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Indian Petrochemicals Corporation Ltd. Vs. Chunilal D. Patel - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
CourtGujarat High Court
Decided On
Reported in(1984)2GLR943
AppellantIndian Petrochemicals Corporation Ltd.
RespondentChunilal D. Patel
Cases ReferredPort of Bombay v. Dilipkumar B. Nadkarni and Ors.
- - hereinafter referred to as the 'ipcl' for brevity's sake, was bad in law and void since the inquiry was vitiated on its being violative of the principles of natural justice and fair-play on the grounds upheld by him in his judgment and also because the charge had not been brought home to the petitioner-delinquent inasmuch as there was no evidence, direct or circumstantial, to find that there was want of integrity as alleged and specified and also because the charge which could be sustained did not amount to misconduct as defined in the rules. there was a well-laid procedure to be followed before purchases were made. the petitioner while functioning as the senior materials officer of the material department of the ipcl had committed gross misconduct in the course of his duties.....n.h. bhatt, j.1. this letters patent appeal under clause 15 of the letters patent has been filed by the original respondent no. 2 of the special civil application no. 602 of 1981, which was filed in this high court by the present respondent - the original petitioner mr. c. d. patel, whose petition had come to be allowed by our esteemed brother b. k. mehta, j. by his judgment dated 23-11-81 ordering that the impugned order of penalty of removal from service of this public corporation, namely, the indian petrochemicals corporation ltd. hereinafter referred to as the 'ipcl' for brevity's sake, was bad in law and void since the inquiry was vitiated on its being violative of the principles of natural justice and fair-play on the grounds upheld by him in his judgment and also because the charge.....

N.H. Bhatt, J.

1. This Letters Patent Appeal under Clause 15 of the Letters Patent has been filed by the original respondent No. 2 of the Special Civil Application No. 602 of 1981, which was filed in this High Court by the present respondent - the original petitioner Mr. C. D. Patel, whose petition had come to be allowed by our esteemed Brother B. K. Mehta, J. by his judgment dated 23-11-81 ordering that the impugned order of penalty of removal from service of this public Corporation, namely, the Indian Petrochemicals Corporation Ltd. hereinafter referred to as the 'IPCL' for brevity's sake, was bad in law and void since the inquiry was vitiated on its being violative of the principles of natural justice and fair-play on the grounds upheld by him in his judgment and also because the charge had not been brought home to the petitioner-delinquent inasmuch as there was no evidence, direct or circumstantial, to find that there was want of integrity as alleged and specified and also because the charge which could be sustained did not amount to misconduct as defined in the Rules. The learned Judge had consequently issued a writ of mandamus directing the respondent-IPCL to treat the petitioner as if he was all along in service and, therefore, entitled to all the benefits of back wages as were admissible and payable to him. Being aggrieved by the aforesaid decision of the learned single Judge, the original respondent No. 2-IPCL, have preferred the present appeal.

2. In order to understand the controversies, which were raised before us in the course of the hearing, stretched over sufficiently long period, a few facts are required to be closely noted. The petitioner, a Bachelor in Mechanical Engineering, was appointed as a Purchase Officer in the employment of the IPCL in May 1972, initially on probation, but confirmed subsequently. In May 1975, the petitioner was promoted to the post of the Senior Purchases Officer and that post came to be resignated as the post of Senior Materials Officer. At the relevant time of the enquiry, the petitioner was acting as such. In that capacity, it was inter alia his duty to purchase items coming under the administrative Rules pertaining to his section, which was known as '06 section' of the Purchase Department of the IPCL. His main duties were to ensure procurement of materials coming under the said section such as tools, spare parts, machineries, etc. There was a well-laid procedure to be followed before purchases were made. Indents were to be received by his office either from the general stores department or from the concerned sections of the factory of 1PCL. The petitioner had a limited power of issuing orders. Upto the purchases worth Rs. 10,000/- he was authorised to make purchases on his own. If the things to be purchased were more than worth Rs. 10,000/- and upto Rs. 20,000/-, he could place the orders subject to the concurrence of the Finance Department and in case the value of the goods to be purchased exceeded Rs. 25,000/-, it could be finalised only by the superior authorities on the basis of the Purchase Committee's recommendations. In the middle of the year 1978, about July 5 thereof, the petitioner was suspended by one Mr. Parshuraman, the Materials Manager, who prohibited him from entering the precincts of the premises by his letter dated 14-7-78. Because of the delay in initiating the proceedings, he had moved this High Court by filing the Special Civil Application No. 773 of 1979, which was rejected by the Court with a direction that the enquiry should be completed as expeditiously as possible. Before that date, namely, 20-3-79, the petitioner was already also served with a charge-sheet dated 5-3-79. The charges against the petitioner were in substance as follow:

The petitioner while functioning as the Senior Materials Officer of the Material Department of the IPCL had committed gross misconduct in the course of his duties during the period between July 1977 to March 1978 and had failed to maintain integrity and devotion to duty in so far as he in contravention of the established rules and procedures, had issued four purchase orders in favour of M/s. Central Machine Tools Co., Bombay at a very high prices and much above the prices paid earlier for the same or similar items and much above the prices prevalent in the market at the relevant time. In Annexures 1 & 2 that accompanied the Memorandum of charges, Annexure E to the petition, it was made clear what those orders were, when they were placed, to what extent higher prices were mentioned in those orders as against the prevailing market rates and it was clarified that these purchase orders were made without there being any indents received from the Stores Department or the concerned sections of the factory and without getting the approval of the Finance Department or the highest Committee as per the time-honoured procedure laid down for the functioning of the IPCL. It was alleged that four different orders respectively dated 6-12-77, 16-1-78, 9-2-78 and 23-2-78 were thus placed surreptitiously and as against the price of Rs. 30,105/-which was the worth of the goods ordered for, the orders that were placed were valued at Rs. 2,28,835/- in all. Annexure 3 appended to the petition set out the various documents on the proof of which the charge levelled against the petitioner was expected to be sustained. Annexure IV contained names of various witnesses, 25 in number, including one Mr. Sanghvi of the Bombay Company, with whom allegedly the bogus orders were placed.

