High Court on procedural inadequacies

Madras High Court on procedural inadequacies in an inquiry by an internal committee

In a judgment dated 1st August, 2019, the Madras High Court in the case of R. Patchaiappan vs. The Principal Secretary Cum Commissioner, Hindu Religious and Endowment Department and Ors. held that an inquiry conducted by an internal committee under The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (“Law”) should follow the complete procedure, as envisioned under Law.

Facts: R. Patchaiappan (“Petitioner”) was working as Joint Commissioner in Hindu Religious Endowment Department (“Employer”) at Madurai. A complaint dated 02.07.2019 was preferred by the complainant/3rd Respondent, wherein it is alleged that, when the Petitioner and complainant discharged their duties, the Petitioner by using his Mobile Pen Camera recorded the bathing taken by the complainant and another one person, who also worked with the Employer. Based on the above said complaint, the Employer suspended the Petitioner from service.

According to Petitioner, the 2nd respondent (“IC”) directed him to appear for inquiry without serving the copy of the complaint, supporting documents and names and the addresses of witnesses as contemplated in Rule 7(1) of the Rules, prescribed under Law (“Rules”). On receipt of intimation of the proceedings from the IC, he wrote a letter informing that he was on medical leave till 31.07.2019 and that he was not in a position to appear before the IC. But, without serving a copy of the said complaint and connected documents, the IC elaborately issued note informing him to appear for inquiry on 19.07.2019. Pursuant to this notice, he sent another reply on by stating that he was under medical treatment for blood pressure and giddiness and doctor also advised him not to travel. Therefore, he again sent a communication to the IC to follow the provisions of Rule 7(1) of the Rules.

However, the Petitioner received the communication from the IC dated 22.07.2019 informing that the inquiry on 08.07.2019 and 19.07.2019 (“Inquiry”) was held and nearly 16 witnesses submitted their statements and again directed the Petitioner to appear for an inquiry on 01.08.2019 and to obtain statement of witnesses and cross examine them. The IC did not grant him 10 working days time to submit his reply. Pursuant to this, a Writ Petition had been filed by him to quash the impugned proceedings of the IC and consequently, to set aside the statements of witnesses recorded in the Inquiry as illegal since it was held behind his back and to direct the conduct of the inquiry as per the provisions of Rule 7 of the Rules.

Arguments: The learned Senior Counsel appearing for the Petitioner submitted that as per Rule 7(3) of the Rules, the IC ought to have granted 10 working days time to submit the reply. In the present case on hand, the IC had not granted the necessary time to submit the reply. Rule 7(3) of the Rules states, as follows:

“7. Manner of inquiry in to complaint: –

(3) The respondent shall file his reply to the complaint along with his list of documents and names and addresses of witnesses, within a period not exceeding ten working days from the date of receipt of the documents specified under sub-rule(1).”

Learned Special Government Pleader appearing for the Respondents 1 and 2 submitted that the IC would follow the procedures contemplated under the Rules and shall grant time till 07.08.2019 to the Petitioner for submitting his reply, in response to the notice issued dated 22.07.2019.

Held: In view of the aforesaid submission made by the learned Special Government Pleader appearing for the respondents 1 and 2, the Court, directed the IC to grant time till 07.08.2019 to the Petitioner to submit his reply to the complaint. The Court also made it clear that the IC shall conduct inquiry in accordance with the procedures as contemplated under the Rules. Further, the Petitioner was also directed to co-operate with the IC for inquiry and with these directions, the Court disposed off the Writ Petition.

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