Alexander Thomas, J.
1. The prayers in the aforecaptioned Original Petition filed under Articles 226 and 227 of the Constitution of India are as follows :
“(a) Call for the records leading to issuance of Exhibit P1 and quash the same, and allow the O.A.No.180/000466/2018 on the files of the Central Administrative Tribunal ;
(b) Award costs of and incidental to this Original Petition (CAT)
(c) Pass such other orders or directions as deemed fit and necessary in the facts and circumstances of the case.”
2. The prayers in Ext.P2 amended Original Application O.A.No.466 of 2018 filed by the applicant in the O.A. are as follows:
“(i) Call for the records leading to the issue of Annexures A13, A15, A17 and A19 and quash the same ;
(ii) Call for the records leading to the issue of A1 and declare that the proceedings therein stand abated as on 2.12.2017 in the light of sub-rule (24) of Rule 14 of the CCS(CCA) Rules, 1965 amended by A11 notification ;
(iii) Call for the records leading to the issue of Annexures A22 and A23 and quash the same ;
(iv) Direct the respondents to drop all further proceedings in relation to A1 charge memo and direct further to grant all the consequential benefits emanating there from ;
(v) Award costs and incidental thereto ;
(vi) Pass such other orders or directions as deemed just and fit by this Tribunal.”
3. The Tribunal, after hearing both sides, has rendered impugned Ext.P1 final order dated 10.2.2021 in O.A.No.466 of 2018, whereby it has been held that Annexure A11 amended notification dated 2.6.2017 introducing sub-rule (24) of Rule 14 of the Central Civil Services (Classification, Control and Appeal) Rules, 1965 [CCS (CCA) Rules, 1965], will not regulate the present disciplinary proceedings covered by Annexure A1 memo of charges dated 23.1.2013 inasmuch as Annexure A11 amended notification dated 2.6.2017 has only prospective effect from 2.6.2017, etc. and accordingly, the Tribunal has dismissed the O.A.
4. It is the abovesaid final order of the Tribunal rendered at Ext.P1 on 10.2.2021 in the above O.A. that is under challenge in the Original Petition.
5. In the instant case, the petitioner/applicant was serving as Postal Assistant of Aluva Postal Division. While so, she has been served with the impugned Annexure A1 memo of charges dated 23.1.2013 issued by R4 (The Senior Superintendent of Post Offices, Aluva Postal Division, Aluva) raising three charges therein. Later, during the pendency of the abovesaid disciplinary proceedings, the Union Government, in exercise of the statutory rule making power, has promulgated Annexure A11 notification published in the Gazette of India dated 2.6.2017, whereby amendment has been made to Rule 14 of CCS (CCA) Rules, by incorporating sub-rule (24) thereto. The relevant portion of amended provision made out as per Annexure A11 dated 2.6.2017 is extracted below :
“2. In the Central Civil Services (Classification, Control and Appeal) Rules, 1965, :-
1. In Rule 14, -
(iii) After sub-rule (23), the following sub-rule shall be inserted, namely :-
“(24) (a) The Inquiring Authority should conclude the inquiry and submit his report within a period of six months from the date of receipt of order of his appointment as Inquiring Authority.
(b) Where it is not possible to adhere to the time limit specified in clause (a), the Inquiring Authority may record the reasons and seek extension of time from the disciplinary authority in writing, who may allow an additional time not exceeding six months for completion of the Inquiry, at a time.
(c) The extension for a period not exceeding six months a time may be allowed for any good and sufficient reasons to be recorded in writing by the Disciplinary Authority or any other Authority authorized by the Disciplinary Authority on his behalf.”
