REGIONAL MANAGER, UCO BANK VS KRISHNA KUMAR BHARDWAJ

REGIONAL MANAGER,  UCO BANK VS KRISHNA KUMAR BHARDWAJ

                                              NON­REPORTABLE
    IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION
    CIVIL APPEAL NO(S).      1457    OF    2022
(Arising out of SLP(Civil) No(s). 13953 of 2021)
REGIONAL MANAGER, 
UCO BANK AND ANOTHER …..APPELLANT(S)
VERSUS
KRISHNA KUMAR BHARDWAJ ….RESPONDENT(S)
J U D G M E N T
Rastogi, J.
1. Leave granted.
2. The instant appeal is directed against the judgment and order
dated 21st January, 2021 passed by the Division Bench of the High
Court of Allahabad affirming the order of the learned Single Judge
dated 19th October, 2019 pursuant to which the inquiry proceedings
and   consequential   punishment   inflicted   upon   the   respondent
delinquent were quashed and set aside.
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3. The   respondent   delinquent   was   serving   as   an   Assistant
Manager, Sewla Branch  on  10th/11th  November, 1999 when  the
incident of theft was reported. The respondent delinquent being one
of the joint custodian of cash was responsible for safety of keys of
cash/strong  room and  failed to  take all  precautionary  steps  as
being indicated in the guidelines of the Bank and because of the
alleged   negligence   on   the   part   of   the   respondent   delinquent   in
handling the keys in inappropriate manner resulted into theft/loss
of cash from the cash safe.   For such delinquency committed by
him   in   discharge   of   his   official   duties,   he   was   placed   under
suspension in exercise of power conferred under Regulation 12 of
the UCO Bank Officers Employees (Discipline & Appeal) Regulations
1976(hereinafter being referred to as the “Regulations 1976”) by an
Order dated 29th November, 1999.
4. Later, chargesheet dated 7th December, 1999 along with four
article of charges was served and by a corrigendum dated 13th
March, 2000, additional charge no.5 was served upon him. It may
be appropriate to quote the extract of articles of charges, dated 7th
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December,   1999   along   with   additional   charge   no.5   by   a
corrigendum dated 13th March, 2000 as under:­
1. Being one of the joint custodians of cash, Mr. K.K. Bhardwaj was
responsible for safety of keys of cash/strong room, he did not keep
the eyes in his person as per guidelines of the Bank, instead left the
keys in the branch premises over­night in an almirah in contravention
to the guidelines for safety of keys of cash safe/strong room.  He was
most negligent and his handling the keys in a perfunctionary manner
resulted into theft/loss of cash of Rs. 12.00 lacs from the cash safe.
2. Mr. K.K. Bhardwaj, being one of the joint custodians of cash, did not
arrange to remit the surplus cash on 10.11.1999 to Currency Chest,
Belanganj Branch, Agra even though there was huge cash balance
much more than the average, anticipated daily requirement.  Thus, he
did not take all possible steps to ensure and protect the interest of the
Bank and did not discharge his duties with utmost devotion and
diligence which is violative of Regulation 3(1) of UCO Bank Officer
Employees(Conduct) Regulations, 1976 as amended.
3. Before leaving the branch on 10.11.1999 after close of cash, Mr. K.K.
Bhardwaj did not check about the closure of one rear gate between
the main hall and passage towards toilet of Sewla Branch, Agra which
was left unlocked/opened on 10.11.99.  Thus, he did not take take all
possible steps to ensure and protect the interest of the Bank and
failed   to   discharge   his   duties   with   utmost   devotion   and   diligence
which is violative of Regulation 3(1) of UCO Bank Officers Employees
(Conduct) Regulations, 1976 as amended.
4. Mr. Bhardwaj did not maintain the key register for noting the transfer
of keys from one holder to another.   He himself along with Chief
Cashier had not signed the key register on taking over charge of the
keys of cash safe/strong room of the branch.   Thus, he failed to
discharge his duties with devotion and diligence which is violative of
Regulation   3(1)   of   UCO   Bank   Officer   Employees   (Conduct)
Regulations, 1976 as amended.
