R.C.Sharma Vs. Union of India &
Ors  INSC 144 (6 May 1976)
BEG, M. HAMEEDULLAH BEG, M. HAMEEDULLAH RAY,
A.N. (CJ) SINGH, JASWANT
CITATION: 1976 AIR 2037 1976 SCR 580 1976 SCC
Service matter-Departmental proceedings-When
could be declared null and void.
Procedure-Time limit in delivering judgment
after hearing arguments-If prescribed by C.P.C.
After holding a departmental enquiry on
certain charges of contravention of Government Servants' Conduct Rules, the
appellant was reduced in rank. His suit for a declaration that the impugned
action was void and inoperative was dismissed. The High Court dismissed his
On appeal, it was contended that the
departmental enquiry was vitiated on account of material irregularities, and
that, as a result of excessive delay, between the date of hearing and delivery
of judgment by the High Court; it did not deal with a number of submissions
made by him and thereby caused prejudice.
Dismissing the appeal to this Court,
HELD: (1)(a) The question whether the
appellant was given a reasonable opportunity to lead evidence and was
sufficiently heard or hot is largely a question of fact. It is only when an
opportunity denied is of such a nature that the denial contravenes mandatory
provision of law or a rule of natural justice that it could vitiate the whole
departmental trial. Prejudice to the Government servant from an alleged
violation of a rule must be proved.[583C] (b) The plea that the appellant had
been subjected to trial on allegations which had been the subject-matter of
previous enquiries overlooks that no charge was framed as a result of any
previous enquiry. If an enquiry was held at a particular stage, possibly to
determine whether regular proceedings should be drawn up or started, it did not
debar a departmental trial. [583D] State of Assam & Anr. v. J. N. Roy
Biswas AIR 1975 SC 2277 and R. T. Rangachari v. Secretary of State, AIR 1937 PC
27, held inapplicable.
(c) It was not shown whether any evidence
which the appellant tried to produce was really wrongly excluded and at what
stage and for what reasons. All these are questions of fact which should be
raised in the departmental trial.
After that if there was any patent error a
writ petition lay. [584A] (d) A suit challenging a departmental proceeding
cannot be treated as an appeal from the findings in those proceedings or
against a punishment inflicted upon the Government servant even if these were
erroneous. A question which could affect the result in a civil suit has to be
of such a nature that it goes to the root of the jurisdiction that the conduct
of the departmental trial illegally and vitiates the result. It is only if the
departmental proceeding is null and void that a plaintiff could obtain the
reliefs he had asked for. [584E-F] Smt. Ujjam Bai v. State of U.P. & Anr.
 1 S.C.R.
778 @ 835, 836, referred to.
(e) Unless a point could be raised on behalf
of an appellant which is capable of vitiating the departmental proceedings
there could be no declaration that the departmental proceedings were null and
void. [585H] 581 (2) The Civil Procedure Code does not provide a time limit for
the period between the hearing of arguments and the delivery of a judgment.
Nevertheless, an unreasonable delay between the hearing of arguments and
delivery of judgment, unless explained by exceptional or extraordinary
circumstances, is highly undesirable even when written arguments were
submitted. It is not unlikely that some points which the litigant considered
important might have escaped notice. But, what is more important is that
litigants must have complete confidence in the results of litigation. This
confidence tends to be shaken if there excessive delay between hearing of
arguments and delivery of judgments.
CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION: Civil Appeal
No. 1155 of 1971.
(Appeal by Special Leave from the Judgment
and Order dated 17-11-1969 of the Allahabad High Court in First Appeal No.
S. C. Manchanda, Sadhu Singh, R. N. Kapoor,
Mrs. Nirmala Gupta, Uzzal Singh and J. M. Khanna for the appellant.
Gobind Das, P. P. Rao, Girish Chandra and S.
P. Nayar for the respondents.
The Judgment of the Court was delivered by
BEG, J. This is an appeal by special leave against the judgment and order of a
Division Bench of the Allahabad High Court given by it on 17th November, 1969,
dismissing a plaintiff's first appeal arising out of an original suit for a
declaration that the order passed by the Commissioner of Income-tax, Lucknow,
on 2nd April, 1956, reducing the appellant in rank from the post of an
Income-tax Officer to that of an Income-tax Inspector, was void and
It appears that the appellant was in service up
to 30th April 1958, when he was prematurely retired. The appellant also claimed
Rs. 20,904/-as arrears of salary, but he reduced this claim to Rs. 16,561.29.
The appellant was originally appointed on
22nd November 1922, as Lower Division Clerk, and, thereafter, promoted as
Income-tax Inspector in 1942. He was promoted to the post of Income-tax Officer
in 1945. His case was that he had worked to the entire satisfaction of his
immediate superior officers and higher authorities and had earned a number of
certificates highly appreciative of his work. He was confirmed early in 1952 as
an Income-tax Officer. He was, however, placed under suspension on 30th
September, 1953, by the Commissioner of Income-Tax, U.P., Lucknow, on the basis
of a preliminary enquiry on allegations involving corruption and violation of
582 Charges were framed on 30th December,
1953, by Shri A. K. Bose, Deputy Director of Investigations, who was appointed
by the Commissioner of Income-tax as the Inquiring Officer.
