SC: HC Not to Re-Examine Adequate and Fair Disciplinary Actions Under Art. 226 on Appeal

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A Full Bench of the Supreme Court held that the High Court under Article 226 cannot act as an appellate authority and re-examine the proceedings of disciplinary authority.

Brief Facts 

The Respondent was a police constable in the Railway Protection force in Jhansi. He was suspended from service for theft and abuse of power. The Disciplinary Authority removed him from service. The Appellate Authority reduced the punishment to reversion in rank for 6 months. Later, due to the gravity of misconduct the Appellate Authority imposed the punishment of compulsory retirement from service.

The Respondent then filed a Writ Petition under Article 226 in the High Court. The High Court re-examined the charges levelled against him. It directed the Respondent to be re-instated in service along with all consequential benefits, including back wages to the extent of 50%.

The Department filed the present appeal challenging the above judgment of the High Court.

Court’s Observations 

The Bench noted that there was no allegation of mala fide against the disciplinary authority. There was neither lack of competence of the disciplinary authority in passing the Order of compulsory retirement nor of a breach of the principles of natural justice, or even that the findings were based on no evidence.

Further, the allegations made against the Respondent arose out of gross neglect of duty concerning theft of railway property. The findings of gross neglect of duty had been upheld. The findings of the Disciplinary Authority were based satisfactorily. 

The Bench opined that the High Court was not justified in re-appraising the entire evidence threadbare as a c]Court of the first appeal. It could not substitute the Order of punishment, by a lesser punishment, without justifiable reason.

The Court further stated that a police officer in the Railway Protection Force is required to maintain a high standard of integrity in the discharge of his official functions. 

In this case, the charges proved against the Respondent “were of neglect of duty” which resulted in pecuniary loss to the Railways. The Respondent was a Sub-Inspector in the Railway Police discharging an office of trust and confidence which required absolute integrity. 

Hence, it stated that the High Court was not justified in setting aside the Order of compulsory retirement.

Scope of Interference of High Court in Writ Proceedings

It is well settled that the High Court must not act as an appellate authority, and re-appreciate the evidence led before the inquiry officer.

In State of Andhra Pradesh v. S. Sree Rama Rao AIR 1963 SC 1723, the Apex Court held that the High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution was not a Court of appeal over the decision of the departmental inquiry against a public servant. It is not the function of the High Court under its Writ Jurisdiction to review the evidence and arrive at an independent finding on the evidence. 

The High Court may interfere only when the departmental authority proceedings are inconsistent with the principles of natural justice.

In State of Andhra Pradesh v. Chitra Venkata Rao (1975) 2 SCC 557, the jurisdiction to issue a Writ of Certiorari under Article 226 was held supervisory. The Court does not exercise the power as an appellate Court. The findings of fact reached by an inferior Court or tribunal on evidence, are not re-opened or questioned in writ proceedings. An error of law which is apparent on the face of the record can be corrected by a Writ Court. But an error of fact, however, grave it may be, cannot be corrected by a Court of Writ jurisdiction.

In the State of Rajasthan &Ors. v. Heem Singh (2020), the Supreme Court Bench headed by Justice D.Y Chandrachud further stated that the determination of whether misconduct had been committed lies primarily within the domain of the disciplinary authority. The Judge does not assume the mantle of the disciplinary authority.

Court’s Decision

The Court upheld the Order of compulsory retirement of the Respondent due to the charges of theft and abuse of power proven against him.

Click here to read the judgement in Director General v. Rajendra Kumar Dubey.


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