5. That Mr. K.K. Bhardwaj was in hand and glove with some person with
an ulterior motive in perpetration of theft of cash at Sewla Branch  for
Rs.12.00   lacs   on   10th/11th  November,   1999.     Thus   he   failed   to
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discharge   his   duties   with   utmost   integrity   and   honesty,   which   is
violative of Regulation­3 of UCO BANK Officers employees (Conduct)
Regulation, 1976 as amended.”
5. The inquiry officer conducted departmental inquiry in terms of
the procedure prescribed under the scheme of Regulations, 1976
and after affording opportunity of hearing and due compliance of
principles of natural justice, held charge nos. 1,3 and 4 proved vide
report dated 31st July, 2001.  However, charge nos. 2 and 5 were
not held proved.
6. It is an admitted fact that the date on which the theft was
committed,   i.e.   10th/11th  November,   1999,   Mr.   Vinod   Kumar
Khanna was the Manager of Sewla, Agra Branch.   During that
period, the present respondent was Assistant Manager and one Mr.
K.L.  Khandelwal  was  the   Assistant  Manager(Cash).    Apart  from
them, four other clerks were posted at Sewla Branch and Mr. Vinod
Kumar Khanna was not on duty on the day when the incident had
taken place.  The signatures of custodian ­ the present respondent
delinquent and Mr. K.L. Khandewal(Assistant Manager(Cash) were
confirmed and in support thereof, document ME­2/1 to ME­2/5
were placed on record.  
4
7. The statement of fact was duly recorded by the Inquiry Officer
in his report that the respondent delinquent was custodian of keys
on   the   day,   i.e.,   10th/11th  November,   1999   when   the   theft   was
committed  and   he  was   one   of  the  joint   custodian   of  cash   and
responsible   for   safety   of   keys/cash.     After   due   appreciation   of
documentary evidence placed on record, the Inquiry Officer found
charge nos. 1, 3 and 4 proved against the respondent delinquent.
After due appreciation of the documentary evidence on record, the
extract   of   the   findings   which   has   been   recorded,   after   detailed
scrutiny of facts, by the Inquiry Officer in his report for arriving to a
conclusion in holding charge nos. 1, 3 and 4 proved against the
respondent delinquent are referred to hereunder:­
Charge No. 1
Findings of the Inquiry Officer :­ 
I have fully examined the contentions of P.O.& DR/C.S.0. and my findings in this
regard are as under:­ 
Considering all the facts and material placed before me during the inquiry proceedings
by the concerned parties, I concur with the arguments advanced and facts established
by the Presenting Officer, who has established the facts relating to charge No. 1 on the
basis of ME­2/ 1 to 5, ME­ 6/1 & 2, ME­10,, ME­10/1&2, ME­11, ME­3, ME­13, ME12, ME­14, ME­15, ME­20, ME­27, DE­30, DE­31/1&2, DE­32, ME­1/5, ME­23, ME24, DE­2/1to15. 
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I, therefore, hold that charge No. 1 stands proved against Mr. K.K. Bhardwaj, C.S.O. 
Charge No. 3
Findings of the Inquiry Officer :­ 
I have fully examined the contentions of P.O. and DR/CSO and my findings in
this regard are as under:­ 
Considering all the facts and material placed before me during the inquiry
proceedings by the concerned parties, I concur with arguments advanced and
facts   established   by   the   Presenting   Officer,   who   has   established   the   facts
relating to charge No. 3 on the basis of documentary evidence, namely, ME­3,
ME­12, ME­13, ME­14, ME­15, ME­16, ME­17 & ME­18. As per ME­14 the
C.S.O. had left the branch at about 4.45 p.m. on 10.11.99, and as per ME­12
and ME­13 the Manager, Mr. V.K. Khanna had left the branch on 10.11.99 at
about 2.00 p.m. by informing to the Asstt. Manager, Mr. K.K. Bhardwaj. It is
the bounden duty of the Manager to ensure the security of the branch and in
absence of the Manager it automatically passes on to the Asstt. Manager, who
is second­in­command in the branch. As such, the asstt. Manager Mr. K.K.
