Regional Manager, Uco Bank vs Krishna Kumar Bhardwaj on 18 February, 2022


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Supreme Court of India

Regional Manager, Uco Bank vs Krishna Kumar Bhardwaj on 18 February, 2022

Author: Ajay Rastogi

Bench: Ajay Rastogi, Abhay S. Oka

                                                                  NON­REPORTABLE

                                   IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
                                   CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION

                                 CIVIL APPEAL NO(S).       1457 OF 2022
                              (Arising out of SLP(Civil) No(s). 13953 of 2021)


         REGIONAL MANAGER,
         UCO BANK AND ANOTHER                                    …..APPELLANT(S)


                                   VERSUS


         KRISHNA KUMAR BHARDWAJ                                  ….RESPONDENT(S)



                                             JUDGMENT

Rastogi, J.

1. Leave granted.

2. The instant appeal is directed against the judgment and order

dated 21st January, 2021 passed by the Division Bench of the High

Court of Allahabad affirming the order of the learned Single Judge

dated 19th October, 2019 pursuant to which the inquiry proceedings
Signature Not Verified

Digitally signed by
JAGDISH KUMAR
Date: 2022.02.18

and consequential punishment inflicted upon the respondent
16:04:54 IST
Reason:

delinquent were quashed and set aside.

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3. The respondent delinquent was serving as an Assistant

Manager, Sewla Branch on 10th/11th November, 1999 when the

incident of theft was reported. The respondent delinquent being one

of the joint custodian of cash was responsible for safety of keys of

cash/strong room and failed to take all precautionary steps as

being indicated in the guidelines of the Bank and because of the

alleged negligence on the part of the respondent delinquent in

handling the keys in inappropriate manner resulted into theft/loss

of cash from the cash safe. For such delinquency committed by

him in discharge of his official duties, he was placed under

suspension in exercise of power conferred under Regulation 12 of

the UCO Bank Officers Employees (Discipline & Appeal) Regulations

1976(hereinafter being referred to as the “Regulations 1976”) by an

Order dated 29th November, 1999.

4. Later, chargesheet dated 7th December, 1999 along with four

article of charges was served and by a corrigendum dated 13 th

March, 2000, additional charge no.5 was served upon him. It may

be appropriate to quote the extract of articles of charges, dated 7 th

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December, 1999 along with additional charge no.5 by a

corrigendum dated 13th March, 2000 as under:­

1. Being one of the joint custodians of cash, Mr. K.K. Bhardwaj was
responsible for safety of keys of cash/strong room, he did not keep
the eyes in his person as per guidelines of the Bank, instead left the
keys in the branch premises over­night in an almirah in contravention
to the guidelines for safety of keys of cash safe/strong room. He was
most negligent and his handling the keys in a perfunctionary manner
resulted into theft/loss of cash of Rs. 12.00 lacs from the cash safe.

2. Mr. K.K. Bhardwaj, being one of the joint custodians of cash, did not
arrange to remit the surplus cash on 10.11.1999 to Currency Chest,
Belanganj Branch, Agra even though there was huge cash balance
much more than the average, anticipated daily requirement. Thus, he
did not take all possible steps to ensure and protect the interest of the
Bank and did not discharge his duties with utmost devotion and
diligence which is violative of Regulation 3(1) of UCO Bank Officer
Employees(Conduct) Regulations, 1976 as amended.

3. Before leaving the branch on 10.11.1999 after close of cash, Mr. K.K.
Bhardwaj did not check about the closure of one rear gate between
the main hall and passage towards toilet of Sewla Branch, Agra which
was left unlocked/opened on 10.11.99. Thus, he did not take take all
possible steps to ensure and protect the interest of the Bank and
failed to discharge his duties with utmost devotion and diligence
which is violative of Regulation 3(1) of UCO Bank Officers Employees
(Conduct) Regulations, 1976 as amended.

4. Mr. Bhardwaj did not maintain the key register for noting the transfer
of keys from one holder to another. He himself along with Chief
Cashier had not signed the key register on taking over charge of the
keys of cash safe/strong room of the branch. Thus, he failed to
discharge his duties with devotion and diligence which is violative of
Regulation 3(1) of UCO Bank Officer Employees (Conduct)
Regulations, 1976 as amended.