3. On being served with the charge-sheet, the petitioner submitted his statement of defence on 20-3-79. It is at page 281 of our file. In that detailed statement, the petitioner categorically denied all these articles of charge and alleged that they were created and/or fabricated against him with a prejudicial mind mainly by Mr. Parshuraman, the Materials Manager (who appears to be his immediate head in the office). In clauses 12 and 13 of the said reply, the petitioner has stated as follows:

12. I reserve may right for taking inspection of listed documents before regular hearing of the inquiry;

13. I also reserve my rights for asking for inspection of other documents, purchase files, etc. which are relevant and material for giving my reply of Defence Statement from time to time.

Then, the petitioner had addressed one letter dated 23-3-79 to the Chairman and Managing Director of IPCL who was the disciplinary authority. It is at page 89 of our file. By that letter, he requested the Chairman that he be given 'statements of witnesses recorded in the course of (a) a preliminary enquiry conducted by the department; (b) investigation made by C.B.I.' Before this last-mentioned letter dated 23-3-79 was answered, the Chairman had solicited the services of a Commissioner for departmental enquiries from the Central Vigilance Commission. This appointment had come to be made on 11-4-79. As a matter of fact, the petitioner himself had made a request, as per his letter dated 21-3-79, at page 101 of our compilation, exhorting the Chairman and Managing Director of the IPCL to get the departmental enquiry proposed against him conducted by the Commissioner attached to the Vigilance Commission and it seems that his request was acceded to by the Chairman. The words of his letter are '...I have to state that the departmental inquiry to be full of prejudice and no officer of IPCL will give me justice. The C.B.I. inquiry was caused to be made in order to harass me and to debar me from future promotion. I, therefore, request that the Commissioner for departmental inquiries of the Central Vigilance Commission of the Govt. of India may be appointed to hold the inquiry to give me all reasonable opportunities to defend my case and to give me justice....' In that letter, he had also stated that he should be given inspection of additional documents, the lists of which will be submitted by him on hearing from the Chairman. This was then followed by the above-mentioned letter dated 23-3-1979.

4. As said above, the Enquiry Officer as desired by the petitioner was appointed on 11-4-79 and the Chairman then replied to the petitioner's letter dated 23-3-79, informing him on 14-4-79 as follows:

In respect of documents and copies of statements of witnesses, the same would be made available to you by the Presenting Officer at the first meeting before the inquiring officer.

As regards your request for additional documents not cited in the list of documents (Annexure III), it may be mentioned that such requests may be made to the inquiring officer, who in turn will take appropriate decision thereon. It may be further mentioned that permission to engage a pleader cannot be granted to you as requested for. However, you may select any employee of the Corporation to assist you in your defence in the said inquiry.

It is to be noted that some Officer of the C.B.I, holding the rank of an Inspector was appointed as the Presenting Officer on behalf of the IPCL before the Enquiry Officer. Despite being told by the Chairman by his letter dated 14-4-79, the petitioner thereafter made no attempt whatsoever to seek the production of those copies of witnesses statements recorded by Mr. Parshuraman in the earlier stages of his preliminary investigation. It is an admitted fact that after suspending the petitioner or some time prior thereto, Mr. Parshuraman had recorded the statements of certain witnesses, but ultimately investigation was handed over to the C.B.I. because IPCL, though technically a Corporation, brought into being under the provisions of the Companies Act, is for all practical purposes an instrumentality of the Union of India. After the C.B.I. had completed its investigation or inquiry, whatever we call it, the decision to serve the petitioner with a charge-sheet and hold the inquiry against him was taken and we have already referred to above all those previous stages.

5. The Enquiry Officer then initiated the proceedings. The daily order sheet of the Enquiry Officer is to be found at page 286, Annexure F of the original petition. It shows that the first date of hearing of the enquiry was 19-5-79 and it was at Delhi. The petitioner had remained present before the Enquiry Officer along with his defence assistant Mr. J.B. Chavada, who was a retired Deputy Superintendent of Police at one time attached to the very C.B.I. The Enquiry Officer notes as follows:

The charged officer pleads not guilty to the charge. In order to prepare his defence the charged officer should inspect all the listed documents by to-day and tomorrow. He may give notice for discovery/production of additional documents, if any, by 31-5-79. A list of defence witnesses, if any, should also be submitted by that date. In case of additional documents, the relevancy of the document, particulars identifying the document and the custodian of the document should be clearly mentioned in each case.

The regular hearings of the case are fixed from 27-6-79 to 29-6-79 at IPCL, Baroda. The witnesses on behalf of the prosecution must be examined by 27-6-79 and 28-6-79. The charged officer has to submit a statement of defence immediately at the close of the State witness. The defence witnesses, if any, will be examined on 29-6-79. The parties should be prepared to submit their arguments at the close of the production of evidence from both the parties. Summons to State witnesses may be handed over to the Presenting Officer.

(Emphasis supplied)

It is to be noted with pertinance that despite this clear direction of the Enquiry Officer, the petitioner never reiterated his earlier demand regarding earlier statements of various witnesses recorded by Mr. Par-shuraman in the course of his preliminary investigation; preliminary because it is prior to the investigation conducted by the C.B.I. He had certainly given the list of his witnesses, but it is not his case at any stage till this day that the Enquiry Officer, despite the letter of the Chairman and the Managing Director informing him to move the Enquiry Officer for additional documents, if any, was ever moved by him for those additional documents in the form of earlier statements of various witnesses, the statements having been recorded by Mr. Parshuraman. This is required to be emphasised at this stage, because before the learned single Judge the petitioner could successfully persuade him to hold that these important statements which would have clothed him with more opportunity to cross-examine those witnesses, were kept back from him and this had gone to vitiate the entire enquiry.

6. The enquiry was conducted by the Enquiry Officer and all those witnesses, barring that Bombay firms partner Mr. Sanghvi, had come to be examined and cross-examined also. All that evidence has been produced on the file of this special civil application and that is to be found at pages 128 to 196 of our file. Even at the stage of cross-examination of those witnesses, the petitioner did not open his lips for the purpose of getting those earlier statements recorded by Mr. Parshuraman for the alleged purpose of conducting cross-examination more effectively.