Bhardwaj while leaving the Sewla branch on 10.11.1999, in absence of the
Manager, must have fully ensured about the safety and security of the branch
in view of alarming/huge cash accumulation (Rs. 27,84,002.17) in the branch
as at the close of business on 10.11.99. Laxity in security is also evident from
ME­15. So, it is well substantiated by P.O. that the Asstt. Manager was lacking
in his duty while leaving the branch on 10.11.99 in absence of the Manager, in
the matter of security and safety of the branch. 
I, therefore, hold that charge No. 3 stands proved against Mr. K.K. Bhardwaj,
C.S.O. 
Charge No. 4
Findings of the Inquiry Officer:
I have fully examined the contentions of P.O. & DR/CSO and my findings in
this regard are as under:­ 
Considering all the facts and material placed before me during the inquiry
proceedings by the concerned parties, I concur with the arguments advanced
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and facts established by the Presenting Officer, who has established from ME6/1&2 that "A record of custody of all important keys should be carried in a
key Register. All changes in the custody of keys should be promptly made
thereinunder the signatures of the custodians." 
ME­8 & ME­22/ 1&2 confirm the incomplete records of the postings in the Key
Register's relating to Asstt. Manager and Asstt. Manager (Cash) since 1.8.1995
and 2.7.1994 respectively. 
It is established from above records that the Asstt. Manager and the Asstt.
Manager (Cash) who were the joint custodians at Sewla Agra branch, had not
signed the respective key registers on taking over charge of the keys of Cash
Safe/Strong   Room   of   the   branch   and   did   not   maintain  the   Key   Registers
uptodate. 
I, therefore, hold that Charge No. 4, stands proved against Mr. K.K. Bhardwaj,
C.S.O.” 
8. The   disciplinary   authority,   after   affording   opportunity   of
hearing to the respondent delinquent, concurred with the findings
of the Inquiry Officer and after due compliance of principles of
natural justice, inflicted the penalty of dismissal from service vide
Order dated 31st  December, 2001 with disqualification for future
employment.
9. The order of the disciplinary authority came to be challenged
by the respondent in the departmental appeal before the appellate
authority.   The appellate authority, after revisiting the record of
inquiry,   found   justification   in   the   submissions   made   by   the
respondent delinquent with regard to charge no. 3 but so far as the
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finding   in   reference   to   charge   nos.   1   and   4   is   concerned,   the
appellate   authority   concurred   with   the   finding   recorded   by   the
inquiry   officer   and   confirmed   by   the   disciplinary   authority   in
exercise of power under Regulation 17 of the Regulations, 1976 and
modified the punishment by its Order dated 23rd December, 2002,
the extract of which is as under:­
“I, therefore, in exercise of powers vested in me as Appellate Authority, and in terms of
Regulation 17 of UCO Bank Officer Employees (Discipline and Appeal) Regulations,
1976, as amended, pass the following Order : 
Charge   No.
Proved  Shri K.K. Bhardwaj (PFM No. 23213) shall be
compulsorily retired from Bank's service. 
Charge   No.
2
Not
Proved 
Exonerated 
Charge   No.
3
Not
Proved 
Exonerated 
Charge   No.
4
Proved  The Basic Pay of Shri Bhardwaj be reduced by
two stages in the time scale of pay for a period
of 4 (four) years. It is further directed that he
will earn increments of pay during the period of
reduction and that on expiry of this period the
reduction will have the effect of postponing his
future increments. 
Charge   No.
5
Not
Proved 
Exonerated
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The   above   punishments   shall   run   concurrently,   However,   since   no   moral
turpitude   is   being   found   against   Shri   Bhardwaj,   he   will   be   paid   with   all
terminal benefits payable to him.” 
10. The   order   passed   by   the   appellate   authority   came   to   be
challenged by the respondent under Article 226 of the Constitution.
The learned Single Judge, after taking note of the record of inquiry,
arrived to the conclusion that Mr. Vinod Kumar Khanna was the
Branch Manager on the date when the incident had occurred, i.e.,
10th/11th  November, 1999 and the joint responsibility was of the
Branch   Manager   and   the   Assistant   Manager(Cash).     Since   the
present respondent delinquent was the Assistant Manager, he could
not be held to be responsible for lapses and set aside the order of
punishment   inflicted   upon   the   respondent   delinquent   under   its
Order dated 19th October 2019.
