The Delhi High Court has set aside a disciplinary authority’s order reducing the salary of an officer of the Directorate General Border Roads (DGBR) and blocking his promotion over alleged irregularities in the recruitment process.
It also imposed a cost of Rs 5 lakh on the authority and its officials for their “disparaging” action.
The court said this case is a glaring example of victimising the petitioner officer “maliciously”, “malafidely” and with a “predetermined mind”.
It said every action of the authority should be based on reasonable grounds and that too without any personal grudge, bias and vindictiveness. Whereas in the present case, the disciplinary authority has crossed all limits, it added.
“The petitioner was not found responsible for the irregularities in the recruitment process in the two stages of departmental enquiry conducted against him. Respondent’s insistence to put a disagreement note despite the findings of charges “not proved” by inquiry reports, only reflects the predetermined mind and malafide of the respondents to impose penalty,” a bench of Justices Suresh Kumar Kait and Neena Bansal Krishna said in a August 3 judgement.
It said the significance of transparency and reasonableness in adjudicatory process by the disciplinary authority can never be over emphasised in disciplinary matters on which the entire career of an officer is dependent.
“Any wrong decision not only brings disrepute but also dampens the zeal to work with honesty. The competency in any department can be inculcated only by appreciation of good work and severe action against the delinquent officers. The respondents being the appointing authority and responsible for the entire disciplined force, cannot be expected to work in such an arbitrary and non-transparent manner. The penalty imposed by the respondents is not sustainable,” the bench said.
The court concluded that the disciplinary order imposing a major penalty is patently not sustainable in law and is hereby set aside.
Justice Kait, while concurring with the judgement authored by Justice Krishna, said it is not disputed that the disciplinary authority is not bound to accept the findings of inquiry report and can form its independent opinion, but this can be done only on justifiable grounds and “not in a whimsical, capricious, arbitrary, malafide manner and on non-existent grounds”.
“In the case in hand, we find that despite the conclusion of the charges ‘Not Proved’, the disciplinary authority in its adamancy, completely ignored the findings and gave its disagreement note based purely on an absurd justification and specious reasoning of visual inspection. Such conduct of the disciplinary authority cannot be accepted and is an antithesis to the ‘Rule of Law’. No department/institution can be administered like its personal property,” Justice Kait said.
He said in such cases, the courts should not spare officers who take decisions as taken against the petitioner and added that due to such disparaging action, the disciplinary authority not only made the petitioner defend himself for half-a-decade before the respondents but also litigate before this court for another prolonged period of half-a-decade.
“Such officers of the disciplinary authority cannot be spared, as any wrong decision not only brings disrepute to the department but also dampens the zeal of the officers to work with honesty,” the court said, adding the authorities cannot escape their accountability with impunity as such conduct calls for strict action.
It imposed a cost of Rs 5 lakh on the department, which will be paid in favour of the petitioner within four weeks.
The court said the department should not be made to suffer for the deliberate dereliction of duty by an officer and added that the costs shall be paid by the department at first, but it shall be entitled to recover the same equally from the erring officers.
“The interest of justice would be met if we compensate the petitioner herein for the suffering anxiety and mental agony; monetary expenditure incurred and energy spent to get his due promotion and consequential benefits thereto after a long battle of litigation, which he was otherwise entitled to,” it said.
The petitioner was appointed as assistant executive engineer (Electrical and Mechanical) in the Border Road Engineering Service in 1990 and later appointed as a Commanding Officer in 1064 Field Workshop in Manipur under 25 BRTF Project Sewak from July 2010 till September 2013.
In 2013, the recruitment board of vehicle mechanics at General Reserve Engineering Force Centre, Pune was set up and the petitioner was deployed as first member of the board.
According to the petition, some irregularities were alleged to have taken place during the recruitment process at Pune and Rishikesh by the recruitment board and a preliminary enquiry was conducted.
Later, the disciplinary authority in 2017 recorded that charges were “proved” and imposed penalty on him, which had the effect of reducing his salary by Rs 10,000 per month and blocking his promotion in near future.
The petitioner sought quashing of the disagreement note and the order imposing penalty on him.