I.D. Dua, J.
(1) Khanzana Ram has appealed under clause 10 of the Letters Patent from the order of a learned Single Judge dismissing his writ petition and holding the order of compulsory retirement against him to be free from any such infirmity as may be set right on a writ petition under Article 226 of the Constitution.
(2) To state briefly the facts relevant for our purpose, the petitioner appellant was recruited as a clerk in 1944 and was transferred in the end of 1957 from Simla to the Government of India Press, Nasik Road. The trouble centres round the traveling allowance charged by him at the time of transfer. According to the petitioner, he was entitled to traveling allowance for the members of his family which, on his calculation would come to Rs. 246.63 np., but he submitted a bill only for Rs. 24.32 np. on 17th September, 1958. As is obvious from the order of the learned Single Judge, and it has nto been disputed before us admittedly, the appellant did nto claim the actual, expenditure and according to him he did nto consider it worthwhile giving all the details of road and train journey in the bill and merely charged on the basis of travel in train by first class from simla to Nasik Road. The authorities concerned frlt that the traveling allowance had been overcharged by the appellant. An enquiry was held against him on the basis of two charges, but we are only concerned at this state with charge No. 1 which reads as under :-
'CONSEQUENTon his transger from the Government of India Pres Simla to Government of India Press, Nasik, the family of Shri Khazana Ram Sharma undertook journey from Simla to Nasik to join him at Nasik. In the traveling Allowance Bill No. 637 dated 17th September, 1958 Rs. 244.31 np. submitted by Shri Sharma in respect of the above journey he claimed two 1st Class fares for his family (one for his wife and 1/2 each for his two sons aged 11 and 41/2) for the jouney stated therein to have been performed on 21st May, 1958. In the said T. A. Bill Shri Khazana Ram has certified that his family actually in the class of a accommodation to which he was entitled and for which he had claimed charges in the bill. Enquiries made from the Station Master, Simla have revealed that no 1st Class tickets ex Simla to Nasik Road were issued on the said date viz. 21st May, 1958 Shri Sharma, therfor, dishonestly obtained money from Government by making a false statement and thereby claiming T. A. for a class higher than the one by which his family actually travelled.'
This charge was held to have been substantiated and the appellant was compulsorily retired from service with effect from 31st July, 1961. This order is dated 21st July, 1962 (Annexure 'M' to the writ petition). An appeal against this order was preferred by the appellant on 7th October, 1961 but the same was dismissed on 18th March. 1964 by Shri Nawab Singh, Secretary to the Government of India, Ministry of Works, Housing and Rehabilitation, and the intimation thereof was sent to the appellant on 14th April, 1964. We will have to say something a little later about the extreme undesirability of such inordinate delay in disposing of the appeals of Government employees against the orders of punishment, and particularly of compulsory retirement imposed on them.
(3) Before the learned Single Judge, the appellant had raised the following contentions as is obvious from the impugned order :--
'(1)The order of retirement was by way of punishment and, thereforee,, a proper judicial enquiry ought to have been held before dismissing the petitioner. (2) A serious prejudice has been caused to the petitioner by reasons of (a) nto allowing to the petitioner the inspection of the letter dated June 20, 1958 (b) nto taking into account the fact that the petitioner had disclosed all the fact : about the particulars of his claim in the said letter, (e) non-examination of B.T.Patil who is' alleged to have prepared the bill on the instructions of the petitioner and (d ) making enquiry behind the back of the petitioner from the various Station Masters'.
The principal plea pressed before the learned Single Judge was that the rules of natural justice had been violated and the main argument to develop this plea was that the appellant had nto been allowed inspection' of his application dated 20th June, 1958. It was fur ther argued that had the Enquiry Officer taken ntoice of the appellant's aforesaid appplication, he would have been convinced that the appellant had nto overcharged the amount with any intention or design to' cheat the.Government, but it was a case of a bona fide mistake. these pleas were repel led.by the learned Single Judge according to whom the petitioner had admittedly overcharged the amount even on the basis of the particulers contained in the application dated 2toh June, 1958 and that; thereforee, no further enquiry was called for and that the plea of bonafide mistake' had to be established by, the appellant who was entitled to examine witnesses; if he so desired, in answer to the show cause ntoice. The charge' against the petitioner, according to the learned Single Judge, wag fully established even on the basis of the certificate appended with the bill and signed by the appellant, himself.
