The quashing of a criminal prosecution arising from the same set of facts would be justified by an honourable exoneration in departmental proceedings: High Court of Orissa

In the case of Dr. Minaketan Pani v. State of Orissa (Judgment Dated: 20 May 2022, Coram: Chief Justice Dr. S. Muralidhar), the Orissa High Court decided that a criminal prosecution originating from the same set of facts would be quashed in the event of an honourable exoneration in departmental proceedings.

Facts: Bijay Shankar Das participated in the Annual High School Certificate Examination for the year 2007 that was administered at the Government High School, Jagatsinghpur Center by the Board of Secondary Education, Orissa (BSE). According to the allegations, there had been a manipulation of the examination’s marks at the BSE’s valuation centre involving the roll number of the aforementioned Sri Bijay Shankar Das and others. On May 29, 2007, the results of the Annual High School Certificate Examination were released, and Bijay Shankar Das was proclaimed to have passed in the First Division. A caller identified only as Mishra, Ex-President, Dr. Debendra Chandra BSE informed him that the candidate in question had had his or her marks altered, going from 39 to 89 in the Oriya subject to 50 to 80 in the English paper. The Secretary and BSE’s Controller of Examinations were then consulted by the President for more information. But neither policeman gave a response to the inquiry. Following that, a thorough investigation was conducted; the aforementioned officers were inspected, and documents and other materials pertinent to the case were acquired from various sources. Examining the statements and the papers revealed that Sri Bijay Shankar Das’ scores had been improperly altered and improved by the Controller of Examination, and that the present petitioner, who was the then-Secretary of the BSE, knew about this. The Investigating Officer (10) thereafter filed a charge sheet against the petitioner and others for the aforementioned offences, of which the S.D.J.M., Sadar Cuttack, had taken cognizance at the conclusion of the investigation. The petitioner was absolved of the allegations following the departmental proceedings. With the regularisation of his service and all of his back pay, he retired. As a result, he petitioned the High Court to set aside the learned S.D.J.M. Sadar Cuttack’s cognizance ruling because he had already been declared innocent in departmental proceedings.

Judgement: The Court first took note of the precedent set in Radheyshyam Kejriwal v. State of West Bengal (supra), where it was decided that when a person is declared innocent after being exonerated on the merits, criminal prosecution based on the same facts and circumstances cannot proceed because of the higher standard of proof required in criminal cases. The decision in State (NCT of Delhi) v. Ajay Kumar Tyagi (above), which found that the departmental proceeding’s exoneration ipso facto would not result in the criminal prosecution being quashed, was then discussed. The Radheyshyam Kejriwal v. State of West Bengal judgement was not referenced in this decision, the High Court emphasised (supra). However, both rulings referenced the Supreme Court’s first ruling, P.S. Rajya v. State of Bihar, (1996) 9 SCC 1.

However, the Court objected strongly to the conclusions made by Ajay Kumar Tyagi (supra), saying, “The ruling in State (NCT of Delhi) v. Ajay Kumar Tyagi (supra) took note of the aforementioned decisions, but neglected to mention the coordinate bench ruling in Radheyshyam Kejriwal v. State of West Bengal (supra). State (NCT of Delhi) v. Ajay Kumar Tyagi should be regarded as being “per incuriam,” as stated by the Supreme Court in State of Assam v. Ripa Sharma, AIR 2013 SC 3588, and Central Board of Dawoodi Bohra Community v. State of Maharashtra, AIR 2005 SC 752. The latter judgement was binding on the coordinate bench.” The Court finally took into account the Ashoo Surendranath Tewari v. Deputy Superintendent of Police, EOW, CBI judgement from the other three judge Bench (supra). It was noted that although this judgement takes Radheyshyam Kejriwal (above) into account, Ajay Kumar Tyagi is not mentioned (supra). But it took notice of P.S. Rajya (supra). According to Ashoo Surendranath Tewari (supra), as the criminal case involved the identical charges, the exoneration in departmental procedures would lead to the criminal case being dismissed because it required a higher level of proof. In other words, if the charges were not supported by sufficient evidence under the lesser standard of proof, they would not be supported by sufficient evidence under a higher standard of proof in a criminal proceeding. Radheyshyam Kejriwal v. State of West Bengal, paragraph 38, held that clause (vii) applied to the case (supra). The decision in Ashoo Surendranath Tewari (supra), which is the most recent of the Supreme Court of India’s Coordinate Bench’s rulings, would therefore take precedence. Additionally, it rejected the ASC’s argument that the ruling in Ajay Kumar Tyagi (above) was unanimous but the ruling in Radheshyam Kejriwal included a dissenting view, making the ruling therein at best an opinion of two judges. The Court emphasized that the Apex Court declared in Shanti Fragrances v. Union of India, (2018) 11 SCC 305 that the bench strength of the judgement is regarded to represent the whole bench strength of the case regardless of dissenting opinions. For the aforementioned reasons, the Court determined that the criminal charges should also be dropped because the petitioner was cleared in the departmental proceedings. The writ petition was consequently approved. As a result, the Court decided that the latter of two Supreme Court decisions with the equal bench strength would take precedence in such cases. 

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