SC: Most Severe Penalty Ought to be Imposed on Acts of Corruption

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A full bench comprised of Justice N.V Ramana, Justice S. Abdul Nazeer and Justice Surya Kant heard this case. It was held that systematic corruption and its blatant cover-up attract major penalties such as dismissal from service. These are provided under Article 311 of the Constitution.

Brief Facts of the Case

The appellant is a sub-inspector with the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), Mumbai in the Crime and Intelligence Wing. He was in charge of conducting surprise searches of personnel and taking strict action against anyone indulging in corruption.

A constable was found with an amount of unaccountable cash in suspicious circumstances. The appellant interfered in the said incident. There are three charges levelled against the appellant. First, misconduct and indiscipline by the ordering of a false entry in the unaccounted cash register. Second, for becoming an extraconstitutional authority by issuing unlawful orders to give a false statement. And third, corruption for collecting bribes from contractors through his subordinates. The disciplinary authority dismissed the Appellant from service. The departmental appellant authority and the High Court of Bombay dismissed his appeals. Hence, this appeal has been filed.

Appellant’s Arguments

The enquiry officer put his questions to the prosecution witness. He also cross-examined the witnesses brought forth by the defence. This amounts to making the prosecutor the judge. It violates the natural justice principle of “Nemo judex in sua causa” (no one should be the judge in its cause). The appellant has 21 years of remaining service. Hence, the imposition of the severest punishment of dismissal from service was disproportionate and shocks the conscience of the Court.

Respondent’s Arguments

The present proceedings constituted the fifth venue where the Appellant was pleading his case. The first four and the CBI had found him guilty. The counsel contended that the Supreme Court is a constitutional court. It ought not to act as appellate authorities against disciplinary proceedings of government employees. The delicate nature of employment in paramilitary forces and breach of the high trust reposed in him by society justified dismissal of the appellant from service.

Court’s Observations

First, the Bench examined the scope of the Court to examine service matters. The power of judicial review discharged by Constitutional Courts under Article 226 or 32, or an appeal under Article 136, is distinct from the appellate power exercised by a departmental appellate authority. It is, thus, well settled that the Constitutional Courts while exercising their powers of judicial review would not assume the role of an appellate authority. Their jurisdiction is under the limits of correcting errors of law, procedural errors leading to manifest injustice or violation of principles of natural justice.

In the case of disciplinary proceedings, the Courts only interfere on grounds of proportionality. This can be when the punishment awarded is inordinate to a high degree, or if the conscience of the Court is shocked. Thus, the imposition of a major penalty (like dismissal, removal, or reduction in rank) would be discriminatory and impermissible for trivial misdeeds. But for grave offences, there is a need to send a clear message of deterrence to society.

The Bench checked the appropriateness of the procedure carried. Under Section 165, Evidence Act, judges have the power to ask any question to any witness or party about any fact. This is important to discover or to get proper proof of relevant facts. Although strict rules of evidence are inapplicable to disciplinary proceedings, enquiry officers can put questions to witnesses in such proceedings to discover the truth.

As no specific question of the officer was pointed for bias, the Bench dismissed the objection as being an afterthought. The Bench examined the effect of a criminal enquiry on disciplinary proceedings. It observed that criminal proceedings are distinct from civil proceedings. Evidence obtained through civil proceedings may not be enough to take away liberty under the criminal law jurisprudence.

In a disciplinary enquiry, strict rules of evidence and procedure of a criminal trial are inapplicable. Thus, the Bench rejected the appellant’s contention of exoneration in the present proceedings in the absence of a criminal charge sheet by the CBI after enquiry. The employer always retains the right to conduct an independent disciplinary proceeding. This is irrespective of the outcome of a criminal proceeding. In conclusion, the Bench dismissed the argument of the appellant. Punishment of dismissal was not disproportionate to the allegation of corruption.

Court’s Decision

The appellant has been proven of the charges of corruption, fabrication, and intimidation. Hence, the punishment of dismissal from service is appropriate.


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