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The High Court does not have appellate authority under Article 226 in case of departmental inquiry against public servant: Supreme Court

The High Court is not a court of appeal wherein a departmental enquiry is being carried against a public servant. The Supreme Court bench consisting of J. Dr. Dhananjaya Y. Chandrachud, J. Indu Malhotra and J. K. M. Joseph, shed light upon the jurisdiction of High Court under Article 226 and also elaborated upon the objective of the Railway Protection Force Act, 1957 in the matter of Director General of Police, Railway Protection Force and Ors. v. Rajendra Kumar Dubey [Civil Appeal No. 3820 of 2020].

The Respondent was appointed as a Constable with the Railway Protection Free and was posted as SIPF(Adhoc) Sub-Inspector at the Pulgaon Railway Station, Maharashtra. Later he was placed under suspensions with immediate effect pending enquiry and a charge sheet was issued for major penalty under Rule 153 of the Railway Protection Force Rules, 1987 by the Sr. Divisional Security Commissioner R.P.F. However, the Enquiry Officer (E.O) found that only a few of the charges were proved. The Disciplinary Authority accepted these findings and imposed the punishment of removal from service with immediate effect.

The respondent preferred an appeal before the DIG-cum-Additional Chief Security Commissioner where the same was allowed and it was held that these charges did not warrant the extreme punishment of removal from service as there was no imputation of connivance or corrupt practice against the respondent. The punishment was reduced to reversion in rank for a period of 6 months without future effect.  The Senior Divisional Security Commissioner reviewed the DAR proceedings and pointed out certain lacunae and stated that the continuation of the respondent’s service would deteriorate the image of the R.P.F. During this, the respondent had been arrested by the CBI, Nagpur in an Anti-Corruption case. The CR issued for a show cause and proposed a penalty of compulsory retirement from service which was further imposed.

The Respondent applied for a writ petition before the High Court which was partly allowed by quashing the order of the compulsory retirement and restored the first order of the Appellate authority.  Aggrieved, the Department filed the Civil Appeal to the Supreme Court, challenging the order of the HC directing to re-instate the Respondent with consequential benefits and payment of 50% backwages.

The Supreme Court, discussing upon the authority of the HC and relying on the case of State of Andhra Pradesh v. S. Sree Rama Rao [AIR 1963 SC 1723], stated that

“the High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution is not a court of appeal over the decision of the authorities holding a departmental enquiry against a public servant. It is not the function of the High Court under its writ jurisdiction to review the evidence, and arrive at an independent finding on the evidence”. Further the SC elaborated on the objective of Section 11 of the Railway Protection Force Act, 1957 and held that “A police officer in the Railway Protection Force is required to maintain a high standard of integrity in the discharge of his official functions.

In this case, the charges proved against the Respondent “were of neglect of duty” which resulted in pecuniary loss to the Railways. The Respondent was a Sub-Inspector in the Railway Police discharging an office of trust and confidence which required absolute integrity. The High Court was therefore not justified in setting aside the order of compulsory retirement, and directing re-instatement with consequential benefits, and payment of backwages to the extent of 50%”, and allowed the appeal, additionally directing the authorities to release the respondent’s gratuity.

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