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Palani (K.) Vs. Superintending Engineer, Vellore Electricity System and ors. - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectLabour and Industrial
CourtChennai High Court
Decided On
Judge
Reported in(1968)IILLJ94Mad
AppellantPalani (K.)
RespondentSuperintending Engineer, Vellore Electricity System and ors.
Cases ReferredMohamed Jan v. State of Madras
Excerpt:
.....the varacity of the wit-nesses needs hardly to be mentioned. the notice that was given in this case merely satisfied the formality, but did not give the petitioner an opportunity to prepare his defence......part in the enquiry effectively. therefore, he preferred a petition bringins to the notice of the enquiry officer that he could peruse the connected record and prepare his defence and bring the defence witnesses, if necessary, and wanted adjournment of the enquiry by fifteen days. the petitioner has also stated that in the charge-memorandum the name of sri kuppuswami gounder was alone cited but the connected records were not supplied to him till then, even in spite of asking for them, that in his letter, dated 20 march 1963, he had requested for an opportunity to examine the supervisor, construction, and that from reference 6; it was noted that such opportunity was not arrenged, that since the memorandum was served only on 9 may 1963, ha was completely made unable to prepare his.....
Judgment:

T. Venkatadri, J.

1. The petitioner, who was working as a foreman in the electricity department, has filed this writ petition to quash an order of removal passed by the Superintending Engineer, Vellore Electricity System, Katpadi Extensions, dated 30 August 1963, and confirmed by the order of the Chief Distribution Engineer for Electricity, dated 11 June 1964, and by the order of the Chief Engineer, dated 5 August 1964.

2. The short facts that led to the filing of the writ petition are as follows. In the year 1965 the petitioner joined the electricity department as a nominal member of the roll and in the year 1959 he was promoted as a foreman and in the year 1962 he was transferred to Kannamangolam as construction foremen. While he was working as construction foreman, various instances were brought to the notice of the higher authorities that be was indulging to corruption by demanding moneys for effecting supply of electricity either for installation of pumpsets or for domestic purposes. The Superintending Engineer, Vellore, issued a memorandum, dated 18 June 1862, to the petitioner alleging that one Kuppuswami Gounder at Kannamangalam had complained to them that the petitioner was demanding Rs. 10 as illegal gratification for the speedy disposal of the supply of electricity to his pump-sets in the village. It was also alleged in the memorandum that the petitioner induced the said Kuppuswami Gounder to give a bribe of Rs. 80 to the supervisor, construction, Kannamangalam. The petitioner submitted his explanation on 8 July 1962. The Superintending Engineer framed three charges as follows:

(1) That he had received a sum of Rs. 30 from Sri K. M. Kuppaswami Gounder of Kannamaugalam as illegal gratification for the speedy disposal to effect the supply.

(2) He induced Sri K. M Kuppuswami Gounder to give bribe to the supervisor, construction, Kannamangalam.

(3) He was playing tactios in effecting supply to the parties, if they fail to give some illegal gratification.

The petitioner submitted his explanation on 11 December 1962, to the charge-memorandum stating that the charges framed against him were lacking in details, and that he was not in a position to prepare his defence without copies of the connected records being furnished to him. The Superintending Engineer, however, declined to grant the petitioner's request and by his memorandum, dated 2 March 1963, the Divisional Engineer/Commercial-cum-Construction, Vellore, was appointed to conduct the enquiry against the petitioner on the charges framed against the petitioner. The petitioner was also asked to disclose the list of defence witnesses. On 20 March 1963, the petitioner replied that unless the details of the charges were furnished to him, it was not possible for him to name the defence witnesses. But in any event the petitioner expressed his desire to examine the supervisor, construction, Kannamangalam, to whom the money was said to have been paid by Kuppuswami Gounder on his inducement.