7. Before the Enquiry Officer, certain positions were admitted. The practice and procedure of the IPCL and the extent of authority of this petitioner in placing purchase orders referred to above were admitted. It was also established without any challenge from the side of the petitioner that it was the practice of the petitioner's office to prepare purchase orders in nine sets. The first two sets used to be dispatched or given to the seller, who will return the set No. 2 always prepared on yellow colored paper to the IPCL along with the goods or at that time and it was known as the acceptance copy. The third copy used to go to the indenting section or actual user who had placed the indent. The fourth copy or that set of that purchase order used to be sent to the Accounts Department. The fifth copy always a pink colored copy was known as the stores copy and it used to go to the Stores Department or the Stores Section, obviously to enable them to check the receipted goods together with the bill or the voucher of the seller of the goods. The sixth copy was termed as the office copy and it used to remain with the petitioner's section. The seventh copy was known as the Purchase Assistant's copy and the eight and ninth copies also used to remain there. It was also not in controversy before the Enquiry Officer that these vouchers were for the goods, which ultimately were valued at Rs. 2,28,835/- all told, as against the total worth of those goods at the prevailing market rate of Rs. 30,000/-. It was also not in controversy that pursuant to these purchase orders, the goods were sent by that Bombay firm on these four occasions, showing those inflated values. Those goods were received also in the Stores Section of the IPCL, but before payments could be made, this fact came to light and so there was only an attempt to defraud the IPCL without there being any loss having been unfortunately occasioned. It was also an admitted position that certain documents in this regard from the office of the petitioner and the registry also had been made to disappear, though they were euphemistically called 'missing.' The fact remains that this disapperance cannot be accidental, but must be somebody's mischievous act of deliberation. It was also an admitted position that these four orders were given, false numbers and they bore numbers of the earlier orders, which were placed in the ordinary course of business of the IPCL but in the stores receipt register, these four vouchers were entered obviously in a surreptitious manner, containing the false numbers of those four orders, false because there were earlier orders bearing the very numbers in respect of other consignors or sellers. The fourth pink coloured copies of the purchase orders were given Nos. S. 1/1 to S. 1/4 in the course of the enquiry while the only one yellow coloured purchase order found out was given No. D/2. This yellow copy D/2 purported to be corresponding copy of S. 1/4, though in fact it was an independent paper bogusly created. This is necessary to be noted at this stage because while referring to the report of the Enquiry Officer, reference to these four documents as such is to be found and is required to be dealt with also. In our discussion hereafter, we shall refer to these four pink coloured purchase orders as disputed orders Nos. S. 1/1 to S. 1/4. So the admitted situation before the Enquiry Officer was that somebody at the IPCL's end had got up these purchase orders and pursuant to those got up orders, goods were despatched by the consignor M/s. Central Machine Tools Co., Bombay with those abnormally high prices and those goods representing to bear those prices had come to be received into the office of the IPCL in the Stores Section. So there was no getting away from the inevitable inference that somebody at the IPCL end had hatched a very serious and masterly plan to robe this IPCL of about nine times the price of the material and this obviously, as we feel and find, could not be a single-handed venture of anyone, but must be the outcome of a well-designed collaborative plan of many master-heads put together. There is also no getting away from the fact that the initial step in this conspiracy was the issuance of the purchase orders and those four purchase orders obviously were got up as they were recovered from the Stores Section. As a necessary corollary, it can be deduced from the above mentioned admitted facts that whoever prepared these bogus purchase orders, namely S/l to S/4, before the Enquiry Officer, was one of the main ring-leaders out to execute the above-mentioned ambitious plan.

8. The case of the Department was that this petitioner was the author of those sets of purchase orders which included the fourth pink coloured purchase orders, each set of which as required to be signed in original by the Senior Materials Officer, who was the petitioner. The case of the petitioner before the Enquiry Officer right from the start was that it was the downright forgery perpetrated by some one with ulterior motives and these purchase orders were fabricated by that man or by those men in order to entrap him or at any rate his case appears to be that his signatures were forged on those purchase orders in order to lend colour of authority to that dirty transaction. In view of the above position, the main point on hand of the Enquiry Officer was to ascertain whether the petitioner was the author of those purchase orders or whether someone else was so. Only that in essence was required to be decided was this question. If he held that the petitioner was the author of those purchase orders, then in the light of other admitted factors, it was reasonable for him to conclude that the petitioner had attempted to do what he was charged with. The Enquiry Officer had before him the evidence of various witnesses. They are : M/s. R. D. Vaghela, C. Parshuraman, K. M. Shah, S.J. Jadeja, Dayaram Yadav, P.V. Gumaste and N. D. Vyas, whose statements before the Enquiry Officer are to be found respectively at pages 128, 132 149, 136, 144, 146 and 139 of our compilation. Mr. Vaghela in the course of his cross-examination categorically stated as follows:

Looking to Exs. S. 1/1, S. 1/2, S. 1/3 and S. 1/4 the signatures appearing are more or less the same.

In examination-in-chief he had stated as follows:

To the best of my knowledge, all these signatures on the purchase orders appear to be that of C. D. Patel.

Mr. Parshuraman also stated the same thing. He categorically identified the petitioner's signature. So did Mr. Jadeja. Three of those other witnesses, particularly, M/s. Gumaste, N. D. Vyas and K. M. Shah tried to be equivocal by harping on the word 'seems', but M/s. Vaghela, Parshuraman and Jadeja were categorical and straightforward in their answers. The papers of enquiry reveal that good deal of concentration of the cross-examiner one time experienced and seasoned officer of the C.B.I., who held the post of Dy. Superintendent of Police and was conversant with this type of art in the course of his public duties, was made on this aspect about the alleged authorship of signatures on those S. 1/1 to S. 1/4 There was, if we have to casually say, almost a searching cross-examination of all witnesses. At the close of the enquiry, after considering the statements and evidence of this petitioner also and that of other witnesses, the Enquiry Officer made his report, which is to be found at pages 91 to 100 of our file. He in the course of his discussion under the caption 'discussion of evidence' referred to the evidence of M/s. Vaghela, Jadeja, Parshuraman and others in detail and ultimately concluded as follows:

I find that the testimony of these witnesses (Vyas, Saxena and Yadav) also go to prove that the signatures on the four purchase orders are that of Shri C.D. Patel.

