No absolute right in favour of delinquent officer to be represented through agent of their choice in departmental proceedings, reiterates Supreme Court

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Repeating itself, the Supreme Court recently held that there is no absolute right   in favour of a delinquent officer to be represented through the agent of his choice in the departmental proceedings and the same can be restricted by the employer.

“As per settled proposition of law and as observed herein above, in decisions referred to herein above, the only requirement is that delinquent officer must be given fair opportunity to represent his case and that there is no absolute right in his favour to be represented through the agent of his choice….”, added a bench of Justices MR Shah and Sanjiv Khanna.

The Bench further observed that irrespective of whether charges is severe and complex nature or not, the employee as a matter of right cannot pray that he may be permitted to represent through the agent of his choice.

The top court made these observations while allowing an appeal filed by ­­The Rajasthan Marudhara Gramin Bank against an order passed by the Division Bench of the Rajasthan High Court whereby it directed the Bank to allow the original writ petitioner, one Ramesh Chandra Meena to be represented by a retired employee of the Bank in the departmental inquiry.

Meena, while working as a Branch Manager is alleged to have committed certain   irregularities while granting loans to farmers / villagers under the loan scheme and he did not take adequate precautions and without written mandates of borrowers, he transferred the loan amount in favour of another person.

A chargesheet was served upon the original writ petitioner by the Bank in terms of Rajasthan Marudhara Gramin Bank (Officers and Employees) Service Regulation, 2010 (Regulation, 2010).

Not satisfied with Meena’s reply, the Bank initiated departmental inquiry. And appointed one K.C. Gupta as an Enquirer Officer. An opportunity was afforded   to Meena to take assistance of a defence representative (DR) in accordance with Regulation, 2010 as also in accordance with guidelines issued by the Bank.

Meena then requested that he be allowed to defend himself in the inquiry through a legal practitioner. Keeping in view the restrictions under Regulation 44 of the Regulation, 2010 on engagement of legal practitioner during the inquiry his request came to be declined by the Enquiry Officer.

When the matter reached the High Court, the Bank relied on Regulation 44 of Regulation, 2010 and the Circular dated January 31, 2014 as also the guidelines issued by the Bank in respect of disciplinary proceeding that no outsider, not associated with the Bank can be permitted to act as a DR.

The top court relied on Clause 8 of the Handbook of Vigilance Administration   and Disciplinary Action which had been approved by the Board of Directors and specifically provided that DR should be serving official / employee from the Bank.

“The objects of Regulation 44 of Regulation, 2010 and Clause 8 of the Handbook Procedure seem to be to avoid any outsider including legal   representative and / or even ex­-employee of the Bank….”, added the Court.

With this view, the Court held that the High Court had committed an error in permitting respondent delinquent officer to be represented in the departmental enquiry through ex­-employee of the Bank.

Cause Title: The Rajasthan Marudhara Gramin Bank (RMGB) & Anr. v Ramesh Chandra Meena & Anr.