1. This special appeal is directed against the order of S.N. Dwivedi J. dated May 9, 1966, by which he allowed Writ Petition No. 4027 of 1958 and quashed an order of the divisional manager of the Life Insurance Corporation of India (Agra Division) dated August 18, 1958, dismissing the petitioner from service.
2. The petitioner, Hari Om Varshany (the present respondent) was employed in the Life Insurance Corporation as a field officer at Moradabad. Complaints were lodged against him by certain persons, accusing him of misappropriating various sums of money which he had collected on behalf of the Corporation. A departmental inquiry was held by a committee consisting of two members appointed by the divisional manager (Agra Division) and evidence was recorded from the 1st of April to the 7th of April, 1958. The committee came to the conclusion that the charges were proved, and on June 16, 1958, notice was served on the petitioner asking him to show cause ' why a suitable penalty should not be imposed '. He sent a reply to this notice, asserting that the charges were baseless ; but his explanation was held to be unsatisfactory and on August 18, 1958, the divisional manager passed the impugned order, dismissing him from service.
3. The learned single judge has found that the proceedings taken against the petitioner suffer from serious flaws and that the principles of natural justice have been infringed in this case. He has held that the petitioner was not permitted to cross-examine the witnesses whose evidence was relied upon against him, and that he was not furnished with a copy of the findings of the inquiry committee before being asked to show cause against the imposition of the penalty. Further he has held the final show cause notice of June 16, 1958, to be defective, since it did not specify the precise punishment that was proposed to be awarded.
4. Learned counsel for the appellant has challenged all these findings, but it will be enough for the decision of this appeal to consider only one point viz., whether it is a fact that the petitioner-respondent was debarred from cross-examining the witnesses. In paragraph 22 of the affidavit accompanying the writ petition he has stated as follows :
' That during the course of the enquiry statement of witnesses was recorded. The applicant prayed for cross-examining the various witnesses. The said request was refused on the ground that the enquiry was departmental in nature and cross examination would not be allowed.
The reply to this is to be found in paragraph 39 of the counter affidavit, which states : ' That with regard to the contents of paragraph 22 of the affidavit, it is denied that the applicant prayed for cross-examining the various witnessess during the course of the inquiry. The petitioner made a request to the chairman, enquiry committee, only on the 7th of April, 1958, when the inquiry had been completed. This request was made as an afterthought and in order to create a ground to somehow or other challenge the conduct of the enquiry committee.'
5. Further averments on this are incorporated in paragraph 29 of the counter affidavit, which runs :
'That in view of the specific provision in the order that it was the committee only which was entitled to record the statements of the parties and of the witnesses, if any, the members of the committee did not think it fit to permit the petitioner to cross-examine the witnesses on a request having been made after the enquiry was completed.'
6. From these recitals it is quite clear that the petitioner had asked to be allowed to cross-examine, and that his request was refused, firstly, on the ground that in the proceedings conducted by the committee such cross-examination was not contemplated and, secondly, because the request was made too late. The first ground is obviously completely unjustifiable for whatever procedure was adopted by the committee, natural justice demanded that the petitioner be allowed to test the veracity of the witnesses deposing against him by cross-examining them. And the second ground, i.e., undue delay in making the request, is equally unfounded. We have sent for the original record of the inquiry and find that witnesses were still being examined on April 7, 1958, when the petitioner asked to be permitted to cross-examine. Even if it be presumed that the request was made when the statement of the last witness had been concluded, we are unable to agree that it was then too late to come forward with such a prayer. In the matter of cross-examination, two courses are possible ; either each witness may be cross-examined as soon as he finished his statements-in-chief or all the witnesses may be recalled for cross-examination after the statements-in-chief of all of them have been recorded. The petitioner chose the latter alternative and we can see nothing objectionable in his doing so (particularly when there is no suggestion that he had previously been asked to cross-examine each witness as soon as each one's statement-in-chief was finished and that he had refused to do so).
7. Our conclusion, therefore, is that the inquiry committee without justification refused to permit the petitioner to cross-examine the witnesses deposing against him. This was a clear violation of the principles of natural justice and was sufficient in itself to vitiate the proceedings. We accordingly confirm the order of the learned single judge quashing the dismissal order of August 18, 1958, and dismiss this special appeal with costs.