Standard of proof under disciplinary proceedings need not be ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ mark as in criminal suits: Calcutta High Court

The present appeal before the Calcutta High Court surrounded writs and disciplinary proceedings wherein it was held by the single-judge quorum of Arindam Mukherjee J. that since the disciplinary proceedings have trappings of a civil court procedure; hence the standard of proof need not be beyond reasonable doubt. This was observed in the matter of Murari Sarkar v Union of India [W.P.A. 21237 OF 2010].

The writ petitioner, Murari Sarkar has in this writ petition challenged the final order dated 27th June, 2009 passed by the Executive Director & the Appellate Authority in an appeal preferred by the writ petitioner under the provisions of the Bank of Baroda Officer Employees’ (Discipline & Appeal) Regulations 1976 (hereinafter referred to as the said regulation). The appeal was filed challenging the order of the Disciplinary Authority dated 31st March, 2009. The writ petitioner while working as Junior Manager GR-I at Bank of Baroda (hereinafter referred to as the said bank ) and posted at its Burrabazar Branch was served with a suspension order on 27th March, 2008 in contemplation of a disciplinary proceeding under the provisions of the said regulation. The suspension was with immediate effect. The Inquiry Officer submitted his report on 29th January, 2009 holding that the four allegations of the charges have been proved against the writ petitioner On 31st March, 2009 the Disciplinary Authority issued an order of dismissal from service against the petitioner, the operative part whereof is as under.

It was argued on behalf of the petitioner that neither the statement of allegations nor the articles of charges clearly specify as to the amount allegedly misappropriated by the petitioner. No complaint was there from any account holder about defalcation. In such circumstances the very basis of the formation of charges are vague. The petitioner also alleged to have been victimized. The preliminary enquiry, according to the writ petitioner was conducted in a routine manner with the only intent to show compliance of natural justice.

The court in routine of its findings observed that the petitioner understood the charges and replied to the same on 17th September, 2008. It is only at a belated stage i.e., before this Court the petitioner has alleged about the vagueness of charges. On a close scrutiny of the documents up to the petitioner’s reply dated 17th September, 2008 the petitioner’s allegation as to the vagueness of charges cannot be accepted.
Further, the minutes of the enquiry proceedings clearly showed that the same was signed by the Inquiry Authority, Presenting Officer, Defence Representative and the petitioner. The petitioner was, therefore, given reasonable opportunity of hearing as also every opportunity to represent his case before the Inquiry Officer which is in compliance with the principles of natural justice.

On perusal of the impugned order, the bench noted that the Appellate Authority modified the order of the Disciplinary Authority by holding “removal from bank’s service which shall not ordinarily be the disqualification for future employment”. The Appellate Authority also held that the period of suspension shall be treated as a period not spent on duty. The Appellate Authority, therefore, cannot be said to have not applied his independent mind while performing quasi-judicial function. The proof in disciplinary proceedings has the trappings of proof in a civil matter and is not required to be proved beyond reasonable doubt like in a criminal case.

In the light of the discussion, analysis and findings made, the court ruled that, “ The writ petition is dismissed, however, without any order as to costs. The respondent bank shall within three weeks from date disburse all the benefits available to the petitioner in terms of the order of the Appellate Authority dated 27th June, 2009 as upheld by this order, if not already paid. The petitioner shall be entitled to accept such benefits if offered by the bank without prejudice to his rights and contention.

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