M.N. Chandurkar, C.J.
1. These writ petitions raise common questions relating to the interpretation of Regn. 39(3) of the (Staff) Regulations, 1960 framed by the Life Insurance Corporation of India. The Common questions are, as to whether in a disciplinary enquiry it is open to the Life Insurance Corporation, under Regn. 39(3), to appoint the Commissioner for Departmental Inquiries, Central Vigilance Commission, to enquire into the misconduct alleged against an employee of the Life Insurance Corporation and further whether in such an enquiry a Deputy Superintendent of Police, Central Bureau of Investigation, Special Branch, can be appointed as the presenting officer.
2. The questions raised mainly relate to the interpretation of Regn. 39(3). Since we are not concerned with the merits of the charges in respect of which departmental proceedings against the petitioners in all the above four petitions are being taken, only such facts as are necessary for appreciating the contentions raised are being stated. R. S. Gopalan petitioner in W.P. No. 754 of 1984, was given a charge-sheet on 3rd November, 1983 containing certain charges. The Chairman (currently in-charge) & Managing Director of the Life Insurance Corporation made an order on 7th December, 1983, under Regn. 39(3), appointing Shri A. K. Rastogi, Commissioner for Departmental Inquiries, Central Vigilance Commission, No. 3 Dr. Rajendra Prasad Road, New Delhi, as the enquiry officer to enquire into the charges against the petitioner. By the same order, the Deputy Superintendent of Police, C.B.I., Madras has been appointed to present the case before the enquiry officer. According to the petitioner, since the C.B.I. Madras had investigated the case against him and the Central Vigilance Commission had been controlling the investigation right from the beginning, if the Central Vigilance Commission is allowed to conduct the domestic enquiry there will be serious miscarriage of justice and the Central Vigilance Commission will be both the prosecutor and a judge. The petitioner's case further is that when Regn. 39(3) refers to an 'enquiry officer', the officer referred to must be one of the categories of officers mentioned in Regn. 7(2)(i) or 7(2)(ii) of the Regulations. In other words, the contention is that no person who is an officer outside the Life Insurance Corporation can be appointed as an 'enquiry officer'. Similarly it is contended that there is no power to appoint an officer of a different department over which the Life Insurance Corporation has no control, as the 'presenting officer' and that presenting officer must also be an officer from the Life Insurance Corporation.
3. It is the case of the Life Insurance Corporation that the Central Vigilance Commission had not controlled the investigation against the petitioner and therefore the apprehension of the petitioner that an enquiry by the Commissioner would result in miscarriage of justice is not justified. According to the Life Insurance Corporation, the Central Government has, in exercise of the powers conferred by S. 21 of the Life Insurance Corporation Act, 1956, extended the power and jurisdiction of the Central Vigilance Commission to the Life Insurance Corporation of Indian on and from 17th September, 1968. Thus, the jurisdiction of the Central Vigilance Commission extends to all employees of the Corporation, and the Corporation is advised by the Commission in cases pertaining to officers whose status is comparable to that of gazetted officers in Government. With regard to the appointment of 'presenting officer', the case, of the Life Insurance Corporation is that, the apprehension of the petitioner that the mere presence of a C.B.I. Officer would be a menacing or threatening factor prohibiting independent witnesses from giving evidence, is unwarranted. It is stated that the departmental enquiry is totally controlled by the disciplinary authority and has to be conducted in accordance with the provisions of the Life Insurance Corporation of India (Staff) Regulations, 1960, and the instructions issued thereunder.
4. In the other three writ petitions, the challenge to the appointment of 'presenting officer' is made on the same grounds as in W.P. No. 754 of 1984.
5. Before we consider the arguments advanced before us, it is necessary to the relevant provision in the Regulations. Regulation 39(1) prescribes the penalties which can be imposed by the disciplinary authority on an employee who commits a breach of regulations of the Corporation, or who displays negligence, inefficiency or indolence or who knowingly does anything detrimental to the interest of the Corporation, or conflicting with the instructions or who commits a breach of discipline, or is guilty of any other act pre-judicial to good conduct. The penalties are prescribed in Cls. (a) to (g) and vary from censure to dismissal. Regulations 39(2) and 39(3) read as follows :
'(2) No order imposing on an employee any of the penalties specified in Cls. (b) to (g) of sub-regulation (1) supra, shall be passed by he disciplinary authority specified in Schedule I without the charge or charges being communicated to him in writing and without his having been given a reasonable opportunity of defending himself against such charge or charges and of showing cause against the action proposed to be taken against him.
