(1) This petition under article 226 of the Constitution challenges the order of the State of the Punjab (the respondent to the petition) D/- the 30th of August 1960 (copy Annexure 'H') removing the petitioner Harbans Singh Dhillon, Block Development and Panchayat Officer, from Government service with immediate effect.
(2) The petitioner is in the permanent service of the State of the Punjab and from 1956 to April 1958 he was Block Development Officer at Phillaur in the Jullundur District. One Tripta Devi, a sewing teacher who was working under the control of the petitioner, appeared on the 27th of September 1957, before Shri Sapuran Singh (then Deputy Secretary Development to the Punjab Government) and made before him a complaint (copy Annexure 'B') in which she alleged that in order to outrage her modesty the Block Development Officer took her to Jullundur and made her stay in the house of a pleader instructing her to given out that she was his wife. In that house the Block Development Officer began to molest her and with great difficulty she saved for inquiry to Shri R. S. Talwar, I. A. S. (who was then Deputy Commissioner of the Jullundur District). Shri Talwar submitted his report to the Development Commissioner (copy Annexure 'C' to the petition) in which he exonerated the petitioner, and subsequently the petitioner was allowed in the year 1958 to cross his efficiency bar and to draw his increment according to the rules.
(3) A Lady Social Education Organiser, named Surjit Kaur, was working under him while the petitioner was posted at Phillaur. Certain complaints were made by her and the Government deputed Shri K. K. Dhir, Addotional General Assistant to the Deputy Commissioner of Jullundur, for making an inquiry into those complaints. During the pendency of this inquiry and in the absence of Shri Dhri from his Court Room there was some altercation between Surjit Kaur and the petitioner and it appears that she gave him a beating with her sandal and purse. Government directed Shri Dhir to make an inquiry in this incident also, but the petitioner and Surjit Kaur withdrew their respective complaints against each other and Shri Dhir made his report on the 10th of August 1958.
(4) According to the petitioner both those inquiries i.e., one conducted by Shri R. S. Talwar and the other by Shri K. K. Dhir, were closed against him and the petitioner was transferred to Machhiwara when the Governor of Punjab made an order dated the 12th of September 1958 (copy Annexure 'A') placing the petitioner under suspension with immediate effect pending a departmental inquiry against him. Subsequently the petitioner was served with a charge-sheet (copy Annexure 'D') dated the 19th of November 1958, by the Planning and Development Commissioner to Government, Punjab, which is in these terms:
'I. S. R. Verma, I. A. S., Planning and Development Commissioner and Secretary to Government Punjab, Planning and Development Departments, do hereby charge you, Shri Harbans Singh, Block Development Officer, Machhiwara (under suspension), as follows:
1 (a) That while you were working as Block Development Officer, Phillaur, Shrimati Tripta Devi, a sewing teachers Phillaur made a complaint against you making serious allegations.
(b) That you solicited the assistance of Shrimati Surjit Kaur, Lady Social Education Organiser, in the aforesaid complaint and on her refusal to do so, you adopted harassing tactics by encouraging the office peon to smoke in her presence and the office peons and the Jeepdriver Sham Singh to sing filthy songs outside her office door.
(c) To harass Shrimati Surjit Kaur still further, you withdrew the permission granted to her by the Government to reside at Ludhiana when you had no authority to rescind the Government order.
(d) That you make an attempt to entice Shrimati Surjit Kaur and the dropped the matter after you had tendered an apology to her.
(e) That your behaviour towards Shrimati Surjit Kaur was unseemly and was wholly unbecoming of your position.
2. That on June the 21st, 1958, while attendin the Court of Shri K. K. Dhir, Additional General Assistant, Jullundur, in connection with the inquiry against Shrimati Surjit Kaur, your behavior towards her caused her to make a public assault on you and the entire episode became a subject-matter of grave public scandal.
