Denial of cross-examination of witnesses by a party during Record of Evidence does not invoke violation of his natural justice: High Court of Delhi

When an opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses who are produced during the Record of Evidence is provided to a party, however, if he denies to cross-examine those witnesses, then in that case he cannot be heard to complain about violation of principles of natural justice. These were stated by the High Court of Delhi, containing Justice Navin Chawla in the case of Pulate Rajesh Sopan vs. Union of India & Ors. [W.P.(C) 295/2022] on 07.01.2022.

The facts of the case are that the petitioner joined the Indo Tibetan Border Police Force (in short, ‘ITBP’) as a Constable/GD in the year 2011 and has had a spotless service record. In the year 2019, he was transferred to the 39th Battalion, Lakhnawali Camp, Greater Noida. During the month of December 2020, he was posted at the Rashtrapati Bhawan. During this period, he had made repeated complaints about the quality of food being served to the personnel, however, no fruitful result came out of such complaints. The petitioner claims that on 25.12.2020, during the shift briefing by the Shift Commander at the Rashtrapati Bhawan, the petitioner again raised the issue of unhealthy food served to them. The other personnel also made a similar complaint. The Shift Commander, instead of answering the grievances, with the mala fide and vexatious motive, alleged that the petitioner is acting under influence of alcohol and on this pretext, the petitioner was taken for a medical checkup. No doctor was present at the medical centre and therefore, no test was conducted on the petitioner. On 26.12.2020 the petitioner was made to appear before the Commandant, 39th Battalion ITBP; who passed an order to initiate disciplinary inquiry in summary disposal against the petitioner and also placed the petitioner under suspension with immediate effect. On 15.03.2021, the petitioner was sent to illegal confinement for a period of 21 days. The petitioner alleges that during this force custody, one official visited the petitioner and forced him to sign certain documents without making him aware of the contents of said documents. The petitioner was thereafter informed about the impugned order dated 15.03.2021 finding him guilty on the charges of having consumed liquor while on duty and disobedience to a superior officer.

The Counsel for the petitioner submitted that the Record of Evidence (RoE) prepared in the inquiry was totally illegal inasmuch as no witnesses were examined in the presence of the petitioner nor any opportunity to rebut and cross-examine the witnesses was given to the petitioner. She submitted that the petitioner was forced to sign the deposition and other documents and therefore, the entire proceedings are in violation of principles of natural justice. She further submitted that even the complete copy of the RoE has not been supplied to the petitioner till date. The learned counsel for the petitioner further stated that the medical report on the basis of which the disciplinary proceedings were initiated, does not bear the name, signature or the stamp of any doctor, and therefore is forged.

The Counsel for the respondents submitted that the entire RoE has been supplied to the petitioner. She said that according to the RoE filed by the petitioner with the petition, which states that the petitioner had been afforded an opportunity to cross-examine all the four witnesses, however, the petitioner refused to cross-examine the witnesses. She further stated that the petitioner was also afforded an opportunity to lead evidence in his defence, which again the petitioner denied. She submitted that the petitioner has been dealt with leniently for otherwise the misdemeanour alleged against him, that is, intoxication on duty and disobedience to a superior officer.

The High Court of Delhi held that the documents filed by the petitioner along with the petition clearly reveals that the petitioner was afforded an opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses who were produced during the ROE. The petitioner, however, denied to cross-examine those witnesses. The petitioner therefore, cannot be heard to complain about violation of principles of natural justice. As far as the medical document on the basis of which the proceedings were initiated is concerned, the respondents in reply to the legal notice on 26.10.2021 had stated that the medical doctor was on leave so the medical examination was conducted by a medic of the Unit. In any case, the four witnesses produced by the respondents in the proceedings have confirmed such examination and as noticed hereinabove, these witnesses were not cross-examined by the petitioner. Therefore, again this cannot be a ground to interfere with the impugned order in the present petition. In view of the above, the Court found no merit in the present petition. The same was accordingly dismissed.

Judgment reviewed by Shristi Suman. Read Judgment

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