M/s Indian Oil Corporation Ltd. vs Shri Rajendra D. Harmalkar

M/s Indian Oil Corporation Ltd. vs Shri Rajendra D. Harmalkar

Landmark Cases of India / सुप्रीम कोर्ट के ऐतिहासिक फैसले



REPORTABLE
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION
CIVIL APPEAL NO. 2911 OF 2022
M/s Indian Oil Corporation Ltd.          ..Appellant 
Versus
Shri Rajendra D. Harmalkar    ..Respondent 
J U D G M E N T 
M. R. Shah, J.
1. Feeling   aggrieved   and   dissatisfied   with   the   impugned
judgment and order dated 29.06.2015 passed by the High Court
of Judicature at Bombay at Goa in Writ Petition No.660 of 2013
by which the High Court has partly allowed the said writ petition
preferred by the respondent herein (hereinafter referred to as the
“original   writ   petitioner”)   directing   the   petitioner   herein   to
reinstate the original writ petitioner without any back wages and
other   benefits   by   substituting   the   punishment   of   dismissal
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imposed by the Disciplinary Authority, the employer – Indian Oil
Corporation Ltd. has preferred the present appeal.
2. The facts leading to the present appeal in a nutshell are as
under:
That   the   respondent   herein   original   writ   petitioner   was
initially appointed in the year 1982 as a casual employee.   He
moved an application seeking the position of Refueling Helper,
wherein under the heading of qualifications, he mentioned that
he has passed Secondary School Leaving Certificate (hereinafter
referred to as “SSLC”) in April, 1986 from Karnataka Secondary
Education Board.  That he was thereafter appointed as Helper as
per the regularization policy regularizing the casual employees,
inter alia,  subject to the contents prescribed in the application
form for employment being correct.  At that stage also the original
writ   petitioner   submitted   SSLC   of   Karnataka   Board   bearing
No.206271 dated 19.05.1986.
2.1 In   the   year   2003,   the   Chief   Vigilance   Officer   of   the
Corporation received a complaint that the original writ petitioner
had secured his job as Re­fueling Helper by submitting a false
and forged SSLC.  Similar complaint was also made to the police
authorities also.
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2.2 Despite repetitive requests and follow up by the authorities,
original   writ   petitioner   did   not   submit   the   original   SSLC
Certificate.   On the contrary, the original writ petitioner sent a
communication wherein it was mentioned that the original SSLC
has been misplaced.  Thereafter the Manager, ER advised original
writ petitioner to obtain a duplicate copy of the original SSLC and
to submit the same to the Manager, ER.  However, he continued
evading   submission   of   the   original   certificate   or   even   the
Duplicate SSLC from Karnataka Board.
2.3 The Manager, ER thereafter requested the authorities of the
Secondary Board to check up their records and confirm whether
they had issued any marks certificate carrying details available
on the photocopy of the SSLC marks sheet issued by them.  In
response to the same, the Board informed the authority that “as
per the record, SSLC statement of marks for the year March,
1986   bearing   Registration   No.206271   relate   to   one   Agrahar
Jayant S/o Satyanarayana A.L. DOB – 15.02.1968 and does not
belong   to   Rajendra   Dattaram   Harmalkar   S/o   Datta   Ram
Harmalkar, DOB – 08.12.1962”.
2.4 In the above circumstances, a departmental enquiry was
initiated against the original writ petitioner.   The original writ
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petitioner   was   served   with   the   charge­sheet   containing   two
charges which read as under:
“1.   Wilful   insubordination   or   disobedience
whether or not in combination with another, of
any lawful and reasonable order of a superior.
2. Giving false information regarding one's age,
father's   name,   qualifications   or   previous
service at the time of employment.”
2.5 The original writ petitioner replied to the charge­sheet.  The
Inquiry Officer held that both the aforesaid charges were proved
and   proposed   the   punishment   of   dismissal.     After   giving   an
opportunity to the original writ petitioner on having agreed with
the   findings   of   the   Inquiry   Officer,   and   after   taking   into
consideration the gravity of the acts of misconduct proved, the
Disciplinary Authority imposed the punishment of dismissal from
services. The   appeal   preferred   by   the   original   writ   petitioner
came to be dismissed.  
2.6 At this stage it is required to be noted that the original writ
petitioner was also prosecuted by the Criminal Court, however
the learned Trial Court acquitted him by giving benefit of doubt
mainly on the ground that the original SSLC was not brought on
record.   
