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Different Steps In Inquiry Of Departmental Proceedings

The departmental proceedings are started by the disciplinary authority under different existing service and conduct rules of the government against misconduct or indisciplined act of a government servant and are based on equity, principles of natural justice and the theory of preponderance of probabilities.

The disciplinary authority implies the appointing authority.An inquiry into departmental proceedings against a public servant should normally be completed within 6 months from the date of appointment of the Inquiry Officer as per the directive of the Supreme Court of India. In departmental proceedings, there is no prosecution or conviction by a court. The order of acquittal in criminal proceedings will have no bearing on departmental proceedings unless the acquittal is clean or honourable, the Andhra Pradesh High Court ruled recently.

The departmental proceedings against a public servant have to go through various steps as given below:
Lodging of complaint

  1. The departmental proceedings against a government servant starts with the lodging of a complaint with the disciplinary authority and also upon issuance of a show cause notice by the disciplinary authority.
  2. On the receipt of a complaint, it is open to the disciplinary authority to hold or arrange for preliminary inquiry to ascertain the prima facie truth in the allegations. The complaint may be made by an ordinary citizen or colleague or superior officer of the employee.

Holding of preliminary inquiry by the disciplinary authority
The main purpose of a preliminary inquiry is to decide if there is enough initial evidence against an officer to warrant further proceedings. This inquiry is carried out by a higher-ranking official, as directed by the disciplinary authority, to help the disciplinary authority determine whether a full departmental inquiry is required. However, if the service rules permit, then it is not always necessary to hold preliminary inquiry before the initiation of regular departmental proceedings.

Consideration of report of the preliminary inquiry by the disciplinary authority
After completing the preliminary inquiry, the investigator should make a written short record of the proceedings. The inquiry should result in a report that should include a finding of whether there appears to be any substance to all or some of the allegations and to what extent the particular employee is responsible. After examining the report, the disciplinary authority should decide whether there is a prima facie case to initiate a proper departmental inquiry or not.

Show cause notice to the delinquent official who is prima facie held responsible in the preliminary inquiry by the disciplinary authority
If the Government servant is prima facie liable for misconduct in the preliminary inquiry report, the disciplinary authority will ask him to submit his reply as to why no further proceedings should be initiated against him. In the show cause notice, the offender must be informed that he is prima facie liable for professional misconduct/error.

Reply of the delinquent officer to the show cause notice issued by the disciplinary authority
Thereafter, the delinquent held prima facie liable for the misconduct is required to file his reply to the show cause notice within the time prescribed in the show cause notice. If the delinquent does not submit an answer within the specified period, the disciplinary authority is authorized to move the matter further ex-parte or the delinquent may be given a reminder to submit his answer.

Issuance of charge sheet to the delinquent officer if reply is considered unsatisfactory by the disciplinary authority
If the disciplinary body considers the response to the show cause notice unsatisfactory, formal departmental proceedings are initiated against the civil servant, starting with the issuance of a charge sheet against him. The grounds on which it is proposed to initiate formal departmental proceedings should be reduced to the form of a specific charge or charges. The charges should be communicated to the delinquent in writing in the form of a charge sheet. If the answer is found to be satisfactory, the disciplinary body can stop the departmental proceedings.

Delinquent Officer's Answer to Charge
The delinquent must submit a written response to the charge sheet within the specified period, unless the competent authority extends it. Failure to provide an explanation by the delinquent would allow the authority to proceed ex parte. Therefore, the office does not have to wait indefinitely for an answer.

Scrutiny of the offender's response by the disciplinary authority
The disciplinary body must carry out the scrutiny of the delinquent's answer with the utmost care. If the delinquent confesses to the charge or any of the charges and applies for pardon, no inquiry shall be held in respect of such charges. If the offender's explanation is found to be satisfactory and if the authority decides to acquit the offender and not impose any fine, the proceedings should be stopped.

Appointment of inquiry officer i.e., order of regular inquiry and nomination of presenting officer by order of the disciplinary authority

If the reply of the delinquent officer is considered unsatisfactory by the disciplinary authority, then inquiry officer is appointed to conduct regular departmental inquiry.

Legal assistance for defense
A delinquent employee has the right to defend himself personally or through another employee. Even retired employees of the same department may be allowed by the Inquiry Officer to present the case of the delinquent employee. There is no right of a party to departmental proceedings to be represented by a lawyer. In departmental proceedings the delinquent does not have the right to be represented by a lawyer and that the proceedings would not be bad just because he was not provided with the assistance of a lawyer, as decided in the case of FCI v. Bant Singh, AIR 1997 SC 2982.

Attendance and questioning of witnesses by the inquiry officer
In the conduct of departmental proceedings, the provisions of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 shall not apply and the authority conducting the proceedings shall be governed by the rules of equity and natural justice. As part of a departmental inquiry, the department should lead evidence against the offender in the first instance. The offender will then be given an opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses against him. The inquiry officer has the power to summon witnesses.