(3) The disciplinary authority empowered to impose any of the penalties (b), (c), (d), (e), (f) or (g) may itself enquire into such of the charges as are not admitted or if it considers it necessary so to do, appoint a board of enquiry or an enquiry officer for the purpose.'
Section 21 of the Life Insurance Corporation Act, 1956, make it obligatory on the Life Insurance Corporation to abide by the directions of the Central Government. S. 21 reads as follows :
'In the discharge of its functions under this Act, the Corporation shall be guide by such direction in matters of policy involving public interest as the Central Government may give to it in writing; and if any question arises whether a direction relates to a matter of policy involving public interest, the decision of the Central Government thereon shall be final.'
It has not been disputed that the Central Government had extended the power and jurisdiction of the Central Vigilance Commission to the officers of the Life Insurance Corporation of India. The Life Insurance Corporation of India has also laid down a procedure to be followed in cases of disciplinary action. The normal procedure for taking disciplinary action has been divided into six stages and the appointment of an enquiry officer an conduct of enquiry come in the third stage. This procedure contemplates that an independent officer should be appointed to hold the formal enquiry. Para 21 deals with appointment of a presenting officer and it provides that in cases involving complicated questions of fact and appreciation of evidence an in cases where it is likely that before reaching the conclusion the enquiry officer may have to consider several documents and examine several witnesses, it will be advisable to appoint a presenting Officer to assist at the enquiry and such officer will be one who is familiar with the case and well-versed in disciplinary proceedings - See Manual on Labour Laws, Non-statutory Obligations, Disciplinary and Related Procedure issued by the Life Insurance Corporation of India, Page 254.
6. Mr. Kumaramangalam has contended before us that the Delhi Special Police Establishment which is created by the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946 has jurisdiction to investigate only into certain offences as specified in S. 3, thereof, and that these offences are enumerated in the vigilance . : (1984)IILLJ186SC . In this decision, the Supreme Court, while dealing with the question as to whether the misconduct involved in that case could validly be made the basis of a proceeding against the employee of the Project and Equipment Corporation of India Ltd., had pointed out that if an act which is alleged to be misconduct does not constitute 'misconduct' under the relevant rules, then the employer had neither authority nor jurisdiction nor power to impose any penalty for the alleged misconduct. The Supreme Court further observed :
'An administrative authority who purports to act by its regulation must be held bound by the regulation.'
7. It is necessary to point out that the Central Vigilance Commission is an autonomous institution which was created as a result of the recommendations of the Committee on Prevention of Corruption under the Chairmanship of Shri K. Santhanam. The decision of the Government of India to set up a Central Vigilance Commission to be headed by the Central Vigilance Commissioner is contained in the Resolution of the Ministry of Home affairs dated 11th February, 1964. That Resolution prescribed the powers and functions of the Central Vigilance Commission. One of the functions of the Commission is -
'to cause an inquiry or investigation to be made into -
(a) any complaint that a public servant had exercised or refrained from exercising his powers for improper or corrupt purposes;
(b) any complaint of corruption, misconduct, lack of integrity or other kinds of malpractices or misdemeanour on the part of a public servant including members of the All India Services even if such members are for the time being serving in connection with the affairs of a State Government;..............'
One of the functions of the Commission is to -
'advise the Ministry of Home Affairs, after examining the case and considering any comments received from the concerned Ministry/Department/Undertaking, whether or not prosecution should be sanctioned.'
The Resolution of the Government of India contemplates -
'the Commission will have the power to require that the oral inquiry in any departmental proceedings, except in petty cases, should be entrusted to one of the Commissioners for Departmental Enquiries.'