3. That the aforesaid acts of misbehavior have made you liable to be removed from Government service. You are, therefore, required within ten days of the receipt of this charge-sheer to state in writing whether you admit the truth of all or any of the charges aforesaid, what explanation or defence, if any, you have to offer and whether you desire to be heard in person. Your explanation should be submitted within the prescribed period to Shri J. D. Khanna, P. C. S., Under Secretary to Government, Punjab, Development Department (C. P.) Chandigarh, who has been appointed as Inquiry Officer in the case, if you fail to furnish your explanation within the aforesaid period, it will be presumed that you have none to give.'
(5) The Inquiry Officer Shri Khanna examined witnesses and submitted his very lengthy report, dated the 8th/13th of June 1959, in which he found that all the charges except charge No. 1(d)(the Inquiry Officer has wrongly mentioned it as charge No. 5 in para 44 of his report) stood fully proved against the petitioner. In para 44 of the report the further stated that the inquiry had revealed that the petitioner not only failed to perform his normal duties but also indulged in malpractice of the worst type, and the recommendation was that the petitioner to be removed from services. The Financial Commissioner, Development, and Secretary to Government, Punjab, Development and Panchayat Departments thereafter served a show-cause notice (Annexure 'F' to the petition), paragraph 2 of which is as follows:
'On a careful consideration of the report, and in particular of the conclusion reached by the Inquiry Officer in respect of the charges framed against you, the Governor of Punjab is provisional-service should be enforced on you. Before he taken that action, he desires to give you an opportunity of showing cause against the action proposed to be taken. Any representation, which you make in that connection, will be considered by him before taking the proposed action. Such representation, if any, should be made in writing and submitted so as to reach me not later than 15 days of the receipt of this letter by you.'
A copy of the report of the Inquiry Officer was enclosed along with this notice. The petitioner submitted a detailed representation to Government and then the impugned order removing him from Government service was passed.
(6) Shri H. L. Sibal on behalf of the petitioner did not argue that any step which is required under Punjab Civil Service (Punishment and Appeal) Rules, 1952, in relation to disciplinary proceedings against Government servants was not taken. His contentions were that the Inquiry Officer had in some respects gone entirely beyond the scope of the charges framed against the petitioner and that in coming to his conclusion on certain other charges he had relied on extraneous material which was not put to the petitioner and was never part of the record. He further maintained that the misconduct, which according to the Inquiry Officer had been established but had not formed part of the subject-matter of the charge, was of such a serious nature that if it was excluded from consideration, the extreme penalty of removal of service could not reasonably have been imposed on the petitioner. The result, according to him, was that the inquiry into the charges was vitiated to such an extent that it could not be held that any 'reasonable opportunity' to show cause against his removal from service, was afforded to the petitioner and in consequence the decision of Government on the report of the Inquiry Officer was also vitiated and liable to be quashed as not having fulfilled the constitutional requirements of article 311 of the Constitution of India.
(7) The main attack an behalf of the petitioner has been on the findings of the Inquiry Officer under charge 1(a). As a matter of fact to any reasonable person it is not a separate charge but is merely introductory to the remaining charges, because the mere making of a complaint, however serious may be the allegations against a Government Servant, does not and cannot render him liable to disciplinary action. However, the Inquiry officer, after giving in paragraph 12 a summary of the explanation furnished by the petitioner on this charge, proceeded in paragraph 13 to state the points which in his view required consideration and thorough scrutiny in connection with that charge as follows:
'(i) Whether Tripta herself made allegations against the B. D. O. before the Planning and Development Commissioner on 27-9-1957 alleging B. D. O.'s attempt to outrage her modesty at Jullundur and whether she was known to the B.D.O.
(ii) How far the allegations made by her (Tripta) were correct?
(iii) Whether the B. D. O. along with other members of the staff of the N. E. S. Block Phillaur was really involved in the case lodged with the Sangrur police as F. I. R. 13 dated 19-1-1958 under Section 363/366, Indian Penal Code?'
