The Bombay High Court reiterated that an order passed in criminal proceedings can be considered in adjudication of the disciplinary proceeding.

The Court dismissed the petition of the State challenging the order of reinstatement of a Government Girls' Hostel Warden passed by the Maharashtra Administrative Tribunal (Tribunal).

The Court also noted the distinction between criminal and disciplinary proceedings, both requiring different criteria for assessment.

The Court noted that the State still relied upon the pendency of these proceedings regarding certain charges and therefore cannot turn around and submit otherwise.

The Bench comprising Justice A. S. Chandurkar and Justice Jitendra Jain observed, “we are conscious of the fact that the criminal proceedings and disciplinary proceedings are separate and require different parameters for judging with respect to these proceedings. However, the Petitioner State themselves have relied upon the pendency of these proceedings with respect to certain charges and therefore now they cannot turn around and submit otherwise”.

Additional Government Prosecutors N. C. Walimbe and N. K. Rajpurohit appeared for the State and Advocate Bhushan A. Bandiwadekar appeared for the Respondent.

The Respondent, appointed as a Warden in 1979, faced suspension in 1983 over alleged fund misappropriation. An Enquiry Officer was appointed in 1984, and charges were filed. Following reinstatement in 1985, the Respondent was acquitted in 2002. In 2008, a departmental inquiry led to compulsory retirement, upheld on appeal in 2009 and review in 2011.

The Petitioner contested a Tribunal ruling that favoured the Respondent's Original Application, directing the state to reinstate the Respondent with full retirement benefits due to their exoneration from all charges. The Tribunal, in its decision, absolved the Respondent of all charges and ordered the state to grant service benefits from suspension until superannuation. The decision was based on factors such as the absence of witness examination, procedural delays, and the gravity of proven charges. In response, the State filed a petition challenging the Tribunal's ruling.

The Court noted no reason to overturn the Tribunal's decision. Firstly, the Court criticized the extensive delay in the proceedings, spanning almost 30 years from the initiation of the inquiry to the imposition of punishment, without any explanation from the State. Such a prolonged delay was deemed detrimental to both the state and the respondent.

Secondly, the Bench observed that the order imposing punishment lacked justification and failed to consider the respondent's submissions, violating principles of natural justice. Additionally, both the appeal and review orders were deemed deficient, as they did not address the flaws present in the original order. Consequently, the Court upheld the Tribunal's ruling.

The Bench emphasized the distinction between criminal and disciplinary proceedings but noted that the State had previously referenced the ongoing criminal proceedings in their arguments. Therefore, they could not now disregard the significance of those proceedings. The Court observed that the Magistrate's order, which acquitted the respondent due to a lack of evidence, was a relevant factor considered by the Tribunal in allowing the Original Application.

On the basis of the same evidence and charges if criminal proceedings are quashed by the Magistrate then certainly that would be one of the relevant factors to be considered along with other factors for testing the reasoning of the Tribunal in allowing the Original Application”, the Bench added. This acquittal, alongside other factors, contributed to the Tribunal's decision. The Court referred to the Supreme Court Judgment in the case of Ram Lal v State of Rajasthan and reiterated that orders from criminal proceedings can influence disciplinary proceedings, as long as they are relevant. Therefore, the Court upheld the Tribunal's reliance on the Magistrate's order as one of the grounds for allowing the Original Application.

The Court emphasized that the penalty of compulsory retirement imposed on the respondent was disproportionate, especially given the minor financial loss involved in one charge and the lack of witness examination in another.

Accordingly, the Court dismissed the Petition.

Cause Title: State of Maharashtra v Smt. Prabha Krishnaji Kamble (2024:BHC-AS:5675-DB)

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