There are seven Commissioners for departmental enquiries in the establishment of the Central Vigilance Commission. All oral enquiries against Gazetted Officers and Officers of public undertakings are entrusted to the Commissioners for Departmental enquiries, who hold enquiries a quasi-Judicial Tribunals. The Central Vigilance Commissioner is appointed by the President by warrant under his hand and seal and cannot be remove or suspended from office except in the manner provide for the removal or suspension of the Chairman or a Member of the Union Public Service Commission. The Resolution expressly provides that -
'The Central Vigilance Commission will, for the present, be attached to the Ministry of Home Affairs, but in the exercise of its powers and functions it will not be subordinate to any Ministry/Department and will have the same measure of independence and autonomy as the Union Public Service Commission.'
(See Vigilance Manual, Vol. II, Part I, Pages 262 to 266). The Central Vigilance Commission can take the assistance of the Central Bureau of Investigation for making an enquiry into any complaint of corruption, misconduct, lack of integrity or other kinds of mal-practices of public servants. Once the power and jurisdiction of the Central Vigilance Commission are extended to the officers of the Life Insurance Corporation of India cannot take the assistance of the establishment of the Central Vigilance Commission to enquire into complaints relating to misconduct of its officers.
8. The argument of Mr. Kumaramangalam proceeds on a misapprehension that when the Commissioner for Departmental Enquiries was being appointed to enquire into the allegations of misconduct made against the petitioner, the Life Insurance Corporation was arrogating to itself the powers of the Special Police Establishment under the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946. Now, when investigation into alleged acts of misconduct was carried out by the Central Bureau of Investigation before the institution of the disciplinary proceedings, it was obviously intended to decide whether a case is made out for taking a regular disciplinary proceeding against the delinquent. It was in the nature of a preliminary enquiry, and such a preliminary enquiry cannot be put on par with the investigation into offences which the statutory Special Police Establishment is entitled to make an investigating agency prior to the initiation of a prosecution. There is nothing to show that the investigation was controlled by the Central Vigilance Commissioner.
9. The appointment of the Commissioner for Departmental Enquiries as the 'enquiry officer' does not bring about any change in the nature of the departmental proceeding which was permissible to be taken under Regn. 39(3). The Commissioner for Departmental Enquiries of the Central Vigilance Commission is a whole-time officer specially appointed to make departmental enquiries, and, it the Central Government had extended the power and jurisdiction of the Central Vigilance Commission to the Life Insurance Corporation of India - the validity of such extension has not been challenged before us, and, in our opinion, rightly so - it would be quite permissible for the Life Insurance Corporation to avail itself of the services of a full-time Commissioner for Departmental Enquiries appointed by the Government of India. The Commissioner for Departmental Enquiries will be entitled to perform the limited function of enquiring into facts and making his report; he does not have the power to punish the delinquent or to make any final order in the disciplinary proceeding. This jurisdiction is of the disciplinary authority alone, and under Regn. 39(2) it is the disciplinary authority which will have to be satisfied whether the charge against the delinquent is established or not, and the disciplinary authority will have to give a reasonable opportunity to the delinquent to show cause against the action proposed to be taken against him. The procedure in the disciplinary proceeding, at the stage of the enquiry before the Commissioner for Departmental Enquiries will be the same as is prescribed in the Manual on Labour Laws, Non-Statutory obligations Disciplinary and Related procedures, which contains a Chapter on 'Disciplinary Procedure'. The Commissioner for Departmental Enquiries is bound to follow the procedure prescribed by the Life Insurance Corporation in this Manual. There is, therefore, no substance in the contention that under the garb of a domestic enquiry, the domestic enquiry is being converted into a 'Tribunal of different sort like a Criminal Court', as contended by Mr. Kumaramangalam. Undoubtedly, as pointed out by the Supreme Court in Kerala's case (supra), the Life Insurance Corporation, which is a public undertaking, will be bound by its own regulations. It is not the case of the Life Insurance Corporation that they have any powers in the matter of disciplinary proceeding other than those contained in the (Staff) Regulations, 1960. As already pointed out since the Government of India has, by virtue of the powers under S. 21 of the Life Insurance Act, extended the power and jurisdiction of the Central Vigilance Commission to the officers of the Life Insurance Corporation of India, there is nothing in the (Staff) Regulations which prevents the Life Insurance Corporation from utilising the services of the Commissioner for Departmental Enquiries of the Central Vigilance Commission, for making an enquiry into the misconduct alleged against its officers.
