Hearing Must Be Afforded Before Deciding Quantum Of Punishment In Absence Of Evidence To Link Accused With Alleged Incident: Kerala HC
Finding that the final appellate order issued by the Member Secretary of the “Council” merely says that the Executive Committee scrutinized and deliberated upon the case and was convinced that the “scuffle and man handling” occurred in the “Institute”, the Kerala High Court set aside the orders of the Executive Committee with a consequential direction to them to reconsider the matter.
The High Court held so while considering a case of alleged violence and hooliganism in the premises of a prestigious scientific institute and unbecoming of the employees in a prestigious institute like JNTBGRI indulging in such unruly behaviour.
A Single Judge Bench of Justice Devan Ramachandran observed that “the appeals of the petitioners before the Executive Committee of the “Council” must be reconsidered, after affording them necessary opportunities of being heard, addressing their specific contention that this is a case where there is no evidence at all to link them to the alleged incident and further that said incident never did happen, as could be established by them from the evidence and testimony of the witnesses.”
“The question whether the punishment imposed against them would require a further reduction on account of the various other mitigating factors as may be noticed or projected, should also cease the attention of the said Executive Committee”, added the Bench.
Advocate S. K. Adhithyan represented the Petitioners whereas Advocate P. C. Sasidharan represented the Respondents.
The brief facts of the case were that the petitioners were working in the Jawaharlal Nehru Tropical Botanical Garden & Research Institute (JNTBGRI) and proceeded against the allegation that they were involved in a scuffle with a person. They assert that the allegations against them are whole without basis and that they have been able to establish so in the disciplinary inquiry, with no evidence or testimony being recorded, to establish their culpability. But, despite this, the Enquiry Officer found against them, leading to an order punishing barring three increments with cumulative effect. The Appellate Authority also affirmed the orders of the Disciplinary Authority. On further appeal, the Council of the Kerala State Council for Science, Technology, and Environment, reduced the punishment to barring of two increments with cumulative effect, but confirmed all the findings against them.
After considering the submission, the Bench noted that the Executive Committee scrutinized and deliberated upon the case and was convinced that the “scuffle and manhandling” occurred in the “Institute”.
However, the Bench stated that such order does not reflect any specific advertence to the materials gathered in the enquiry, including the evidence and testimony of witnesses; and this is crucial because, it is the specific case of the petitioners that they were not involved in the scuffle at all and that they have been implicated without any cogent evidence.
The Bench found that the petitioners also have a case that the complainant was not true in reporting the alleged incident and that the Security Officer had offered an embellished report, with a motivated mind.
“They also rely upon the testimony of the witnesses, to show that they had no role in the alleged scuffle and assert that there is no evidence on record to connect them to the alleged incident in any manner whatsoever”, added the Bench.
The Bench stated that there are no details mentioned in the appellate order, hence, there is no evidence at all to link them with the alleged incident and that, therefore, the Authorities have erred in finding them guilty.
Therefore, the High Court set aside the orders finding that the Executive Committee of the Council had earlier acted with bias because some of them were also members of the first Appellate Authority.
Cause Title: Dr. Raju Antony and Ors. v. Kerala State Council for Science and Technology and Ors. [Neutral Citation: 2023/ KER/ 51466]