CENTRAL ADMINISTRATIVE TRIBUNAL
BANGALORE BENCH : BANGALORE
ORIGINAL APPLICATION No. 492 OF 2008
DATED THIS THE DAY OF JULY, 2010
HON'BLE Dr. K. B. SURESH ... MEMBER (J)
HON'BLE SMT. LEENA MEHENDALE ... MEMBER (A)
Sri T. Ramakrishna,
Aged about 67 years,
No.3374, 7th Main, 2nd Cross,
Vijayanagar 2nd Stage,
Bangalore – 560 040. ... Applicant
(By Advocate Shri C.K. Nagendra Prasad)
1. Union of India,
Ministry of Labour & Employment,
Rafi Marg, New Delhi – 110 001.
Represented by its Secretary.
2. The Regional Commissioner – II
and Permanent Inquiry Officer (South Zone),
Employees Provident Fund Organisation,
Regional Office : No.37, Royapettah High Road,
Chennai – 600 014. ... Respondents
(By Advocate S/Shri M.V. Rao, Sr. Central Govt. Stg. Counsel for R-1 &
H.K.S. Holla, Standing Counsel for Respondent No.2)
O R D E R
Hon'ble Smt. Leena Mehendale, Member (A) :
The applicant is an employee of EPFO (Employees Provident Fund Organisation) under the Ministry of Labour and Employment, Govt of India He retired as Assistant Commissioner at the Regional Office at Bangalore on 30.11.2000. In his earlier career of nearly 40 years, he never received any adverse remarks, however, some months prior to his retirement, the applicant was placed under suspension on 22.09.1999 and issued charge sheet on 01.07.2004. After that the actual enquiry was taken up on 22.09.2005 and adjourned to 29.08.2007 on which date the Presenting Officer could not furnish Document Nos.34 and 35 mentioned in Annexure-A/3 to the applicant. The matter was once again adjourned, and stands so till this date.
2. In the year 1998-99, when he was working as APFC (Assistant Provident Fund Commissioner), apparently an UDC (Upper Division Clerk) Mr. Reddy working under him processed false PF advance applications and pilferaged huge funds and was caught by the CBI who charge sheeted Mr.Reddy and cited the present applicant as prosecution witness. Learned Counsel for applicant emphasizes that CBI has not implicated the applicant in the criminal case. After the depositions were completed between 2000 and 2002, the department charge sheeted the applicant on 14.6.2004 and further served him with a corrigendum dated 26.12.2007 which was received by the applicant on 5.3.2008 (Annexure-A/1). The applicant therefore, prays for quashing the corrigendum dated 26.12.2007, arguing that it substantially changes the nature of original charge sheet. He further prays for quashing the original charge memo dated 15.6.2004.
3. Looking at the charge sheet issued in 2004, (Annexure A3) it appears that the department has, based on the investigation started by the CBI, cited 10 specific cases in which relevant application forms for withdrawal were got prepared in the false names of fictitious persons by using the live account numbers of some actual employees whose Provident Fund money comes to the Provident Fund Organisation. It is the claim of the respondent department that in respect of these 10 cases, alone, the PF amount pilferaged through such fraud, comes to Rs.11,07,000/- (Rupees eleven lakhs and seven thousand only). It is the contention of the department that such huge loss could have been avoided had the applicant, then working as Assistant PF Commissioner, remained vigilant for which he was duty-bound. The case of the respondents is that after issuing the initial suspension order, the department had to wait to take the approval from the Office of the Hon'ble President of India for which the department took four years i.e., till 2004. Thereafter in 2007, the department has issued a corrigendum which according to the applicant will substantially change the nature of the first charge sheet.
4. On perusal of the corrigendum, we find that the respondents have sought to make three clerical corrections in Annexures No.1 and 2., one clerical correction in Annexure 3 and have tried to bring on record four other documents. The OA submittd by he applicant has not discussed exactly how these added documents would substantially change the nature of original charge sheet. We tend to grant that the respondents seem to have been slightly careless while recording his office "as Peenya" which they have to now correct as "at Regional Office" and had to correct the period earlier mentioned as from June 1998 to September 1999" to the new description "year 1998-99". They also had to correct entry No.29 which read as KN-10636/94 to KN -10636/06, this being one out of the 39 such entries. Yet, we are not impressed by the vehement assertion of the learned counsel for the applicant that this would amount to substantial change in the allegation. It is pertinent to note here that the list of 39 documents prepared by the respondents to examine the charge sheet are all in the nature of pay slips, payment scroll, claim applications, ledger cards, copy of cheques, credit vouchers, etc and even if with minor clerical errors they would be substantially useful to establish if pilferage has been done and to what extent. From the nature of the charge sheet, we find that the applicant has been charged with grave negligence of duty, inadequate supervision and perhaps collusion. The charge against him is that he failed to notice the irregularities and inconsistencies in the claims even when they were so glaring that they should not have gone unnoticed even by applying simple prudence. Hence it is important to examine this change on the basis of substantive material and not merely on technicalities.
