment of removal from service imposed on a nationalised bank manager for producing fake boarding and lodging bills.
Justice C.V. Karthikeyan wrote: “The court cannot substitute itself for the appointing authority and re-examine whether the punishment imposed was proportionate or should be reduced. Views might differ. But, it is the view of the appointing authority which has to be examined and while examining so, the only aspect to be considered is whether principles of natural justice had been violated or not.”
In the present case, the petitioner, appointed as a Probationary Officer in State Bank of India (SBI) in 2009 and posted as Athavanur branch manaager at Yelagiri in Vellore district in 2011, had indeed been given an opportunity of personal hearing before being imposed with the punishment of removal from service in 2015, the judge said.
The writ petitioner had pleaded for a lesser punishment before the court on the ground that he comes from a downtrodden rural family and that a career in banking had been his childhood dream. He also said that he had the reponsibility of taking care of his aged mother undergoing medical treatment.
However, the judge said: “These are aspects which must have played upon the mind of the petitioner before he produced fake and false bills. He should have thought for a minute before submitting those bills and claiming reimbursement. He has not only submitted false bills but also had obtained monetary benefit. Had he been a little thoughtful about his own family, he would not have produced those false bills.”
Stating the petitioner had no choice but to face the repercussion of his own acts, the judge said, it was not as if those bills were foisted on him and he was asked to produce them to benefit somebody else. The bills were produced for his own benefit and he had wrongfully gained by production of such bills.
SBI counsel Chevanan Mohan told the court the petitioner had submitted bills for having stayed at Room No. 201 at Yelagiri Holiday Home from November 29, 2013 to December 28, 2013 at a daily rate of ₹1,300. However, during inquiry, the manager of the holiday home reported there was no room numbered 201 and the maximum rate for any room in the lodge was only ₹880 per day.
After the inquiry officer found the charges to be proved, the disciplinary authority imposed a punishment of cut in increment. However, the appointing authority (General Manager) increased the punishment to removal from service and it was approved by the appellate authority (Chief General Manager) too in 2016.
Though the petitioner claimed there had been instances of the bank dropping action against officials who had indulged in similar practices, the judge said: ‘This is not a chain reaction to be encouraged. The facts of the case touch upon the lack of confidence which the general public will have on a bank official when he himself is alleged to have misappropriated the money.”