SUPREME COURT REITERATES THAT STANDARDS OF PROOF IN CIVIL AND CRIMINAL PROCEEDINGS ARE DIFFERENT

The Supreme Court has in a recent case of Pravin Kumar vs Union of India and others, passed a Judgment dated 10-09-2020 and reiterated that the #standards of #proof in #civil and #criminal #proceedings may be different from each other. 


The Appellant herein was an Officer in the Crime and Intelligence Wing of the Central Industrial Security Force (#CISF), who was in-charge of conducting surprise searches of personnel at one of the units of Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd (#BPCL) and taking stern action against anyone indulging in #corruptive practices. But one, Inspector Hiralal Chaudhary (the Inspector), suspected that one of the constables (the Constable) had a large sum of unauthorized #money in his possession and upon conducting a search, an amount of INR 10,780/- was seized from him. Soon thereafter, the Inspector found that one of the other officers had given false information that the said unauthorised money was a personal loan given by some official at BPCL to the Constable, as a cover-up of the offence committed by the Constable.

Thus, FIR dated 06-03-1999 was registered by the Respondent-Authorities in the Anti-Corruption Branch of the Central Bureau of Investigation (#CBI) under the Indian Penal Code 1860 (#IPC) and the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 against the Appellant and a few others. Simultaneously, an enquiry under Rule 34 of CISF Rules, 1969 was also initiated against the Appellant and others involved in the alleged offence. As a result of the enquiry proceedings, the Appellant was suspended by Order dated 31-05-1999.  

Under the criminal proceedings, the charges against the Appellant were that of gross misconduct and indiscipline, giving false orders and coercing an officer to give false statement to substantiate his misdeeds, and lastly, for illegally collecting #bribes from BPCL contractors through his subordinates.

During the CBI investigation, the CBI could not find any sufficient material to initiate criminal prosecution against the Appellant, but it recommended that a major disciplinary action be taken against the Appellant and such other officers.

But during the enquiry at CISF, all the aforesaid charges were proved against the Appellant based on witness testimonies and other evidences. Based on the said Enquiry Report dated 17-09-1999, the Disciplinary Authority held the Appellant guilty of collecting illegal monies, suppressing witnesses, and fabricating evidences. Therefore, considering the nature and gravity of the misconduct, the Appellant was dismissed from his service, by Order dated 20-11-1999. Thereafter, the Appellant filed an Appeal before the Deputy Inspector General of the CISF Western Zone, whereby, the Appellate Authority also upheld the Order of the Disciplinary Authority dated 20-11-1999.

Then, the Appellant filed a Writ Petition in the High Court of Bombay, which upheld both the Orders of the Disciplinary Authority and the Appellate Authority, vide Order dated 05-05-2009, on the ground that there was sufficient evidence to prove the offence against him and that all the necessary procedures and rules of natural justice were properly followed in the disciplinary proceedings. Being aggrieved, the Appellant filed an Appeal in the #SupremeCourt against the said High Court Order dated 05-05-2009.

The Apex Court made the following observations in this case:

1- Article 311 of the Constitution of India 1950 provides that persons employed in civil capacities under the Union or the State cannot be dismissed or removed or reduced in his rank except after an inquiry is made into the charges levied against him and reasonable opportunity of being heard is given to the accused in that regard. In this case, the Enquiry Officer and the Disciplinary Authority had followed all necessary rules during the disciplinary proceedings and provided adequate opportunity to the Appellant to make submissions, cross-examine the witnesses, etc.

2- That generally, an enquiry officer is expected to follow the rules of natural justice and other civil rules during disciplinary proceedings. He is not required to follow the strict rules of evidence and criminal trial procedure that are followed by courts during criminal trials. But if necessary, the enquiry officer may ask any question to the witnesses in order to discover the truth. This would not imply that he has exceeded his jurisdiction.

3- Therefore, the Supreme Court held that in this case, the Enquiry Officer and the Disciplinary Authority had followed all necessary rules before holding the Appellant guilty of grave misconduct and corruption.

4- That further, the criminal proceedings are distinct from civil/disciplinary proceedings. The procedure, evidences and standards of proof applied in disciplinary proceedings can be different from that of the criminal trials. Thus, if an accused is held guilty for committing an offence in a civil proceeding and any penalty is levied against him, it cannot be held invalid and erroneous merely because the accused was not held guilty during the criminal proceedings.

5- Thus, the punishment awarded by the Disciplinary Authority in this case cannot be held to be invalid and erroneous merely because the charges could not be proved against the Appellant in the criminal proceedings.

6- Further, the Appellant had a huge responsibility of weeding out corruption, but his own acts of intimidation, indiscipline and corruption had caused huge loss to BPCL and an adverse impact on the image and reputation of CISF.

7- Thus, the Disciplinary Authority rightfully awarded punishment to the Appellant and dismissed him from his service, after taking into consideration a wide range of factors such as the financial effect, impact of the misconduct on the society, etc.

8- Therefore, the Supreme Court held that the Disciplinary Authority and the High Court were correct in holding that the offence of corruption, misappropriation and indiscipline were so grave in nature, that dismissal was the highest and appropriate form of punishment for the Appellant.

Thus, the Apex Court has reiterated in this case that the procedure of enquiry, standards of proof, trial and punishment for an offence may differ in a civil and a criminal proceeding and that such a difference is deliberate.

Harini Daliparthy

Senior Associate

The Indian Lawyer

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