Now it admits of no doubts that the matters mentioned in sub-paragraphs (ii) and (iii) were quite beyond the scope of charge 1(a) as framed by Government and as communicated to the petitioner. The conclusions at which the Inquiry Officer arrived at on points (ii) and (iii) were extremely damaging to the petitioner and are as follows:
With respect to point No. (ii) vide paragraph 22 of the report:
'As I have already discussed above in detail, I hold that there is a great substance in the allegations as made by Tripta against the B. D. O. before the Planning and Development Commissioner at Chandigarh on 27th September 1957, as contained in her compliant Exhibit P.W. 1/1. The B. D. O. on account of his influence has been successful so far in persuading Tripta from not appearing and making a statement before Inquiry Officer appointed to inquire into this allegation. However, circumstantial evidence on the record is more than sufficient to prove the guilt of the B. D. O. as far as this charge is concerned.'
With regard to point No. (iii) vide paragraph 25 of the report.
'Though the B. D. O. might not be directly implicated in this case of abduction, I have my grave suspicious that he must be having his direct or indirect hand in the matter.'
Mr. Sibal has put forward detailed arguments in support of the contention that the conclusions arrived at by the Inquiry Officer on both those points were absolutely unwarranted. I need not consider these arguments in detail for the purposes of this petition. But it is clear that Mr. Talwar before whom Tripta had not appeared did not find any truth in her allegations and, on the contrary, observed that her own conduct in the petition had not been entirely above suspicion. As regards the point about the alleged abduction, it is in the report of the Inquiry Officer himself (paragraph 24) that Mr. Talwar verified before the police that on the 5th of December 1957 (which is the date of the alleged offence) the petitioner was with him and accordingly the police cancelled the case making a report to the Magistrate to that effect.
(8) It is, therefore, established that on points (ii) and (iii) which related to very serious matters, that is misconduct of the petitioner with his woman subordinate and being concerned in her alleged abduction, the Inquiry Officer arrived at conclusions very much damaging to him even though these matters were not stated in the charge-sheet either directly or indirectly and, on the other hand, appeared to have been to all intents and purposes closed on the basis of the reports submitted earlier.
(9) Charge 1(b) has also been split up by the Inquiry Officer into two parts:
(a) That the B. D. O. solicited the assistance of Shrimati Surjit Kaur in the aforesaid complaint to hush up the matter; and
(b) On her refusal the B. D. O. adopted harassing tactics in encouraging the office peon to smoke in her presence and also the office peons and jeep-driver Sham Singh to sing filthy songs outside her office door.
The Inquiry Officer found (a) proved and (b), which is the more serious charge, not proved.
(10) With regard to charge 1(c), Mr. Sibal had little to say. He pointed out that it was at the petitioner's instance that Surjit Kaur, Lady Social Education Organiser, was allowed to stay at Ludhiana, and the Government while granting this permission made the petitioner responsible to see that her work did not suffer. When the petitioner found that by staying at Ludhiana she was neglecting her work at Phillaur, he rescinded the permission. It is, however, admitted that he had not legal authority to do so. It is not open to this Court in exercise of its writ jurisdiction to examine in detail the grounds upon which an Inquiry Officer reaches certain conclusions, and so far as charge No. 1(c) is concerned I would say nothing more for the purposes of this petition.
(11) Charge 1(d) was held to be not proved by the Inquiry Officer.
(12) With regard to charge 1(e) Mr. Sibal's complaint is that the Inquiry Officer his inter alia relied on the report dated the 10th of August 1958, which was submitted by Shri K. K. Dhir to Government but was no part of the record, and has even otherwise proceeded on conjectures. The learned Deputy Advocate-General could not dispute the fact as to the inquiry report by Mr. Dhir not being a part of the record, but I do not consider it necessary to discuss this charge further, because in my view the submissions made by Mr. Sibal with regard to the findings of the Inquiry Officer under charge 1(a) being beyond the scope of the charge must prevail.
(13) The learned Deputy Advocate-General had to concede that the findings of the Inquiry Officer with regard to the petitioner having misconduct himself with Tripta or being concerned in her adbuction were beyond the scope of charge 1(a). He maintained, however, that according to the return submitted by the Financial Commissioner, Development, and Secretary to Government, Punjab, Development and Panchayat Departments the Government in passing final orders took into consideration only the charges as well as the allegations forming the basis of those charges, copy of which is Exhibit R. 1. There is, however, no material on the record to warrant that supposition. With the show-cause notice (copy Annexure 'F') Government forwarded to the petitioner copy of the entire report of the Inquiry Officer, and, no distinction was made as to the various heads of charge. The provisional opinion of the Governor of Punjab as to the petitioner being liable to the penalty of removal was based on a consideration of the report and of the conclusions reached at by the Inquiry Officer. Nor was any indication given in the order of the removal as to Government having not been influenced by the findings of the Inquiry Officer as to the petition having misconducted himself towards Tripta and having been concerned in her abduction.