3. Nothing happened till 9 May 1963. While he was working 10 miles away from Kannamangalam, the Junior Engineer sent for him and served a memorandum at 10 a.m. informing him that an enquiry was to be held at Arni 24 miles away from Kannamangulam at 3 p.m. and be was directed to appear with all the defence witnesses. The petitioner was in a fix and doubted whether he could take part in the enquiry effectively. Therefore, he preferred a petition bringins to the notice of the enquiry officer that he could peruse the connected record and prepare his defence and bring the defence witnesses, if necessary, and wanted adjournment of the enquiry by fifteen days. The petitioner has also stated that in the charge-memorandum the name of Sri Kuppuswami Gounder was alone cited but the connected records were not supplied to him till then, even in spite of asking for them, that in his letter, dated 20 March 1963, he had requested for an opportunity to examine the supervisor, construction, and that from reference 6; it was noted that such opportunity was not arrenged, that since the memorandum was served only on 9 May 1963, ha was completely made unable to prepare his defence, that he might be supplied with all the connected records before actual enquiry began and that therefore the proposed enquiry might be adjourned to a later date. The enquiry officer summarily rejected his application and proceeded with the enquiry, and all the witnesses assembled in the room were examined in each other's presence. The petitioner was cross-examined by the presiding officer and was asked to sign in the enquiry proceedings. On 10 May 1863, the petitioner sent a petition to the Superintending Engineer bringing out to his notion 111 detail that he was not given a reasonable opportunity to prepare his defence and to examine witnesses in defence. He alleged that there was no proper enquiry on 9 May 1963 and that as the presiding offices had threatened him of serious consequences, if he did not sign as required, he accepted the enquiry as an enquiry. The departmental authorities did not care to send a reply to this petition. On 8 July 1963, a second show-cause notice was given to the petitioner why he should not he dismissed from service. On 16 August 1863, the petitioner submitted his explanation but it was misdirected by the Assistant Engineer to the Divisional Engineer, and ultimately the Superintending Engineer received is only on 27 August 1968, Long before that date, that is, on 30 August 1968, the petitioner was dismissed from service on the ground that the petitioner had not submitted his explanation to the second show-cause notice. The petitioner has filed this wilt petition to quash the order dated 30 August 1963.

4. Learned Counsel for the petitioner contended before me that the principle of natural Justice has not been followed, that proper opportunity was not given to the petitioner to prepare his defence, that the charges were vague and lacking in precise particulars, that there was refusal to give time to prepare his defence and that therefore the order of dismissal wan illegal, irregular and void.

5. The only question that arises for consideration in this writ petition is whether the principle of natural justice has been followed. It is a fundamental doctrine when reviewing the decision of an administrative agency that the Court can intervene to consider whether there it breach of natural justice, lack of jurisdiction, faulty procedure and had faith to apply the doctrine of ultra vires. In the instant case we are concerned only with the procedure adopted by the enquiry officer. Every tribunal has its own procedure. Whatever the construction or composition of a tribunal may be, it is expected to follow the principles of natural justice. As to the evidence the tribunals may vary in practice, some following the legal rules of evidence, some disregarding them altogether and some steering in the middle course. Whatever may be the procedure in taking evidence, the principles of natural justice and giving reasonable opportunity have to be observed. In effect a man cannot incur loss of property, job or living for the mistake in a judicial proceeding in which he had a fair opportunity of answering the charges against him. As early as 1836 In Pointer v. Liverpool Oil Gas Light Campany, Vol. 3. Ad & E. 433 at ps. 448 and 449, it was observed that a party is not to suffer In person or in purse without an opportunity of being heard. What is natural justice nobody defined either authoritatively or comprehensively. Evershed, M.R., in Atbot v. Sullivan (1952) 1. K.B. 189 observed as follows:

The principles of natural justice are easy to proclaim but their precise extent is far less easy to define.

Similarly what is reasonable opportunity is not defined in the Constitution. The expression ' reasonable ' is not susceptible of a clear and precise definition. What is reasonable in one case may not be reasonable in another case. What is reasonable is not necessarily what is best but what is fairly appropriate to the purpose under all the circumstances. Its should not be left to the vagaries of each individual officer, since that would introduce a thousand shades of reasonableness which cannot be permitted. No rigid code of procedure is prescribed to conduct an enquiry. Still certain minimum essentials of procedure, which are regarded as rules of natural justice, have to be followed.

6. Bearing these principles in mind we have to examine carefully whether the officer, who contacted the enquiry, had followed the principles of natural justice. Before I deal with she form of charges framed in the chargememoradum I have to consider whether the enquiry officer was right in refusing to give an adjournment on the date of the opening of the enquiry, that is, 9 May 1963. It is an admitted fact that the petitioner who was 10 miles away from Kannamamangalam was sent for and curtly informed that he should run up to Arni to take part in the enquiry at 3 p.m. The Junior Engineer should have Imagined the feelings of the petitioner who was asked all of a sudden to run up to Arni to participate in an enquiry, which would indirectly involve his bread. Nonetheless the petitioner ran to Arni with a petition narrating his difficulties and implored the officer to give him some time to prepare his defence. The enquiry officer without taking into consideration the situation in which the petitioner was placed and without assigning any reason rejected the petition, and this would demonstrate the lack of human understanding and sympathy on the part of the officer. This is one of the infirmities in the conduct of the enquiry against the petitioner.