11. On   Letters   Patent   Appeal   preferred   at   the   instance   of   the
present   appellant,   the   Division   Bench   under   the   impugned
judgment has not taken care to examine the report of inquiry and
has just reproduced the findings recorded by the learned Single
Judge under the order impugned and dismissed the appeal by an
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Order dated 21st  January, 2021 which is the subject matter of
challenge before us.
12. For completion of facts, it may be relevant to note that the
factual error was committed by the learned Single Judge and the
Division Bench in passing the impugned judgment that Mr. Vinod
Kumar Khanna, who was the Manager of Sewla, Agra Branch at
that time, was also served with the charge­sheet and he too faced
departmental   inquiry   but   the   allegation   against   him   was   that
despite being fully aware that the respondent delinquent was the
custodian of cash(keeping the keys of the cash safe/strong room in
an almirah in the stationery room overnight) and not keeping the
same in his personal custody as per rules of the Bank, he did not
take appropriate steps against the staff who was reportedly keeping
overnight safety of the keys of the chest in the Branch itself which
was a gross negligence which he had committed in discharge of his
duties   as   a   Manager   of   the   Branch   and   for   his   supervisory
negligence, after charge­sheet dated 17th December, 1999 came to
be served, he too was held guilty for his supervisory negligence
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which   he   had   committed   in   discharge   of   his   duties   and   was
punished by an Order dated 28th February, 2002.
13. Learned counsel for the appellants submits that for the gross
misconduct which the respondent had committed in discharge of
his   duties,   the   inquiry   was   conducted   in   accordance   with   the
procedure prescribed under the Regulations 1976 and it was never
the   case   of   the   respondent   either   before   the   departmental
authorities or before the High Court that the inquiry has not been
conducted in accordance with the procedure prescribed under the
scheme of Regulations, 1976 or the record which was relevant to
the charge, and demanded by him, was not made available to him
and what prejudice has been caused to him on account of nonavailability   of   record   or   the   orders   passed   by   the
disciplinary/appellate   authority   are   in   violation   of   principles   of
natural justice while upholding the findings of the inquiry officer in
reference to charge nos. 1 and 4 and consequential punishment
inflicted upon him.
14. At the same time, learned counsel further submits that the
learned   Single   Judge   of   the   High   Court   has   proceeded   on   the
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premise that it was the Manager and Assistant Manager(Cash) who
were responsible officers and because of their negligence, theft has
been committed on 10th/11th November, 1999 from the cash safe of
the Branch which appears to be factually incorrect.   It was the
respondent delinquent who was the custodian and in­charge of keys
at the relevant point of time along with Assistant Manager(Cash)
and the finding was recorded by the Inquiry Officer supported by
the documentary evidence on record and this was never questioned
by the respondent delinquent at any later stage even when he was
served with the inquiry report or to the disciplinary or appellate
authority while assailing the finding recorded by the inquiry officer
in his report.  This is the manifest error which the Division Bench of
the  High Court  has committed in  interfering with  the domestic
inquiry   conducted   against   the   respondent   delinquent   in   which
charge nos. 1 and 4 were finally held proved against him.  In the
given circumstances, the interference made by the High Court in
the   impugned   judgment   is   not   sustainable   and   deserves   to   be
interfered with by this Court.
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15. Per contra, learned counsel for the respondent, on the other
hand, submits that respondent was the Assistant Manager and the
responsibility was of the Manager of the Branch and the Assistant
Manager(Cash)   and   submits   that   the   finding   recorded   by   the
inquiry officer in his report is perverse and not sustainable.
16. Learned counsel further submits that the plea was raised by
him against the inquiry officer being biased but no one has paid
heed   to   his   request   and   further   submits   that   the   documents
demanded by him were not made available despite request and the
orders passed by the disciplinary/appellate authority being nonspeaking and cryptic in nature are otherwise not sustainable in law.
17. We have heard learned counsel for the parties and perused the
material available on record with their assistance.