9A. Mr. Sridevan who appears in W.P. No. 754 of 1984 has also contended that the Commissioner for Departmental Enquiries of the Central Vigilance Commission is an 'outsider' and that when Regn. 39(3) refers to 'an enquiry Officer', he must be one of the officers mentioned in Chapter II of the (Staff) Regulations. Chapter II of the (Staff) Regulations deals with 'Appointments, Probation and Terminations of Service'. The Staff of the Corporation is classified into four classes. Class I is 'Officers', and Class II is 'development officers'. The argument is that the 'enquiry officer' referred to in Regn. 39(3) is either the Class I or the Class II officer referred to in Chapter II and that no 'outsider' can be appointed as an enquiry officer.
10. Under Regn. 39(3), though it is provided that the disciplinary authority may itself enquire into such of the charges as are not admitted by the employee, it is also open to the disciplinary authority to 'appoint a board of enquiry or an enquiry officer for the purpose'. The words 'enquiry officer' ar really descriptive of the person who makes the enquiry made if it was intended that the enquiry officer had necessarily to be one of the officers of the Corporation, then, normally we would have expected an express reference to this in Regn. 39(3). The words 'enquiry officer' must be read as referring to an officer who is entrusted with the task of enquiry into the charges against an employee. There is no bar under the Regulations to entrust the enquiry to a person who is not an officer in the employment of the Life Insurance Corporation. Indeed, it is now common knowledge that often in order to avoid an accusation against the management that the enquiry officer is subordinate to the management that the enquiry officer is subordinate to the management and could not therefore be expected to make an impartial enquiry, the assistance of an outsider to make the impartial enquiries taken by the management. Entrustment of an enquiry into allegations of misconduct against an employee to an outsider, who is not concerned with the management, does not make the enquiry illegal. The purpose of making an enquiry by the enquiry officer is to ascertain facts relevant to the charges framed. The final decision with regard to whether the charges have been established or not, and, if established, what should be the punishment awarded to the delinquent, is always with the employer or the management. No fault could therefore be bound with the management, if an assistance of an outsider is taken to make an enquiry into the charges alleged against an employee. In Sunil Kumar Banerjee v. State of West Bengal, 1980 L. I.C. 654, relied upon by Mr. Raman, an enquiry against a member of the Indian Administrative Service was made by the Commissioner for Departmental Enquiries of the Vigilance Commission, West Bengal. The report of the enquiry officer was submitted by him to the Vigilance Commission which considered the enquiry officer's report. The Vigilance Commission fund certain charges to be proved. The disciplinary authority, that is, the Government of West Bengal, issued a notice to the delinquent informing him that on a consideration of the report of the enquiry officer they had come to conclusion that charges 1, 2, 3 and 5 were fully proved charge No. 4 was partly proved. He was called upon to show cause why he should not be reduced in rank. The Union Public Service Commission was also consulted. After considering the opinion of the Union Public Service Commission, the Government of West Bengal came to the final conclusion that charge No. 3 had not been proved, charge No. 1 had been proved but was a technical irregularity and charge Nos. 2, 4 and 5 were partly proved. The punishment awarded to the officer was reduction from the stage of Rs. 2,750 per month to the stage of Rupees 2,500 per month in the scale of Rs. 2,500-125/2-2,750. A petition filed against this punishment was dismissed. In the appeal before the Supreme Court the grievance made was that, the disciplinary authority committee a serious or material irregularity in consulting the Vigilance Commissioner. The Supreme Court, while assuming that the Vigilance Commissioner was consulted, found that the disciplinary authority had arrived at its own conclusion on the materials available to it and that the finding could not be said to be tainted because the disciplinary authority consulted the Vigilance Commissioner. In that case, the Commissioner for Departmental Enquiries had dealh with the matter earlier when the report of the investigation against the officer was referred by the Vigilance Commissioner to the Commissioner for Departmental Enquiries for preparation of draft charges if institution of disciplinary proceeding was to be recommended and the Commissioner for Departmental Enquiries had expressed opinion that there were materials for framing five charges and he also prepared five draft charges and forwarded them to the Vigilance Commissioner who in turn forwarded the papers to the Government. The contention raised was that, the enquiry officer combined in himself the role of the prosecutor and the judge. This contention was negatived by the Supreme Court, holding -
'From the circumstance that Shri Mukherji considered the report of investigation with a view to find out if there was material for framing charges and prepared draft charges, it cannot possibly be said that Shri A. N. Mukherji, when he was later appointed as enquiry officer constituted himself both as prosecutor and judge. Anybody who is familiar with the working of criminal courts will at once realize that there is nothing strange in the same Magistrate who finds a prima facie case and frames the charges, trying the case also. It cannot for a moment be argued that the Magistrate having found a prima facie case at an earlier stage and framed charges is incompetent to try the case after framing charges. This was one of the circumstances on which the appellant relied to substantiate his allegation of apprehension of bias'. The apprehension was held to be misconceived.