7. The other infirmity, which I want to discuss in this judgment, is that the charges framed against the petitioner were bald and some of the charges, especially charges 2 and 3, were naked. It has been established in writ proceedings that the charges framed must be precise and clear and that they cannot be vague. It is not enough to tell the dalinquent in general terms the charges he has to meet bat the authorities must give sufficient details to enable the delinquent to answer the charges. The first charge against the petitioner simply says that he had received a sum of Rs. 30 from Kappa-swami Gounder of Kannamangalam as illegal gratification for the speedy disposal to effect supply. THIS charge was evidently based upon a complaint received from Kuppuswami Gounder. Kuppuswami Gounder in his petition alleged in detail the corrupt practice adopted by the petitioner herein. In his complaint Kuppuswami Gounder gives details that in the month of February after completing the construction for effecting a pump-set he met the supervisor in person and asked him to provide line connexion, that along with him he had taken the village munsif and also some others and requested for service connexion but there was no suitable reply by the supervisor, that it was only on the information given by the petitioner he gave Rs. 10 to the supervisor, that he gave an order for taking sixteen posts, that at that time one Ramamurthi Udayar was there, that at the time of taking these pasts to his lands he paid Rs. 30 to the petitioner, that even after the posts were erected, the petitioner delayed drawing of the wires, that when he asked him for the delay he was directed to go to the office and look after the supervisor, that not being able to bear the harassment he was filing the petition, that similarly 25 persons paid Rs. 6 each but that he did not know the names of those persons. It is only on the basis of the petition filed by Kappuswami Gonder the first charge in the memorandum was drafted against the petitioner. When the charge-memorandum was presented to the petitioner, the petitioner requested the authorities to give particulars of the charges or at least a copy of the cum-plaints presented by Kuppuswami Gounder to the Assistant Engineer. THE authorises never famished him with partioniare of the charges or with a copy of the petition filed by Kuppuswami Gounder. In regard to the record charge, namely, that he induced Kuppuswami Gounder to give bribe to the supervisor, Kannamangalam, the approximate time and date of giving the bribe or the place where it was given was not stated. In regard to the third charge, namely, that he was playing delaying tacties in effecting supply to the parties, if they fall to give him illegal gratification, the names of the parties, were not given. It has been held in Writ Petition No. 256 of 1959 [Ramachandra Naidu v. State of Madras] by Balakrishna Ayyar, J., of this Court as follows:

Yet another and equally important one is that the charge framed against the person proceeded against must have a reasonable definiteness about it, that is to say, the charge must contain such particulars of time, place or circumstance that the person against whom the charge has been framed can reasonably meet it.

Similarly, Veeraswami, J., in Writ Petition No. 79 of 1960 [Mohamed Jan v. State of Madras] observed:

It is easy to make each a charge but it is impossible to answer them. In the absence of precise time and place indicated in some manner at least, I have not the slightest doubt that the framing of such charges cannot be supported. To put a person on trial on each vague charges is to imperil his proper defence, to which he is entitled by the law. When the charges are so vague and the allegations to relation to them are no better, its destructive effect upon the fight of the petitioner to cross-examine and test the varacity of the wit-nesses needs hardly to be mentioned.

Following the principles laid down in the above two welt petition, I am of the view that the charges framed as such by the department against the petitioner lack precise and definite particulars and, therefore, the petitioner is entitled to question the legality of the order of dismissal passed against him.

8. Another infirmity that has crept in the conduct of the enquiry is that of informing the petitioner on 9 May 1963, at 10 a.m. that he had to face an enquiry at 3 p.m. on the same day at Arni.

9. It has been established in disciplinary proceedings that sufficient time must he given to this delinquent person to appear before the enquiry officer. He must not only be given an opportunity but such an opportunity must be reasonable. But giving notice to attend an enquiry in a disciplinary proceeding is no merely a matter of form but is also a matter of substance. The notice that was given in this case merely satisfied the formality, but did not give the petitioner an opportunity to prepare his defence.

10. There are various infirmities that have crept in the conduct of the the enquiry by the enquiry officer. I feel that the petitioner was deprived of a reasonable opportunity to prepare his defence I fully appreciate the anxiety of the department to root out corruption, but still the department in expected to follow the principles of natural justice. The departmental authorities should realize that the enquiry was a quasi-judicial proceeding and that the petitioner was fighting for his bread. However corrupt he might have been, the department must have given a reasonable opportunity to prepare his defence. In these circumstances, I quash the order of dismissal of the petitioner from service. The writ petition is allowed. No order as to costs.


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