The preliminary enquiry had been conducted by
Shri G. S. Srivastava, Inspecting Assistant Commissioner of Income-tax, Meerut.
That first charge was that the appellant had
entered into partnership with others, under the name of Gautam Cycle Mart,
Meerut, in 1939, in contravention of the Government Servants' Conduct Rules.
The second charge was that he had made various investments in the name of
various members of his family far in excess of and disproportionate to the
known sources of his income. His high standard of living and expenditure were
also mentioned there. The third and the last charge gave particulars of
thirteen assessment cases in which the appellant was alleged to be either
"grossly negligent, careless, inefficient, and/or corrupt in the
performance of his duties as Income-tax Officer".
The appellant's defences included alleged
confused nature of charges characterized by him as "vague, over- lapping,
intermingled" and wrongly joined together. He also pleaded that there had
been an enquiry in 1949, by Shri A. R. Sachdeva, Asstt. Inspecting
Commissioner, into some of the matters mentioned in the charges, and about
others in 1952 by Shri R. N. Srivastava, another Inspecting Commissioner, and
that the appellant had been exonerated of the allegations and imputations made
against him on each occasion. One of his defences was that a fresh enquiry into
the same charges was not permissible under the Departmental rules and was also
barred by rules of natural justice. He also complained of failure to give him
opportunity to produce nine witnesses in his defence with some documents.
It is evident that the questions raised by
the appellant depended on findings of fact. All relevant facts had been
examined by the officer who held the enquiry and by the punishing authority. No
malafides against either the Inquiring Officer, Shri A. K. Bose, Deputy
Director Investigation, or against the punishing authority was alleged. There
are, however, suggestions that Shri G. S. Srivastava and Shri R. N. Srivastava,
Inspecting Assistant Commissioners, were pursuing the appellant for some
unknown reason which we do not find stated anywhere. We fail to see how these
two officers, who neither conducted the actual departmental trial nor could
have any influence over the punishing authority, could cause any miscarriage of
justice or do anything to vitiate the departmental trial merely because they held
preliminary inquiries before framing charges. The defence of the appellant
seemed something similar to the much too common a defence of the accused in
criminal trials attributing all their misfortunes to the hostility of the
583 The question whether the appellant was
given a reasonable opportunity to lead evidence and to be heard or not is
largely a question of fact. It is only when an opportunity denied is of such a
nature that the denial contravenes a mandatory provision of law or a rule of natural
justice that it could vitiate the whole departmental trial. Prejudice to the
government servant resulting from an alleged violation of a rule must be
The plea that the appellant has been
subjected to trial on allegations which had been the subject matter of previous
enquiries overlooks that no charge was framed as a result of any previous
enquiry. Therefore, the two authorities cited:
The State of Assam & Anr. v. J. N. Roy
Biswas, and R. T. Rangachari v. Secretary of State, do not help the appellant.
If an inquiry is held, at a particular stage,
possibly to determine whether regular proceedings should be drawn up or
started, it does not debar a departmental trial. That was the nature of the
previous enquiries. It appears that it is only after the appellant's activities
had become more notorious that further enquiry was undertaken and regular
charges framed. It is possible that the appellant may have been emboldened by
the failure of officers to report earlier that charges should be framed and
tried. In any case, this could not stand in the way of the first regular
enquiry in the course of which charges were actually framed and fully enquired
into by Officers whose integrity and sense of justice is not challenged.
As for the denial of the opportunity to
produce nine witnesses in defence, all that is suggested is that these
witnesses could only state what opinions they had formed about the work,
efficiency, and integrity of the appellant.
They could not say anything about the
particular instances which formed the subject matter of the charges against the
appellant. It is not uncommon for astute Govt. servants, facing such enquiries,
to give long lists of witnesses and documents so as to either prolong an
enquiry or to prepare grounds for future litigation. Unless the exclusion of
evidence is of a kind which amounts to a denial of natural justice or would
have affected the final decision it could not be material. In the case before
us, it has not even been shown how the witnesses whose production was said to
have been disallowed could help the appellant's case on specific charges.
Indeed, we do not know whether any evidence which the appellant tried to
produce was really wrongly excluded and at what stage and for what reasons. All
these are questions of fact which should be, initially, raised in the
departmental trial. After that, if there was any patent error a writ petition
lay. Finally, the 584 trial Court and the High Court had considered at some
length all relevant questions raised.
Learned Counsel for the appellant has handed
over a very carefully and laboriously prepared statement of facts of the case
to show us that the evidence did not support the charges levelled against the
appellant. It was also submitted that, apart from the charges relating to
partnership in the Gautam Cycle Mart, no other charge was found substantiated.
