The Kerala High Court quashed orders in a disciplinary proceeding against a retired engineer in which the disciplinary officer had outreached his power taking on himself the role of Enquiry officer and had found the petitioner guilty.

Justice Devan Ramachandran observed that there were grave errors on the part of Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) in conducting the enquiry.

“These proceedings were never completed with the participation of the petitioner, nor was he kept informed as to the manner in which investigation was done by the ‘Investigating Team’; and perhaps, it was not necessary at that stage for the Team to have done so because, all inputs arising out of their exercise ought to have gone back to the enquiry, for the Enquiry Officer to finally conclude on the guilt or otherwise of the petitioner.”

The petitioner retired from KSEB on March 31, 2015, and he was working as an Assistant Engineer in Electrical Section, Desamangalam. After his retirement, he alleged that he has not received his retiral benefits due to an uncorroborated allegation of "shortfall in materials" for which he was responsible. A Charge Memo was issued by the Disciplinary Authority (Deputy Chief Engineer, KSEB) on July 25, 2012, and the petitioner denied the allegations. The Enquiry Officer's report found that the first charge of not accounting for a large amount of materials was not proved due to the absence of proper verification, but the second charge of gross insubordination was proved.

Based on the Enquiry Report, an 'Investigating Team' was constituted, and they claimed a liability of Rs. 14,51,286/- against the petitioner for the alleged shortfall in materials. This amount was imposed on him as a 'personal liability' without any punishment for the insubordination, which was found to be proved. Later, the Disciplinary Authority modified the liability to Rs. 10,54,844/- through an order. The petitioner appealed against this order, and the statutory Appellate Authority confirmed the liability through an order, directing the recovery of the amount from the petitioner's retiral benefits.

Advocates Shameena Salahudheen and S. Simy appeared for the Petitioner and Advocate Aneetha A.G. appeared for the Respondents.

The Court highlighted two errors committed by the Disciplinary Authority. First, instead of sending the matter back to the Enquiry Officer for further proceedings after the 'Investigating Team' found liability against the petitioner, the Disciplinary Authority took upon himself the role of the Enquiry Officer, which was improper and unfair. Second, the Appellate Authority confirmed the liability without realizing that the earlier orders were not based on a completed disciplinary enquiry but on the Deputy Chief Engineer's own assessment.

“This is because, once the ‘Investigating Team’ had found liability against the petitioner, the matter should have gone back to the Enquiry Officer for completing the disciplinary proceedings because, as I have said above and as is conceded in all pleadings and documents, said Authority had found the charge to be inconclusive for want of proper inputs. Instead of doing so, the Disciplinary Authority took upon himself the role of the Enquiry Officer also, thus to find the petitioner guilty and to finally conclude that the afore figure should be reckoned as his ‘personal liability’.”

Furthermore, the Court noted that the report of the 'Investigating Team' was now untraceable, and the KSEB's failure to produce it casts doubts on the validity of the entire disciplinary proceedings.

“this Court could have perhaps offered some solace to the KSEB, had the report of the ‘Investigating Team’ been made available for assessment and scrutiny. The failure or refusal of the KSEB, as the case may be, to do so for whatever reasons that they may say, certainly casts great strain on the manner in which the proceedings against petitioner were taken forward and completed by them.”

As a result, the Court held that the disciplinary enquiry was never completed regarding the first charge, and the consequent orders cannot stand. The Court allowed the writ petition, quashed the mentioned orders, and directed the KSEB to pay the petitioner's eligible amounts within two months from the date of the judgment.

Cause title: Bhaskaran. K.P v. Kerala State Electricity Board Ltd. & Ors.

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