Service Law – Whether an employee, who has been dismissed from service after a departmental enquiry, is entitled to be reinstated on his acquittal in a criminal case – Held, When the prayer made before the Tribunal was for setting aside the dismissal order on the basis of the judgment in the criminal case, it ought to have considered the fact that a Coordinate Bench had already upheld the dismissal order. Without that order having been set aside it was not proper for the Tribunal to grant reinstatement. However harsh the view may appear in the facts and circumstances of the case, when the Police Regulations do not provide for such a remedy, the Tribunal could not have granted such relief. The petition is therefore allowed and the order of the Tribunal is quashed and set aside.
CONSTITUTIONAL WRIT JURISDICTION APPELLATE SIDE
The Hon’ble Justice Nishita Mhatre
The Hon’ble Justice Rakesh Tiwari
Judgment on : 03.08.2016
WPST 20 of 2016
The State of West Bengal & Others… Petitioners
Ratan Sarkar … Respondent
For the Petitioners/State : Mr. Yasin Ali; Mrs. Tapati Samanta
For the Respondent : Mr. Moloy Basu; Mr. Himadri Sekhar Chakraborty; Mr. Asit Kr. De
Nishita Mhatre, J.:
1. The short question involved in the present petition is whether an employee, who has been dismissed from service after a departmental enquiry, is entitled to be reinstated on his acquittal in a criminal case.
2. The facts in this case are not disputed. Two persons came to the office of the Reserve Officer claiming that they had been declared fit for appointment as a Constable by the Interview Board. However the Officer concerned suspected that someone had impersonated them in order to procure employment and Raiganj Police Station Case No.383 of 2007 was started against them under Sections 419, 420 and 120B of the IPC on the basis of his complaint dated 9th October, 2007. The respondent, a police constable in the State Armed Police, was posted at the relevant time at Raiganj. He applied for anticipatory bail and was granted the same on 28th January, 2008 by this Court. In the meantime the respondent had been transferred. On obtaining the anticipatory bail and after surrendering to the Raiganj Court as directed by this Court, the respondent sought to join at the Jalpaiguri Police Lines. But he was not permitted to do so. His second representation was also rejected. A charge sheet was issued on 23rd June 2008 to the respondent by the Superintendent of Police Jalpaiguri in proceeding No.16 of 2008. The allegation against him was that he had tarnished the image of the police in the eyes of public by his activities which had led him to be an accused in a criminal case. The respondent was asked to submit his explanation. However, as that was not found acceptable, it was decided that a departmental enquiry would be held against him. The charge sheet in the criminal case was submitted on 28th June, 2008, adding the name of the respondent as one of the accused persons. The trial proceeded against him as well.
3. The respondent attended the disciplinary proceedings and after the enquiry was completed, the second show cause notice was issued to him. He filed OA 1034 of 2011 challenging the same. By an order dated 17th November, 2011 the West Bengal Administrative Tribunal dismissed the original application and directed the disciplinary authority to expedite the recording of the final order after considering the representation made by the respondent against the second show cause notice. On considering the material before it, the disciplinary authority dismissed the respondent from service on 9th January, 2012. The reason for the dismissal was that he was involved in Raiganj Police Station case No.383 of 2007 and had thus tarnished the image of the police in the eyes of public by such activities. It was also noted that in the past he had suffered two major punishments for “misrepresentation by manipulating superior’s signature on a vital official paper” and for unauthorised absence. Besides this, he was awarded four minor punishments during the 15 years of his service. He had also been granted extraordinary leave for 229 days on 14 occasions. Considering the charges levelled against him and the fact that the criminal case against him was pending, the disciplinary authority dismissed him from service as it was of the view that there were no mitigating circumstances in his past service record. The appellate authority confirmed the order of the disciplinary authority by its order dated 11th April, 2012.
4. The respondent challenged the order of dismissal in OA 763 of 2012. By an order dated 16th April, 2013 the Tribunal upheld the order of dismissal. The Tribunal was of the view that the punishment of dismissal could not be considered to be either unfair or disproportionate having regard to the material facts in the case. More than one and half years later on 15th December, 2014 the Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate, Raiganj, Uttar Dinajpur acquitted the respondent in GR case 974 of 2008 arising out of Raiganj Police Station case No.383 of 2007. The Criminal Court convicted one of the three accused persons under Section 419 IPC. As regards the second accused person, the Court held that the prosecution has failed to prove its case against him beyond all reasonable doubt and therefore acquitted him. With respect to the respondent, the Court came to the conclusion that there was no iota of evidence against him and therefore he deserved to be acquitted.
5. On securing this judgment of acquittal, the respondent submitted a representation to the Superintendent of Police calling upon him to reinstate him in his original post. He pleaded that since he had been acquitted in the criminal trial, he was entitled to be reinstated in service and that the order of dismissal passed against him should be recalled.
6. The Superintendent of Police rejected this prayer made by the respondent on 13th January, 2015. Aggrieved by that decision the respondent filed OA 66 of 2015. The reliefs sought by him were as follows:
“(a) An order do issue directing the respondent authorities to forthwith re-instate your applicant in service in the light of the judgment delivered by the Ld. Criminal Court on 15.12.2014 without any further delay and to set- aside/cancel/revoke/rescind/quash the Memo No.59/RO dated 13.01.2015.
(b) An order do issue directing the respondent authorities to cancel/set aside/quash/revoke/rescind the entire departmental proceeding including issuance of charge sheet, enquiry officer’s report, final order of punishment, appellate authorities order and to reinstate your applicant in service immediately in light of the Criminal Courts judgment.