5. That Mr. K.K. Bhardwaj was in hand and glove with some person with
an ulterior motive in perpetration of theft of cash at Sewla Branch for
Rs.12.00 lacs on 10th/11th November, 1999. Thus he failed to

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discharge his duties with utmost integrity and honesty, which is
violative of Regulation­3 of UCO BANK Officers employees (Conduct)
Regulation, 1976 as amended.”

5. The inquiry officer conducted departmental inquiry in terms of

the procedure prescribed under the scheme of Regulations, 1976

and after affording opportunity of hearing and due compliance of

principles of natural justice, held charge nos. 1,3 and 4 proved vide

report dated 31st July, 2001. However, charge nos. 2 and 5 were

not held proved.

6. It is an admitted fact that the date on which the theft was

committed, i.e. 10th/11th November, 1999, Mr. Vinod Kumar

Khanna was the Manager of Sewla, Agra Branch. During that

period, the present respondent was Assistant Manager and one Mr.

K.L. Khandelwal was the Assistant Manager(Cash). Apart from

them, four other clerks were posted at Sewla Branch and Mr. Vinod

Kumar Khanna was not on duty on the day when the incident had

taken place. The signatures of custodian ­ the present respondent

delinquent and Mr. K.L. Khandewal(Assistant Manager(Cash) were

confirmed and in support thereof, document ME­2/1 to ME­2/5

were placed on record.

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7. The statement of fact was duly recorded by the Inquiry Officer

in his report that the respondent delinquent was custodian of keys

on the day, i.e., 10th/11th November, 1999 when the theft was

committed and he was one of the joint custodian of cash and

responsible for safety of keys/cash. After due appreciation of

documentary evidence placed on record, the Inquiry Officer found

charge nos. 1, 3 and 4 proved against the respondent delinquent.

After due appreciation of the documentary evidence on record, the

extract of the findings which has been recorded, after detailed

scrutiny of facts, by the Inquiry Officer in his report for arriving to a

conclusion in holding charge nos. 1, 3 and 4 proved against the

respondent delinquent are referred to hereunder:­

Charge No. 1

Findings of the Inquiry Officer :­

I have fully examined the contentions of P.O.& DR/C.S.0. and my findings in this
regard are as under:­

Considering all the facts and material placed before me during the inquiry proceedings
by the concerned parties, I concur with the arguments advanced and facts established
by the Presenting Officer, who has established the facts relating to charge No. 1 on the
basis of ME­2/ 1 to 5, ME­ 6/1 & 2, ME­10,, ME­10/1&2, ME­11, ME­3, ME­13, ME­
12, ME­14, ME­15, ME­20, ME­27, DE­30, DE­31/1&2, DE­32, ME­1/5, ME­23, ME­
24, DE­2/1to15.

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I, therefore, hold that charge No. 1 stands proved against Mr. K.K. Bhardwaj, C.S.O.

Charge No. 3

Findings of the Inquiry Officer :­

I have fully examined the contentions of P.O. and DR/CSO and my findings in
this regard are as under:­

Considering all the facts and material placed before me during the inquiry
proceedings by the concerned parties, I concur with arguments advanced and
facts established by the Presenting Officer, who has established the facts
relating to charge No. 3 on the basis of documentary evidence, namely, ME­3,
ME­12, ME­13, ME­14, ME­15, ME­16, ME­17 & ME­18. As per ME­14 the
C.S.O. had left the branch at about 4.45 p.m. on 10.11.99, and as per ME­12
and ME­13 the Manager, Mr. V.K. Khanna had left the branch on 10.11.99 at
about 2.00 p.m. by informing to the Asstt. Manager, Mr. K.K. Bhardwaj. It is
the bounden duty of the Manager to ensure the security of the branch and in
absence of the Manager it automatically passes on to the Asstt. Manager, who
is second­in­command in the branch. As such, the asstt. Manager Mr. K.K.
Bhardwaj while leaving the Sewla branch on 10.11.1999, in absence of the
Manager, must have fully ensured about the safety and security of the branch
in view of alarming/huge cash accumulation (Rs. 27,84,002.17) in the branch
as at the close of business on 10.11.99. Laxity in security is also evident from
ME­15. So, it is well substantiated by P.O. that the Asstt. Manager was lacking
in his duty while leaving the branch on 10.11.99 in absence of the Manager, in
the matter of security and safety of the branch.

