SC: Judicial review is to ensure fairness in treatment not fairness of conclusion

The Hon’ble Supreme Court, on 05.01.2021, in the matter of Deputy General Manager (Appellate Authority) and Others v. Ajai Kumar Srivastava held that power of judicial review, of the Constitutional Courts, is an evaluation of the decision-­making process and not the merits of the decision itself. It is to ensure fairness in treatment and not to ensure fairness of conclusion.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court observed that:

The power of judicial review in the matters of disciplinary inquiries, exercised by the departmental/appellate authorities discharged by constitutional Courts under Article 226 or Article 32 or Article 136 of the Constitution of India is circumscribed by limits of correcting errors of law or procedural errors leading to manifest injustice or violation of principles of natural justice and it is not akin to adjudication of the case on merits as an appellate authority. (Para 23)

Power of judicial review, of the Constitutional Courts, is an evaluation of the decision-­making process and not the merits of the decision itself. It is to ensure fairness in treatment and not to ensure fairness of conclusion. The Court/Tribunal may interfere in the proceedings held against the delinquent if it is, in any manner, inconsistent with the rules of natural justice or in violation of the statutory rules prescribing the mode of enquiry or where the conclusion or finding reached by the disciplinary authority if based on no evidence. If the conclusion or finding be such as no reasonable person would have ever reached or where the conclusions upon consideration of the evidence reached by the disciplinary authority is perverse or suffers from patent error on the face of record or based on no evidence at all, a writ of certiorari could be issued. To sum up, the scope of judicial review cannot be extended to the examination of correctness or reasonableness of a decision of authority as a matter of fact. (Para 25)

When the disciplinary enquiry is conducted for the alleged misconduct against the public servant, the Court is to examine and determine: (i) whether the enquiry was held by the competent authority; (ii) whether rules of natural justice are complied with; (iii) whether the findings or conclusions are based on some evidence and authority has power and jurisdiction to reach finding of fact or conclusion. (Para 26)

Where the enquiry officer is not the disciplinary authority, on receiving the report of enquiry, the disciplinary authority may or may not agree with the findings recorded by the former, in case of disagreement, the disciplinary authority has to record the reasons for disagreement and after affording an opportunity of hearing to the delinquent may record his own findings if the evidence available on record be sufficient for such exercise or else to remit the case to the enquiry officer for further enquiry. (Para 27)

It is true that strict rules of evidence are not applicable to departmental enquiry proceedings. However, the only requirement of law is that the allegation against the delinquent must be established by such evidence acting upon which a reasonable person acting reasonably and with objectivity may arrive at a finding upholding the gravity of the charge against the delinquent employee. It is true that mere conjecture or surmises cannot sustain the finding of guilt even in the departmental enquiry proceedings. (Para 28)

The Constitutional Court while exercising its jurisdiction of judicial review under Article 226 or Article 136 of the Constitution would not interfere with the findings of fact arrived at in the departmental enquiry proceedings except in a case of malafides or perversity, i.e., where there is no evidence to support a finding or where a finding is such that no man acting reasonably and with objectivity could have arrived at that findings and so long as there is some evidence to support the conclusion arrived at by the departmental authority, the same has to be sustained. (Para 29)

Copy of judgement: Judgement_05-Jan-2021

-Adv. Tushar Kaushik

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