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The Secretary To Government & ANR Vs. K. Munniappan [1997] INSC 327 (21 March 1997)

K. RAMASWAMY, K.T. THOMAS

ACT:

HEADNOTE:

O R D E R Delay condoned.

Leave granted. We have heard learned counsel on both sides.

This appeal by special leave arises from the order of the Tamil Nadu Administration Tribunal, made on June 25, 1996 in OA No. 6457/95.

The respondent, before being superannuated, was served with a suspension order which reads as under:

"Whereas an enquiry into grave criminal offence against Thru K. Muniappan, Divisional Engineer (National Highways), Salem now at Paramkudi Highways and Rural Work Division is contemplated." The respondent challenged the said order in the Tribunal, The Tribunal in the impugned order has stated that Rule 17 of the Tamil Nadu Civil Services (CCA) Rules does not empower the appellant to suspend the respondent pending such an enquiry and, therefore, the action taken was illegal. The question is: whether the view taken by the Tribunal is correct in law? Rule 17(e) (1) reads as under:

"(e)(1) A member of a Service may be placed under suspension from service, where (i) an enquiry into grave charge against him is contemplated, or is pending: or (iii) a complaint against him of any criminal offence is under investigation of trail and if such suspension is necessary in the public interest." A reading of the rule clearly indicates that a member of a service may be placed under suspension from service where an enquiry into grave charge against him is "contemplated" or "is pending"; or a complaint against him of any criminal offence is under investigation or trial and if such suspension is necessary in the public interest. It was alleged that as a result of concerted and confabulated action on the part of the employees an embezzlement of funds of the Government, to the tune of Rs. 7.82 crores took place. The respondent is one of the officers working at the relevant time as divisional Accountant at the office of the Divisional Engineer. Therefore, the authorities contemplated investigation into the offences. Accordingly, he came to be suspended, pending investigation into grave charges.

Smt. Chandan Ramamurthi, learned counsel for the respondent is still under suspension would show that there is no grave charges against him and, therefore, he cannot be disabled to retire on attaining the superannuation. She also seeks to bring to our notice the against one of the person who was also under suspension, the Tribunal has allowed the application and set aside the order of suspension, which was confirmed by this Court. Under these circumstances, she contents that it is not a case warranting interference. We are unable to agree with the learned counsel. It is seen that the Tribunal erroneously has proceeded on the premise that the Government has no power to keep an employee under suspension pending enquiry or investigation. Rule 17(e)(1) itself postulates that an officer would be kept under suspension where "enquiry into grave charges is contemplates". Under these circumstances, actual pendency is not a pre-condition to suspend an officer. Pending further investigation into the offences in one of the grounds.

Unless and until an in-depth investigation is done, there would be little scope to identify the persons involved i the crimes and to take follow up action as per law. If the officer is allowed to retire, there would be no occasion to take effective steps to satisfactorily tackle the enormity of the crime. It is true that there is time gap, but in a case involving embezzlement of public funds by several persons in a concerted away, a thread bare investigation in required o be undertaken by the investigation officer and, therefore, in the neuter of the situation, it would be difficult to find fault with the authorities for not completing investigation expeditiously. However, the appellant is directed to have the investigation completed as expeditiously as possible and take appropriate action on an urgent basis.

The appeal is accordingly allowed. The OA is dismissed.

No costs.

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