Departmental proceedings after acquittal

Acquittal under Prevention of Corruption Act:

Acquittal by a criminal court would not debar an employer from exercising the power to conduct departmental proceedings in accordance with the rules and regulations. The two proceedings, criminal and departmental, are entirely different. They operate in different fields and have different objectives. In the disciplinary proceedings, the question is whether the Respondent is guilty of such conduct as would merit his removal from service or a lesser punishment, as the case may be, whereas in the criminal proceedings, the question is whether the offences registered against him under the PC Act are established, and if established, what sentence should be imposed upon him. The standard of proof, the mode of inquiry and the rules governing inquiry and trial in both the cases are significantly distinct and different.

The Disciplinary Authority is not bound by the judgment of the Criminal Court if the evidence that is produced in the Departmental Inquiry is different from that produced during the criminal trial. The object of a Departmental Inquiry is to find out whether the delinquent is guilty of misconduct under the conduct rules for the purpose of determining whether he should be continued in service. The standard of proof in a Departmental Inquiry is not strictly based on the rules of evidence.

In the present case, the prosecution witnesses turned hostile in the criminal trial against Respondent No.1. He was acquitted by the Criminal Court on the ground that the prosecution could not produce any credible evidence to prove the charge. On the other hand, the complainant and the other witnesses appeared before the Inquiry Officer and deposed against Respondent No.1. The evidence available in the Departmental Inquiry is completely different from that led by the prosecution in criminal trial.

The order of dismissal which is based on the evidence before the Inquiry Officer in the disciplinary proceedings, which is different from the evidence available to the Criminal  Court, is justified and needed no interference by the High Court.

[Source: Karnataka Power Trans.Corp. Ltd. vs Sri C Nagaraju decided by SC on 16 September, 2019]

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