NEW DELHI: Burden of proof in departmental proceedings is not of "beyond reasonable doubt" but probabilities of the misconduct, the Supreme Court said on Tuesday while setting aside the Delhi High Court order directing reinstatement of a CRPF personnel who was dismissed from service on the ground of misconduct.
The apex court was dealing with a plea filed by the Centre against the April 2019 verdict of high court which had set aside the order of dismissal passed by the competent authority in May 2014 against the man, who was a general duty constable in the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF).
The top court noted that an FIR was lodged against the man in 1996 and he was accused to have fired from his service revolver on a head constable and a deputy commandant resulting in the death of one of them and injuries to the other.
He was convicted by the trial court in March 1996 and sentenced to life imprisonment but later, the Punjab and Haryana High Court had acquitted him of the charges by giving benefit of doubt.
He was initially dismissed from service in December 1996 on account of his conviction in the criminal case but as he was subsequently acquitted, he was reinstated in July 2012.
"The burden of proof in the departmental proceedings is not of beyond reasonable doubt as is the principle in the criminal trial but probabilities of the misconduct," a bench of justices Hemant Gupta and V Ramasubramanian said in the verdict.
The bench noted that in February 2013, a charge sheet was issued to the man alleging that during his posting at Amritsar in April 1993, he had without having the order from competent officer fired from his service rifle and hence, misused the government weapon and ammunition and committed remissness of duties.
It said in the enquiry proceedings, six witnesses were examined and the commandant, the punishing authority, returned a finding that the man had misused his service weapon and thus, was not entitled to be retained in the disciplinary force.
The order was affirmed by the appellate as well as the revisional authority, the apex court noted.
The man had then approached the high court which had referred to another charge sheet served to the man in June 1993 and said it contradicts the charges mentioned in the February 2013 charge sheet that while on duty, he had misused the government weapon.
"We find that the High Court has exceeded its jurisdiction while exercising the power of judicial review over the orders passed in the disciplinary proceedings which were conducted while adhering to the principles of natural justice," the apex court said.
It said the high court failed to notice that in the charge sheet issued in June 1993, the allegation was that the man had failed to perform his fatigue duty from 9 to 10 am and was disobedient to the lawful orders issued to him.
"The writ petitioner (before the high court) completed his fatigue duty at 10 am and then reported for duty at the Headquarters. In the later charge sheet dated February 25, 2013, the departmental witnesses have uniformly deposed that the noise of firing of 15-20 gunshots was heard around 11 am on April 11, 1993," it noted.
The bench noted the man had alleged that a false case was made against him and the terrorists had fired on the camp.
"None of the departmental witnesses have been even suggested about any terrorist attack or that the writ petitioner (man) was out of camp," it said, adding, "Therefore, the allegations in the charge sheet dated February 25, 2013 that the writ petitioner (man) has fired from the official weapon is a reliable finding returned by the departmental authorities on the basis of evidence placed before them."
The bench said the order passed by the high court is 'not sustainable' and hence, is set aside.