(Prayer: Petition filed under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, to issue a Writ of Certiorarified Mandamus to call for the records relating to the impugned Charge Memo issued by the third respondent herein in Na.Ka.Tha.1/6603/2003-1, dated 11.03.2015, quash the same and further direct the respondents herein to provide notional promotions to the petitioner herein as Extension Officer from 17.07.2000 onwards and as Deputy Block Development Officer from 26.03.2007 onwards and as Block Development Officer from 31.10.2008 onwards and as Assistant Director or Assistant Project Officer from 21.02.2015 onwards on par with the petitioner's juniors promotion in the respective category with all consequential service and monetary benefits within a reasonable time as may be specified by this Court.)1. The charge memo dated 11.03.2015 issued against the writ petitioner is sought to be quashed in the present writ petition. The writ petitioner was working as Assistant in District Panchayat Office, Trichirappalli. The petitioner was placed under suspension in proceedings dated 30.03.1999 on account of the registration of a criminal case regarding allegations of demanding and acceptance of bribe under Sections 7, 13(2) and 13(1)(d) of the Prohibition of Corruption Act. The order of suspension was stayed by the Tamil Nadu Administrative Tribunal in O.A.No.1227 of 2000 and he joined service and reached the age of superannuation. The petitioner was relieved from service in proceedings dated 29.04.2016 and he was permitted to retire from service without prejudice to the disciplinary proceedings pending against him and further the petitioner was informed that the disciplinary proceedings were continued under Rule 9 of the Tamil Nadu Pension Rules.2. Learned Counsel appearing on behalf of the writ petitioner made a submission that the criminal case ended with an order of acquittal and therefore the petitioner is entitled for all the benefits including further promotions to the higher posts on par with his immediate junior. The initiation of disciplinary proceedings itself is invalid, in view of the fact that the writ petitioner was acquitted from the criminal charges.3. Mere acquittal of a public servant in a criminal case would not exonerate from him from the departmental disciplinary proceedings automatically. The nature of the departmental disciplinary proceedings and the criminal cases are different and distinct. Strong evidence and proof are required to convict a person under the criminal charges. Even the benefit of doubt goes in favour of the accused. Therefore acquittal granted in a criminal case cannot be a bar for initiating/proceeding of the departmental disciplinary proceedings by the competent authority under the relevant discipline appeal rules. The standard of proof requires for the departmental disciplinary proceedings are not strict and even preponderance of probabilities are sufficient to punish a public servant under the discipline and appeal rules. Thus the Government employee acquitted in a criminal case shall be punished in the departmental disciplinary proceedings if the charges framed by the disciplinary authority are established during the course of enquiry.4. Learned Counsel appearing on behalf of the petitioner brought to the notice of this Court that the accused No.2 was exonerated from the departmental disciplinary proceedings. Therefore the said benefit is to be extended to the writ petitioner.5. This Court is of the considered opinion that all these grounds can be raised by the writ petitioner during the course of enquiry. These facts require adjudication by the competent authority and a trial or enquiry cannot be conducted in a writ jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution of India. Thus it is for the petitioner to establish his defence and prove his innocence before the authorities competent by filing documents and defending the case. Contrarily, the High Court cannot quash a charge memo merely on the ground that the writ petitioner was acquitted in a criminal case.6. The charges against the petitioner are undoubtedly serious and relating to demand and acceptance of bribe. The charge against the writ petitioner is extracted hereunder:“TAMIL”7. The allegations of demand and acceptance of bribe is the charge. Therefore the enquiry is required mandatory and the authorities competent are bound to examine the documents as well as the witnesses for the purpose of concluding the departmental disciplinary proceedings. Contrarily, the petitioner cannot be exonerated from the allegations merely on the ground that he was acquitted in a criminal case. The petitioner reached the age of superannuation and he was allowed to retire from service without prejudice to the departmental disciplinary proceedings initiated. Thus the petitioner is bound to defend his case by availing opportunities to be provided under the disciplinary and appeal rules.8. This Court is of the firm view that the charge memo against the writ petitioner and the allegations