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2.7 Feeling   aggrieved   and   dissatisfied   with   the   order   of
dismissal passed by the Disciplinary Authority confirmed by the
Appellate Authority, the original writ petitioner preferred the writ
petition before the High Court.  It was the case on behalf of the
original   writ   petitioner   that   he   admitted   the   alleged   guilt   of
misconduct on the assurance of a lenient view being taken by the
authorities.   It was also argued that there was no minimum
educational qualification and age limit (minimum or maximum)
prescribed to secure the job or even for the promotion.   It was
submitted that therefore in such circumstances, it cannot be said
that  he  had  submitted  a  false  and  forged  certificate  with  an
attempt to secure the job or promotion.  That the certificate was
produced   only   for   the   purpose   of   record   and   there   was   no
dishonest intention to grab the job or promotion.   It was also
urged that the Criminal Court had acquitted him and that he had
a good service record and that the first charge of insubordination
is not established. The High Court framed only one point for
determination, namely, whether the punishment imposed upon
the   petitioner   is   grossly   disproportionate   to   the   misconduct
committed by the petitioner.   By the impugned judgment and
order the High Court observed and held that the punishment
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imposed   upon   the   original   writ   petitioner   was   grossly
disproportionate to the misconduct and interfered with the order
of   punishment   imposed   by   the   Disciplinary   Authority   by
observing that the respondent was assured that on admission of
his   guilt   a   lenient   view   may   be   taken   while   imposing   the
punishment. The High Court also observed that the petitioner is
out of service from the year 2006 and as the counsel for the
petitioner had made a statement that he will forgive his back
wages and promotion, by the impugned judgment and order the
High Court allowed the said writ petitioner and the directed the
appellant to reinstate the original writ petitioner from the date of
dismissal from service in the post of Refueling Helper, however
without any back wages or benefits.
2.8 Feeling   aggrieved   and   dissatisfied   with   the   impugned
judgment and order passed by the High Court allowing the writ
petitioner and interfering with the order of punishment imposed
by   the   Disciplinary   Authority,   the   Indian   Oil   Corporation   –
employer   –   Disciplinary   Authority   has   preferred   the   present
appeal.
3. Shri Rajiv Shukla, learned counsel appearing on behalf of
the appellant had vehemently submitted that in the facts and
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circumstances of the case the High Court has committed a grave
error in interfering with the order of punishment imposed by the
Disciplinary   Authority   pursuant   to   the   charge   of   giving   false
information   regarding   his   father’s   name,   his   qualification   by
producing a fake and false SSLC was held to be proved.   It is
contended that the High Court materially erred in observing that
the   punishment   of   dismissal   imposed   by   the   Disciplinary
Authority on the proved misconduct was disproportionate to the
misconduct established and proved.
3.1 It is urged that when an employee has produced a false and
forged SSLC of the Education Board the same can be said to be a
grave misconduct and therefore the Disciplinary Authority was
justified in imposing the punishment of dismissal.
3.2 It is further submitted by learned counsel for the appellant
that the grounds on which the High Court interfered with the
punishment imposed by the Disciplinary Authority namely that
original writ petitioner:­ 
(i) has admitted the guilt on an assurance that a lenient
view shall be taken while imposing the punishment;
(ii) has been acquitted by the Criminal Court; and
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(iii) that   no   minimum   qualification   or   age   limit   was
prescribed for getting the job or promotion and that he
had a good service record, are all irrelevant and/or not
germane.
3.3 It   is   submitted   that   the   High   Court   has   not   properly
appreciated   the   fact   that   the   Criminal   Court   acquitted   the
original writ petitioner by giving him a benefit of doubt and there
was no honorable acquittal.
3.4 It is contended that it is immaterial, whether, there was a
minimum   qualification   or   age   limit   prescribed   for   the   job   or
promotion or not and therefore there was no intention to secure
the job by producing the fake/forged certificate.  It is submitted
that it is a case of TRUST and therefore when the Disciplinary
Authority/employer loses the Confidence and TRUST in such an
employee who submitted a forged/fake certificate, the High Court
ought   not   to   have   interfered   with   the   order   of   punishment
imposed by the Disciplinary Authority. 
3.5 Relying upon the decision of this Court in the case of Om
Kumar v. Union of India, (2001) 2 SCC 386; Union of India v. G.
