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The Supreme Court has ruled that the disciplinary authority under the Central Civil Service Rules holds the power to appoint a retired employee as an inquiry authority, challenging the notion that the inquiry officer must be a public servant. The ruling, handed down by a bench comprising Justices Sanjiv Khanna and Bela M Trivedi, is expected to have far-reaching implications for administrative procedures in matters of employee misconduct and disciplinary proceedings.
The case before the Supreme Court stemmed from an appeal against a judgment by the Odisha High Court. The High Court had previously relied on the precedent set in the case of Ravi Malik v. National Film Development Corporation, which held that a retired public servant could not be designated as an inquiry officer. However, the Supreme Court bench meticulously differentiated the present case from the cited precedent.
Justice Khanna, writing for the bench, highlighted the divergent regulatory contexts between the two cases. In the previous Ravi Malik case, Rule 23(b) of the Service Regulations,1982 of the National Film Development Corporation was invoked, specifying the appointment of a "public servant" for inquiries into employee misconduct. Conversely, the present matter was governed by Rule 14 of the Central Civil Services, 1965, which authorized the disciplinary authority to appoint an "authority" to conduct inquiries concerning government employees.
The Court's ruling, unequivocally stated, "The disciplinary authority is empowered to appoint a retired employee as an inquiry authority. It is not necessary that the inquiry officer should be a public servant. Hence, no fault can be found as the inquiry officer was not a public servant, but a retired officer."
The Court invoked the precedent set in Union of India v. PC Ramakrishnnaya, which in turn referred to the Alok Kumar case. The latter emphasized the use of the term "other authority" rather than "public servant" in Rule 9(3), signifying that a retired officer could indeed be entrusted with the delegated authority of the disciplinary body to conduct inquiries.
This landmark judgment has caused waves in the legal and administrative circles, offering clarity on the discretion of the disciplinary authority in selecting inquiry officers. The decision also underscores the need to interpret rules in the specific regulatory context they pertain to, ensuring accurate and just application.
The impetus behind the case lay in the grievance of the respondent, Jagdish Chandra Sethy, who contested the appointment of a retired government servant as an inquiry officer by the disciplinary authority. Sethy took the matter to the Central Administrative Tribunal at Cuttack, contending that the authority had failed to provide adequate justification for the selection. The tribunal concurred with Sethy's position, leading to the appellant's subsequent appeal.
The Supreme Court's ruling reverberates through the realms of administrative justice, setting a precedent that emphasizes the importance of contextual interpretation in legal proceedings. The decision not only upholds the authority's discretion but also underscores the credibility and competence of retired employees to conduct impartial inquiries into matters of employee misconduct.