set out in the charge memo are relating to demand and acceptance of bribe and the criminal case was also registered under the provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act. This being the nature of the allegations against the writ petitioner, the departmental disciplinary proceedings ought to have been concluded as per the rules and the same should be allowed to continue till it reaches its logical conclusion. No doubt, the delay certainly cause prejudice to the delinquent officials in certain circumstances. However, in the present case on hand, the trial Court acquitted the writ petitioner on benefit of doubt and against which the prosecution preferred a criminal appeal before this Court and the same is pending. In such circumstances, the delay at some point of time is unavoidable in one way or other and it is possible that the authorities are also getting confused. Under these circumstances, whether to proceed with the departmental disciplinary proceedings or not. There are divisive opinions in this regard by the Courts and on several occasions, the Courts came to the conclusion that the pendency of a criminal case is also a ground for keeping in abeyance, the departmental disciplinary proceedings. In some cases, the Courts have held that simultaneous proceedings are permissible and a mere pendency of the criminal case is not a bar for departmental disciplinary proceedings. When there are many decisions in this regard, the Hon'ble Supreme Court of India has derived a principle holding that simultaneous proceedings are permissible under law and in certain cases, where the facts are complex in nature, it is preferable to keep the departmental proceedings in abeyance. However, the general principle is that simultaneous proceedings are certainly permissible and there is no bar for the department to proceed with the disciplinary proceedings even during the pendency of the criminal case. The nature of the allegations, the consequences and the actions proceeded has to be considered before taking a decision in these kind of cases.9. This Court is of the firm view that a public servant involving in a case of demand and acceptance of bribe has to be dealt with iron heart and there cannot be any leniency in corruption cases. The Hon'ble Supreme Court also time and again reiterated and emphasised that the cases against corruption shall not be quashed merely on the ground of delay or on certain technical grounds. All such cases are allowed to be concluded and the same should reach its logical conclusion. It is for the delinquent official to establish his innocence before the enquiry proceedings. Thus, quashing of the charge memo in corruption cases are certainly undesirable and the Courts must be cautious in interfering with the charge memo and considering the merits and the contentions raised in this regard.10. Government servants play a significant role in running the administration of the country. They are important constituents of the administrative set up of the nation. They are pillars of the Government departments on whose shoulders the responsibility to implement the Government policies lies. They provide public services to the citizens at the gross root level and in the same way, they forward grievances of the public, their representations and demands to higher ups for their effective resolution. The Government employees have different work culture and responsibilities as compared to their counterparts in private sector. They are smartly paid and have some kind of perquisites given to them but at the same time, they have heavy responsibilities towards the Government in particular and public in general. However, when the Government servants deviate from the established rules of conduct, the departmental disciplinary proceedings will be initiated. It is the need of the hour to analyse whether conducting departmental proceedings and criminal proceedings would amount to double jeopardy or such simultaneous proceedings are to be continued simultaneously.11. The departmental authorities are free to exercise such lawful powers as conferred on them by the departmental rules and regulations.12. In the case of Sri Bhagwan Ram v. The State of Jharkand, State of Bihar and others(2017), it is well-settled that a domestic enquiry and a criminal trial can proceed simultaneously and the decision in the criminal case would not materially affect the outcome of the domestic enquiry. The nature of both the proceedings and the test applied to reach a final conclusion in the matter, are entirely different.13. In the case of Dr.Bharathi Pandey-Deputy General Manager V. Union of India[Special Civil Application No.15602 of 2013], the Apex Court held that it is clear that the departmental inquiry proceedings in every case need not be stayed till the criminal proceedings against the petitioner are concluded. It may be done in case of grave nature involving complicated questions of facts and law. The advisability and desirability has to be determined considering facts of each case.14. In the case of Ajith Kumar Das v. Union of India and Others[W.P.