NCSC Has Jurisdiction To Inquire Into Complaints Involving Discrimination Of Members Of Scheduled Caste But Not Service Matters: Calcutta HC
The Calcutta High Court recently held that investigation and inquiry conducted by the National Commission for Schedule Caste (NCSC) must relate to specific complaints involving discrimination, deprivation or violation of the safeguards accorded to members of the Scheduled Castes, and cannot exceed to service matters.
While noting that matters of service or employment and any investigation or inquiry in related matters must be ring-fenced by the constitutional safeguards under Article 338(5) pertaining to members of the Scheduled Caste, the Single Judge Bench of Justice Moushumi Bhattacharya observed that, “The investigation and inquiry, in essence, must relate to specific complaints involving discrimination, deprivation or violation of the safeguards accorded to members of the Scheduled Castes”.
Attorney General S.N. Mookherjee appeared for the petitioner whereas, DSG Billwadal Bhattacharya appeared for the Respondents.
In a nutshell, the third Respondent had filed a complaint before the NCSC stating that he belonged to a sub-caste of the Matua community and injustice has been caused to him on the part of Department of Health and Family Welfare, Government of West Bengal, for ordering disciplinary proceedings against him. While the disciplinary proceedings were going on, the NCSC conducted hearing which culminated in Minutes of Hearing recommending reinstatement of the third respondent, which was against the order the West Bengal Administrative Tribunal, Kolkata. Hence, present petition contending that NCSC exceeded its jurisdiction.
The High Court observed that the Commission, on its part, travelled beyond its jurisdiction to issue the impugned recommendations, not only for reinstatement of the third respondent, but also for payment of his salary with effect from June 23, 2021.
“The Commission further directed the petitioners to file an Action Taken Report within 15 days from the date of signature on the Minutes by the Vice-Chairman of the Commission”, added the Court.
Upon the submission made by the respondent that Clause (8) of Article 338 vests the Commission with the power of a civil court, the Bench relied on the decision of All India Indian Overseas Bank SC and ST Employees’ Welfare Association v. Union of India [(1996) 6 SCC 606], wherein it was held that the powers of the Commission under Article 338(8) are essentially to facilitate an investigation or inquiry but that such powers do not convert the Commission into a Civil Court.
While noting that the present complaint does not fall within the purview of the constitutional mandate regarding the jurisdiction of the Commission, the Bench highlighted that the Commission has virtually acted as an appellate forum with reference to the order passed by the West Bengal Administrative Tribunal by recommending the reinstatement of the third Respondent.
The Bench further observed that merely because the Petitioners appeared and participated in the hearing shall not cure the defect of inherent lack of jurisdiction, where it was a case of service matter, simpliciter.
Hence, the High Court allowed the petition and directed the NCSC to withdraw the recommendations that were made in pursuance of the hearing conducted before it.
Cause Title: State of West Bengal, Service through the Department of Health and Family Welfare, Government of West Bengal and Ors. v. National Commission for Scheduled Castes, through the Under Secretary, Government of India and Ors.