Recently Andhra Pradesh High Court passed a judgment in Subba Rao vs
Vigilance Officer, Cotton Corporation of India
 on the issue of
departmental enquiry with the ongoing criminal trial. The judgment passed by
Justice Ravi Nath Tilhari cleared the dimensions of this less addressed topic.
Departmental enquiry is mostly initiated simultaneously with the criminal trial
hence it becomes very important to know the procedure of conducting these trails
It can be argued by the accused that carrying the departmental enquiry with the
criminal trial can make him/her the victim of prejudice. The questions raised in
both can be of similar nature which can be very hectic for an accused to deal
with. So should the court intervene in this and put a temporarily stay in the
An organisation or department has all rights reserved to conduct its own
independent enquiry which is headed by an officer of that department
In the said case, the petition was filed under article 226 alleging that the
departmental enquiry initiated against the petitioner is arbitrary and violative
of principle of natural justice. This enquiry which is simultaneously going on
with the criminal trial in the high court is violating the rights under article
14, 20, and 21 of the Indian constitution.
The case summary would analyse whether a departmental enquiry can be put on hold
and if yes, what are the conditions for putting it on hold.
Facts of the case
The petitioner was appointed at cotton corporation of India on the post of
junior cotton purchase officer. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) filed
a case against the petitioner and his family for possession of undeclared assets
and misusing the power of the post for the cheating and criminal conspiracy
under the section 13(1)e and 13(2) of prevention of corruption act, 1988.
The respondent 1 which is the officer of cotton corporation department initiated
a departmental enquiry against the accused by appointing respondent 2 that is
branch manager as the investigating officer. The disciplinary authority ordered
the petitioner to submit a written statement in his defence but the petitioner
submitted that his medical condition is not good and hence he is unable to
submit for now. The authority appointed respondent 3 for investigating the
charges against the petitioner.
Further the petitioner submitted that the place of investigation was changed
again and again for which he was not aware, however the respondent submitted
that it was duly informed to the petitioner about the change of place of
inquiry. The petitioner finally filed petition alleging that the departmental
enquiry is of arbitrary nature.
Arguments by petitioner
- Whether departmental enquiry can be concluded during the pendency of a
The learned council of the petitioner Sri Adhitya Harsha Vardhan submitted
before the court that the departmental enquiry and criminal proceedings against
the petitioner are dealing with the same facts and questions. The charges
against the petitioner are grave in nature and involves complicated questions of
law and he would be subjected to prejudice if he disclosed his defence in the
departmental enquiry, also the set of witness are same hence the departmental
enquiry should be set aside while the continuation of criminal trial.
The reliance was placed on the cases:
Arguments by respondent
- State Bank of India & Others v. Neelam Nag,
- Rubina Bano v. State of Chhattisgarh,
- Kusheshwar Dubey v. M/s. Bharat Coking Coal Ltd and Others,
- G.M.Tank v. State of Gujarat and Others,
- D.Ravi Babu v. Director General of Police, AP and Others.
The learned council of the respondent submitted before the court the charge on
the petitioner is different in the departmental enquiry and criminal trial. He
argued that the charge by CBI is of having possession of the disproportionate
assets of Rs.1,06,78,571/- and in the departmental enquiry it is of
non-disclosure of moveable and immovable property on the name of family member
of the petitioner and non-maintenance of faithfulness and integrity towards the
duty, also violating the rules of cotton corporation of India.
He submitted before the court that the criminal proceedings cannot be a bar on
the departmental enquiry. the mode of departmental enquiry is entirely different
to that of the criminal trial. He further placed reliance on:
- Lalit Popli v. Canara Bank and others,
- Ajitkumar Nag v. General Manager (PJ), Indian Oil Corporation Ltd7.
The hon'ble high court held that departmental enquiry can be carried out
simultaneously and the criminal proceedings would have no bar on it. The
criminal trial and departmental enquiry both have very different nature. The
court went further saying that departmental enquiry can only be set aside
temporarily and only in special circumstances where the question of law is in
grave in nature and there is likely to be prejudice of accused.
The court also have to keep in mind that departmental enquiry cannot be kept on
hold for long. It was mentioned that in the case of Capt. M. Paul Anthony
Following points were laid down:
In the case of Transport Corporation v. M.G. Vittal Rao it was rightly
- Departmental enquiry and criminal trial can proceed simultaneously and
there is no legal bar in conducting them in their conduction simultaneously.