He ultimately concluded as follows:

I, therefore, find that the fact that all these purchase orders were signed by C. D. Patel has been fully proved. The defence suggestion that some unknown person might have forged the signatures of C. D. Patel on these purchase orders cannot inspire any credence. The charged officer could not place any material or record in support of his theory.

In the light of all that he stated, he ultimately concluded that the charge against the petitioner had been proved. It is to be noted at this stage with pertinence that the petitioner had submitted a brief summary of his arguments in writing, stated to be brief though running into closely typed 19 pages, and at no stage of this long summary, he is found to have made a grievance that he had sought for the production or availability of the statements of various witnesses, which had been recorded admittedly by Mr. Parshuraman at the pre-investigation stage. This is required to be re-emphasised because the petitioner had been able to successfully persuade our Brother Mehta, J. to hold that all throughout he was perturbed because of those statements having been not made available to him, with the result that he had been denied a reasonable opportunity of successfully and effectively cross-examining those witnesses by possibility of their being contradicted and thereby discredited by their possible contrary statements contained in those previous statements. We have no hesitation in saying that it is the belated thought on the part of this petitioner to raise this bogey of non-compliance with the principles of natural justice that he has sought to press into service this point obviously for the purpose of pressing his petition in the High Court. Had he been in any way serious in this regard, there were enough opportunities for him to seek the assistance of the Enquiry Officer in that regard. We have already noted above and we reiterate that even the Enquiry Officer told the petitioner on 19-5-79 that it was open to him to apply for additional documents, subject of course to his bringing to his notice the relevance of those documents which were not sought to be relied upon by the Department for the purpose of proving their case. Nothing having been done at any stage and also till the written arguments were submitted in detail to the Enquiry Officer, the only inference that can be drawn legitimately is that he did not think that these statements could be of any assistance to him.

9. At this stage, we would like to deal with one attempt made by the petitioner, which has ultimately stood exploded thoroughly. In the course of the hearing before us, the petitioner tried to urge that before the Enquiry Officer on 29-6-79 he had given a report that Mr. Sanghvi from Bombay, if not examined by the Department, must be permitted to be examined as his defence witness and that that request of his was allowed to lie down unattended. The alleged copy of this application was also annexed to the writ petition and it is to be found at page 88 of our file. We are sorry to say that this appears to be a clear interpolation sought to be effected by this petitioner. That Mr. Sanghvi was not examined is a fact. It is again an admitted fact that Mr. Sanghvi was expected to come to Baroda on 28-6-79 to give his evidence. He did not turn up on that day and the Presenting Officer thought that he would come the following day and even on that day, he did not turn up and so the Presenting Officer thought that the department could do without his evidence and he closed the prosecution evidence. Thereafter the petitioner gave his evidence and also his statement and he examined his witnesses and then he gave his written long arguments. Nowhere do we find any grievance made that Mr. Sanghvi was not permitted to be examined as a defence witness. As this argument was suddenly cropped up before us in the course of the hearing, we immediately asked the learned Advocate General appearing for the IPCL to forthwith produce before us the original file of the enquiry proceedings and at that very moment, it was made available to us and to our immense surprise we found that the petitioner's two earlier letters, one dated 21-6-79 and another dated 27-6-79, being the originals of carbon copies shown by the petitioner from his file were found to be in the file of the department, but there was no letter dated 29-6-79. As noted by us above, in the elaborate summary of his arguments, running into 19 typed pages, there is no mention of such an important opportunity being denied to him. So, we find that at no stage the petitioner had ever sought for examination of Mr. Sanghvi, but it seems that on the contrary he had every reason to be happy about non-appearance of Mr. Sanghvi, and that is why he seems to have remained quiet when the Presenting Officer declared that he would do without Mr. Sanghvi's evidence. It was only for the first time on 10-10-79 in reply to the second show cause notice paragraph 11, that he came forth with an allegation that he was denied the opportunity of examining Mr. Sanghvi as a defence witness. This is belied by the pages 156 and 157 of our file. Questions were put to this petitioner by the Enquiry Officer after the close of the defence case. There also, he has not made any grievance about his defence evidence not having been closed. It is because of this clinching circumstance that we have observed that the petitioner's grievance about Mr. Sanghvi having been kept away from him and thereby he having been denied a very valuable opportunity of evidence is a clearer and cleverer attempt on his part belatedly made, obviously for the obvious purpose. This is required to be emphasised by us because the second ground which weighed with our learned Brother Mehta, J. was that Mr. Sanghvi was not examined in the enquiry proceedings and thereby the petitioner was denied a very valuable right of eliciting truth in that regard. We shall deal with that facet of the argument at the proper stage, but as this facet arises incidentally in the course of our observation, we have dealt with it fully and finally.

