Punjab & Ors Vs. Chaman Lal Goyal  INSC 101 (31 January 1995)
Reddy, B.P. (J) Jeevan Reddy, B.P. (J) Manohar Sujata V. (J)
1995 SCC (2) 570 JT 1995 (2) 18 1995 SCALE (1)390
Leave granted. Heard counsel for the parties.
the order impugned herein, the High Court of Punjab and Haryana has quashed the
memo of charges communicated to the respondent-writ petitioner as well as the
order appointing the enquiry officer to enquire into those charges. A further
direction has been given to the ap- pellants, viz., the State of Punjab and its
authorities (respondents in the writ petition) to consider the case of the
respondent for promotion according to law. The correctness of the said order is
questioned by the State of Punjab and its
authorities in this appeal.
respondent-writ petitioner was the Superintendent of Nabha High Security Jail
in the year 1986, On his transfer from the said post, he gave charge of his
office on December 26,
1986. On the night
January, 1987, certain
inmates, said to be terrorists, made an attempt to escape. In that connection,
two of the inmates attempting to escape and one jail official died in the
shooting which took place,. Six terrorists made good their escape. The
Inspector General of Prisons immediately inspected the prison and made a report
to the Government on January
9, 1987. He reported
inter alia that the said incident was the cumulative result of lax
administration, indiscipline and lack of control over the prisoners. He
reported further that the respondent "followed the policy of appeasement
towards the extremists. He yielded to each and every illegal demand of the
extremists. As a result, detenue Gurdev Singh, assumed the leadership of the
prison population and dictated terms to the administration. There was a total
breakdown of the classification of the inmates in the different wards of the
jail. It is quite evident from the fact that three escapees Balwinder Singh,
Major Singh and another Balwinder Singh were permitted to stay together alonwith
detenue Kulwant Singh life prisoner Major Singh and three adolescent undertrials
Ram Singh, Kulwant Singh and Surinder Singh in a single cell in utter disregard
of the Punjab Jail Manual...... It has been told by the members of the staff
that the Superintendent Jail, Shri Chamal Lal Goyal, did not inspect the
barracks/wards of the jail during the month of December as he was expecting,
the promotion orders shortly..... Shri Chaman Lal Goyal accepted a farewell
party from the most dreadful terrorist viz., Tarsem Singh Gill, Col.Kahlon, Giani
Roshan Singh and others on the receipt of his promotion orders which is against
the conduct rules and the 21 provisions of the Punjab Jail Manual. The injured
terrorists were interrogated by the police and they have confessed that they
had been planning this escape for about a month. He recommended that "the
Deputy Superintendent, Shri Surinder Singh and Shri Chaman Lal Goyal,
Superintendent Jail, who are responsible for the loose ad- ministration and
laxity in the control of the inmates may please be placed under suspension at
the Government level".
appears that the District Magistrate also ordered the Sub-divisional Magistrate
to enquire into the said incident. The latter submitted his report to the
District Magistrate on January 26, 1987. In this report' a copy of which has
been included in the material paper books in this appeal, there are no
observations or comments either for or against the respondent.
action was taken against the respondent until 1992.
continued in service as usual. For the first time, he wag called to the office
of the Secretary to the Home Department on March 25, 1992 for questioning and thereafter the
memo of charges was issued on July 9, 1992.
The respondent submitted his explanation on January 4, 1993 denying the charges. After
obtaining the comments of the Inspector General of Prisons on his explanation,
the Government appointed an enquiry officer on July 20, 1993.
thereafter, the respondent approached the High Court - on August 24, 1993 - by way of a writ petition seeking
the quashing of the charges and the orders appointing the enquiry officer. It
appears that though the writ petition was entertained by the High Court, the
enquiry was not stayed, with the result that it commenced in September, 1993
and proceeded apace. On July
26, 1994, the evidence
on behalf of the government was completed. The respondent was to adduce his defence
evidence, if any. At that stage, the writ petition was allowed (on August 25, 1994) as a result of which the enquiry
could not and did not proceed further.
