ICCR Can Investigate & Take Disciplinary Action Against British Council Library Employees On Complaint Of Misconduct: Karnataka High Court

According to the Karnataka High Court, a person appointed by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) and placed with the British Council Library is an employee of the British Council Library, and the British Council Library can investigate and take disciplinary action against the employee in the event of a complaint of misconduct. 

In the case of Indian Council for Cultural Relations vs Ajay Merchant (Writ petition No. 32335 of 2017), a division bench of Honourable JUSTICE P.S. DINESH KUMAR AND JUSTICE M.G. UMA, while allowing the petition filed by ICCR and setting aside the order of Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT), said, “In the facts and circumstances of this case, in our view, the finding recorded by the CAT that ICCR is the appointing and Disciplinary authority is not sustainable and British Library is the employer.” 

According to the facts of the case, the ICCR approached the court to challenge an order issued by the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) on February 16, 2017, which stated that, “Regardless of the MoU between the ICCR and the British Council, the ICCR is the appointing and disciplinary authority because the ICCR issued the formal appointment order. It was ordered that the applicant be reinstated.” 

The petitioner (employee) had approached the court challenging the order so far as it denied him back wages during the interregnum from the date of his termination (October 16, 2014) until his reinstatement and allows the appointing authority to issue a new charge memo and hold an inquiry. 

K.S. BHEEMAIAH, appearing for the Central Government, argued that ICCR is not the employer. According to the terms of the MoU, the Applicant was appointed as Manager with the British Council, and ICCR only assists the British Council. As a result, the direction to reinstate the ICCR is unsustainable in law. 

Advocate A R Holla, who represented the employee, claimed that the applicant was fired without conducting a proper investigation. As a result, the portion of the CAT’s order denying back wages is unconstitutional under the law. 

According to the bench, the ICCR and the British High Commission have formed a partnership to manage British libraries in India. Then it referred to the applicant’s offer letter from ICCR. It then made the observation, “It is obvious that the applicant was hired by the British Library. ICCR has offered the job for and on behalf of the British Library in accordance with the Facilitation MoU and the British Library Standing Instructions.” 

Furthermore, the bench stated, “It is worth noting that, unlike the ’employee-employer’ relationship in other cases, the appointment in this case is for the position of Manager in the British Library. The British High Commission and the ICCR have signed an agreement to manage British libraries. The British High Commission has agreed to disburse the budgetary amount for British Libraries through ICCR. The ICCR is a Society that reports to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The MOU states that it was signed to strengthen the existing friendship between the ICCR and the British High Commission.” 

It continued, “As a result, this is a unique case in which a foreign country operates libraries in various cities throughout India and has enlisted the assistance of ICCR to disburse budgetary funds. The offer letter clearly stated that the position was with the British Library.” 

Following this, it stated, “In our opinion, the CAT’s finding that the ICCR is the appointing and disciplinary authority is not sustainable, and the British Library is the employer.” 

Concerning back wages for employees reinstated pursuant to a CAT order, the bench reviewed the various correspondences between the British Council and the employee and stated, “The applicant refused to take part in the investigation. He has not taken advantage of opportunities to refute the allegations made against him.” 

It went on to say, “A careful examination of the entire record reveals that the applicant spent more time writing letters than appearing before the Enquiry Officer and defending his case. The offer letter clearly states that either the applicant or the ICCR may terminate the employment by giving one month’s notice or paying one month’s salary in lieu of notice. The ICCR chose the latter option.” 

The bench then opined, “It is established that Courts shall not substitute their opinion for the findings of the Disciplinary Authority, except in extraordinary circumstances such as a violation of natural justice principles or a punishment that is grossly disproportionate. The petitioner was given several chances to defend his case in the current case.” 

“Therefore, in our opinion, no interference with the order of termination is warranted,” it said. 

As a result, the bench granted the petition filed by ICCR, quashed the CAT order, and dismissed the petition filed by Merchant. 

Click here to view judgement.

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