10. The question now is : as to what is the power of this Court exercising its jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution of India. It is truism to state that this Court is not a superior appellate authority. It is only a watch-dog of rule of law and only thing it has to do is to see that the valuable principles of the rule of law, which included the compliance with the principles of natural justice, also, are not violated. Various authorities were cited before us in this regard, but it is not necessary for us to refer to them. We could appreciate and understand the submission of the petitioner that right from the time of the suspension of his pursuant to the suspicion of his involvement in this sordid deal, he had pleaded his innocence. We are not oblivious of the fact that even at the stage of the enquiry and throughout, it was his categorical version that those signatures on those purchase orders S. 1/1 to S. 1/4, were downright forgeries. The Enquiry Officer, was not a man of the IPCL and, therefore, not under any sway of any officer of the IPCL, but he was the deputy or delegate of the Central Vigilance Commission, whose services were sought for by the very petitioner because of his reputed independence. He was thoroughly an outside responsible agency, an independent man. Before him, certain oral evidence was led. Witnesses who deposed to the signatures on S. 1/1 to S. 1/4 are the persons, who in terms of Section 49 of the Indian Evidence Act were the persons, who were expected to be conversant with the petitioner's signature. Those witnesses almost in a chorus stated that those four signatures purporting to be of the Senior Purchase Officer, which was the position occupied by this petitioner, were the signatures of this petitioner and they could vouchsafe to it. Relying on these witnesses, the Enquiry Officer, as quasi-judicial authority not bound by the strict rules of the Indian Evidence Act not bound by the standards of criminal law, was satisfied that those four signatures were the signatures of this petitioner. It is evident that that conclusion will be the conclusion regarding facts and by no yardstick of logic, can it be branded as perverse to such an extent that no reasonable man on the earth and in his senses would reach such a finding. It was within the competence of the Enquiry Officer to decide a question of fact and we reiterate that the only question of fact before him in the light of the admitted facts was whether the signatures on those four purchase orders were of the petitioner or not. There was before him evidence both pro and con which he was entitled to sift and weigh and which he purported to do and in the exercise of his authority, he reached that conclusion. How can we, exercising only limited jurisdiction, venture to interfere with that finding of fact Our clear answer in this regard is that it is beyond our competence or domain or jurisdiction to enter that forbidden field. If we make any attempt to reappreciate and reappraise the evidence, we shall be transgressing the limits of law laid down around us. We are not oblivious of the fact that in certain contingencies even a finding of fact can be gone behind by this Court, but those cases are a few and far between, we shall reproduce them from one judgment of the Calcutta High Court produced by the petitioner himself in the case of Anandram Jiandrai Vaswani v. Union of India 1983 Labour Law Journal at page 122. Extracting the principles from various judicial pronouncements, including those of the Supreme Court, the learned Judges of the Division Bench of the Calcutta High Court observed as follows, while reproducing the arguments of the advocate of the appellant there:

32. Mr. Sengupta on behalf of the appellant has urged that in this particular case the findings of the Enquiry Officer are vitiated in law on the following grounds:

(i) The Enquiry Officer has arrived at a finding based on no evidence;

(ii) The findings are inconsistent with the evidence or contradictory to it;

(iii) The Enquiry Officer has acted on material partly relevant and partly irrelevant;

(iv) The Enquiry Officer has drawn upon its own imagination and imported facts and circumstances not apparent from the records;

(v) The Enquiry Officer has based his own conclusion on mere conjectures and surmises;

(vi) No reasonable person could have come to findings as has been arrived at by the Enquiry Officer;

(vii)The Enquiry Officer has ignored to material evidence and has cast the onus of proof upon the accused person.

They are the only conceivable grounds on which a finding of fact can be gone behind by us. As the party-in-person had chosen to argue this matter by relieving his Advocate, we have heard him very patiently and with fullist amplitude. He had taken up through the evidence of those witnesses and we went through it in the hope that his well-felt grievance, if at all could be justified according to the yardstick of law so that he may be given what is due to him. We find even after that elaborate exercise that the petitioner's case cannot be governed by those factors. We find that our Brother Mehta, J. also in this regard had observed as follows at page 44 of our compilation:

It is held that an error of law which is apparent on the face of the record can be corrected by a writ, but not an error of fact, however grave it may appear to be. This recognised principle is subject to exception that in regard to a finding of fact recorded by the Tribunal, a writ of certiorari can be issued if it is shown that in recording the finding the Tribunal had erroneously refused to admit admisoible and material evidence or had erroneously admitted inadmissible evidence, which had influenced the impugned finding. Similarly, if a finding of fact is based on evidence, that will be recorded as an error of law which can be corrected by a writ of certiorari. The adequacy or sufficiency of evidence led on a point and the inference of fact to be drawn from the said finding being within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Tribunal, the point cannot be agitated before the Court.

We are in respectful agreement with what has been found by the learned Judge on this point. We, therefore, do not dilate much on this question, though the petitioner appeared to be highly agitated on this question and we have, therefore, at his behest gone through the evidence of various witnesses lest he should go with the feeling that he was not fully heard.

11. In this connection, the petitioner's some arguments require to be dealt with by us. He invited four pointed circumstances to our notice and urged that those circumstances went to vitiate the findings of fact. He stated that alleged purchaser's copy and the vendor's copy at D/2 did not tally with the corresponding pink copy S. 1/4 of the impugned order. Nobody has stated that D/2 or the corresponding pink copy are copies of one and the same document. Even a bare look at them is sufficient to show that that D/2 deals with the subject-matter different from the subject-matter of the corresponding pink copy. So the Domestic Tribunal, the Enquiry Officer, did not attach any importance to this D/2 also being a forged document. Some of the witnesses no doubt stated that the signature on D/2 did not appear to be that of the petitioner, but even if this is taken at its best and is treated as true, that would not in any way militate against the acceptance of the evidence of other witnesses regarding the petitioner's authorship of those pink purchase orders because it is the case even of the petitioner that D/2 contains details which do not correspond with the details in the pink form S. 1/4.

12. The second circumstance was that the numbers of the orders mentioned in these pink forms were repetitions of some earlier genuine orders. This is a fact, but that indicates that these four orders were fabricated orders, which is the case of the department itself and which is the case even of the petitioner. So the duplication of the reference numbers in these pink forms is a circumstance of no consequence.

13. Similarly, in the register of the Stores Department, entries of these four items of goods sent under these four purchase orders also are said to have been interpolated. This also is suggestive of the attempted fraud or forgery and it has nothing to do with the petitioner's alleged non-authorship of the pink forms.

14. The fourth circumstance was that some of the witnesses had resiled substantially from their earlier statements made before the C.B.I. Our learned Brother Mehta, J. also has not attached any importance to this aspect of the problem and nothing has been brought to our notice which would show that their testimony was running counter to what they had deposed to at the time of the enquiry. On the contrary we find on being taken through the depositions of various witnesses that they had vouchsafed their earlier statements. When a witness after some time deposes to certain facts, his memory is likely to faulter on some peripheral and non-consequential aspects of the matter. Even in a court of law where criminal trial is on, such minor discrepancies are always left out of consideration.