Furthermore, it was submitted that, after the inquiring officer had found that
the Gautam Cycle Mart was started in 1942 and not in 1939, the appellant should
have been given a further opportunity to meet a new case. No rule was cited in
support of such a technical objection to the nature of the charge which would
cover the starting of the Gautam Cycle Mart at any time subsequent to 1939
also. In any case, it was for the appellant to satisfy the Departmental
authorities, which had looked into the case upto its final stages, that he had
suffered some injustice which to be set right. He had been given a second
opportunity by the punishing authority before it inflicted the punishment of
demotion. Nothing further was required by law. And, it was probably because the
appellant was absolved of charges involving corruption in the discharge of his
duties that he was given the lesser punishment of demotion and neither dismissed
nor removed from service.
A suit challenging the validity of
departmental proceedings cannot be treated as an appeal from the findings in
the departmental proceedings or the punishment inflicted upon the Govt. servant
even if these are erroneous. A question which could affect the result in a
civil suit has to be of such nature that it goes to the root of the
jurisdiction and the conduct of the department trial and vitiates the result.
It is only if the departmental proceeding in null and void that a plaintiff in
such a suit could obtain the relief he had asked. We are unable to see what
point had been raised by the appellant which could have had that effect upon
the departmental proceedings.
In Smt. Ujjam Bai vs. State of & Anr.,
this Court said (at P. 835):
"A tribunal may lack jurisdiction if it
is improperly constituted, or if it fails to observe certain essential
preliminaries to the inquiry. But it does not exceed its jurisdiction by basing
its decision upon an incorrect determination of any question that it is
empowered or required (i.e.) has jurisdiction to determine".
After citing a passage from Halsbury's Laws
of England, 3rd Edn. Vol. 11, page 59, this Court held (at p. 836):
585 The characteristic attribute of a
judicial act or decision is that it binds, whether it be right or wrong. An
error of law or fact committed by a judicial or quasi-judicial body cannot, in
general, be impeached otherwise than on appeal unless the erroneous
determination relates to a mauer on which the jurisdiction of that body
depends. These principles govern not only the findings of inferior courts
stricto strictio also the findings of administrative bodies which are deemed be
acting in a judicial capacity. Such bodies are deemed to have been invested
with power to err within the limits of their jurisdiction; and provided that
they keep within those limits, their decisions must be accepted as valid unless
set aside on appeal".
Learned Counsel for the appellant said all
that could possibly be said on behalf of his client. He pointed out that the
High Court had given its judgment eight months after it had he rad arguments.
He urged that the result was that the High Court did not deal with a number of
submissions made because they had, apparently, been forgotten. The Civil
Procedure Code does not provide a time limit for the period between the hearing
of arguments and the delivery of a judgment. Nevertheless, we think that an
unreasonable delay between hearing of arguments and delivery of a judgment,
unless explained by exceptional or extraordinary circumstances, is highly
undesirable even when written arguments are submitted. It is not unlikely that
some points which the litigant considers important may have escaped notice.
But, what is more important is the litigants must have complete confidence in
the results of litigation.
This confidence tends to be shaken if there
is excessive delay between hearing of arguments and delivery of judgments.
Justice, as we have often observed, must not only be done but must manifestly
appear to be done.
On 4th March, 1971, however, the High Court
refusing the certificate of fitness of the case for appeal to this Court
observed that questions had been attempted to be raised before it in asking for
certification which had not been argued at the time when the first appeal was
heard by the High Court. We find that one of the learned Judges who dismissed
the application for a certificate of fitness of the case had also heard the
arguments in the first appeal.
There is no affidavit before us that any
particular points argued before the Division Bench had not been referred to or
dealt with by the Bench. Moreover, the Division Bench had probably not dealt
with all arguments on questions of fact because it did not consider it
necessary to do so. After all, it was not hearing an appeal against the
findings of the departmental authorities. It pointed this out.
Furthermore, after hearing the arguments of
the learned Counsel for the appellant, we are ourselves unable to see any point
which could be raised on behalf of the appellant capable of vitiating the
departmental proceedings. Unless such a point could be raised, there could be
no declaration that the departmental proceedings were null and void.
There is also an application before us for
revocation of grant of special leave to appeal by this Court on the ground that
some material 586 facts were suppressed or misrepresented for the purpose of
obtaining special leave. Although the special leave petition does not state
that all the points sought to be raised by it were not argued before the
Division Bench, this is not enough to merit cancellation of the special leave
to appeal which was granted by this Court. At the time of grant of special
leave, the order refusing grant of certificate of fitness of the case for
appeal to this Court must have been before this Court. We are unable now to see
the point on which special leave was granted. But, that too would not, by
itself, merit a revocation of special leave at this stage after hearing
We, therefore, dismiss both the appeal and
the application for revocation of special leave. Parties will bear their own
P.B.R. Appeal dismissed.