High Court quashed the memo of charges on the following grounds:
delay of five and a half years inservingthe memo of charges, for which there isno
acceptable explanation, is itself a ground for quashing the charges. On account
of lapse of time, it has become more difficult for the respondent to adduce
evidence or to prove his innocence.
of witnesses whom he could have examined are either dead or no longer
available. Some of them have either re- tired or transferred elsewhere. The
jail has also been repaired with the result that the evidence of negligence, if
any, is missing. Holding an enquiry at this distance of time cannot but
prejudice the respondent.
The Sub-divisional Magistrate had exonerated the respondent of any
responsibility for or culpability in the said incident in his report dated January 26, 1987.
the government kept quiet for a number of years in view of the said report.
Only much later, when the respondent's case was to come up for promotion to the
post of Deputy Inspector General of Prisons that the matter was raked up and
charges served. The government had practically decided not to proceed against
the respondent. It was raked up after several years only with a view to deny
promotion to the respondent. The action of the appellants is thus clearly
vitiated by malafides.
The respondent was not the Superintendent of the jail at the time the incident
took place. It also appears that other officials who were said to be
responsible along with the respondent (writ petitioner) have been exonerated.
The enquiry cannot proceed only against the respondent.
charges communicated to the respondent are the following:
Chaman Lal Goyal, Superintendent, Central jail (On leave) who was working as
Superintendent, Distt.Jail-Cum-Security Jail, Nabha till 25.12.1986 is presumed
to be guilty of escape of prisoners from the said jail on the night of 1st/
2nd. 1. 1987.
That inside the jail, there was loose administration with regard to supervision
of prisoners and physical verification of cells.
That the prisoners had been given spe- cial concessions against rules/
the building of the jail was in dilapidated condition. No special attention was
even given for its repair.
on 20th November, 1986, 4 dangerous prisoners who were
most safe in Barrack No.6 were transferred to less safe Barrack no.7 as per the
wishes of the prisoners. Barrack No.6 consists of 20 cells. The prisoners were
kept in the said Barrack separately. On their request, they were transfeffed to
Barrack No.7. There they planned for escape. Even keeping separately in Barrack
no.7 of the said prisoners, they were allowed to remain to- gether in one room.
They broke down the wall.
On 6th December, 1986 one more prisoner who had come
there after his transfer from Central Jail, Ferozepur was kept in Barrack no.7
as per his wish. There all these prisoners planned from escaping the prison. As
per the result of' this carelessness 3 persons were killed.
That barrack close register had not been maintained/was not maintained.
That officials of the prisons were fre- quently mixing the prisoners and were
ex- changing the items and took intoxicating articles. This was result of loose
Along with the charges, statement of allegations was also furnished giving the
full particulars of the aforesaid charges.
coming to the grounds given by the High Court, it may be pointed out at the
very outset that the High Court was factually in error in holding - or in
proceeding on the assumption, as the case may be - that the report of the Sub-
divisional Magistrate had exonerated the respondent of any responsibility or
culpability. The report, as stated above, neither exonerates the respondent nor
does it hold him re sponsible or guilty. It looks probable that the High Court
was misled into believing that the said report has exonerated the respondent.
Not only that. There is the earlier report of the Inspector General of Prisons,
which was submitted within one week of the incident. It holds the respondent
responsible for the said incident, no doubt, along with other prison officials.
Indeed, the Inspector General of Prisons had recommended the suspension of the
respondent and a few other officials. In this state of facts It may not be
correct to assume that the Government had dropped the idea of proceeding
against the respondent and that it changed its mind later. It is one thing to
say that the Government was guilty of inaction and an altogether different
thing to say that it had dropped the matter in view of the Sub-divisional 23
Magistrate's report - but then revised its opinion later, for reasons which are
suggested to be not fair. Now coming to the charge of malafides also, it must
be stated that the said charge was made in a vague manner in the writ petition.