Ganayutham, (1997) 7 SCC 463; Union of India v. Dwarka Prasad
Tiwari, (2006) 10 SCC 388; and  Union of India v. Diler Singh,
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(2016) 13 SCC 71, it is submitted that while interfering with the
order of punishment imposed by the Disciplinary Authority the
High Court has exceeded in its jurisdiction while exercising its
powers  under Article  226  of  the   Constitution  of  India.     It  is
submitted that as per the settled position of law unless there is a
procedural irregularity in conducting the disciplinary proceedings
and/or the punishment imposed is shockingly disproportionate
to the proved misconduct, then and then only, the High Court
can exercise powers under Article 226 of the Constitution of India
and   interfere   with   the   order   of   punishment   imposed   by   the
Disciplinary Authority.
3.6 It is further submitted that even denying the back wages on
the concession given by the employee cannot be said to be a
sufficient   punishment   imposed.     It   is   submitted   that   in   the
present   case   as   such   during   the   interregnum   period   the
respondent   original   writ   petitioner   was   working   with   the
petroleum unit of Reliance Industries as a driver for the period
between 2006 to 2017.  Therefore, denying the back wages and
promotion by the High Court by the impugned judgment and
order cannot be said to be any punishment at all.
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3.7 Making the above submissions and relying upon the above
decisions, it is prayed to allow the present appeal.
4. The instant appeal is vehemently opposed by Ms. Suruchi
Suri, learned counsel appearing on behalf of the respondent.
4.1 It is submitted by Ms. Suri, learned counsel appearing on
behalf of the respondent – original writ petitioner that in the
present case the respondent – original writ petitioner did produce
the fake/forged SSLC.  However, the same had no relevance for
securing the job as there was no minimum qualification or age
limit prescribed for getting the job or promotion.  It is submitted
that the same was produced only for the purpose of record.
4.2 Further, the original writ petitioner admitted his guilt of
producing   the   fake/forge   certificate   on   an   assurance   that   a
lenient   view   would   be   taken   at   the   time   of   imposing   the
punishment.
4.3 It  is   submitted  that   even   the   respondent   –  original   writ
petitioner   has   been   acquitted   by   the   Criminal   Court   for   the
offences punishable under Sections 468 and 471 IPC regarding
the said SSLC produced by him.
4.4 It   is   further   urged   that   even   the   respondent   had   an
unblemished and good service record.  Therefore, considering the
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aforesaid overall facts and circumstances, when the High Court
has   interfered   with   the   order   of   punishment   imposed   by   the
Disciplinary Authority  and  has  ordered  reinstatement  without
any back wages and promotion, the same is not required to be
interfered with by this Court in exercise of powers under Article
136 of the Constitution of India.
4.5 Making the above submissions it is prayed to dismiss the
present appeal.
5. Heard learned counsel for the respective parties. 
6. By the impugned judgment and order, the High Court, in
exercise of powers under Article 226 of the Constitution of India,
has   interfered   with   the   order   of   punishment   imposed   by   the
Disciplinary Authority  and  has  ordered  reinstatement  without
back   wages   and   other   benefits   by   observing   that   order   of
punishment   of   dismissal   from   the   service   imposed   by   the
Disciplinary   Authority   is   disproportionate   to   the   misconduct
proved.  
Therefore,   the   short   question   which   is   posed   for
consideration   by   this   Court   is,   whether,   in   the   facts   and
circumstances   of   the   case   the   High   Court   is   justified   in
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interfering with the conscious decision taken by the Disciplinary
Authority   while   imposing   the   punishment   of   dismissal   from
service,   in   exercise   of   powers   under   Article   226   of   the
Constitution of India.
7. On the question of judicial review and interference of the
courts in matters of disciplinary proceedings and on the test of
proportionality, a few decisions of this Court are required to be
referred to:
i) In   the   case   of  Om   Kumar   (supra),   this   Court,   after
considering   the  Wednesbury   principles   and   the   doctrine   of
proportionality, has observed and held that the question of the
quantum of punishment in disciplinary matters is primarily for
the disciplinary authority to order and the jurisdiction of the
High Courts under Article 226 of the Constitution or of the
Administrative   Tribunals   is   limited   and   is   confined   to   the
applicability of one or other of the well­known principles known
as ‘Wednesbury principles’.