The offender may demand that any of the department's witnesses be called for further cross-examination, and if the inquiry officer is satisfied that it would be necessary in the interests of justice, he may call such witnesses. However, he can reject the delinquent's request to summon a witness if he is convinced that the witness is not necessary or material to the case and the purpose of the request is to harass the witness. The inquiry officer may himself call for fresh evidence or recall or re-examine any witness.

In addition to the right to cross-examine prosecution witnesses, the offender must have a reasonable opportunity to present his own witnesses (defense witness) and any documentary evidence in his defense. However, the inquiry officer is not a court and may not have the power to compel attendance.

Submission by the inquiry officer of the inquiry report
At the conclusion of the inquiry, the inquiry officer prepares a "findings" report.

Findings generally include the following:
  1. A brief introduction leading to the initiation of the inquiry, the appointment of the inquiry officer and the date of the hearing.
  2. Notice of charges and allegations against delinquent.
  3. Explanation of the delinquent.
  4. Oral and documentary evidence presented in support of the charge.
  5. Evidence taken by and on behalf of the offender.
  6. Reason for acceptance or rejection of evidence led by either party by the inquiry officer.
  7. The conclusions reached with respect to each of the allegations.
The inquiry officer should make clear findings against each of the charges so that the offender knows on what grounds he has been found guilty. The findings of the Inquiry Officer are in the nature of a report to the Disciplinary Authority to pass final orders. These are only intended to assist the authority and are not binding on the disciplinary authority. In no case should the inquiry officer recommend or suggest any punishment.

Findings of the inquiry and issuance of show cause notice to the delinquent:
  • The investigator's report is only an empowering document that helps the disciplinary body to formulate its opinion and reach a conclusion about the guilt of the delinquent.
  • If the disciplinary authority is of the opinion that the charge against the delinquent has not been proved and that the delinquent should be acquitted, it shall issue an order to that effect and communicate it to the relevant civil servant.
  • If the charge against the delinquent is proved, the disciplinary authority shall issue a show cause notice to the delinquent proposing the punishment prescribed in the rules.
  • The show cause notice is given to present the offender a reasonable opportunity to respond to the proposed penalty. He must specify the charges and allegations and should also disclose the reasons why he came to those conclusions.
  • The call to impose a fine on the delinquent can only be delivered after the completion of the proper departmental proceedings and after consideration of the inquiry officer's report.

Submission of a response and assessment of the delinquent officer's past record

The delinquent is obliged to submit his response to the show cause notice within the specified period. If the offender requests a personal hearing, it must be granted. Its refusal could reverse any action against him. Furthermore, the disciplinary authority may take into account the past service record of the offender when imposing punishment.

Penalty proposed
Depending upon the gravity of the misconduct committed by the employee, the disciplinary authority is to decide the kind of penalty to be imposed on him.

The following two kinds of penalties are noted in the Rule:
  • Minor Penalties:
    1. Censure
    2. Withholding of increment of pay, without cumulative effect.
  • Major Penalties:
    1. Reduction to a lower stage in the time-scale of pay for a specified period, which shall ordinarily be not a bar to promotion
    2. Reduction to a lower time-scale of pay, grade, post or service, which shall ordinarily be a bar to the promotion
    3. Compulsory retirement
    4. Removal from service
    5. Dismissal from service
    6. Withholding of promotion
    7. Recovery of Pay

Final Order
After following the above procedure, the final order to impose the punishment is issued by the disciplinary authority. Since the disciplinary proceedings under the Service Rules are quasi-judicial in nature and as such, it is necessary that the order in such proceedings passed by the disciplinary authority should have the features of a court order.

It should be a separate and reasoned order meeting the legal requirements. It therefore requires that the final order imposing a sanction be a statement of order clearly stating the points to be considered, the decisions thereon and the reasons on which the decisions are based.

Reasons reveal a rational connection between the facts considered and the conclusions reached. It also allows the offender to file an appeal or review action with a higher administrative authority or to invoke the jurisdiction of the State Administrative Court, Central Administrative Court, High Court, Supreme Court against the decision of the disciplinary authority.

Remedies against imposition of penalties
If a civil servant is aggrieved with the decision of the disciplinary authority, they have the following remedies vis-a-vis the order passed:
  1. Constitutional remedies
    As an Indian citizen, a government employee has constitutional rights and can seek protection under the Constitution of India. If any action taken against them violates these rights, they can use the writ jurisdiction of either the Supreme Court (under Article 32) or the High Courts (under Article 226) of the Constitution.

    However, before approaching the Supreme Court or High Court, the employee must follow a specific process. If they are a state government employee, they should first go to the concerned State Administrative Tribunal, and if necessary, thereafter proceed to the High Court and then to Supreme Court. Similarly, if they are a central government employee, they should start with the Central Administrative Tribunal, and if needed, thereafter move to the High Court and then to the Supreme Court. This process ensures that employees have appropriate avenues to address violations of their constitutional rights at different levels of government.
  2. Administrative Remedies
    1. Appeal
      The right to appeal is one of the fundamental rights and defenses of a delinquent employee. The employee may prefer an appeal to the appellate authority as per the rules governing his service. Appeals will generally be preferred within 45 days or days determined by local rules and regulations from the date of delivery of the final order to the government employee. However, the appeals body may grant the appeal even after the expiry of the specified period, if it is convinced that the appellant had a sufficient reason for not prioritizing the appeal in time.