I, therefore, hold that charge No. 3 stands proved against Mr. K.K. Bhardwaj,
C.S.O.

Charge No. 4

Findings of the Inquiry Officer:

I have fully examined the contentions of P.O. & DR/CSO and my findings in
this regard are as under:­

Considering all the facts and material placed before me during the inquiry
proceedings by the concerned parties, I concur with the arguments advanced

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and facts established by the Presenting Officer, who has established from ME­
6/1&2 that “A record of custody of all important keys should be carried in a
key Register. All changes in the custody of keys should be promptly made
thereinunder the signatures of the custodians.”

ME­8 & ME­22/ 1&2 confirm the incomplete records of the postings in the Key
Register’s relating to Asstt. Manager and Asstt. Manager (Cash) since 1.8.1995
and 2.7.1994 respectively.

It is established from above records that the Asstt. Manager and the Asstt.
Manager (Cash) who were the joint custodians at Sewla Agra branch, had not
signed the respective key registers on taking over charge of the keys of Cash
Safe/Strong Room of the branch and did not maintain the Key Registers
uptodate.

I, therefore, hold that Charge No. 4, stands proved against Mr. K.K. Bhardwaj,
C.S.O.”

8. The disciplinary authority, after affording opportunity of

hearing to the respondent delinquent, concurred with the findings

of the Inquiry Officer and after due compliance of principles of

natural justice, inflicted the penalty of dismissal from service vide

Order dated 31st December, 2001 with disqualification for future

employment.

9. The order of the disciplinary authority came to be challenged

by the respondent in the departmental appeal before the appellate

authority. The appellate authority, after revisiting the record of

inquiry, found justification in the submissions made by the

respondent delinquent with regard to charge no. 3 but so far as the

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finding in reference to charge nos. 1 and 4 is concerned, the

appellate authority concurred with the finding recorded by the

inquiry officer and confirmed by the disciplinary authority in

exercise of power under Regulation 17 of the Regulations, 1976 and

modified the punishment by its Order dated 23 rd December, 2002,

the extract of which is as under:­

“I, therefore, in exercise of powers vested in me as Appellate Authority, and in terms of

Regulation 17 of UCO Bank Officer Employees (Discipline and Appeal) Regulations,

1976, as amended, pass the following Order :


Charge    No. Proved         Shri K.K. Bhardwaj (PFM No. 23213) shall be
1                            compulsorily retired from Bank's service.



Charge    No. Not            Exonerated
2             Proved

Charge    No. Not            Exonerated
3             Proved

Charge    No. Proved         The Basic Pay of Shri Bhardwaj be reduced by
4                            two stages in the time scale of pay for a period

of 4 (four) years. It is further directed that he
will earn increments of pay during the period of
reduction and that on expiry of this period the
reduction will have the effect of postponing his
future increments.

Charge    No. Not            Exonerated
5             Proved



                                                                                       8

The above punishments shall run concurrently, However, since no moral
turpitude is being found against Shri Bhardwaj, he will be paid with all
terminal benefits payable to him.”

10. The order passed by the appellate authority came to be

challenged by the respondent under Article 226 of the Constitution.

The learned Single Judge, after taking note of the record of inquiry,

arrived to the conclusion that Mr. Vinod Kumar Khanna was the

Branch Manager on the date when the incident had occurred, i.e.,

10th/11th November, 1999 and the joint responsibility was of the

Branch Manager and the Assistant Manager(Cash). Since the

present respondent delinquent was the Assistant Manager, he could

not be held to be responsible for lapses and set aside the order of

punishment inflicted upon the respondent delinquent under its

Order dated 19th October 2019.

