Violation Of Principles Of Natural Justice: SC Allows Appeal Of Odisha Lokayukta For Conducting Preliminary Inquiry Against MLA
The Supreme Court allowed the appeal filed by the Office of the Odisha Lokayukta against the judgment passed by the Orissa High Court on the ground of violation of principles of natural justice.
The appellant challenged the decision of the High Court wherein it set aside the order passed by the Odisha Lokayukta to conduct a preliminary inquiry against an elected Member of the Legislative Assembly in the exercise of power under Section 20(1) of the Odisha Lokayukta Act, 2014.
The two-Judge Bench of Justice Ajay Rastogi and Justice Bela M. Trivedi held, “… if the order of the appellant directing the Directorate of Vigilance to conduct the preliminary inquiry in exercise of power under Section 20(1) of the Act, 2014 dated 11th December, 2020 has been set aside by the High Court, obviously, the appellant is a person aggrieved and can certainly question the legality/validity of the judgment of the High Court impugned by invoking jurisdiction of this Court under Article 136 of the Constitution.”
The Bench noted that the only remedy available to the appellant was to question the order of the High Court by filing a Special Leave Petition in Apex Court under Article 136 of the Constitution.
Senior Advocate Ravindra Shrivastava and Advocate Arjun Garg appeared for the appellant while Senior Advocate Pitamber Acharya and Advocate Mithu Jain appeared for the respondents.
A complaint was received by the appellant from the Deputy Superintendent of Police indicating the alleged corruption against the respondent who was the elected MLA. A review petition was filed by the appellant on the ground that it was never heard and no opportunity of hearing was afforded before passing the order by the High Court.
The appellant i.e., the Odisha Lokayukta after taking into consideration the contents of the complaint directed the Directorate of Vigilance to conduct the preliminary inquiry against the respondent. The respondent challenged the same in the High Court. The Court allowed the plea of the respondent and hence, a review was filed by the Lokayukta which got dismissed by a non-speaking order.
The Supreme Court after hearing the contentions of the counsel for both parties observed, “… the Division Bench of the High Court has committed a manifest error in passing of the order impugned dated 3 rd February, 2021 while setting aside the order of the appellant dated 11th December, 2020 to conduct a preliminary inquiry against respondent no.1 in exercise of powers under Section 20(1) of the Act, 2014 which is in violation of the principles of natural justice.”
The Court said that the High Court completely overlooked Section 20(1) of the said Act that empowers the Lokayukta to hold an inquiry against the public servant by its inquiry wing or any other agency to ascertain whether there exists a prima facie case for proceeding in the matter or hold an investigation.
“We are of the considered view that there was no element of bias in conducting a preliminary inquiry in the instant case and the objection raised by the respondents stands overruled”, the Court asserted.
The Court further denied the case of M.S. Kazi vs. Muslim Education Society and others 2016 (9) SCC 263 relied upon by the respondents in which a teacher was terminated by a minority institution after conducting a disciplinary inquiry.
The Court, therefore, set aside the judgment of the High Court and its review order and allowed the appeal.
Cause Title- Office of the Odisha Lokayukta v. Dr. Pradeep Kumar Panigrahi and Others
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