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Disciplinary action need not wait for court decision

Legal Correspondent

New Delhi: Pendency of a criminal case by itself will not be a sufficient ground for staying departmental proceedings against delinquent employees, the Supreme Court has held.

“A departmental proceeding pending criminal proceedings does not warrant an automatic stay. The superior court, before exercising its discretionary jurisdiction, must take into consideration the fact whether the charges and the evidence in both proceedings are common and whether any complicated question of law is involved in the matter,” said a Bench consisting of Justices S.B. Sinha and H.S. Bedi.

Stay of departmental proceedings could not be and should not be a matter of course. The employer need not wait for the decision of the criminal court before taking any disciplinary action against the employee. Such action on the part of the employer would not violate the principle of natural justice.

IOB action

In the instant case, the Indian Overseas Bank initiated disciplinary proceedings against P. Ganesan and three other employees for assaulting another employee on January 27, 2005. They were placed under suspension, which was later revoked. A criminal case was also registered against them. Even as an enquiry was pending, a single judge of the Madras High Court, on a writ petition, stayed the disciplinary proceedings and the Division Bench confirmed this.

Appeal allowed

Allowing the IOB’s appeal against this judgment, the Bench pointed out that departmental action and proceedings in a criminal case could proceed simultaneously. There was no bar to their being conducted simultaneously, though separately.

Writing the judgment, Justice Sinha said: “If the criminal case does not proceed or its disposal is being unduly delayed, the departmental proceedings, even if they were stayed on account of the pendency of the criminal case, can be resumed and proceeded with for conclusion at an early date, so that if the employee is found not guilty his honour may be vindicated and in case he is found guilty, the administration may get rid of him at the earliest.”

“Not a correct conclusion”

Setting aside the impugned judgment, the Bench said the High Court was not correct in concluding that a stay of the departmental proceedings should be granted in the peculiar facts and circumstances of the case without analysing and applying the principle of law.

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