11. On Letters Patent Appeal preferred at the instance of the

present appellant, the Division Bench under the impugned

judgment has not taken care to examine the report of inquiry and

has just reproduced the findings recorded by the learned Single

Judge under the order impugned and dismissed the appeal by an

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Order dated 21st January, 2021 which is the subject matter of

challenge before us.

12. For completion of facts, it may be relevant to note that the

factual error was committed by the learned Single Judge and the

Division Bench in passing the impugned judgment that Mr. Vinod

Kumar Khanna, who was the Manager of Sewla, Agra Branch at

that time, was also served with the charge­sheet and he too faced

departmental inquiry but the allegation against him was that

despite being fully aware that the respondent delinquent was the

custodian of cash(keeping the keys of the cash safe/strong room in

an almirah in the stationery room overnight) and not keeping the

same in his personal custody as per rules of the Bank, he did not

take appropriate steps against the staff who was reportedly keeping

overnight safety of the keys of the chest in the Branch itself which

was a gross negligence which he had committed in discharge of his

duties as a Manager of the Branch and for his supervisory

negligence, after charge­sheet dated 17 th December, 1999 came to

be served, he too was held guilty for his supervisory negligence

10
which he had committed in discharge of his duties and was

punished by an Order dated 28th February, 2002.

13. Learned counsel for the appellants submits that for the gross

misconduct which the respondent had committed in discharge of

his duties, the inquiry was conducted in accordance with the

procedure prescribed under the Regulations 1976 and it was never

the case of the respondent either before the departmental

authorities or before the High Court that the inquiry has not been

conducted in accordance with the procedure prescribed under the

scheme of Regulations, 1976 or the record which was relevant to

the charge, and demanded by him, was not made available to him

and what prejudice has been caused to him on account of non­

availability of record or the orders passed by the

disciplinary/appellate authority are in violation of principles of

natural justice while upholding the findings of the inquiry officer in

reference to charge nos. 1 and 4 and consequential punishment

inflicted upon him.

14. At the same time, learned counsel further submits that the

learned Single Judge of the High Court has proceeded on the

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premise that it was the Manager and Assistant Manager(Cash) who

were responsible officers and because of their negligence, theft has

been committed on 10th/11th November, 1999 from the cash safe of

the Branch which appears to be factually incorrect. It was the

respondent delinquent who was the custodian and in­charge of keys

at the relevant point of time along with Assistant Manager(Cash)

and the finding was recorded by the Inquiry Officer supported by

the documentary evidence on record and this was never questioned

by the respondent delinquent at any later stage even when he was

served with the inquiry report or to the disciplinary or appellate

authority while assailing the finding recorded by the inquiry officer

in his report. This is the manifest error which the Division Bench of

the High Court has committed in interfering with the domestic

inquiry conducted against the respondent delinquent in which

charge nos. 1 and 4 were finally held proved against him. In the

given circumstances, the interference made by the High Court in

the impugned judgment is not sustainable and deserves to be

interfered with by this Court.

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15. Per contra, learned counsel for the respondent, on the other

hand, submits that respondent was the Assistant Manager and the

responsibility was of the Manager of the Branch and the Assistant

Manager(Cash) and submits that the finding recorded by the

inquiry officer in his report is perverse and not sustainable.

16. Learned counsel further submits that the plea was raised by

him against the inquiry officer being biased but no one has paid

heed to his request and further submits that the documents

demanded by him were not made available despite request and the

orders passed by the disciplinary/appellate authority being non­

speaking and cryptic in nature are otherwise not sustainable in law.

17. We have heard learned counsel for the parties and perused the

material available on record with their assistance.

18. The power of judicial review in the matters of disciplinary

inquiries, exercised by the departmental/appellate authorities

discharged by constitutional courts under Article 226 or Article 136

of the Constitution of India is well circumscribed by limits of

correcting errors of law or procedural errors leading to manifest

injustice or violation of principles of natural justice and it is not

13
akin to adjudication of the case on merits as an appellate authority

which has earlier been examined by this Court in B.C. Chaturvedi

Vs. Union of India and Others1; Himachal Pradesh State

Electricity Board Limited Vs. Mahesh Dahiya2 and recently by a

three­Judge Bench of this Court(of which one of us is a member) in

Deputy General Manager(Appellate Authority) and Others Vs.