6. Earlier, the petitioner had challenged initiation of the said disciplinary proceedings in terms of Annexure A1 memo of charges and had approached the Tribunal by filing O.A.No.28 of 2013 before the Central Administrative Tribunal, Ernakulam Bench, which has been dismissed by the Tribunal as per Annexure A2 final order dated 15.2.2013. Aggrieved thereby the petitioner had approached this Court by filing O.P.(CAT) No.31 of 2017. The Division Bench of this Court, as per Annexure A10 judgment dated 24.1.2017, had dismissed the said O.P.(CAT) No.31 of 2017 filed by the petitioner herein.
7. After the effectuation of Annexure A11 amendment notification, the petitioner had again approached the Tribunal by filing the instant Ext.P2 O.A.No.466 of 2018 with the aforementioned prayers. The Tribunal, after hearing both sides, has rendered the impugned Ext.P1 final order dated 10.2.2021, whereby O.A.No.466 of 2018 filed by the petitioner herein was disposed of on the ground that Annexure A11 amended notification has come into effect prospectively only from 2.6.2017 and does not have any retrospective effect, so as to regulate and govern the disciplinary proceedings initiated prior to that in terms of the impugned Annexure A1 memo of charges issued on 23.1.2013 and has thus disposed of the abovesaid O.A. So the issue to be decided is as to whether the Tribunal was right and correct in holding that Annexure A11 amended notification dated 2.6.2017 will have only prospective effect from that day and that the same will regulate and govern the disciplinary proceedings which has been initiated prior to 2.6.2017 as in the instant case.
8. It is by now well settled by a series of rulings of the Apex Court and various High Courts including this Court that matters relating to limitation, place of suing etc. are essentially in the realm of procedure, whereas matters in relation to filing of appeal, etc. is a vested substantive right. It is also well established that even if an amendment of the norms is made prospectively, ordinarily the same cannot take away any vested accrued substantive rights. However, where the amendment of the norm is essentially touching a matter of procedure and does not in essence and affect any substantive rights, then even if the amended norm has only prospective effect, the same would regulate not only cases arising on or after the date of the amended norm, but will also regulate matters initiated prior thereto and pending as on the date of amendment. In that regard, reference to decision of the Apex Court as in K.S.Paripoornan v. State of Kerala and others [(1994) 5 SCC 593] etc. may be apposite. The Apex Court has held in paragraph No.64 of the abovesaid decision reported in K.S.Paripoornan’s case (supra) [(1994) 5 SCC 593], p.p.634-665 as follows :
“64. A state dealing with substantive rights differs from a statute which relates to procedure or evidence or is declaratory in nature inasmuch as while a statute dealing with substantive rights is prima facie prospective unless it is expressly or by necessary implication made to have retrospective effect, a statute concerned mainly with matters of procedure or evidence or which is declaratory in nature has to be construed as retrospective unless there is a clear indication that such was not the intention of the legislature. A statute is regarded as retrospective if it operates on cases or facts coming into existence before its commencement in the sense that it affects, even if for the future only, the character or consequences of transactions previously entered into or of other past conduct. But virtue of the presumption against retrospective applicability of laws dealing with substantive rights transactions are neither invalidated by reason of their failure to comply with formal requirements subsequently imposed, nor open to attack under powers of avoidance subsequently imposed, nor open to attack under powers of avoidance subsequently conferred. They are also not rendered valid by subsequent relaxations of the law, whether relating to form or to substance. Similarly, provisions in which a contrary intention does not appear neither impose new liabilities in respect of events taking place before their commencement, nor relieve persons from liabilities then existing, and the view that existing obligations were not intended to be affected has been taken in varying degrees even of provisions expressly prohibiting proceedings.”