- If the disciplinary proceedings and criminal trail are based on same
facts and question and the offence of accused is grave in nature which
involves complicated law of question then the departmental enquiry can be
put on hold until the result of criminal trial comes.
- Whether the charge is grave in nature and involves complicated law of
question, will depend of nature of offence and the nature of evidence
collected against the accused.
- Is the criminal case is not getting disposed duly on time then the
departmental enquiry can be resumed and if the accused found not guilty than
his/honour should be established and if found guilty then the department may
get rid of him as soon as possible.
- The only valid reason for the stay on departmental enquiry is only on
the defence of the employee on the ground of prejudice of his/her case also
these ground would be available in the cases involving complex question of
fact and law.
- This defense should be not used in unnecessarily delaying the
Even when the charge are found to be grave in nature and involves complicated
questions of law and there are chances of prejudice, then also the court has to
keep in mind that the trial doesn't get prolonged indefinitely causing a
suspension or delaying unduly of departmental enquiry, as its not in the favor
of employee and employer to delay the departmental enquiry because if the
employee is not guilty than his honor should be vindicated at the earliest
possible and if he is guilty than he should be dealt properly according to the
law and it would not be interest in of the employer to continue with such kind
of employee awaiting for the results of criminal trial.
It was said in the judgment that there is a difference in nature of departmental
enquiry and criminal trail. A crime is act or commission in violation of law or
of omission of public duty and therefor a trial is conducted whereas
departmental enquiry is conducted to restore and maintain discipline in
The approach and objective in the criminal proceedings and departmental enquiry
are entirely different. In the disciplinary proceedings the moto is to determine
whether the respondent is guilty of such conduct as would merit his removal from
the service or lesser punishment whereas in the criminal trial the question is
whether the offence registered under the Prevention of Corruption Act and Indian
Penal code is established and what punishment should be given.
Hence it would not be in desirable to lay down any specific rules to lay down a
stay on departmental enquiry. The criminal trail is conducted based on the
evidence according to the Evidence Act whereas in departmental enquiry the
conduct is monitored according to the relevant statutory rules. In case of
disciplinary enquiry the doctrine of 'proof beyond doubt' has no application.
In criminal trial the burden of proof is on prosecution and unless he establish
reasonable doubt against the accused, the accused cannot be convicted whereas on
the other hand in department if there is finding of 'preponderance of
probability', the accused officer can be fined. According to section 13(1) of
prevention of corruption act, the accused have to prove in the court of law that
the assets are not disproportionate to the declared source of income but there
is not question of disclosing the defense in the departmental enquiry.
In the judgment of Pravin Kumar vs. Union of India
 it was rightly
said that the department is has all rights to conduct an independent
disciplinary enquiry irrespective of the outcome of the criminal trial in the
court. In the case of Neelam Nag it was said that if the criminal proceedings
are not completed in 1 year then the enquiring officer shall continue the
enquiry and the protection given to accused shall be terminated.
Hence because of all these reasons the writ petition is dismissed and the
departmental enquiry may proceed further in this case.
- R. Subba Rao vs The Chief Vigilance Officer, High Court Of Andhra
Pradesh, 25 August 2022, 19655 (India) XXXX.
- prevention of corruption act, No 49, 9 September 1988 (India), XXXX.
- State Bank Of India vs Neelam Nag, Supreme Court of India, 11 May 2018,
4715 (India) XXXX.
- Kusheshwar Dubey vs Bharat Coking Coal Ltd. & Ors, supreme court of
India, 6 September 1988, 3129 (India) XXXX.
- Rubina Bano v. State of Chhattisgarh, chhattisgarh high court, 17
December 2020, 4728 (India) XXXX.
- G.M. Tank vs State Of Gujarat & Anr, Supreme Court of India, 10 May
2007, 2582 (India) XXXX
- D. Ravi Babu v/s Director General of Police, A.P., HIGH COURT OF ANDHRA
PRADESH, 1 April 2021, 23315 (India) XXXX.
- on Lalit Popli v. Canara Bank and others, supreme court of india, 18
February 2003, 3961 (India) XXXX.
- Ajit Kumar Nag vs General Manager (Pj), Indian Oil, calcutta high court,
6 February 2004, 4544 (India) XXXX
- Capt.M. Paul Anthony vs Bharat Gold Mines Ltd., calcutta high court, 18
January 2018 (India) XXXX.
- Pradeep Kumar Singh vs Union Of India & Anr., Delhi high court, 14
December 2011, 8231 (india) XXXX.