not specified which officer was ill-disposed towards the respondent and how and
in what manner did he manage to see that, the charges are served upon the
respondent when the respondent's case was to come up for consideration for
promotion. The appellants say that the respondent's case was not to come up for
consideration for promotion in the year 1992 at all - not even in 1993. It is
also stated by the learned counsel for the appellants that pursuant to the
impugned order, the respondent's case was considered by the DPC but it found
him not fit for promotion. Be that as it may, in the absence of any clear
allegation against any particular official and in the absence of impleading
such person eo nominee so as to enable him to answer the charge against him,
the charge of malafides cannot be sustained.
significant to notice that the respondent has not attributed any malafides to
the Inspector General of Prisons who made his report dated January 9, 1987. In this report, the Inspector
General of Prisons had found the respondent responsible for the incident -
relevant portions extracted hereinbefore - and recommended his suspension
Now remains the question of delay. There is undoubtedly a delay of five and a
half years in serving the charges. The question is whether the said delay
warranted the quashing of charges in this case. It is trite to say that such
disciplinary proceeding must be conducted soon after the irregularities are
committed or soon after discovering the irregularities. They cannot be
initiated after lapse of considerable time. It would not be fair to the
delinquent officer. Such delay also makes the task of proving the charges
difficult and is thus not also in the interest of administration. Delayed
initiation of proceedings is bound to give room for allegations of bias, malafides
and misuse of power. If the delay is too long and is unexplained, the court may
well interfere and quash the charges. But how long a delay is too long always
depends upon the fact-, of the given case. Moreover, if such delay is likely to
cause prejudice to the delinquent officer in defending himself, the enquiry has
to be interdicted.
such a plea is raised, the court has to weigh the factors appearing for and
against the said plea and take a decision on the totality of circumstances. In
other words, the court has to indulge in a process of balancing. Now, let us
see what are the factors in favour of the respondent.
That he was transferred from the post of Superintendent of Nabha Jail and had
given charge of the post about six days prior to the incident. While the
incident took place on the night intervening 1st/ 2nd of January, 1987, the
respondent had relinquished the charge of the said office.
on December 26, 1986. He was not there-. at the time of
The explanation offered by the government for the delay in serving the charges
is unacceptable. There was no reason for the government to wait for the
Sub-divisional Magistrate's report when it had with it the report of the
Inspector General of Prisons which report was not only earlier in point of time
but was made by the highest official of the prison administration, 24 Head of
the Department, itself The Inspector General of Prisons was the superior of the
respondent and was directly concerned with the prison administration whereas the
Sub- divisional Magistrate was not so connected. In the circumstances, the
explanation that the government was waiting for the report of the
Sub-divisional Magistrate is unacceptable. Even otherwise they waited for two
more years after obtaining a copy of the said report. Since no action was taken
within a reasonable time after the incident, he was entitled to and he must
have presumed that no action would be taken against him. After a lapse of five
and a half years, he was being asked to face an enquiry.
not in 1992, his case for promotion was bound to come up for consideration in
1993 or at any rate in 1994.
of a disciplinary enquiry was bound to cause him prejudice in that matter apart
from subjecting him to the worry and inconvenience involved in facing such an
Now what are the factors agaist the respondents.
That the respondent was never suspended nor was he served with a memo of
charges nor even with a questionnaire in that behalf till March, 1992 when he
was questioned by the Secretary to the Home department and charges served in july,
1992. He had suffered no discomfort or inconvenience on account of delay.
The charges are very grave. The charges are not only that he was lax in
discharge of his duties but that he acceded to every demand of theirs and that
in violation of the prison rules, had allowed a number of terrorists to gather
in one cell. He is said to be responsible for creating of the atmosphere which
led to the said attempt.
