The Allahabad High Court overturned the Punishment Order in Disciplinary Inquiry against Returning Officer for development block in Uttar Pradesh Panchayat Elections.
On 26.3.2021, the State Election Commission notified the Three Tier Panchayat Elections – 2021 held in the State of Uttar Pradesh. Apparently, prior to the aforesaid notification i.e. on 25.3.2021, the District Election Officer (Panchayat)/District Magistrate, Bulandshahr appointed the petitioner as Returning Officer for Development BlockSikandrabad, District- Bulandshahr. However, subsequently, the District Election Officer (Panchayat) / District Magistrate Bulandshahr, vide order, amended its earlier order and appointed the petitioner as Returning Officer for Development Block – Khurja in place of Development Block – Sikandarabad.
The polling of votes took place on 29.4.2021 at all the polling booths of Development Block – Khurja and during which reportedly no untoward incident took place and the polling was conducted in a peaceful and organized manner.
Apparently, the Deputy Election Officer (Panchayat) / Additional District Magistrate (Administration) on 04.5.2021 submitted a letter to the District Election Officer Panchayat/ District Magistrate narrating that the petitioner had not submitted the counting sheet to the Election Officer till 12:00 PM despite of the fact that the counting had concluded about 05:00 PM and allegedly due to which certain candidates of Ward Nos. 24, 25 and 26 created a ruckus at the Collectorate premises as well as at the place of counting in Khurja citing that the result is being allegedly manipulated and due to which there was unrest at the said places. This letter dated 04.05.2021 was forwarded to the State Election Commission by the District Election Officer Panchayat/District Magistrate vide his letter dated 04.5.2021.
Subsequently, on 13.05.2021, the Commissioner, Commercial Tax, Lucknow, on the basis of the letter of the State Election Commission, forwarded a recommendation to the State Government for suspension and initiation of disciplinary inquiry against the petitioner. Thereafter, the State Government issued the order of suspension to the petitioner and it was also directed to initiate disciplinary enquiry with respect to the role of the petitioner as Returning Officer, Development Block – Khurja.
Counsel for the petitioner has submitted that since the petitioner had served a certified copy of the judgment and order to the State Government on 06.08.2021, the period of three months came to be expired on 05.12.2021. Thus, according to him, since the charge-sheet was prepared on 13.07.2021 and served on the petitioner vide letter of Enquiry Officer dated 20.07.2021 only, therefore, construing the date of initiation of departmental enquiry to be when the charge-sheet is prepared/ served on the petitioner, the departmental enquiry ought to have been concluded within a period of three month.
Standing Counsel representing the State/ respondents submitted that though in the earlier proceedings when suspension order was set-aside by the Single Judge of the Court vide order, time period was given within which the disciplinary proceedings so initiated against the petitioner was supposed to be completed, which could not be done, but that by itself would not be a ground for setting aside punishment order.
The division bench of Justice Om Prakash Shukla and Justice Attau Rahman Masoodi found that there was no request nor any application by the disciplinary authority seeking any extension of time for concluding the enquiry.
The court said that in view of the mandatory procedure prescribed under the Rules, 1999 and several other procedural infirmities in the conduct of enquiry, the order of punishment cannot be held to be legally unsustainable, especially when there is a consistent series of authority on the point that a departmental inquiry against government servant is not to be treated as a casual exercise and the principles of natural justice are required to be observed so as to ensure not only that justice is done but is manifestly seen to be done; the object being to ensure that the delinquent is treated fairly in proceedings which may culminate in imposition of a penalty against him.
The bench set aside the judgment and order passed by the Tribunal in Claim Petition and consequent order of punishment imposed by the disciplinary authority.
Case title: Ashok Kumar Singh v/s State Of U.P.
Citation: A No. – 8770 of 2022