15. Our conclusion, therefore, on this question is that as far as the finding of fact is concerned, we are not in a position to depart from the conclusion reached by our learned Brother Mehta, J., who stated that it was within the scope and ambit of the Enquiry Officer to decide that S. 1/1 to S. 1/4 were the documents got up by this petitioner. Once we held so, the charge stood automatically established as a matter of necessary corollary in the light of the admitted facts. Once it is held that it was this petitioner, who prepared the bogus purchase orders, it is to be held as a necessary corollary that he did so with a view to oblige that Bombay Firm that looking to the normal course of human behaviour, he could not have done it without an eye on the probable gain; to himself - that such an action was bound to reflect on his integrity; that such a fraud, if successfully permitted to be carried out, would bring slur on the overall administration of the IPCL and that this sort of conduct on as many as four occasions separated by a good span of time in flagrant violation of the time-honoured procedure and practice of the Department, amounted to gross misconduct and gross failure to maintain integrity and devotion to duty. If nothing else in law comes in the way of this finding, which is impossible to be disturbed by us, we would say that this Court has no jurisdiction to interfere with it even though there may be lingering in the mind of ours a remote doubt that, if at all we have authority to go into the questions of fact, in a scheme bogus character of these purchase orders cannot be said to have been and proved to a hilt. This is certainly beyond our jurisdiction and we refuse to go into those questions, though the petitioner who argued his case personally, and we say ably, tried to drag us into that discussion.

16. This brings us to the points of law which appeared to our learned Brother Mehta, J., who found that the petitioner was entitled to succeed. We have carefully gone through the judgment of our esteemed Brother Mehta, J., whose view is entitled to highest respect and consideration at our hands. The thorough perusal of his judgment shows that he upheld the petitioner's petition on three counts. We shall put his conclusion almost in his own words below:

(i) It appears from the proceedings made in the order sheet that the Enquiry Officer had received all the documents from the Chairman and Managing Director in connection with the case of the petitioner and, therefore, it can safely be presumed that the Enquiry Officer must have received this letter of request of the petitioner of 23-3-79. in any case, in my opinion, the Chairman and the Managing Director of the Corporation, who is the disciplinary authority, was duty bound to furnish the documents which the petitioner had prayed for since they comprised of the oral statements recorded in the course of the preliminary enquiry of the persons, who were cited as State witness before the Enquiry Officer. The principles of natural justice as often said by the courts are not empty formalities or technical rules of procedure. They are substantial and wholesome principles, which are to be observed before a person can be held guilty on the charges levelled against him...I am, therefore, of the opinion that in absence of the earlier statements of these two witnesses, the petitioner was prejudiced substantially in submitting his defence and also handicapped in effectively cross-examining the said witnesses with the result that the inquiry is vitiated;

(ii) I am, therefore, of the opinion that the refusal by the disciplinary authority to permit the petitioner to engage an Advocate to defend him had caused serious prejudice to the petitioner and had amounted to denial of reasonable opportunity to defend himself;

(iii) Unless, therefore, the evidence of Shri B.G. Sanghvi is recorded, it would be impossible to establish that there was any agreement to share the profits as alleged in the statement of imputations. Unless the evidence of Shri Sanghvi is recorded, it is not at all possible to come to the conclusion that the petitioner wanted to cause wrongful gain to himself.

We respectfully have to disagree with the three conclusions reached by our esteemed Brother Mehta, J. We now proceed to give our reasons for the same.

17. It is well said that the principles of natural justice are not empty or idle formalities, but at the same time, the Supreme Court has very clearly observed in the case of R. C. Sharma v. Union of India and Ors. : AIR1976SC2037 that 'the question whether a civil servant in a departmental enquiry against him was given a reasonable opportunity to lead evidence and to be heard or not is largely a question of fact and it is only when opportunity denided is of such a nature that the denial contravenes a mandatory provision of law or a rule of natural justice that it could vitiate the whole departmental trial. The Supreme Court concluded this observation by stating that 'prejudice to the Government servant resulting from an alleged violation of a rule must be proved', (emphasis supplied). In the course of our discussion hereinabove, we have already observed with reference to the material on the record that the petitioner had approached the disciplinary authority with a request to furnish him with the statements of various witnesses recorded by Mr. Parshuraman. It is to be noted with pertinence that the disciplinary authority under some misconception of law directed him to move the Enquiry Officer. He neither acceded to the request, nor rejected the same, throwing the ball back in the Court of the petitioner. The Enquiry Officer on 19-5-79 categorically told the petitioner, as we have already noted above, that it was perfectly open to him to seek production of additional documents not listed in Annexure III, subject of course to his satisfying the said authority about the relevance of those documents. The petitioner, who from the first stage of the enquiry appears to have taken a trenched position indicating his good deal of acquaintance with the procedural aspect of departmental enquiries, if not the detailed law in that regard, could not have been oblivious of the fact that disciplinary authority had asked him to approach the Enquiry Officer, who also had reminded him on 19-5-79 of his right. The learned single Judge, again with respects we say, observed that all the documents were despatched to the Enquiry Officer, There is no reference to all documents. The proceedings of the Enquiry Officer at page 286 of our file dated 25-4-79 only mentioned 'also received the documents' and not all documents, as our learned Brother has been pleased to find. Even if the documents were with the Enquiry Officer, it was all the more congenial for the petitioner. If the documents were there with the Enquiry Officer, all that was required to be done by the petitioner at the time of the trial was to request the Enquiry Officer to make those earlier statements available to him for the purpose of further cross-examination or closer and more effective cross-examination. If the documents were not with the Enquiry Officer, the petitioner could have well requested the Enquiry Officer to get the same for him and had the Enquiry Officer refused to extend that opportunity, there was an occasion for the petitioner to make grievance in that regard. We reiterate that even in his elaborate so-called summary of arguments running into 19 closely typed pages, he does not make grievance of this alleged, nonavailability of those statements and thereby his being deprived of a valuable right of effectively cross-examining the witnesses examined at the departmental proceedings. So, with respects, we find ourselves unable to agree with our Brother Mehta, J. that a very valuable right was denied to the petitioner from the. solitary fact that the disciplinary authority had simply directed the petitioner to go to the Enquiry Officer. We do not think that the petitioner was entertaining any serious thought of availing himself of those statements for any purpose whatsoever, much less for the purpose of effectively cross-examining the witnesses. Alternatively if the documents were with the Presenting Officer, then also it was easy for the petitioner to renew his request before the Enquiry Officer. He did nothing of the sort. It is only at the belated stage that he has raised this bogey and tried to exploit the sound principles of natural justice to his personal ends without any justification.