In the Wednesbury case, (1948) 1 KB 223, it was said that
when a statute gave discretion to an administrator to take a
decision, the scope of judicial review would remain limited.  Lord
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Greene further said that interference was not permissible unless
one or the other of the following conditions was satisfied, namely,
the   order   was   contrary   to   law,   or   relevant   factors   were   not
considered, or irrelevant factors were considered, or the decision
was one which no reasonable person could have taken.
ii) In the case of  B.C. Chaturvedi v. Union of India, (1995) 6
SCC 749, in paragraph 18, this Court observed and held as
under:
“18. A   review   of   the   above   legal   position   would
establish that the disciplinary authority, and on appeal
the appellate authority, being fact­finding authorities
have exclusive power to consider the evidence with a
view to maintain discipline. They are invested with the
discretion to impose appropriate punishment keeping
in view the magnitude or gravity of the misconduct. The
High   Court/Tribunal,   while   exercising   the   power   of
judicial   review,   cannot   normally   substitute   its   own
conclusion on penalty and impose some other penalty.
If   the   punishment   imposed   by   the   disciplinary
authority   or   the   appellate   authority   shocks   the
conscience   of   the   High   Court/Tribunal,   it   would
appropriately   mould   the   relief,   either   directing   the
disciplinary/appellate   authority   to   reconsider   the
penalty imposed, or to shorten the litigation, it may
itself, in exceptional and rare cases, impose appropriate
punishment with cogent reasons in support thereof.”
iii) In   the   case   of  Lucknow   Kshetriya   Gramin   Bank   (Now
Allahabad,   Uttar   Pradesh   Gramin   Bank)   v.   Rajendra   Singh,
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(2013) 12 SCC 372, in paragraph 19, it was observed and held
as under:
“19. The principles discussed above can be summed up
and summarised as follows:
19.1. When   charge(s)   of   misconduct   is   proved   in   an
enquiry the quantum of punishment to be imposed in a
particular   case   is   essentially   the   domain   of   the
departmental authorities.
19.2. The   courts   cannot   assume   the   function   of
disciplinary/departmental authorities and to decide the
quantum  of   punishment   and  nature  of  penalty  to  be
awarded,   as   this   function   is   exclusively   within   the
jurisdiction of the competent authority.
19.3. Limited judicial review is available to interfere with
the punishment imposed by the disciplinary authority,
only in cases where such penalty is found to be shocking
to the conscience of the court.
19.4. Even in such a case when the punishment is set
aside   as   shockingly   disproportionate   to   the   nature   of
charges   framed   against   the   delinquent   employee,   the
appropriate course of action is to remit the matter back
to the disciplinary authority or the appellate authority
with direction to pass appropriate order of penalty. The
court by itself cannot mandate as to what should be the
penalty in such a case.
19.5. The only exception to the principle stated in para
19.4   above,   would   be   in   those   cases   where   the   codelinquent   is   awarded   lesser   punishment   by   the
disciplinary   authority   even   when   the   charges   of
misconduct   were   identical   or   the   co­delinquent   was
foisted with more serious charges. This would be on the
doctrine of equality when it is found that the employee
concerned   and   the   co­delinquent   are   equally   placed.
However, there has to be a complete parity between the
two,   not   only   in   respect   of   nature   of   charge   but
subsequent conduct as well after the service of chargesheet in the two cases. If the co­delinquent accepts the
charges,   indicating   remorse   with   unqualified   apology,
lesser punishment to him would be justifiable.”
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7.1 In   the   present   case,   the   original   writ   petitioner   was
dismissed   from   service   by   the   Disciplinary   Authority   for
producing   the   fabricated/fake/forged   SSLC.     Producing   the
false/fake certificate is a grave misconduct.  The question is one
of a TRUST.  How can an employee who has produced a fake and
forged   marksheet/certificate,   that   too,   at   the   initial   stage   of
appointment   be   trusted   by   the   employer?     Whether   such   a
certificate was material or not and/or had any bearing on the
employment or not is immaterial.  The question is not of having
an   intention   or   mens   rea.     The   question   is   producing   the
fake/forged certificate.   Therefore, in our view, the Disciplinary
Authority was justified in imposing the punishment of dismissal
from service.
7.2 It was a case on behalf of the petitioner – original writ
petitioner   before   the   High   Court   that   he   pleaded   guilty   and
admitted that he had submitted a forged and fake certificate on
the assurance that lesser punishment will be imposed.  However,
except the bald statement, there is no further evidence on the
same.  Nothing has been mentioned on record as to who gave him
such an assurance.  
