Failure to furnish inquiry report to Ex-VC MK Surappa would inexorably lead to travesty of justice- Madras High Court

The stand of the Government that there is no express provision in the Act mandating furnishing of enquiry report is a sordid reflection of lack of legal awareness as to the mandate of the law of the land in terms of Article 141 of the Constitution of India. These were held by High Court of Madras through the learned bench of Justice V. Parthiban in the case Prof. M.K Surappa v. The Joint Secretary, Department of Higher Education & Ors. (W.P.No.4607 of 2021 & W.M.P.Nos.5244 and 5246 of 2021)

Professor MK Surappa was appointed Vice-Chancellor in April 2018. The applicant had previously stated in the High Court that he was introducing new approaches to certifying the Institute of Excellence (IoE) of the University. According to him, the strict management measures followed by him shook the feathers of the cow, created dissatisfaction with a few employees, and led to them complaining about him. Many complaints have been received by the Government accusing the former VC of bribery for appointments of experts, exam scams, administrative appointments as per his wishes, providing incorrect information to AICTE etc. As a result of the complaints received, the Government. issued by GO (Rt) No.138, Department of Higher Education, dated 11.11.2020 appointing the investigating officer, a former Madras High Court Judge. The former Vice-Chancellor went to the Supreme Court challenging the above government order. Meanwhile, the professor resigned as Vice-Chancellor in April, 2021. The investigating officer continued with the investigation and submitted the final report in June, 2021. Thereafter, the petitioner asked the court to dismiss the written application for direction. to provide a copy of the investigation report so that he can submit his objections in a timely manner.

The bench of Justice V. Parthiban noted that failure to furnish inquiry report to the petitioner at this stage would lead to travesty of Justice, opposed to fair play and good conscience and Article 211(2) of the Constitution. Saying that the principles of natural justice will be violated if there is a denial to furnish the inquiry report to the accused, court majorly relied on Managing Director, ECIL, Hyderabad and others v. B.Karunakar and Others, (1993) 4 SCC 727 to hold that the right to receive the report is the essential part of reasonable opportunity to be extended to the ‘person affected by the report. The court also pointed out that the supreme court was clear about extending such right even if it is not explicitly stated in the statute book or regulations since it is a facet of “No one should be condemned without being heard”. Further stating “this Court does not see any rationale as to why the Government is shying away from furnishing a copy of the report to the petitioner when in every Departmental disciplinary proceedings, the procedure towards furnishing of inquiry report is being followed scrupulously, fearing judicial intervention. When such is the practice and the procedure adopted, the contrived stand of the Government in this case is unacceptable in law, presumably because the person involved is the former Vice Chancellor of the State University. The Constitution and the laws of the land are applicable across the spectrum regardless of the position the litigant holds.

To sum up, failure to furnish inquiry report at this stage would inexorably lead to travesty of justice, opposed to fair play and good conscience. Last but not the least, what adverse action could be taken presently after demitting of office by the petitioner in April 2021, is in the realm of speculation. Nevertheless, on the face of certain detrimental findings in the report, the petitioner explanation and his version must be part of the inquiry proceedings, as his vindication.”

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Judgement reviewed by Himanshu Ranjan

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