18. The power of judicial review in the  matters of disciplinary
inquiries,   exercised   by   the   departmental/appellate   authorities
discharged by constitutional courts under Article 226 or Article 136
of   the   Constitution   of   India   is   well   circumscribed   by   limits   of
correcting errors of law or procedural errors leading to manifest
injustice or violation of principles of natural justice and it is not
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akin to adjudication of the case on merits as an appellate authority
which has earlier been examined by this Court in B.C. Chaturvedi
Vs.  Union   of   India   and   Others1
;  Himachal   Pradesh   State
Electricity Board Limited Vs. Mahesh Dahiya2
 and recently by a
three­Judge Bench of this Court(of which one of us is a member) in
Deputy  General  Manager(Appellate  Authority)  and  Others  Vs.
Ajay Kumar Srivastava3
 wherein this Court has held as under:­
“24. It is thus settled that the power of judicial review, of the
constitutional   courts,   is   an   evaluation   of   the   decision­making
process and not the merits of the decision itself. It is to ensure
fairness in treatment and not to ensure fairness of conclusion. The
court/tribunal may interfere in the proceedings held against the
delinquent if it is, in any manner, inconsistent with the rules of
natural justice or in violation of the statutory rules prescribing the
mode of enquiry or where the conclusion or finding reached by the
disciplinary authority is based on no evidence. If the conclusion or
finding be such as no reasonable person would have ever reached
or   where   the   conclusions   upon   consideration   of   the   evidence
reached by the disciplinary authority are perverse or suffer from
patent error on the face of record or based on no evidence at all, a
writ of certiorari could be issued. To sum up, the scope of judicial
review cannot be extended to the examination of correctness or
reasonableness of a decision of authority as a matter of fact.
25. When  the  disciplinary  enquiry is conducted  for the alleged
misconduct against the public servant, the court is to examine and
determine:
(i) whether the enquiry was held by the competent authority;
(ii) whether rules of natural justice are complied with;
1 1995(6) SCC 749
2 2017(1) SCC 768
3 2021(2) SCC 612
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(iii) whether the findings or conclusions are based on some
evidence   and   authority   has   power   and   jurisdiction   to   reach
finding of fact or conclusion.
26. It   is   well   settled   that   where   the   enquiry  officer   is   not   the
disciplinary   authority,   on   receiving   the   report   of   enquiry,   the
disciplinary   authority  may  or  may  not   agree   with  the   findings
recorded by the former, in case of disagreement, the disciplinary
authority has to record the reasons for disagreement and after
affording an opportunity of hearing to the delinquent may record
his own findings if the evidence available on record be sufficient for
such exercise or else to remit the case to the enquiry officer for
further enquiry.
27. It is true that strict rules of evidence are not applicable to
departmental enquiry proceedings. However, the only requirement
of   law   is   that   the   allegation   against   the   delinquent   must   be
established   by   such   evidence   acting   upon   which   a   reasonable
person   acting   reasonably   and   with   objectivity   may   arrive   at   a
finding upholding the gravity of the charge against the delinquent
employee.   It   is   true   that   mere   conjecture   or   surmises   cannot
sustain   the   finding   of   guilt   even   in   the   departmental   enquiry
proceedings.
28. The   constitutional   court   while   exercising   its   jurisdiction   of
judicial review under Article 226 or Article 136 of the Constitution
would   not   interfere   with   the   findings   of   fact   arrived   at   in   the
departmental enquiry proceedings except in a case of mala fides or
perversity i.e. where there is no evidence to support a finding or
where a finding is such that no man acting reasonably and with
objectivity could have arrived at those findings and so long as there
is   some   evidence   to   support   the   conclusion   arrived   at   by   the
departmental authority, the same has to be sustained.”
19. Adverting to the facts of the instant case, the Division Bench
has proceeded on the premise that the responsibility was of the
Branch Manager along with the Assistant Manager(Cash).  Hence,
the respondent could not have been held responsible for the lapses
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of those officers and proceeding on the said foundation, set aside
the penalty inflicted upon the respondent delinquent but the record
of   enquiry   clearly   manifests   that   it   was   a   factual   error   being
committed   by   the   High   Court   while   setting   aside   the   domestic
inquiry   and   the   consequential   punishment   inflicted   upon   the
respondent delinquent.
