Effect of non-supply of Enquiry Report to dismissed employee:
Test of prejudice:
When the employee is dismissed or removed from service and the inquiry is set aside because the report is not furnished to him, in some cases the non-furnishing of the report may have prejudiced him gravely while in other cases it may have made no difference to the ultimate punishment awarded to him. Hence to direct reinstatement of the employee with back-wages in all cases is to reduce the rules of justice to a mechanical ritual.
The theory of reasonable opportunity and the principles of natural justice have been evolved to uphold the rule of law and to assist the individual to vindicate his just rights. They are not incantations to be invoked nor rites to be performed on all and sundry occasions. Whether in fact, prejudice has been caused to the employee or not on account of the denial to him of the report, has to be considered on the facts and circumstances of each case. Where, therefore, even after the furnishing of the report, no different consequence would have followed, it would be a perversion of justice to permit the employee to resume duty and to get all the consequential benefits. It amounts to rewarding the dishonest and the guilty and thus to stretching the concept of justice to illogical and exasperating limits. It amounts to an “unnatural expansion of natural justice” which in itself is antithetical to justice.
Hence, in all cases where the enquiry officer’s report is not furnished to the delinquent employee in the disciplinary proceedings, the Courts and Tribunals should cause the copy of the report to be furnished to the aggrieved employee if he has not already secured it before coming to the Court/Tribunal and give the employee an opportunity to show how his or her case was prejudiced because of the non-supply of the report. If after hearing the parties, the Court/Tribunal comes to the conclusion that the non-supply of the report would have made no difference to the ultimate findings and the punishment given, the Court/Tribunal should not interfere with the order of punishment. The Court/Tribunal should not mechanically set aside the order of punishment on the ground that the report was not furnished as is regrettably being done at present. The courts should avoid resorting to short cuts. Since it is the Courts/Tribunals which will apply their judicial mind to the question and give their reasons for setting aside or not setting aside the order of punishment, (and not any internal appellate or revisional authority), there would be neither a breach of the principles of natural justice nor a denial of the reasonable opportunity. It is only if the Court/Tribunal finds that the furnishing of the report would have made a difference to the result in the case that it should set aside the order of punishment.
From the aforesaid decisions, it is clear that though supply of report of the inquiry officer is part and parcel of natural justice and must be furnished to the delinquent employee, failure to do so would not automatically result in quashing or setting aside of the order or the order being declared null and void. For that, the delinquent employee has to show “prejudice”. Unless he is able to show that non-supply of report of the inquiry officer has resulted in prejudice or miscarriage of justice, an order of punishment cannot be held to be vitiated. And whether prejudice had been caused to the delinquent employee depends upon the facts and circumstances of each case and no rule of universal application can be laid down.
[ Haryana Financial Corpn. v. Kailash Chandra Ahuja, (2008) 9 SCC 31]
It is clear from the above that mere non-supply of the inquiry report does not automatically warrant reinstatement of the delinquent employee. It is incumbent upon on the delinquent employee to plead and prove that he suffered a serious prejudice due to the non-supply of the inquiry report. We have examined the writ petition filed by the Respondent and we find no pleading regarding any prejudice caused to the Respondent by the non-supply of the inquiry report prior to the issuance of the show cause notice. The Respondent had ample opportunity to submit his version after perusing the report of the inquiry officer. The Respondent utilised the opportunity of placing his response to the inquiry report before the disciplinary authority. The High Court committed an error in allowing the writ petition filed by the Respondent without examining whether any prejudice was caused to the delinquent employee by the supply of the inquiry officer’s report along with the show cause notice. We are satisfied that there was no prejudice caused to the respondent by the supply of the report of the inquiry officer along with the show cause notice. Hence, no useful purpose will be served by a remand to the court below to examine the point of prejudice.
[Source: Uttarakhand Transport … vs Sukhveer Singh, decided by SC on 10 November, 2017]