(4) On appeal before us.Shri D.N. Awasthey, the learned counsel for the appellant, has repeated all the submission urged by him bafore the learned Single Judge and he has very eloquently argued that hisd client had along .with his application dated 20tb Jane, 1958 attached the details of-his calculation showinp how be was claiming the amount of traveling allowance. It has also been emphasised that when bids client applied for inspection of this document, his prayer was declined as the same was nto considered to be in public interest. In the return to the writ petition, however, the very existence of the application dated 20th June, 1958 has been denied. This, according to the learned counsel, shows that the respondents have nto been 'adopting a straight forward and honest attitude and that the appellant has been a victim of some kind of foul play. In the written statement, no Explanationn has been offered as to why the inspection of the appellant's application dated 20th June, 1958 was declined on the ground of public policy and nto on the ground that no such application existed on the record. Our attention has been drawn to the following paragraph in the written statement :-
'ASregards the petitioner's alleged application dated the 20th June, 1958, it was on account of a mistaken impression as to the existence on the record that the disciplinary authority declined its inspection. In fact, at that stage the petitioner should have been told that there was no such application on any of the records.'
(5) Shri Chetan Dass, the learned counsel for the respondents, has, in a very brief argument, submitted that once the appellant concedes that he has over charged the Government in respect of traveling allowance, then it is for him to explain his bona fide mistake and that there being on the record no application dated 20th June, 1958, as alleged by the appellant, merely because the authorities concerned had under a mistaken impression declined inspection of such an application on the grounds of public policy, would nto detract from the legality of the enquiry or from the validity of the order of compulsory retirement. Of course Shri Chetan has nto even attempted to justify the grounds for declinging inspection of the appellant's application dated 2toh Jane, 1958 stated by Shri A. C. Das Gupta, Manager, Gavernment of lndia Press, Nasik, in his order dated 26th May, 1960 (Annexare 'E. 1 to the Writ petition).
(6) In our view, refusal to allow inspection of the application dated 20th Jane, 1956, whatever be the reason for the refusal, has nto caused any prejudice to the appellant because he was fully aware of its contents, and to ficts as is clear from the order of the learned Single Judge, he himself produced before the Enquiry Officer a copy thereof. The argument, that along with that application the appellant had attached the details of the calculations, on the basis of which his T.A. bill was prepared, which the appellant could nto later recollect, and, thereforee, refasal to allow inspection thereof has seriously prejudiced him in his defense, is somewhat difficult to sustain. The T. A. Bill had to be prepared in accordance with the rules on the subject applicable to the facts, btoh of which the appellant is expected to be aware of. The annexare to the application which had presumably been prepared by the appellant (the contrary is nto suggested), cannto be considered to be unknown to him. It is accordingly difficult to hold that refusal to permit inspection of this application and of its enclosures had vitiated the enquiry and the order of punishment imposed on the appellant.
(7) Adverting for a moment to the conflict between the reason given for disallowing inspection in the order dated 26th May, 1960, and the position taken in the retarn, we cannto help expressing our utter surprise and deep regret on the situation thus disclosed. We consider it oar duty, in the interest of staisfaction and contentment among the public servants and of sustaining their faith, in the bona fides and a sense of responsibility on (.he part of the authorities enquiring into the allegations of misconduct against the public servants, to point out that such an enquiry must nto be held in a manner which should give an impression of casual approach or an attitude which is nto consistent with an anxious desire to do justice to the person concerned.
(8) Shri Awasthy has, however, argued that failure to allow inspection is. in any event, vocative of the recognised rules of natural justice. Now these rules are at times apt to be unconsciously but erroneously mixed up with those of old iusnaturale. The rule of natural Justice, it may be observed, is nto a technical rigid rule of universal application, always running within fixed grooves. It is basically a rule of fair play and varies from statute to statute and from case to case, depending in its scope and extent on the peculiar facts and circumstances attracting its application, In enquiries against public servants, without intending them to be exhaustive, the rules of natural justice may be stated to require that a party should have the opportunity of adducing relevant evidence relied upon, that evidence should be taken in his presence and that he should be allowed to crossexamine witnesses. In the case in hand, as observed earlier, mere omission to allow inspection of the application, does nto seem to have caused any serious prejudice to the appellant and thereforee, there is no violation of the rules .of natural Justice which would justify invalidating the enquiry and the punishment.
(9) The grievance that the department had made some enquires behind the appellant's back .is also difficult to sustain because no such enquiry has been used in evidence for sustaining the charge against the appellant.
(10) Before concluding, we consider it proper to point out that this Co art has nto felt happy with the long delay in disposing of the appellant's appeal by the Secretary to the Government of India, Ministry of Works, Housing and Rehabilitation Such delay merely serves to create an impression that the departmental appeals of public servants are nto given the prompt attention they deserve with the result that the aggrieved parties are likely to lose faith in the effcaciousness of such appeals. We have no doubt that such a result is nto desired by the authorities concerned and that in future, this aspect would nto be ignored. The enquiry having nto been held to be vitiated, it is nto open to us to go into the question of the penalty imposed, which prima facie does seem to be somewhat on the excessive side.
(11) For all the foregoing reasons, this appeal fails and is dismissed but the parties are directed to bear their own costs btoh here and before the learned Single Judge.