11. In the case before us, the Commissioner for Departmental Enquiries had nothing to do whatsoever with the stage of investigation and when there could be no legal bar for appointment of such an officer as the 'enquiry officer', the grievance made before us on behalf of the petitioners must be held to be without any substance.
12. We may also refer to the decision of the Supreme Court in Ananda Bazar Patrika (Private) Ltd. v. Their Employees, : (1963)IILLJ429SC . A challenge to a domestic enquiry by a news reported of Ananda Bazar Patrika was made on the ground that the person who made the enquiry was an outsider. The enquiry was made by the editor of the Hindustan Standard. This enquiry was challenged on the ground that the enquiry officer being an outsider, the enquiry was void ab initio. The Labour Court rejected this objection and this decision of the Labour Court was upheld by the Supreme Court, as would appear from the following observations :
'It does appear that an argument was urged before the labour court that the enquiry officer being an outsider, the enquiry was void ab initio. This objection had been overruled by the labour court and, in our opinion, the labour court was right.'
13. In the Management of Sri Sivasakthi Bus Service v. P. Gopal, : AIR1971Mad434 , this Court upheld the right of the Management to appoint an outsider as an enquiry officer in these words (Para 3) :
'Regarding the second objection of the Labour Court that the Inquiry Officer did not have the capacity or competence to hold the inquiry, it is now well settled that the management can appoint an independent person, not necessarily the one who is inside the management's activities, and as a matter of fact of the appointment of a stranger to inquire into such disputes is encouraged to a greater extent. I do not find that the appointment of Ragothama Rao who is an office-bearer of the Employers' Association, was in any way vitiated or against law.'
14. Mr. Kumaramangalam has referred us to the decision in the Board of Trustees of the Port of Bombay v. Dilipkumar Raghavendranath Nadkarni 1983 I L.L.J. 7. The main question in that case was whether, in an enquiry before a domestic tribunal the delinquent officer is pitted against a legally trained mind and if he seeks permission to appear through a legal practitioner, the refusal to grant his request would amount to denial of a reasonable request to defend himself and the essential principles of natural justice would be violated. The Supreme Court, in that case, held that, while legally trained officers of the Port Trust were appointed as presenting officers, the rejection of the request of an employee for being represented by a lawyer would vitiate the enquiry on the ground of denial of a reasonable opportunity of hearing especially when the request was not acceded to even after the coming into force of Regn. 12(8) of the Bombay Port Trust Employees Regulations 1976, at a time when only one out of 25 witnesses to be examined on behalf of the employer was examined. Regulation 12(8) provides that the employee may take the assistance of any other employee, or if the employee is a Class III or a Class IV employee, he may take the assistance of an office bearer of the union to which he belongs to present the case on his behalf but he may not engage a legal practitioner for the purpose, unless the presenting officer appointed by the disciplinary authority is a legal practitioner, or the disciplinary authority, having regard to the circumstances of the case, so permits him to engage a legal practitioner. Mr. Kumaramangalam has referred us to the observations of the Supreme Court in para 13 of the judgment where, after referring to Art. 21 of the Constitution of India, the Supreme Court has observed as follows : at page 7 of : (1983)ILLJ1SC
'The expression 'life' has a much wider meaning. Where therefore the outcome of a departmental enquiry is likely to adversely affect reputation or livelihood of a person, some of the finer graces of human civilisation which make life worth living would be jeopardised and the same can be put in jeopardy only by law which inheres fair procedures.'