9. In the instant case, the answer to the above said issue post before us is dependent on the aspect as to whether the amended norm made out in Annexure A11 notification dated 2.6.2017, whereby sub-rule (24) of Rule 14 of CCS (CCA) Rules has been introduced, is essentially a matter which is only in the realm of procedure or whether it affect any accrued vested rights. There cannot be any dispute that rule making authority like the Union Government, State Governments etc. have the power to frame Rules to regulate the conditions of service of their employees and therefore, the competence of the Union Government to frame a statutory rule in the nature of Central Civil Services (Pension) Rules, 1972 [CCS (Pension) Rules, 1972] cannot be disputed. It is also by now well established that just as an accused in a criminal proceedings has right to secure expeditious and fair trial, so also a delinquent in a disciplinary proceedings has the right to ensure that the disciplinary proceedings are finalised without any unnecessary delay. Moreover, the concept of reasonableness is an intrinsic component of various provisions in the Constitution like Articles 14, 16, 311(2), etc. So, if there is unnecessary and undue delay in disciplinary proceedings, it can also lead to the situation of deprivation of reasonable opportunity of defence guaranteed in terms of Article 311(2) of the Constitution of India. In appropriate cases wherever there is undue and unnecessary delay, courts exercising judicial review can also intervene in the matter, depending upon the facts and circumstances of each of the case concerned. Therefore, it goes without saying that the Union Government in its role as the statutory rule making authority has the competence to laid down norm as in the nature of Annexure A11 fixing time lines and time frames for conclusions of disciplinary enquiry and disciplinary proceedings. A reading of Annexure A11 amended notification dated 2.6.2017 would make it clear that it is mandated as per Clause (a) of Rule 14 (24) of CCS (CCA) Rules that the Inquiring Authority should conclude the enquiry and submit his report within a period of six months from the date of receipt of the order of his appointment as Inquiring Authority. Clause (b) further envisages that where it is not possible to adhere to the said time limit, then the Inquiring Authority may record the reasons and seek extension of time from the disciplinary authority in writing, who may allow an additional time not exceeding six months for completion of the enquiry, at a time. Clause (c) of the said amended provision further mandates that the extension for a period not exceeding six months at a time may be allowed for any good and sufficient reasons to be recorded in writing by the disciplinary authority or any other authority authorised by the disciplinary authority on his behalf. Therefore, in recognition of the abovesaid legal position, the rule making authority is perfectly justified to make an amended provision as per Annexure A11 laying down strict timelines for completion of disciplinary enquiry proceedings. The timeline stipulated for completion of disciplinary enquiry can only fall within the realm of procedure and not otherwise. The inquiring authority or disciplinary authority cannot contend that any of the substantive rights of the disciplinary authority will be detrimentally affected by the said rule incorporating a time line for completion of a disciplinary enquiry proceedings.
10. On the other hand, the inquiring authority and the disciplinary authority are under the bounden mandate of reasonableness enshrined in Articles 14, 16 and 311(2) of the Constitution of India to ensure that the disciplinary enquiry proceedings are initiated and finalised in a fair and reasonable manner and that such disciplinary enquiry proceedings may be finalised within a reasonable time limit. So also a delinquent employee cannot demand that there cannot be any reasonable timeline for conclusion of disciplinary enquiry proceedings or that the abovesaid provision made out as per Annexure A11 is in any manner illegal or without jurisdiction. In the light of these aspects, the only conclusion that may be arrived at is that the abovesaid norm at Annexure A11 stipulating time frame and timeline for conclusion of disciplinary enquiry proceedings is only a matter which falls within the realm of procedure. Since that is the position, it is only to be held that the said amended norm at Annexure A11 laying down the time frame for completion of disciplinary enquiry proceedings would apply not only to the cases instituted on or after the date of issuance of Annexure A11 viz. 2.6.2017, but it also affect the cases initiated prior to amended norms and pending as on that day. In other words, the view taken by the Tribunal, as per the impugned Ext.P1 final order that Annexure A11 amended norms dated 2.6.2017 will not affect the present disciplinary enquiry proceedings covered by Annexure A1 memo of charges dated 23.1.2013 is plainly not tenable or sustainable in law and the said view of the Tribunal will stand overruled. Then the related aspect to be considered by this Court is as to whether the main prayer made by the original applicant for a declaration that the disciplinary proceedings emanating from Annexure A1 memo of charges dated 23.1.2013, should be treated as having been abated as on 2.6.2017 (date of issuance of Annexure A11) is to be granted. In a case which was pending as on the date of issuance of Annexure A11 amended norm dated 2.6.2017, the time frame of six months has to be reckoned only from the date of issuance of the said amendment norms viz. 2.6.2017. Otherwise if it is held that the period of six months is to be reckoned from the date of issuance of the memo of charges, in cases which are pending as on 2.6.2017 would be quite unreasonable and unfair. The norm has come into effect only on 2.6.2017. Therefore, the reasonable and rational application of the said norm in a pending case would lead to the situation that the time line of six months stipulated therein would apply to a pending case, but the said six months time limit has to be computed from the date of issuance of Annexure A11 viz.2.6.2017 and not prior thereto. Hence the main prayer sought for by the applicant in the above O.A. cannot be granted.
