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Departmental enquiry – charges proved and upheld from bottom to top – But D.B. modified the punishment – Apex court held that the DB traveled beyond it’s jurisdiction and set aside the order and held that However, the Division Bench chose to tinker with the quantum of punishment imposed by the disciplinary authority. Though it upheld the punishment of recovery of loss, the punishment of reduction in pay scale has been set aside and substituted by the punishment of withholding of one increment with cumulative effect for a period of one year as per Regulation 39(1)(b) of the L.I.C. of India (Staff) Regulations, 1960. We are of the opinion that the High Court transgressed its limits of judicial review by itself assuming the role of sitting as departmental appellate authority, which is not permissible in law. =CIVIL APPEAL NO. 7717 OF 2014 (arising out of Special Leave Petition (Civil) No. 39113 of 2013) |THE LIFE INSURANCE CORPORATION | | |OF INDIA & OTHERS |…..APPELLANT(S) | |VERSUS | | |S. VASANTHI |…..RESPONDENT(S) = 2014- Aug. Part – http://judis.nic.in/supremecourt/filename=41829

  Departmental enquiry – charges proved and upheld from bottom to top – But D.B. modified the punishment – Apex court held that the DB traveled beyond it’s jurisdiction and set aside the order and held that However, the Division Bench chose to tinker with the quantum  of  punishment

imposed by the disciplinary authority.  Though it upheld the  punishment  of recovery of loss, the punishment of reduction in  pay  scale  has  been  set aside and substituted by the punishment  of  withholding  of  one  increment with cumulative effect for a period of one year as per  Regulation  39(1)(b) of the L.I.C. of  India  (Staff)  Regulations,  1960.  We are of the opinion  that  the  High  Court  transgressed  its  limits  of judicial review by itself assuming  the  role  of  sitting  as  departmental appellate authority,  which  is  not  permissible  in  law.  =

Division  Bench  of  the  High  Court  has

modified the punishment imposed by the disciplinary authority  of  appellant

No.1, i.e. Life Insurance Corporation of India (hereinafter referred  to  as

the ‘LIC’) on the respondent employee in a departmental enquiry.=

Interestingly, the Division Bench has  concurred  with

the learned Single Judge regarding the guilt of the respondent in  tampering

of records, which is clear from the following:

“61.  On a careful consideration of respective contentions and  in  view  of

the detailed discussions and for the reasons  mentioned  aforesaid,  in  the

instant case, we hold that the conclusions arrived  at  by  the  authorities

concerned are based on evidence and on available materials  on  record.   In

fact, the Enquiry Officer has submitted a  Report  dated  23.12.1997,  inter

alia,  holding  that  the  Appellant  is  clearly  guilty  of   deliberately

tampering with  the  premium  position  as  detailed  in  the  Report.   The

Divisional Manager (Disciplinary Authority) of L.I.C. of  India  has  passed

the final order on 30.12.1998 by imposing the punishment of (i) Recovery  of

loss to the Corporation of Rs.16,001.90 and (ii) Reduction in Basic  Pay  to

the lowest time scale (i.e.) Rs.1950/-.  The Appellate  Authority  also,  on

28.10.1999, has confirmed the order  of  the  Disciplinary  Authority  dated

30.12.1998.   Even  to  the  Memorial  dated  09.02.2000  submitted  by  the

Appellant/Petitioner,  addressed  to  the  1st  Respondent/Chairman  of  the

L.I.C.  of  India,  Mumbai,  an  order  of  rejection  has  been  passed  on

25.09.2000 finding no merit in the Memorial warranting no interference  with

the penalties of ‘reduction in basic pay to minimum of scale’ and  ‘recovery

of financial loss of Rs.16,001.90′.  As such, we are in  complete  agreement

in regard to the conclusions arrived at by the  authorities  concerned  that

the charges levelled against the Appellant/Petitioner have been proved.”

However, the Division Bench chose to tinker with the quantum  of  punishment

imposed by the disciplinary authority.  Though it upheld the  punishment  of

recovery of loss, the punishment of reduction in  pay  scale  has  been  set

aside and substituted by the punishment  of  withholding  of  one  increment

with cumulative effect for a period of one year as per  Regulation  39(1)(b)

of the L.I.C. of  India  (Staff)  Regulations,  1960.  =

We are of the opinion  that  the  High  Court  transgressed  its  limits  of

judicial review by itself assuming  the  role  of  sitting  as  departmental

appellate authority,  which  is  not  permissible  in  law.  

The  principles

discussed above have been summed up and      summarised as  follows  in  the

case of Lucknow Kshetriya Gramin Bank (Now Allahabad, Uttar  Pradesh  Gramin

Bank) & Anr. v. Rajendra Singh, (2013) 12 SCC 372 :

a)    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.

b)    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.

c)    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.

d)    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.

e)    The only exception to the principle stated in para  (d)  above,  would

be in those cases where the co-delinquent is awarded  lesser  punishment  by

the  disciplinary  authoirty  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 equaltiy 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  charge-sheet  in

the two  cases.   If  the  co-delinquent  accepts  the  charges,  indicating

remorse  with  unqualified  apology,  lesser  punishment  to  him  would  be

justifiable.

13)   Learned counsel for the respondent had  no  answer  to  the  aforesaid

position in law and could not justify  the  stance  of  the  High  Court  in

modifying  the  punishment  in  the  manner  indicated  above.

Therefore,

sidetracking the central issue, he made a vain attempt  to  argue  that  the

charges against the respondent could not be held to be  proved  as  per  the

records.

Obviously, that is not  even the issue before  us.

As  mentioned

above,  there  are  consistent  findings,  not  only  of  the   departmental

authorities, but even the Single Judge as also the  Division  Bench  of  the

High  Court  to  the  effect  that  charges  against  the  respondent  stood

established in the departmental enquiry.  Thus, it is  not  permissible  for

the counsel for the respondent even to argue such a  proposition,  that  too

when the respondent did not challenge the  judgment  rendered  by  the  High

Court.

14)   As a result,  the  instant  appeal  is  allowed.   That  part  of  the

directions contained in para 62 of the impugned judgment which modifies  the

penalty are hereby set aside and the penalty  imposed  by  the  disciplinary

authority is hereby restored. There  shall,  however,  be  no  order  as  to

costs.

2014- Aug. Part – http://judis.nic.in/supremecourt/filename=41829

J. CHELAMESWAR, A.K. SIKRI
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