      The appeal should be complete in all respects and contain all material representations upon which reliance may be placed. It should be devoid of any disrespectful or inappropriate language. A copy of the appeal, which is complete in itself, shall be sent by the appellant to the authority which passed the impugned order, who in turn with his comments along with the relevant records shall forward the appeal to the appellate body without delay. In general, the appeal authority is the authority to which the authority issuing the appeal is directly subordinate. The order passed by the Appellate Authority must be a speaking order. The authority handling an appeal must carefully consider all aspects of the case, following the rules that govern the use of appellate power. This authority has several options:
      • Confirm: It can uphold the penalty as it is.
      • Reduce: It has the option to lessen the penalty.
      • Enhance: It can increase the penalty if deemed necessary.
      • Set Aside: The authority can also cancel or annul the penalty altogether.
      • Remit with Directions: In some cases, the authority might send the case back to the original decision-making body with specific instructions or guidance on how to handle it further.
      • These decisions are made based on the unique circumstances of each case and in accordance with the applicable rules and regulations.
    2. Revision
      When after the judgment of the appellate authority the civil servant is not satisfied with it, he can file a correction with the revision authority as provided by the service rules. No review proceedings should be commenced until the statute of limitations has expired for an appeal or for disposal of an appeal if such an appeal has been preferred.
The power of revision will be exercised only on the ground:
  1. about factual irregularities during the inquiry of the appellate authority, which, after exercising due care, were not known to the petitioner or could not be presented by them when issuing orders against him; or
  2. Due to an evident mistake or error apparent in the record. An application for revision should be dealt with in the same manner as if it were an appeal under the rules.
  3. Review
    The right of review is not a right of appeal where all issues decided are open to challenge. In the absence of a specific provision authorizing the authority to review an order issued in disciplinary proceedings, it is not permissible for the authority to review the order. State of Haryana v. Roshan Lal, AIR 1970 (P&H) 739. Where such power is so conferred, the designated authority shall exercise such power within the period of limitation.
The Central Government has the power to review any order made under these rules, whether it initiates the review or it happens for some other reason, if there's new information or evidence that wasn't available when the original order was made and this new information significantly changes the situation. However, before imposing or increasing any penalties, the Central Government must give the affected member of the Service a fair chance to present their side of the story.

This becomes especially important when dealing with major penalties mentioned in rule 6, or if there's a desire to upgrade a minor penalty to a major one, and there hasn't been an inquiry according to rule 8. In these cases, the Central Government has to follow the procedures outlined in rule 8 and consult with the Union Public Service Commission before making a decision.

  1. Any member of the service can submit a formal request to the President if they are unhappy with an order issued by either the Central Government or a State government that has caused them distress:
Provided that:

b) You can send this formal request (memorial) to the President only after you've tried all other options mentioned in these rules, including the appeal, review, and revision processes.

c) Also, this request (memorial) must be submitted within ninety days from the date of the order you're appealing, reviewing, or revising, whether it's from the Central Government or the State Government, depending on the situation.

Departmental Proceedings and Criminal Cases
The conduct of both departmental and criminal cases was the focus of five key principles of the Hon'ble Supreme Court in the case of Capt. M. Paul Anthony v. Bharat Gold Mines Ltd and Anr (1999) 3 SCC 679. Decisions in these cases are governed by these principles.
  1. Conducting simultaneous departmental proceedings and criminal cases is allowed without any prohibition. These proceedings can operate separately and concurrently.
  2. Sometimes, it's wise to postpone departmental proceedings when both criminal charges and departmental actions stem from the same facts. This is particularly important when the criminal accusation is severe and involves complex legal and factual matters. Waiting until the criminal case concludes may be the best approach.
  3. Based on the evidence collected or stated in the charge sheet, it can be determined if a criminal case involves intricate legal and factual aspects and serious charges of the offense committed by the employee. It ultimately depends on the nature of the charges brought forth.
  4. Taking into account the timely management of departmental proceedings, it's crucial to balance factors (3) and (2) in tandem.
  5. Departmental proceedings can resume and be expedited if the criminal case stalls or experiences substantial delays. This means that even if they were previously suspended due to the pending criminal case, they can still move forward. If the employee is exonerated, their reputation can quickly be repaired. Conversely, if they are found guilty, the organization can promptly take necessary actions without any obstructions.

With an emphasis on timeliness, impartiality, and effectiveness, these guidelines establish a structure for overseeing both employee criminal cases and departmental proceedings.

The disciplinary proceedings against a civil servant is a lengthy and detailed process. A civil servant is expected to perform his duties with utmost care, expediency, economy and purpose and a number of safeguards have been provided to him against any arbitrary action.

The procedure is lengthy to ensure that he discharges his duties without any coercion or corruption. But at the same time, the system ensures discipline among employees and shows the door to those who have become dead wood and do not perform according to the expectations of the public in general and their departments in particular.


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