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Acquittal In Criminal Proceedings Doesn’t Entitle Delinquent Employee Automatic Discharge In Departmental Proceedings: Supreme Court

State Bank Of India & Ors. V/S P. Zadenga, [CIVIL APPEAL NO.2518 OF 2012]

The Supreme Court ruled that acquittal in criminal proceedings doesn’t entitle delinquent employee automatic discharge in departmental proceedings.

The division bench of Justice Hrishikesh Roy and Justice Sanjay Karol observed that as is evident from the various judicial pronouncements, it may be desirable or, in certain circumstances, advisable for disciplinary proceedings to be stayed when criminal proceedings are ongoing; however, stay is not “a matter of course” and is only to be given after consideration of all factors, for and against.

The bench culled out the essentialities for the operation of clause 4 of MoS  which are that; at least one year ought to have passed since attempts to get the delinquent employee prosecuted. Furthermore  if, after the passage of such time, no prosecution is initiated, then the department may proceed in accordance with its procedure for disciplinary action. If the prosecution commences later in point of time to the disciplinary proceedings, the latter shall be stayed, but not indefinitely. Such proceedings are to be stayed only for a reasonable period of time, which is a matter of determination per the circumstances of each case. 

The controversy came into light when the respondent namely P. Zadenga was employed in the State Bank of India as Assistant (CAT) at the Dawrpui Branch, Aizawl. Three government retailers lodged a complaint with the Aizawl Police Station that their challan deposits with the said Branch had not been entered into the cash receipt scroll. The District Civil Supply Officer, Aizawl West, also lodged a complaint that a certain retailer had taken the delivery of particular food stuff using a fake challan. 

Vikas Singh, senior counsel for the appellant bank, submitted that initiation of departmental proceedings binding criminal trial would not amount to an automatic stay unless, of course, a complicated question of law is involved in the matter.

Advocate Jitendra Bharti, for the delinquent employee, argued that the disciplinary proceedings, the subject matter of the instant lis, were in gross violation of the bipartite agreement, which has been held to have the force of law. In any case, Respondent stand acquitted in two out of three criminal trials. 

The court said that it is only after the completion of the entire process of disciplinary proceedings that the delinquent employee, in February 2005, seeking reliance upon clause 4 of the MoS, filed a writ petition challenging the action, which, to our mind, was a belated attempt, only to forestall its implementation. 

The Apex court reiterated the principle of law enunciated in Neelam Nag that the completion of trial must be construed as completion “within the reasonable time frame” and that the clause cannot come to the aid of the employee “more so”, for “prolongation on the trial”. 

It was noted by the court that in the instant case, the completion of the trial concerning the crime registered in the year 1996 is nowhere nearing completion. 

The bench observed that a departmental proceeding pending criminal trial would not warrant an automatic stay unless, of course, a complicated question of law is involved. Also, acquittal in a criminal case ipso facto would not be tantamount to closure or culmination of proceedings in favour of a delinquent employee.

The court found that neither was it the case of the delinquent employee that the trial to which he was subjected to begin within one year of the commission of the offence nor does the record speak to this effect. It is in the inquiry report, dated 3rd December 2001, that an objection to the disciplinary proceedings being conducted while a criminal case was being tried is registered, but even there, no date stands specified. 

“Further, it is not the case of the delinquent employee that the principles of natural justice were not complied with in the disciplinary proceedings of the bank”, the court said. 

It was held by the court that Clause 4 of the MoS dated 10th April 2002 does not envisage a complete standstill of departmental proceedings as a result of the pendency of criminal proceedings. The position of law is that the stay of the latter is desirable, but the same is to be affected only for a reasonable period of time.

It further held that the nature of proceedings being wholly separate and distinct, acquittal in criminal proceedings does not entitle the delinquent employee for any benefit in the latter or automatic discharge in departmental proceedings.  

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