11. Now it is brought to our notice that the original applicant has already retired from service on 28.2.2021. Ext.P1 final order was rendered by the Tribunal on 10.2.2021 and the present O.P. has been filed before this Court by the petitioner on 25.2.2021 and the case had come up for admission before this Court for the first time on 1.3.2021.
12. Sri.T.C.Govindaswamy, learned counsel appearing for the petitioner, would submit that the contentions of the respondents that the petitioner has contributed to the long delay in finalising the disciplinary proceedings is untenable and unsustainable. Per contra Sri.P.Vijayakumar, learned Assistant Solicitor General of India appearing for the respondents would contend that the applicant was filing objections after objections before various authorities and also litigated on four occasions, including the present litigative proceedings and that the respondent disciplinary authority cannot be blamed for the delay in finalising the disciplinary proceedings.
13. From the pleadings and records, it appears that the petitioner had initially filed O.A.No.28 of 2013 before the Tribunal, which was disposed of as per Annexure A2 order dated 15.2.2013. Later, the petitioner had filed O.A.No.1161 of 2013, which has been dismissed by the Tribunal as per Annexure A8 order dated 3.10.2016. The review application filed as against Annexure A8 order has also dismissed by the Tribunal as per Annexure A9 order dated 23.11.2016. The Original Petition filed before this Court as against Annexures A8 and A9 has also been dismissed by this Court as per Annexure A10 order dated 24.1.2017. True that on the previous occasions, the petitioner has initiated the abovesaid litigative proceedings, but the fact of the matter is that OP(CAT) No. 31 of 2017 has been dismissed by the Division Bench of this Court as per Annexure A10 as early as on 24.1.2017. Assuming that the said litigative proceedings has resulted in delay in finalising the disciplinary proceedings taken as per Annexure A1 dated 23.1.2013, till then it is seriously open to doubt as to whether the entire blame should be put on the head of the petitioner for the long time taken after the rendering of Annexure A10 judgment by this Court on 24.1.2017. The details of the various postings in the case has been stated in the statement dated 16.3.2021 filed by the respondents in this O.P., more particularly internal pages 3 to 11 thereof. [See page Nos.16 to 24 of this paper book].
14. The delinquent in a disciplinary enquiry proceedings may file various objections before the inquiring authority or disciplinary authority, but it is for the competent authorities concerned to deal with the same in accordance with law and also to ensure that the disciplinary proceedings is finalised within a reasonable time limit. This all the more so since the statutory liability obligation has been complete cast on the disciplinary inquiring authority and the disciplinary authority in terms of Annexure A11 notification dated 2.6.2017. The time frame envisaged therein is only six months. The time extension is also envisaged therein. From the pleadings in the aforesaid statement dated 16.3.2021 filed by the respondents in this O.P., it is seen that two extensions of time were granted by the disciplinary authority at the request of the inquiring authority as can be seen from the averments in paragraph 14 on page 9 of the statement. The disciplinary proceedings has been initiated as per Annexure A1 as early as on 23.1.2013. The authorities concerned knew very well that the petitioner was to retire from service on 28.2.2021 on attaining the superannuation age of 60 years. If the necessary will had been shown by the authorities concerned and especially to obey the statutory obligation cast by Annexure A11 amended norms, then certainly nothing prevented the authorities concerned in finalising the abovesaid disciplinary proceedings within a reasonable time much earlier. So that final orders in the disciplinary proceedings were issued well before the retirement of the petitioner on 28.2.2021.
