In a significant ruling aimed at curbing corruption and indiscipline in offices, the Delhi High Court has said strict adherence to provisions of the Evidence Act like requirement of witnesses is not mandatory in a disciplinary enquiry.
However, the probe officer must follow the broad principles of natural justice like giving the employee a fair hearing. He should also make sure there is some evidence against him.
The ruling by justice S.N. Dhingra came in a case where he upheld the dismissal of a Delhi Transport Corporation conductor Horam Singh, who pocketed the fare given by passengers by not issuing tickets.
Singh contended that the punishment given to him was not proportionate to the misconduct and enquiry by the management was “not fair and proper” as there was no documentary evidence against him. He said the passengers not given tickets were also not examined.
“A passenger who paid fare and was not given a ticket of Rs 5 or Rs 10 cannot be expected to come and spend days together appearing as a witness before the inquiry officer,” justice Dhingra said. Citing a 1977 Supreme Court ruling in a similar case, he said “strict and sophisticated rules of the Evidence Act may not apply in domestic enquiry”.
The court only has to see whether the inquiry officer has followed the broad principles of natural justice and there was some evidence on record to show that the conclusion arrived at was in accordance with the evidence.
Singh was posted on route Mori Gate-Madanpur Khadar. Once, during inspection it was found that three passengers had given him fare but he had not issued tickets. He also refused to subject his cash bag to checks. Passengers to whom he had not issued tickets belonged to his village and they stated they did not want to give statements against him. However, the disciplinary authority dismissed him after an enquiry.
Singh had been caught misappropriating DTC’s money on an earlier occasion too and had been punished. Taking into consideration this incident, the court said “looking into the past conduct of the petitioner any other punishment would have amounted to giving him a charter to indulge with impunity in misappropriation of public money and, therefore, removal from service is only appropriate”.
The court said in such cases, the department should assess the loss caused by the petitioner and recover it from the dues payable to him after termination.