sympathies towards them are said to be evident from the fact that he accepted a
farewell party from them on his transfer from the post of Superintendent of the
attempted escape, one prison official lost his life besides two terrorists. The
earliest report of the incident - the report of Inspector General of Prisons
dated January 9, 1987 does specifically find the respondent responsible for the
incident. It is prima facie evidence against the respondent. In the interest of
administration and of jus- tice, it is necessary to find out the truth in the
is no allegation in the writ petition that any of the witnesses whom the
respondent wanted to examine in his defence are since dead or have become
unavailable and that the said fact would cause prejudice to his case. Indeed,
death or non-availability of terrorists who made the attempt to escape and the
repair of the jail may prejudice the ease of the government rather than the defence
of the rethe respondent. Similarly, the mere fact that some persons who could
have been examined as witnesses have retired or have been transferred cannot be
said to cause prejudice to the respondent. It is not stated that they have
Pending the writ petition, the enquiry was proceeded with and by the date of
the impugned judgment, the government had completed its evidence. Only the defence
evidence remained to be adduced whereafter the enquiry officer would have made
The principles to be borne in mind 25 in this behalf have been set out by a
Constitution Bench of this Court in A.R.Antulay v. R.S.Nayak & Anr. (1992
(1) S.C.C.225). Though the said case pertained to criminal prosecution, the
principles enunciated therein are broadly applicable to a plea of delay in
taking the disciplinary proceedings as well. In paragraph 86 of the judgment,
this court mentioned the propositions emerging from the several decisions
considered therein and observed that "ultimately the court has to balance
and weigh the several relevant factors - balancing test or balancing process -
and determine in each case whether the right to speedy trial has been denied in
a given case". It has also been held that, ordinarily speaking, where the
court comes to the conclusion that right to speedy trial of the accused has
been infringed, the charges, or the conviction, as the case may be, will be
quashed. At the same time, it has been observed that that is not the only
course open to the court and that in a given case, the nature of the offence
and other cir- cumstances may be such that quashing of the proceedings may not
be in the interest of Justice.. In such a case, it has been observed, it is
open to the court to make such other appropriate order as it finds just and
equitable in the circumstance of the case.
Applying the balancing process, we are of the opinion that the quashing of
charges and of the order appointing en- quiry officer was not warranted in the
facts and circumstances of the case. It is more appropriate and in the interest
of justice as well as in the interest of administration that the enquiry which
had proceeded to a large extent be allowed to be completed. At the same time,
it is directed that the respondent should be considered forthwith for promotion
without reference to and without taking into consideration the charges or the pendency
of the said enquiry and if he is found fit for promotion, he should be promoted
immediately. Ibis direction is made in the particular facts and circumstances
of the case though we are aware that the Rules and practice normally followed
in such cases may be different. The promotion so made, if any, pending the
enquiry shall, however, be subject to review after the conclusion of the
enquiry and in the light of the findings in the enquiry. It is also directed
that the enquiry against the respondent shall be concluded within eight months
from today. The respondent shall cooperate in concluding the enquiry. It is
obvious that if the respondent does not so cooperate, it shall be open to the
enquiry officer to proceed ex-parte. If the enquiry is not concluded and final
orders are not passed within the aforesaid period, the enquiry shall be deemed
to have been dropped.
The High Court has relied upon the decision of this Court in State of Madhya
Pradesh v. Bani Singh & Anr. (1990 (Suppl.) S.C.C.738) on the question of
delay. That was a case where the charges were served and disciplinary enquiry
sought to be initiated after a lapse of twelve years from the alleged
irregularities. From the report of the judgment, the nature of the charges
concerned therein also do not appear. We do not know whether the charges there
were grave as in this case. Probably, they were not. There is another
distinguishing feature in the case before us: by the date of the judgment of
High Court, the major part of the enquiry was over. This is also a circumstance
going into the scales while weighing the factors for and against.
stated hereinabove, 26 wherever delay is put forward as a ground for quashing
the charges, the court has to weigh all the factors, both for and against the
delinquent officer and come to a conclusion which is just and proper in the
circumstances. In the circumstances, the principle of the said decision cannot
help the respondent.
The appeal is allowed in the above terms. No costs.
copy of this order shall be communicated immediately to the Chief Secretary,
Home Secretary and Inspector General of Prisons, Government of Punjab.