20. In the course of enquiry, a documentary evidence came on
record that although Mr. Vinod Kumar Khanna was the Manager of
the Branch but the date, i.e., 10th/11th November, 1999 on which
the theft was committed, the custodian of cash were the respondent
along with the Assistant Manager(Cash).   The finding has been
recorded   by   the   inquiry   officer   in   his   report   holding   that   the
respondent delinquent was the custodian of cash in keeping the
keys in cash safe/strong room in the almirah of the stationery room
overnight and not keeping the same in his personal custody as per
rules of the Bank along with Assistant Manager(Cash).  The finding
of fact was confirmed by the Disciplinary/Appellate Authority   in
upholding the guilt of the respondent as he had failed in discharge
of his duties as a custodian when the theft had taken place on
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10th/11th  November, 1999 but the High  Court  in  the impugned
judgment has not taken pains to examine the finding recorded by
the   inquiry   officer   in   reference   to   the   responsibility   which   the
respondent delinquent failed to discharge as a custodian of cash at
the relevant point of time when the theft was committed.
21. That apart, what has been recorded by the inquiry officer has
been revisited by the disciplinary/appellate authority and after reappreciation of record of inquiry and due application of mind, the
appellate   authority   while   exonerating   the   respondent   delinquent
from charge no. 3 held charge nos. 1 and 4 proved against him and
punished him by an order dated 23rd December, 2002.  Neither the
learned Single Judge nor the Division Bench of the High Court has
taken pains to look into the finding which was recorded by the
inquiry officer in reference to charge nos. 1 and 4 and appreciated
thereafter by the disciplinary/appellate authority in passing of the
order of penalty inflicted upon the respondent delinquent.
22. In our considered view, the finding which has been recorded
by the High Court in the impugned order is unsustainable and not
supported with the report of inquiry available on record.
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23. The submission made by learned counsel for the respondent
that the inquiry officer was biased and that caused prejudice to
him, suffice it to say, that merely making allegation that he was
biased is not sufficient unless supported by the material placed by
him   either   during   the   course   of   inquiry   or   before   the
disciplinary/appellate authority.   Even no submission was made
before the High Court also and it deserves no consideration except
rejection.
24. So far as the submission regarding non­supply of document is
concerned, inquiry officer has observed that the record which was
demanded by the respondent delinquent was made available to him
except   the   one   which   was   confidential   in   nature   still   he   was
permitted for inspection.  At the same time, the respondent failed to
show as to what prejudice has been caused to him in reference to
the alleged non­supply of the documents demanded by him.
25. The further submission of learned counsel for the respondent
that the decision of the disciplinary/appellate authority being a
non­speaking and cryptic in nature is concerned, it is a sorry state
of affairs to say so that both the orders of the disciplinary/appellate
18
authority are on record and cogent reasons have been assigned
while concurring with the finding of the inquiry officer in order of
the disciplinary authority.  The appellate authority also, after due
appreciation   of   the   record   of   inquiry   and   confirmed   by   the
disciplinary authority, arrived to the conclusion that the finding
recorded in reference to charge no. 3 is not proved and held charge
nos. 1 and 4 proved on the basis of which he was persuaded to
modify   the   punishment   under   the   Order   dated   23rd  December,
2002.
26. In our considered view, the High Court has exceeded in its
jurisdiction   while   interfering   with   the   disciplinary   proceedings
initiated   against   the   respondent   delinquent   and   being
unsustainable deserves to be set aside.
27. Consequently,   the   appeal   succeeds   and   is   allowed.     The
judgment   of   the   Division   Bench   of   the   High   Court   dated   21st
January, 2021 is accordingly quashed and set aside.  No costs.
28. Pending application(s), if any, stand disposed of.
  
………………………J.
(AJAY RASTOGI)
19
       ……………………….J.
(ABHAY S. OKA)
NEW DELHI
FEBRUARY 18, 2022
20

Landmark Cases of India / सुप्रीम कोर्ट के ऐतिहासिक फैसले

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