Service Law – Disciplinary Proceedings – Environment and Forest Department – Forest Ranger – Delay of ten years in issuing charge memo – Illegal Ganja Cultivation – Allegation that not filed charge sheet in the prescribed form in the Court of law – Held, Conclusions by quasi-judicial authorities should be based on reasons and materials and that an order which does not disclose the reason for its conclusion is liable to be set aside either for non-application of mind or for unreasonableness – In the present case the orders of the respondents 1 and 2 are liable to be set aside for non-application of mind and for failure to consider the grounds giving explanation for his inability to complete the investigation and file charge sheet in the criminal case within six months and his legal submissions – long unexplained delay of ten years in issuing charge memo in the present case vitiate the whole proceedings and the charge memo and the order of punishment inflicted on the petitioner by the third respondent, as confirmed by the respondents 1 and 2, are liable to be quashed.
BEFORE THE MADURAI BENCH OF MADRAS HIGH COURT
CORAM THE HONOURABLE MR.JUSTICE S.S.SUNDAR
W.P(MD)No.813 of 2010
M.Ramanathan .. Petitioner Vs. 1. The Secretary to Government, Environment and Forest Department, Secretariat, Chennai 600 009. 2. The Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Panagal Buildings, Chennai ? 600 015. 3.The Conservator of Forests, Madurai Forest Circle, Madurai. .. Respondents
For Petitioner : Mr.S.Viswalingam; For Respondents : Mr.R.Anandha Raj Government Advocate
O R D E R
This Writ Petition has been filed, challenging the order passed by the first respondent, vide G.O.(1-D) No.310, Environment and Forest Department, dated 16.10.2009, wherein the punishment inflicted on the petitioner has been confirmed, dismissing the revision petition filed against the order passed by the appellate authority, dated 20.08.2008.
2. The brief facts that are necessary for the disposal of this Writ Petition follows as under:
2.1. The petitioner was serving in the Forest Department from 08.04.1974 to 31.10.2009. When he was serving as Forest Ranger at Gandamanur Range, Madurai Forest Division, for the period from 21.10.1997 to 05.05.1998, the petitioner detected the Ganja cultivation at Kamankal area, within his range and the petitioner arranged for a raid with a huge team of 84 persons and destroyed thousands of Ganja plants worth more than 7.5 crores of rupees.
2.2. After detection of the said grave offence, the petitioner was serving from 21.10.1997 to 05.05.1998 i.e., about 6+ months and handed over charges to his successor one Sheik Umar. The petitioner’s case is that at the time of handing over charge, the petitioner gave his successor a detailed notes regarding the further course of action that are required to be done in connection with the illegal Ganja cultivation. Though FIR was registered in Offence Report No.1/97-98, charge sheet could not be filed by the petitioner before his transfer to other station. The petitioner would state that further investigation revealed the involvement of about 52 anti-social persons, in the commission of such offence and that the investigation could not be completed, during his tenure in that station, because of the fact that the persons involved in the offence were absconding.
2.3. However, a charge memo, dated 05.10.2007, was issued to the petitioner, after a lapse of nearly ten years, by the District Forest Officer, Madurai, under
Rule 17(a) of the Tamil Nadu Civil Service (Discipline and Appeal) Rules.
The gist of the charge against the petitioner is that he had not filed charge sheet in the prescribed form, in the Court of law in relation to the said Ganja cultivation case.
2.4. The petitioner submitted his explanation to the District Forest Officer explaining the difficulties involved in the process of investigation and reason for his failure to file charge sheet during his tenure in the station. Apart from giving explanation for his inability to file the charge sheet before May, 1998, the petitioner has also placed his objection to the issuance of the charge memo after the lapse of nearly ten years. Apart from alleging mala fides, he has also raised legal grounds on the basis of some material events.
2.5. The third respondent, however, after finding that the petitioner is guilty of negligence in performing his duties, imposed a punishment of stoppage of increment for two years without cumulative effect.
2.6. The petitioner, aggrieved by the punishment, filed an appeal before the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, the second respondent herein. Before the second respondent, the petitioner specifically raised an issue relating to the jurisdiction/authority of the third respondent to pass the order of punishment, on the ground that the third respondent, who is not the appointing authority, has no right to issue charge memo and pass orders punishing the petitioner. The petitioner further challenged the punishment on the ground of delay in issuing charge memo and initiating action after a lapse of ten years. Thirdly, the petitioner, referring to the provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code, stated that the time factor, normally to be followed for filing charge sheet (Section 468 of Cr.P.C.) has not expired and hence, negligence cannot be attributed on his part. The second respondent has also rejected the appeal vide proceedings dated 20.08.2008. Aggrieved by the same, the petitioner has preferred a revision before the first respondent. Though the petitioner has raised various grounds including the jurisdiction of the third respondent and regarding the serious prejudice that was caused to him on account of huge delay of ten years in initiating the proceedings, the first respondent passed an order confirming the order of the second respondent by the impugned proceedings. Aggrieved by the order of the first respondent, the petitioner has filed this present Writ Petition.
3. The learned counsel for the petitioner raised three major grounds. Since the charge memo was issued on 05.10.2007, nearly after a period of ten years from the date of occurrence, according to the petitioner, the inordinate delay which was unexplained, has caused serious prejudice to the petitioner. Secondly, the petitioner continued in the same range only for a period of 6+ months. Though the petitioner gave details and progress of the investigation, till he was transferred from the station, to his successor one Mr.Sheik Umar, who continued in the same range for a period of two years, the said Sheik Umar was allowed to scot-free and no charge memo was issued or disciplinary proceedings taken against the said Sheik Umar. Hence, there is a discrimination and the order of the first respondent confirming the punishment against the petitioner is, therefore, liable to be quashed. Thirdly, the first respondent and the second respondent failed to give any reason in their respective orders, despite the fact that the petitioner has raised various grounds attacking the order of punishment with reference to admitted facts. The petitioner also challenges the order of the third respondent, as one without jurisdiction and hence, pleaded for quashing of the impugned order.
4. The petitioner, pursuant to the charge memo, which was issued to the petitioner, nearly after a period of ten years, submitted his detailed explanation. Though the third respondent proceeded only on the basis that the petitioner himself has admitted his failure to file charge sheet within the period of about 6+ months. When the order of third respondent was challenged before the second respondent, the petitioner has raised all the grounds that are now formulated by the learned counsel for the petitioner before this Court. Surprisingly, the second respondent, without considering the grounds on which the appeal was filed, confirmed the order of third respondent on the ground that charge sheet has not been filed into Court within a period of six months, as if there is a time limit for filing charge memo. Further, the first respondent after recording the fact that the petitioner has raised the same grounds, as were raised before the second respondent, has concluded that no acceptable new ground is raised before him and hence, the revision is liable to be dismissed.
5. On the above factual matrix, the learned counsel for the petitioner relied upon several judgments to substantiate his grounds raised in the present writ petition.