The Andhra Pradesh High Court observed that imposing two punishments for the same charge in disciplinary proceedings violates the principle of double jeopardy.

Setting aside the 'major punishment' imposed on the petitioner, the Bench of Justice Venkateswarlu Nimmagadda observed that, "apart from major punishment of reduction of two annual grade increments with cumulative effect and also issuing subsequent proceedings...can be construed as double punishment / double jeopardy and the same cannot be imposed and two punishments cannot be imposed for the same offence / same charge which is violation of Article 22 of the Constitution of India."

In this case, the writ petition sought relief against an order imposing penalties on the petitioner, a staff nurse.

The petitioner faced allegations of irregularities during her tenure at a Primary Health Centre (PHC), resulting in a departmental inquiry. The charge memo, issued in 2015, accused her of unspecified irregularities spanning 1997 to 2009.

The petitioner contended that the charges were vague and the proceedings violated principles of natural justice. Two preliminary inquiries favoured her, but a subsequent inquiry held the charges proved.

The petitioner argued that the re-enquiry lacked notice and violated natural justice. Penalties, including deduction of increments and recovery proceedings, were imposed.

The petitioner challenged the legality, alleging a double penalty and procedural lapses. The government contended due process was followed, citing guidelines and precedent.

It was observed that, "As per Rule 20 of the APCS (CCA) Rules, 1991, the Respondents shall furnish documents as well as enquiry report calling for any explanation or objections against the said report. But in the case in hand the authorities neither furnished the report or documents nor observed principles of natural justice as required in compliance of Rule 20 of the APCS (CCA) Rules,1991 and straightway issued notice regarding imposing major punishment is contrary to the procedure as contemplated under Rule 20 of APCS (CCA) Rules, 1991 and vitiates the manner and method of conducting entire disciplinary proceedings."

The Court further noted that, "there is no charge against the petitioner in relation to any misappropriation and in the absence of same, imposing recovery of proceedings is vitiates the entire disciplinary proceedings."

The Court also observed that it appeared that the disciplinary authority was anxious to hold the guilty of the charges against the petitioner contrary to the facts, circumstances, evidence, and APCS (CCA) Rules, 1991.

In light of the same, it was held that, "the entire enquiry as well as impugned proceedings under which the major punishment was awarded are liable to be set aside."

Case No.: Writ Petition No. 24173 of 2020

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