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7.3 Even otherwise the conduct on the part of the original writ
petitioner is required to be considered.
As   observed   hereinabove,   prior   to   the   issuance   of   the
chargesheet   and   after   the   complaint   was   received   by   the
Vigilance Officer, there were repetitive requests and follow up by
the authorities requesting the original writ petitioner to produce
the original SSLC.   Initially the original writ petitioner did not
even respond to the said requests.  Thereafter, he came up with a
case that the original SSLC was misplaced.  He was then called
upon to obtain a duplicate copy of the SSLC and to submit the
same   to   the   Manager,   ER.     However,   he   continued   to   evade
obtaining the duplicate certificate from Karnataka Board.  Only
thereafter the Manager, ER directly contacted the authorities of
the Board and requested the Education Board to check up from
their records and only thereafter it was revealed that the SSLC
produced   by   the   original   petitioner   was   forged   and   fake   and
belonged to or related to some another student and it did not
belong to the original writ petitioner.   This shows the malafide
intention on the part of the original writ petitioner.
7.4 Now, so far as the submission on behalf of the original writ
petitioner that he was acquitted by the Criminal Court for the
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offences punishable under Sections 468 and 471 IPC in respect
of the same certificate is concerned, the said contention is neither
here   nor   there   and   is   of   no   assistance   to   the   original   writ
petitioner.   Apart from the fact that he was acquitted by the
Criminal   Court   by   giving   benefit   of   doubt   and   there   was   no
honourable acquittal, in the present case before the Disciplinary
Authority the original writ petitioner as such admitted that he
produced the fake and forged certificate.   Therefore, once there
was an admission on the part of the respondent – original writ
petitioner,   thereafter   whether   he   has   been   acquitted   by   the
Criminal Court is immaterial.
7.5 Even from the impugned judgment and order passed by the
High Court it does not appear that any specific reasoning was
given by the High Court on how the punishment imposed by the
Disciplinary   Authority   could   be   said   to   be   shockingly
disproportionate to the misconduct proved.   As per the settled
position of law, unless and until it is found that the punishment
imposed   by   the   Disciplinary   Authority   is   shockingly
disproportionate   and/or   there   is   procedural   irregularity   in
conducting the inquiry, the High Court would not be justified in
interfering   with   the   order   of   punishment   imposed   by   the
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Disciplinary   Authority   which   as   such   is   a   prerogative   of   the
Disciplinary Authority as observed hereinabove.
7.6 From the impugned judgment and order passed by the High
Court, it appears that the High Court has denied the back wages
and   other   benefits   and   has   ordered   reinstatement   on   a
concession given by the learned counsel on behalf of the original
writ petitioner.  However, it is required to be noted that for the
period between 2006 to 2017 i.e. during the pendency of the writ
petition the respondent was working in the Petroleum Division of
Reliance Industries.  Therefore, he was aware that even otherwise
he is not entitled to the back wages for the aforesaid period.
Therefore, the concession given on behalf of the original writ
petitioner as such cannot be said to be a real concession.  In any
case in the facts and circumstances of the case and for the
reasons stated above and considering the charge and misconduct
of producing the fake and false SSLC Certificate proved, when a
conscious decision was taken by the Disciplinary Authority to
dismiss   him   from   service,   the   same   could   not   have   been
interfered with by the High Court in exercise of powers under
Article 226 of the Constitution of India.   The High Court has
exceeded   in   its   jurisdiction   in   interfering   with   the   order   of
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punishment   imposed   by   the   Disciplinary   Authority   while
exercising its powers under Article 226 of the Constitution of
India.
8. In view of the above and for the reasons stated above, the
impugned   judgment   and   order   passed   by   the   High   Court   in
interfering   with   the   order   of   punishment   imposed   by   the
Disciplinary Authority of dismissing the original writ petitioner
from service and ordering reinstatement without back wages and
other benefits is hereby quashed and set aside.  The order passed
by   the   Disciplinary   Authority   dismissing   the   original   writ
petitioner   from   service   on   the   misconduct   proved   is   hereby
restored. 
The present appeal is accordingly allowed.  In the facts and
circumstances of the case, there shall be no order as to costs.
…………………………………J.
                          (M. R. SHAH)
…………………………………J.
       (B.V. NAGARATHNA)
New Delhi, 
April 21, 2022.
19

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