18. The second ground that has weighed with our learned Brother Mehta, J. was the non-extension of an opportunity to engage a lawyer. The Rules of the Department neither provide for nor put a ban against engagement of a lawyer. The latest judgment of the Supreme Court in the case of The Board of Trustees of the Port of Bombay v. Dilipkumar B. Nadkarni and Ors. : (1983)ILLJ1SC summarises the ratio of the earlier precedents exquisitely and though many earlier judgments were cited before us, we would rest content with referring to this one judgment alone. The ratio of the said judgment, and we find that the ratio of the earlier judgments also, is that where in an enquiry before a domestic Tribunal the delinquent officer is pitted against a legally trained mind, and if seeks permission to appear through a legal practitioner, the refusal to grant this request would amount to denial of a reasonable request to defend himself and the essential principles of natural justice would be violated. The genesis of the ratio is that in such a situation or in similar situation there will be a wrangle between two unequals. It is also to be accepted that if the case is of such a nature as to involve interpretation of law or intricacies of law the assistance of a legal practitioner, well-versed in the art of interpreting the law or knowing the law also can reasonably be envisaged as a part of the fair-play, which is the sine qua non of above quasi-judicial proceedings and judicial proceedings. Let us see whether any of such requirements was existing in the present case. On behalf of the Department, there was a Police Inspector of the C.B.I. He may be a man conversant with some legal procedure, but cannot be equated with or put on the pedestal of a legal practitioner. Though the petitioner was told by the disciplinary authority that it was open to him to requisition the services of some employee of the IPCL, the Enquiry Officer permitted him to be defended by a retired public servant, who held comparatively higher position of a Deputy Superintendent of Police qua the presenting officer's post of a Police Inspector and who had reasonably good deal of experience or working knowledge of such proceedings when he was attached to the C.B.I. So, as far as the might of the presenting personnel is concerned, there was struck a balance. The next question is whether the charge levelled against the petitioner was of such a complicated and complex nature as to make it inevitable to have the services of a lawyer placed at the petitioner's disposal. We have already given the genesis of the charge in the light of the admitted facts. We reiterate that the only question before the authority was whether the signatures on S. 1/1 to S. 1/4, the purchase orders, were or were not of the petitioner. No expert was sought to be examined as a witness to depose to the niceties of the various facts of the science or handwriting, or various angularities of a particular handwriting. Peculiarity of the words or peculiar assent or traces were not to be deposed to by laymen coming as a witness. Even the provisions of the Indian Evidence Act envisaged the proof of the handwriting by the persons, who, in their ordinary course of dealings, have received the documents purporting to have been written by the person to whom that writing is sought to be attributed. Vide Section 49 of the Indian Evidence Act. Any man conversant with the signature of a particular man is competent to depose to the alleged identity of the signature. The Department, while giving the charge-sheet, made it clear that they were to examine only those witnesses, who were working with the petitioner and who were knowing the handwriting of the petitioner. We do not think that any expert's services were a compelling need of the occasion. So, with respects, we say that in the facts and circumstances of this case, the non-granting of that particular opportunity to the petitioner cannot go to overturn the enquiry proceedings.

19. This brings us to the third point. It is found by our esteemed Brother Mehta J. that Mr. Sanghvi of M/s. Central Machine Tools Co. Bombay, though cited as a witness at Sr. No. 24 in the list Annexure IV appended to the Memorandum of charge-sheet, was not examined. The petitioner had contended before the learned single Judge and also in the petition that the original copies of the purchase orders alleged to have been issued to M/s. Central Machine Tools Co., Bombay were not produced before the Enquiry Officer, nor any reasons had been given for non-production and that Mr. Sanghvi, the partner of that Bombay firm, was also not examined by the Enquiry Officer, nor did he allow the petitioner to examine him, though he was a material witness and allegedly in custody of the original purchase orders. Now the Enquiry Officer's proceedings clearly show that the Presenting Officer did want to examine that important witness, who was expected to reach Baroda that day by the morning train from Bombay, and that the Presenting Officer made an application before the Enquiry Officer on 28-6-79 that he be permitted to examine him, if he went the following day there. That specific prayer was allowed also and the proceedings were adjourned to 9-00 A.M. the following day. It is an admitted position that Mr. Sanghvi did not turn up for the reasons that we do not know. The Enquiry Officer then records in his proceedings of 29-6-79 that no witness was produced from the prosecution side and the case of the prosecution was closed. It is nobody's say, not even that of the petitioner, that Mr. Sanghvi was deliberately withheld from examination by the department. No such sinister attribution is made. It is to be remembered that an authority conducting departmental proceedings has no coercive machinery at its disposal to force the attendance of any witness and if the admitted facts are any indicia, it was not in Mr. Sanghvi's interest to come forth as a witness. So, it is reasonable to believe that treating discretion as a better part of valour, Mr. Sanghvi on his own chose not to come forward. As far as the Presenting Officer was concerned, no more support to his case could be expected from that quarter because their allegation implicitly is that that Bombay firm must be a particeps criminis. It is their say that these bogus purchase orders were brought into being fraudulently so that the common sharing of a large chunk of public money is made available. About more than nine times of the price of the goods was sought to be derived from this gigantic plan hatched and to some extent executed by the interests concerned and obviously this could never have taken place but for the full involvement of that Bombay firm in it. The Presenting Officer, though keen to examine him for whatever his evidence was worth, had to rest content with the material that was already on the record and the Enquiry Officer was called upon to decide the matter on that material, as it was there, and our careful perusal of the Enquiry Officer's report shows that he has not allowed that alleged statement of Mr. Sanghvi, though put by the petitioner on the record and referred to by the learned single Judge in his judgment, to have any sway on his judgment in the matter. So, non-examination of Mr. Sanghvi by itself has not caused any prejudice to the petitioner. With respects, we say that in the facts and circumstances and particularly the admitted background of this case, it is not possible for us to agree that unless evidence of Mr. Sanghvi was recorded, it was impossible to establish that there was any agreement to share the profits, as alleged. Certain inferences can legitimately be drawn from either proved facts or admitted facts. Once it is held, and we say there is no controversy on it, that those bogus purchase orders were prepared; that those bogus orders had gone to the Bombay firm; that those bogus orders were acted upon by that Bombay firm, and that that Bombay firm had sent the goods as if they were so highly valued, though in fact they were not, they would necessarily lead and to an inference that they must have hatched a conspiracy of the type, which was the basis of the charge levelled against this petitioner. An agreement can be deduced from the circumstances and we do not find any difficulty in drawing an inference from the abovementioned admitted facts before the Enquiry Officer. To us, it appears that Mr. Sanghvi avoided the enquiry proceedings in order to avoid an unsavoury situation at which he had to either disown his earlier statements (referred to by the petitioner) or make clean-best of his active collaboration in the plan. No third alternative was possible for him and that is why we have stated that Mr. Sanghvi seems to have adopted discretion as a better part of valour and he refrained from attending the proceedings before the Enquiry Officer. There is evidence on the material, and there was no controversy also on that, that the prices of the goods reflected in the purchase orders and reflected in the demands of that Bombay firm, faultered with each of or though other yellow copies were not available and were made to disappear by the interested persons, who were also particeps criminis in this incident. An agreement could legitimately be spelt out about this attempted defrauding of the IPCL to the common good of the participants at all stages. We, therefore, find that non-examination of Mr. Sanghvi, which was not in any way motivated but was a circumstance thrust upon the Presenting Officer, did not in any way materially change the picture before the Enquiry Officer, who taking stock of the admitted material and the proof of the petitioner's signatures on those bogus purchase orders, can be said to have reached a possibly reasonable conclusion of the petitioner having committed the act of misconduct attributed to him. Once it is held that such a misconduct was proved to have been committed by him, no more arguments will be needed to fasten him with the lack of integrity and lack of devotion to his duties as an Officer of the IPCL. In our view, all these are inter-linked inferences that can reasonably, and even inevitably, be drawn from the above-mentioned material, including the finding of fact that the signatures on those bogus purchase orders were those of the petitioner and not of anybody else.