15. Sri.P.Vijayakumar, learned Assistant Solicitor General of India appearing for the respondents, would submit on the basis of instructions that since the petitioner has already retired from service on 28.2.2021 and the disciplinary proceedings in pursuance of Annexure A1 memo of charges dated 23.1.2013 has not been finalised, the legal option is to proceed in terms of Rule 9 of the CCS (Pension) Rules. Further that the competent authority among the official respondents will finalise the proceedings without any further delay, at any rate, within four months and that four months time may be granted as last chance. The said plea made on behalf of the respondents is strongly opposed by Sri.T.C.Govindaswamy, learned counsel appearing for the petitioner. It is pointed out that any further extension of time may amount to violation of the specific mandate made by the rule making authority in terms of Annexure A11 whereby sub rule (24) of Rule 14 of the CCS (CCA Rules) has been made effective now from 2.6.2017. It is pointed out that more than 3 long years have elapsed after the introduction of Annexure A11 amended notification dated 2.6.2017 and two extensions have already been obtained by them in the matter and that this Court may not grant any further time and may quash proceedings as the same ultra vires Annexure A11 amended norms.
16. After hearing both sides, we are not in a position to quash the proceedings at this stage. However, after hearing both sides and after perusal of Annexure A1 memo of charges, it appears that there are three charges raised therein. The first charge and the second charge is that the petitioner has not credited an amount of Rs.1,000/- each on two occasions, to a post office savings account. The third charge is that the petitioner has not credited an amount of Rs.100/- which has sought to be remitted to such an account. A reading of Annexure A1 memo of charges would also disclose that there are no serious allegations that the petitioner, the delinquent, has in any manner committed any fraud or misappropriation, etc. It is really difficult for us to countenance the plea of the respondents that they could not fin
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alise the disciplinary proceedings for such simple finalised proceedings though the allegation appears to be quite simple. 17. Taking note of the nature of the allegations, we would direct the competent authority of the respondents, more particularly the third respondent Chief Post Master General to seriously consider and examine as to whether the facts and circumstances of this case would really justify proceedings to be again initiated in terms of Rule 9 of the CCS (Pension) Rules, 1972. The long delay in finalising the proceedings and the nature of the allegations raised in Annexure A11 may be borne in mind by the third respondent and an appropriate decision may be taken. However, it is also ordered that in case the official respondents want to proceed further in the matter, they may do so strictly in accordance with law and proceedings in that regard should be finalised within an outer time limit of four months as now undertaken on behalf of the official respondents. We would also direct that the original applicant should sincerely co-operate with the matter without any further delay as she had already retired. Further it is ordered that if the proceedings are not finalised within an outer time limit of four months from the date of receipt of a copy of the judgment, then the entire proceedings in that regard will stand quashed on the expiry of the said four months time limit without any further orders from this Court. We hope and trust that the third respondent will consider the matter with all seriousness and may take a decision as to whether or not the matter should be proceeded or not any further or the matter should be dropped, taking into account the abovesaid aspects and also the fact that the petitioner had already retired from service on 28.2.2021. The counsel for the petitioner will ensure that copies of this judgment are forwarded to official respondents 1 to 5 by speed post with acknowledgment due for necessary information. The time limit of four months will be computed from the date of receipt of the certified copy of the judgment. Consequently it is ordered that the impugned Ext.P1 final order dated 10.2.2021 rendered by the CAT, Ernakulam Bench in O.A.No.466 of 2018 will stand set aside. With these observations and directions, the above Original Petition will stand finally disposed of.