The Supreme Court on 4th January 2022 in the matter of The Rajasthan Marudhara Gramin Bank (RMGB) & Anr. Vs Ramesh Chandra Meena & Anr., 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.
In the instant case, one Ramesh Chandra Meena, while working as a Branch Manager was 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 him 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 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 Division Bench of the Rajasthan High Court directed the Bank to allow Ramesh Chandra Meena to be represented by a retired employee of the Bank in the departmental inquiry.
The Apex court made the following observations:
- If the reasoning of the High Court is considered, the High Court is of the opinion that as there is no complete or absolute bar even on engaging a lawyer, it is difficult to accept that a retired employee of the Bank cannot be engaged to represent a delinquent officer in the departmental inquiry. However, the High Court has not appreciated the effect of the Handbook. As per Clause 8 of the Handbook Procedure which has been approved by the Board of Directors and it is applicable to all the employees of the Bank and Clause 8 is with respect to the defence representative, it specifically provides that DR should be serving official / employee from the Bank. The said Handbook Procedure which has been approved by the Board of Directors of the Bank is binding to all the employees of the Bank. The High Court has considered Regulation 44 of the Regulation, 2010, however has not considered clause 8 of the Handbook Procedure on the ground that the same cannot be said to be supplementary. However, we are of the opinion that Handbook Procedure can be said to be supplementary. The same cannot be said to be in conflict with the Regulation 44 of Regulation, 2010. As observed herein above, neither Regulation 44 permits nor restricts engagement of an exemployee of the Bank to be DR. Therefore, Clause 8.2 cannot be said to be in conflict with the provisions of Regulation, 2010. Provisions of Regulation, 2010 and the provisions of Handbook Procedure are required to be read harmoniously, the result can be achieved without any violation of any of the provisions of Regulation, 2010 and the Handbook Procedure. 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 exemployee of the Bank. At the cost of repetition, it is observed that there is no absolute right in favour of the delinquent officer’s to be represented in the departmental proceedings through the agent of his choice and the same can be restricted by the employer.
- As per settled proposition of law, 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. However, at the same time, if the charge is severe and complex nature, then request to be represented through a counsel can be considered keeping in mind Regulation 44 of Regulation, 2010 and if in a particular case, the same is denied, that can be ground to challenge the ultimate outcome of the departmental enquiry.
However, as a matter of right in each and every case, 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.
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.
– Vaishali Jain, Advocate & Associate