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Power of high court in exercising judicial review

In this case, an appeal has been preferred by Central Industrial Security Force and two others, taking exception to the judgment dated 16.12.2014 in Special Civil Application No. 13718 of 2004, where the High Court of Gujarat has allowed the writ petition preferred by Respondent Santosh Kumar Pandey.

Facts: Santosh Kumar Pandey, a constable with CISF was posted at the greenbelt area of IPCL Township, Vadodara, Gujarat. A chargesheet was issued against him with the allegations of misconduct. The charge sheet provides that on 27.10.2001 at about 1:00 a.m., Mahesh B. Chaudhry and his fiancée had passed through the area on a motorcycle and had stopped in the corner, which is when Santosh Kumar Pandey had come forward and questioned them. Santosh Kumar Pandey taking advantage had told Mahesh B. Chaudhry that he would like to spend some time with his fiancée. When Mahesh B. Chaudhry protested and did not agree, Santosh Kumar Pandey asked Mahesh B. Chaudhry to give something to him. Mahesh B. Chaudhry had then given the watch he was wearing to Respondent Santosh Kumar Pandey. On the next day, i.e., 27.10.2001, at about 8:00 p.m., Mahesh B. Chaudhry came back to the P.T. Gate with his friend Pradip Raghavan and reported the incident. Senior officers took notice. Mahesh B. Chaudhry wrote a complaint in writing stating the facts. An Inquiry Officer, N.K. Bharadwaj was appointed. His reports proved the charges against Santosh Kumar Panday. The Disciplinary Authority, upon the charges proved removed Santosh Kumar from service as a penalty.

Santosh Kumar Pandey had preferred an appeal that was rejected by the appellate authority vide order dated 08.05.2002. Revision petition filed by the Respondent No.1 – Santosh Kumar Pandey was rejected vide order dated 08.04.2003.

These orders, including the inquiry report, were challenged by Santosh Kumar Pandey vide Special Civil Application No. 13718 of 2004, which, vide impugned judgment, has been allowed by the Gujarat High Court.

The reasoning given by the High Court for allowing the Writ Petition preferred by Santosh Kumar Pandey is to be found in paragraphs 8, 9 and 10 of the impugned judgment, which for convenience, are reproduced below:

“8. We have gone through the evidence came on record. Mahesh B. Chaudhry who is the complainant gave his statement on 27.10.2001 before the CISF Officer. In his examination, the complainant has narrated the aforesaid story, but in the cross examination, he had admitted that the petitioner has returned the watch and he has got his article back and he does not want to take any action against the petitioner. He has also admitted in the question put by the Inquiry Officer as regards to the illicit demand to spend some time with his fiancée as his fiancée has also seen the incident. 9. (X)2 who is fiancée of complainant Mahesh B. Chaudhry has also been examined and she has clearly and categorically stated that she was little aware, but what was told to his fiancée Mahesh, she has not heard. Of course, she saw him giving watch to the petitioner.

Indisputably, after going through the entire evidence available on record, entire case against the petitioner rests only on the sole testimony of Mahesh B. Chaudhry-complainant. In our evaluation of evidence of the complainant, his evidence is also not consistent. As per his say, his fiancée has also seen the incident, but his fiancée has clearly stated before the Inquiry Officer that she has not seen the incident. Now, only question remains as regards snatching/taking away watch from the complainant Mahesh B. Chaudhry. In respect of the said allegation also, the evidence on record clearly reveals that watch was already returned and, therefore, even the complainant has given in writing to the official of CISF that his watch is already returned by the present petitioner and, therefore, he does not want to take any action against him and he withdrew the complaint.”

Decision: The Supreme Court J. Sanjiv Khanna, observed that we have reservations regarding the reasoning given in paragraph 10 of the impugned judgment as it fails to take notice and properly apply the law of judicial review. Judicial review is not akin to adjudication of the case on merits, and the adequacy or inadequacy of evidence, unless the court finds that the findings recorded are based on no evidence, perverse or are legally untenable in the sense that it fails to pass the muster of the Wednesbury principles. Power of the High Court under Articles 226 and 227 of the Constitution of India enables the exercise of judicial review to correct errors of law, including procedural law, leading to manifest injustice or violation of principles of fairness, without normally venturing into reappreciation of evidence4. The writ court, when disciplinary action is challenged, is primarily concerned with the examination of the decision-making process, which requires satisfaction that the competent authorities have held inquiry as per the prescribed procedure, and have duly applied their mind to the evidence and material placed on record, without extraneous matters being given undue consideration, and the relevant factors have been cogitated. The conclusions of fact, which are based upon evaluation and appreciation of evidence, when meticulously reached by the authorities, should not be interfered with merely because the court may have reached at a different conclusion. Thus, an error of law is apparent in the reasoning via paragraph 10 of the impugned judgement of the Gujarat High Court as it fails to take notice and properly apply the law of judicial review.

Hence, the Appeal was accepted and the judgement of the Gujarat High Court was set aside therefore, Special Civil Application No. 13718 of 2004 filed by Respondent Santosh Kumar Pandey before the High Court will be treated as dismissed. The order of removal from service passed by the disciplinary authority is upheld.

 

Original Citation -CISF & others v Santosh Kumar Pandey (2015), CIVIL APPEAL NO. 8671 OF 2015.

Written by Priya Raj, (Academic Year 2018-2023) School of Law, Mody University of Science and Technology, Rajasthan

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