These observations, in our view, have no relevance to the facts of the case before us, because we have held that there was no bar whatsoever to the Commissioner for Departmental Enquiries being appointed as the 'enquiry officer' and that would not vitiate the enquiry.
15. Mr. Sridevan also contended on behalf of his client that the Central Vigilance Commissioner had a bias against him and that there would be no control by the Life Insurance Corporation over the enquiry made by the Commissioner for Departmental Enquiries because he may not be amenable to their directions. As we have already pointed out, the procedure for departmental enquiries will be the one as prescribed by the Life Insurance Corporation of India. It is obvious that the final control of the proceedings will always be with the Life Insurance Corporation of India. There is no evidence of any has against Mr. Sridevan's client at all.
16. A grievance was then made before us that there is no regulation permitting a police officer of the Central Bureau of Investigation to be a 'Presenting Officer' and that the presence of the police office will tilt the balance against the delinquent officer and the enquiry is not likely to be fair. It was argued that the witnesses on behalf of the delinquent officer will not be able to give evidence because an officer of the Central Bureau of Investigation is the Presenting Officer, as nobody would want to be involved with the Central Bureau of Investigation. It was contended by Mr. Kumaramangalam that in regular criminal courts the protection to the accused is afforded by the provisions of the Evidence Act and the Criminal P.C. which however is not the case in a departmental enquiry, and this, according to the leaned counsel, would bee a ground for holding that the Presenting Officer should not be from the Central Bureau of Investigation who had investigated into the allegations against the official concerned. In our view, the interest of the delinquent officer is sufficiently safeguarded by the Provision in Regn. 12(8). In the view we have taken earlier, it is not possible to accept the contention that appointment of a Presentation Officer from among the Officers of the Central Bureau of Investigation will vitiate the enquiry.
17. These were the main submissions advanced before us which we have rejected.
18. We cannot assume that the Commissioner for Departmental Enquiries will act contrary to the regulations and the procedure prescribed by the Life Insurance Corporation of India, merely because an officer of the Central Bureau of Investigation is the presenting officer. The Central Bureau of Investigation may have several officers, and, merely because the Central Bureau of Investigation had investigated the complaints against a particular officer, it cannot be said that the officers of that department will be biased against the delinquent, in any case the bias of a Presenting Officer is not very relevant because the control of the proceeding is primarily with the enquiry officer; it is the enquiry officer who has to guard the interest of the delinquent also. If any witnesses are not wiling to attend the enquiry, then, it is always open to the officer concerned to take such steps as are permissible under the relevant provisions. The fact, however, that any witness may not volunteer to come and give evidence in favour of the employee because a Central Bureau Investigation Officer is the 'presenting Officer' cannot create an infirmity in the appointment of a Central Bureau Investigation Officer as the Presentation Officer.
19. Accordingly, W.P. No. 754 of 1984, in which the petitioner prayed for the quashing of the disciplinary proceeding against him and the notice calling upon him to appear before the enquiry officer, is dismissed. There will be no order as to costs.
20. W.P. No. 1248 of 1983 in which the prayer is for a writ of mandamus directing the Life Insurance Corporation of India not to conduct the departmental enquiry against the petitioner with the assistance of an outsider, much less the assistance of a Central Bureau Investigation Officer as a Presenting Officer, is also rejected. There will be no order as to costs.
21. In the view we have taken, W.P. No. 951 of 1983 is rejected. There will be no order as to costs.
22. W.P. No. 8219 of 1982 : In the view we have taken it is open to the petitioner to ask the enquiry officer of the assistance of lawyer, but his prayer that the enquiry is illegal because a Central Bureau Investigation Officer is the Presenting Officer, is rejected. There will be no order as to costs.
23. Order accordingly.