In his representation the petitioner has protested that the Inquiry Officer had gone beyond the charges and had directed himself to matters which were virtually closed and the same was the position taken by him in paragraphs 3, 4, and 6 of his petition. In the reply to these paragraphs Government does not take up the position that these matters were in fact closed, but asserts that the reports submitted by Sarvshri Talwar and Dhir were in the nature of preliminary inquires upon which the Government did not take a final decision, implying thereby that the final decision could have been taken on the basis of these findings of the Inquiry Officer. While it is not possible to give any firm opinion as to what Government's view would have been on this case and what punishment, it any, would have been imposed on the petitioner if the Inquiry Officer had not travelled beyond the scope of the charge-sheet, it admits of no doubt that the allegations of misconduct with Tripta and being concerned with her abduction are much more damaging than the remaining charges and in the nature of things the findings of the Inquiry Officer on these matters tend to prejudice seriously the punishing authority against the petitioner.
(14) What then is the legal position when in disciplinary proceedings against an officer of Government the Inquiry Officer gives findings on matters outside the scope of the charge-sheet? There is no direct authority on the point. Mr. Sibal has relied on certain observations of their Lordship of the Supreme Court in Dr. Ram Krishan Bhardwaj v. State of Delhi, AIR 1953 SC 318. This was a petition by a person who had been detained under the provisions of the Preventive Detention Act, 1950, and it was held that a petitioner has the right, under article 22(5) of the Constitution, to be furnished with particulars of the grounds of his detention sufficient to enable him to make a representation which on being considered may give relief to him. If one or two of the grounds of detention are so vague that the petitioner cannot submit any effective representation, the detention order is bad because the constitutional requirements must be satisfied with regard to each of the grounds communicated to the person detained, subject of course to a claim of privilege under clause (6) of article 22.
The only principle which may be deduced from this authority, so far as it is applicable to the present case, is that since the Inquiry Officer went utterly beyond the scope of one of the charges it is not possible to say how far the punishing authority in making the impugned order was influenced by those findings as distinct from the findings on the charges actually framed. If the extraneous findings relate to matters much more serious than the findings which are the subject-matter of the charges. It would be only just and reasonable to hold that 'reasonable opportunity guaranteed by the Constitution and by the Service Rules was not afforded to the petitioner. The learned deputy Advocate-General referred in the connection to Gaya Prasad Misra v. State of Uttar Pradesh, AIR 1960 All 618. The petitioner in that case was a member of the Police Force or the Uttar Pradesh who was dismissed from service on certain charges. It was urged by the petitioner's counsel before the learned Judges of the Allahabad High Court that in certain respects the inquiry officer had travelled beyond the scope of the charges. Repelling this argument the learned Judges observed as follows at page 619:
'Thus even if it be accepted for a moment which too, however, cannot be urged very successfully, that the inquiry officer exceeded the scope of the subject-matter before him, the petitioner cannot benefit because of his proved guilt of having accepted bribe from Bihari Pasi and for which a punishment of dismissal was always permissible.'
(15) These observations do not really support the contention advanced by the learned deputy Advocate-General to the effect that if an enquiry officer has gone beyond the scope of the charges and considered extraneous matters, the order of the punishing authority based on that report would in all circumstances be a good order and not liable to be quashed by the Court in the exercise of its writ jurisdiction.
(16) This court has to look not solely to the form of the inquiry but to the spirit and the substance. I am satisfied that in the circumstances of this case the 'reasonable opportunity' to defend himself, which is guaranteed by the Constitution and embodied in the Service Rules, was not afforded to the petitioner and accepting the writ petition I quash the impugned order. The petitioner will have his costs against the respondent Counsel's fee Rs. 100/-.
(17) Petition allowed.