5. As far as the four additional documents which the respondents are seeking to rely upon, are perused by us, the documents mentioned at Sl.No.41 is Relevant Form 9 of KN/6828 & KN/10183, Specimen Signature of Shri Raghavendra Rao & B.N.Srinivasa which is one more addition which is similar to the ealier 39 entries listed as relevant documents to be examined by the department. Document No.42 and 43 are also of the same nature. That leaves only the document No.40 which is the proceeding dated 24.9.1999 drawn by CBI. This proceeding is drawn before the CBI had actually charge sheeted the UDC and it is this proceeding which has led to the enquiry being instituted. The learned Counsel for appliant has not shown how exactly these proceedings will substantially change the nature of the charges. The charge which is sought to be proved by the respondent department are narated at charge No.1 and 2 and the said proceedings of the CBI are not meant for adding anything more to the charges. The applicant had earlier approached this Tribunal in OA No.138/2008 with a prayer to quash the charge sheet dated 15.6.2004 and corrigendum datd 26.12.2007. It was held that main grievance of the applicant was that the corrigendum dated 26.12.2007 was issued without giving an opportunity to the applicant and hence the original application was dismissed being premature with a direction to the present applicant to approach the competent authority challenging the impugned corrigendum. The learned Counsel for the applicant pointed out that the applicant had done so immediately on 2.5.2008 but the respondent-1 has not communicated anything to the applicant even to this date. But the OA chooses to remain silent on that point. Hence we feel that these added documents do not materially change the nature of the charge sheet and its consequences.
6. Then comes the question whether the whole enquiry needs to be quashed. This is the relief claimed by the applicant for which he has cited the reason of his ill-health and the difficulties of not getting pensionary benefits. We feel that this is a matter of huge amount of pilferage and the question as to whether his supervision was adequate or inadequate must be established through a proper enquiry. At the same time, the onus of conducting proper enquiry at adequate speed lies equally on the department and all delays are most detrimental to it. We feel that the respondents cannot delay the matter so much and keep the applicant on tenterhooks especially in the light of the fact that although he was also placed under suspension on the basis of CBI investigation which began in 1999 but the same CBI has not considered it fit to charge sheet him for the actual act of pilferage and fraudulant withdrawal of funds. We also looked at the progress of the hearing and find that the Disciplinary Authority has been very casual in their approach for completing the disciplinary proceedings in good time. There has been delay because the Presenting Officer has not been able to produce the two documents out of the 39 listed documents which all, as we observed, are of similar nature. Under such a situation, the Inquiry Officer is entitled to record whether to the best of her judgement the non-supply of these documents would substantially dilute the defence of the applicant and she can proceed if the finding is otherwise. It is for the Presenting Officer to point out such aspects to the Inquiry Officer..
7. In passing we must mention that the OA should have impleaded the disciplinary authority who is responsible for initiating disciplinary action, getting it completed in time, instead the OA implead Inquiry Officer – who is a quasi-judicial authority. However, for this case we have decided to look into the merits of the case and its outcome as we find that the case has been delayed too much.
8. We thus find that the Disciplinary Authority has been too casual in their approach towards this departmental enquiry which has the effect of keeping an employee of their organisation away from retirement benefits for a very long period. At this stage we would refrain from saying anything further. We, however, direct that the Disciplinary Authority should properly brief the Presenting Officer and should ensure that the enquiry proceedings are completed within a reasonable time. We consider it squarely his duty and consider six months to be sufficient for this purpose. At this stage, we would not want to question the authority of the Disciplinary Authority to proceed with the case, but surely the delay committed by them and the carelessness committed in not reviewing the progress of the departmental enquiries pending with the department cannot be ignored. Just as we feel that looking at the huge amount of pilferage we should allow the departmental enquiry to proceed and not quash the charge sheet dated 15.6.2004 as learned cuonsel for applicant would want us to do, similarly the department should be equally concerned to finish the departmental proceedings at the earliest. In our considered opinion not more than 6 months can be granted for this. We also find it necessary to direct the Disciplinary Authority to inform us the interim progress at the end of 3 months from getting this order.
9. With the above directions, the OA is disposed of. No order as to costs.
(LEENA MEHENDALE) (K.B. SURESH)
MEMBER (A) MEMBER (J)