20. The petitioner in the course of his petition had also referred to mala fides. The Enquiry Officer has dealt with this aspect and we do not think that the mala fides of the Enquiry Officer are even alleged, much less proved. He was an independent public servant, having his station at Delhi and cannot be easily believed to have in any way joined hands 'with Mr. Parshuraman, who alone was alleged to have some spite against the petitioner, though the allegation of spite has remained only at the stage of allegation and has not gone to the realm of proof.

21. In above view of the matter, we find that the petition of the petitioner was liable to be dismissed. Because of that conclusion, which we have reached by above process, we are not required to deal with the alternative submission put forward by the learned Advocate-General for the appellant before us that the petitioner having slept over his removal order for more than a year's period, he should not have been awarded back wages.

22. The result is that this Letters Patent Appeal is allowed, with the further result that the petitioner's petition shall stand rejected with rule discharged therein. We shall, however, order the parties to bear their own costs throughout.

23. The cross-objections filed by the petitioner have come to be dealt with incidentally by us. They were filed because the learned single Judge had dealt with two questions against the petitioner. The subject-matter of those two questions is already covered by us while dealing with the main petition on its own merits, before we proceeded to examine the three grounds, which weighed with the learned single Judge. The cross-objections also are, therefore, dismissed with no order as to costs.

24. Before we part with this matter, we express our deep anguish at there being no thorough probe conducted by the authorities of the IPCL into the matter. It appears that they have rested content with picking up this petitioner, as if he was the sole perpetrator of the wrongful act. The materials on the record amply bear out that the roots of this malaise are widespread and deeprooted. We reiterate that but for the active collaboration of various sections, including the Stores section and Accounts section also, the plan could not have been hatched and put into action. It appears that in a public concern, like IPCL the things cannot be handled in this light fashion and when the matter has come to this High Court, we consider it our duty to see that the concerned responsible officers, whose intentions in pursuing this matter are worthy to be lauded by us, will not leave the matter here, but would try to go deep into the causes of this malaise and would certainly bring to book all those, who, in our view, can be easily booked as the participators and active colloborators in and of this large plan, which, if it had been successfully carried through the ultimate stages, would have robbed this public concern of about two lac of rupees in all. Unless such lapses are nipped at the proper stage, they have the tendency to grow and proliferate and we are sure that a responsible public corporation like IPCL will not leave the things at this stage, but will carry their probe further to its logical culmination.

25. In the course of the hearing, we did find that this petitioner, on the finding of the Enquiry Officer, could be said to be one of the plotters so to say, but when other active collaborators, as said by us above, are not sought to be caught hold of, the petitioner as a solitary instance, did not require to be so heavily punished by the order of removal. We, therefore, at the conclusion of the yesterday's arguments, which was practically the fag-end of the arguments of both the sides suggested that the IPCL out of generous and compassionate attitude may replace the order of removal by the acceptance of the resignation of the petitioner, if tendered, with effect from 30-9-83. We are happy to state that the Court's casual suggestion, made without any authority of law on such a legal considerations, has been given its due consideration and the learned Advocate-General stated before us to-day at the beginning of our first Session that if the petitioner was so willing, the IPCL was ready to forget the past and accept his resignation, if tendered, with effect from 30-9-83 (AN). We acknowledge our sense of appreciation to the authorities for respecting our suggestion and it now will be upto the petitioner to decide whether he should or should not avail himself of this gesture of goodwill.

26. At this stage, the petitioner made an oral request for a certificate under Article 133 of the Constitution of India. We find that there is no substantial question of law of general importance requiring decision by the Supreme Court and, therefore, the oral request is rejected.

Further oral request for suspending the operation of this order is also rejected because that would mean that under the interim orders of this Court, the petitioner should go on drawing his salary from this public-Corporation without rendering any corresponding services. The interim relief obviously stands automatically vacated forthwith.

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