(c) A further order do issue directing the respondent authorities to transmit records pertaining to the instant case so that conscionably justice can be done.
(d) Any other appropriate order/orders direction/directions as this Hon’ble Tribunal may deem fit and proper to protect the right of the applicant and in the ends of justice.”
7. After considering the relevant material on record and the judgments cited at the bar, the Tribunal by its judgment dated 17th December, 2015 concluded that the respondent was entitled to be reinstated in service as he had been honourably acquitted in the criminal trial. The Superintendent of Police, Jalpaiguri was directed to reinstate the respondent in service and to regularise his period of absence from the date of dismissal till his date of joining within six months of the communication of the order.
8. The State of West Bengal and the officers of the police department have filed the present petition challenging the order of the Administrative Tribunal.
9. Mr. Yasin Ali, the learned Counsel appearing for the petitioner has argued that the judgment of the Tribunal is vitiated as it is hit by the principles of res judicata. He submitted that when a coordinate bench of the Tribunal had passed an order in OA 763 of 2012 affirming the order of dismissal passed by the authorities against the respondent, the Tribunal could not have, in any subsequent proceedings, taken a different view and directed reinstatement of the respondent. He further submitted that the Tribunal has transgressed its jurisdiction by ignoring the decision of a coordinate bench which found that the order of dismissal against the respondent was justified. The learned Counsel pointed out that merely because the respondent had been acquitted in a criminal trial it would not necessarily mean that he was entitled to reinstatement in service. He urged that it is now well-settled that proceedings in a criminal trial and those in a departmental enquiry stand on different footings, inasmuch as, the nature of proof required in both matters is not the same; the decision of the disciplinary authority is based on preponderance of probabilities whereas in a criminal trial the prosecution must prove the guilt of the accused to the hilt and beyond all reasonable doubt. The learned Counsel further submitted that the charge-sheet had been issued to the employee because he had tarnished the name of the police department by being involved in a criminal case where the charges levelled were under Sections 419, 420 and120B of the IPC. The learned Counsel then submitted that reinstatement is not a necessary corollary on obtaining an order of acquittal. An employee, who has already been awarded a punishment in a disciplinary enquiry, is not entitled to be reinstated unless the service rules specifically provide for such relief. Mr. Yasin Ali was at pains to point out that the respondent had not relied on any such rule. He submitted that there must be finality to judicial proceedings and the employee cannot insist on reinstatement only because he has been exonerated in a criminal trial.
10. Mr. Moloy Basu, the learned Counsel appearing for the respondent, drew our attention to the fact that the statement of allegations against the respondent contained in the charge-sheet issued to him on 23rd June, 2008 was that the respondent had tarnished the image of the police in the eyes of public by being involved in a criminal case. He further submitted that once the respondent had been acquitted in the criminal case which had allegedly tarnished the image of the police, the substratum of the charge against the respondent in the departmental enquiry no longer existed and therefore the respondent was entitled to reinstatement.
11. Indubitably the respondent has been acquitted in a criminal trial of the charges levelled against him under Sections 419, 420 and 120B of the IPC after he had been dismissed from service on the basis of a disciplinary enquiry. There is no dispute that the charge-sheet was issued to the respondent by the Police department only because he was involved in the Raiganj P.S. case. There is also no dispute that there is no rule in the Police Regulations of Bengal empowering the authorities to reinstate the person in service after he has been found guilty in a departmental enquiry only because he has been exonerated in a criminal trial.
12. With the aforesaid backdrop, it is now necessary to consider some of the judgments cited at the bar. In the celebrated case of Capt. M. Paul Anthony vs. Bharat Gold Mines Ltd reported in (1999) 3 SCC 679 the Supreme Court held after considering its earlier judgments, that if the departmental proceedings and the criminal case are based on identical or similar set of facts and the charge in the criminal case against the delinquent employee is of a grave nature involving a complicated question of law and fact, it would be desirable to stay the departmental proceedings till the conclusion of the criminal trial. This judgment does not reflect upon a situation with which we are confronted. The departmental enquiry had already resulted in a dismissal and the acquittal in the criminal trial has been awarded after more than one and half years.
13. Mr. Basu was at pains to point out that since the substratum of the charge-sheet issued departmentally had been swept away by the respondent’s acquittal in the criminal case, the charge that that he had tarnished the name of the police by being involved in a criminal case cannot be sustained. He has relied on the judgment of a learned single Judge of the Bombay High Court in the case of Abdulla A Latifshah vs. Bombay Port Trust & Ors reported in (1992) LLJ 226 to submit that when there is an honourable acquittal and complete exoneration of the accused of a Criminal Court, a departmental enquiry cannot be held. This judgment has no application to the facts in the present case. The employee here was dismissed prior to his acquittal in the criminal case. The argument of Mr. Basu was that a general charge was levelled against the respondent, namely, that he had tarnished the image of the police force by his behaviour. According to him this cannot be considered as a charge under the Disciplinary and Appeal Rules applicable. The Court in Abdulla’s case (supra) held that in a case of an honourable acquittal by a Criminal Court, normally the employer ought not to start proceedings in a departmental enquiry unless there are strong and sound reasons to do so. Again these observations which have been relied on by Mr. Basu are of no avail to the respondent herein as they have been made in the fact situation before the Court where the criminal trial was completed prior to the employee being proceeded with in a departmental enquiry.
14. The learned Counsel has also relied on the judgment of the Supreme Court in