(C) NO.4036 of 2017], the Court held that the departmental enquiry is to maintain discipline in service and efficiency of public service. It would, therefore, be expedient that the disciplinary proceedings are conducted and completed as expeditiously as possible. It is not, therefore, desirable to lay down any guideline as inflexible rules in which the departmental proceeding may or may not be stayed pending trial in criminal case against the delinquent officer. There would be no bar to proceed simultaneously with the departmental proceeding and trial of a criminal case unless the charge in a criminal trial is of grave nature involving complicated questions of fact and law. Offence generally implies infringement of public as distinguished from mere private right punishable under criminal law, when trial for criminal offence is conducted it should be in accordance with the proof of offence as per the evidence defined under the provisions of the evidence act. Converse in the case of departmental enquiry in a departmental proceeding relates to conduct of breach of duty of the delinquent officer who punish him for his misconduct defined under the relevant statute/rule or law that strict standard of rule or applicability of Evidence Act stands excluded in a settled legal position.15. In the case of Avinash Sadashiv Bhosale v. Union of India[(2012) 13 SCC 142], the Court held that there is no legal bar for both proceedings to go on simultaneously. The only valid ground for claiming that the disciplinary proceedings may be stayed would be to ensure that the defence of the employee in the criminal case may not be prejudiced but even such grounds would be available only in cases involving complex question of fact and law. Such defence ought not to be permitted to unnecessarily delay the departmental proceedings. The interest of the delinquent officer as well as the employer clearly lies in a prompt conclusion of the disciplinary proceedings.16. The Supreme Court in the case of Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation v. M.G.Vittal Rao[(2012) 1 SCC 442] gave a timely reminder of the principles that are applicable in such situations succinctly summed up in the following words:(i) There is no legal bar for both proceedings to go on simultaneously.(ii) The only valid ground for claiming that the disciplinary proceedings may be stayed would be to ensure that the defence of the employee in the criminal case may not be prejudiced. But even such grounds would be available only in cases involving complex questions of facts and law.(iii) Such defence ought not to be permitted to unnecessarily delay the departmental proceedings. The interest of the delinquent officer as well as the employer clearly lies in a prompt conclusion of the disciplinary proceedings.(iv) Departmental Proceedings can go on simultaneously to the criminal trial, except where both the proceedings are based on the same set of facts and the evidence in both the proceedings is common.17. In the case of NOIDA Entrepreneur Association v. NOIDA and the others[JT 2001 (2) SC 620], the Court held that the standard of proof and nature of evidence in the departmental inquiry is not the same as in criminal case. The purpose of departmental enquiry and of prosecution is two different and distinct aspects. The criminal prosecution is launched for an offence for violation of a duty the offended owes to the society, or for breach of which law has provided that the offender shall make satisfaction to the public. So crime is an act of commission in violation of law or of omission of public duty. The departmental enquiry is to maintain discipline in the service and efficiency of public service. It would, therefore, be expedient that the disciplinary proceedings are conducted and completed as expeditiously as possible. It is not, therefore desirable to lay down any guidelines as inflexible rules in which the departmental proceedings may or may not be stayed pending trial in criminal case against the delinquent officer. Each case requires to be considered in the backdrop of its own facts and circumstances. There would be no bar to proceed simultaneously with departmental enquiry and trial of a criminal case unless the charge in the criminal trial is of grave nature involving complicated questions of fact and law.18. In the case of State Bank of India & Ors. Versus R.B.Sharma, [AIR 2004 SC 4144], the Hon'ble Supreme Court reiterated observing that both proceedings can be held simultaneously. It held, the purpose of departmental inquiry and of prosecution is to put a distinct aspect. Criminal prosecution is launched for an offence for violation of duty. The offender owes to the society, or for breach of which law has provided that the offender shall make satisfaction to the public. So crime is an act of commission in violation of law or of omission of a public duty. The departmental inquiry is to maintain discipline in the service and efficiency of public service.19. In the case of Ajith Kumar Nag v. General Manager(PJ), Indian Oil Corporation Ltd., Haldia[2005-7-SCC-764], the Honourable Apex Court considered the issue of validity of conducting departmental proceeding when the criminal case was pending against the official and held as follows:“Acquittal by a criminal court would not debar an employer from exercising power in accordance with Rules and Regulations in force. The two proceedings, criminal and departmental, are entirely different. They operate in different fields and have different objectives. Whereas the object of criminal trial is to inflict appropriate punishment on offender, the purpose of enquiry proceedings is to deal with the delinquent departmentally and to impose penalty in accordance with service Rules. In criminal law, burden of proof is on the prosecution and unless the prosecution is able to prove the guilt of the accused 'beyond reasonable doubt', he cannot be convicted by a court of law. In departmental enquiry, on the other hand, penalty can be imposed on the delinquent officer on a finding recorded on the basis of 'preponderance of probability'.20. In the case of West Bokaro Colliery(Tisco Ltd.) v. Ram Parvesh Singh(2008) 3 SCC 729, the Hon'ble Supreme Court has held in the case of that since standard of proof required in criminal case are beyond reasonable doubt and what is required in departmental inquiry is only of finding the guilt on the basis of preponderance of probability, there is no bar in continuing both simultaneously.21. In the case of S.A.Venkatraman v. Union of India, AIR 1954, SC 375 it has been held by the Supreme Court that taking recourse to both, does not amount to double jeopardy.1. In Stanzen Toyotetsu India Private Limited v. Girish V. And Other (2014) 3 SCC 636. It was held that suffice it to say that while there is no legal bar to the holding of the disciplinary proceedings and the criminal trial simultaneously, stay of disciplinary proceedings may be advisable course in cases where the criminal charge against the employee is grave and continuance of the disciplinary proceedings is likely to plagiarize their defence before the criminal court.2. The Supreme Court in State of Rajasthan v. B.K.Meena and Others (1996) 6 SCC 417 held that In certain situations, it may not be 'desirable', 'advisable', or 'appropriate' to proceed with the disciplinary enquiry when a criminal case is pending on identical charges.Therefore, stay of disciplinary proceedings cannot be, and should not be, a matter of recourse.3. It is also to note that acquittal in criminal proceedings on the same set of charges, per se, does not entitle the delinquent to claim immunity from disciplinary proceedings, as observed by the Supreme Court in the case of C.M.D.U.C.O. vs. P.C.Kakkar, AIR 2003 SC 1571. In the same way, departmental proceedings may be continued even after retirement of the employee. (U.P.S.S.Corp.Ltd. vs. K.S.Tandon, AIR 2008 SC 1235)22. Considering the above judgments, this
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Court is of the firm opinion that the procedure for taking disciplinary action against a Government servant is lengthy and detailed one, giving maximum opportunity to the government servant to prove his innocence. A Government employee is expected to perform his duties with utmost diligence, efficiency, economy and effectiveness. The Government procedures are lengthy in order to ensure that the Government employees perform their responsibilities without any pressure or exterior considerations. However, at the same time, it ensures discipline amongst the employees and shows the door to the employees who have become dead wood and do not perform as per expectations of public in general and his department in particular. Disciplinary proceeding are conducted to ensure that the morale of the employees as a whole is boosted. It ought to be noted that criminal proceedings will last for years and this can lead to loss of evidences and thereby staying departmental disciplinary proceedings from being conducted simultaneously would lead to gross miscarriage of justice. Also, it is pertinent to note the fact that the object of such departmental proceedings is not to penalise but to assist in restoring the morale of Government servants. Thus, it is of utmost importance that the Court has to strike a balance between the need for a fair trial to the accused on one hand and the competing demand for an expeditious conclusion of the ongoing disciplinary proceedings on the other which will not have any adverse impact if is conducted simultaneously.23. In view of the fact that the charge memo is to be enquired into by conducting an enquiry, the respondents are directed to proceed with the enquiry as early as possible and dispose of the departmental disciplinary proceedings by affording opportunity to the writ petitioner and by following the procedures contemplated.24. With the above directions, the Writ Petition stands disposed of. No costs. Consequently, the connected Miscellaneous Petition is closed.