Ajay Kumar Srivastava3 wherein this Court has held as under:­

“24. It is thus settled that the power of judicial review, of the
constitutional courts, is an evaluation of the decision­making
process and not the merits of the decision itself. It is to ensure
fairness in treatment and not to ensure fairness of conclusion. The
court/tribunal may interfere in the proceedings held against the
delinquent if it is, in any manner, inconsistent with the rules of
natural justice or in violation of the statutory rules prescribing the
mode of enquiry or where the conclusion or finding reached by the
disciplinary authority is based on no evidence. If the conclusion or
finding be such as no reasonable person would have ever reached
or where the conclusions upon consideration of the evidence
reached by the disciplinary authority are perverse or suffer from
patent error on the face of record or based on no evidence at all, a
writ of certiorari could be issued. To sum up, the scope of judicial
review cannot be extended to the examination of correctness or
reasonableness of a decision of authority as a matter of fact.

25. When the disciplinary enquiry is conducted for the alleged
misconduct against the public servant, the court is to examine and
determine:

(i) whether the enquiry was held by the competent authority;

(ii) whether rules of natural justice are complied with;

1 1995(6) SCC 749
2 2017(1) SCC 768
3 2021(2) SCC 612
14

(iii) whether the findings or conclusions are based on some
evidence and authority has power and jurisdiction to reach
finding of fact or conclusion.

26. It is well settled that where the enquiry officer is not the
disciplinary authority, on receiving the report of enquiry, the
disciplinary authority may or may not agree with the findings
recorded by the former, in case of disagreement, the disciplinary
authority has to record the reasons for disagreement and after
affording an opportunity of hearing to the delinquent may record
his own findings if the evidence available on record be sufficient for
such exercise or else to remit the case to the enquiry officer for
further enquiry.

27. It is true that strict rules of evidence are not applicable to
departmental enquiry proceedings. However, the only requirement
of law is that the allegation against the delinquent must be
established by such evidence acting upon which a reasonable
person acting reasonably and with objectivity may arrive at a
finding upholding the gravity of the charge against the delinquent
employee. It is true that mere conjecture or surmises cannot
sustain the finding of guilt even in the departmental enquiry
proceedings.

28. The constitutional court while exercising its jurisdiction of
judicial review under Article 226 or Article 136 of the Constitution
would not interfere with the findings of fact arrived at in the
departmental enquiry proceedings except in a case of mala fides or
perversity i.e. where there is no evidence to support a finding or
where a finding is such that no man acting reasonably and with
objectivity could have arrived at those findings and so long as there
is some evidence to support the conclusion arrived at by the
departmental authority, the same has to be sustained.”

19. Adverting to the facts of the instant case, the Division Bench

has proceeded on the premise that the responsibility was of the

Branch Manager along with the Assistant Manager(Cash). Hence,

the respondent could not have been held responsible for the lapses

15
of those officers and proceeding on the said foundation, set aside

the penalty inflicted upon the respondent delinquent but the record

of enquiry clearly manifests that it was a factual error being

committed by the High Court while setting aside the domestic

inquiry and the consequential punishment inflicted upon the

respondent delinquent.

20. In the course of enquiry, a documentary evidence came on

record that although Mr. Vinod Kumar Khanna was the Manager of

the Branch but the date, i.e., 10th/11th November, 1999 on which

the theft was committed, the custodian of cash were the respondent

along with the Assistant Manager(Cash). The finding has been

recorded by the inquiry officer in his report holding that the

respondent delinquent was the custodian of cash in keeping the

keys in cash safe/strong room in the almirah of the stationery room

overnight and not keeping the same in his personal custody as per

rules of the Bank along with Assistant Manager(Cash). The finding

of fact was confirmed by the Disciplinary/Appellate Authority in

upholding the guilt of the respondent as he had failed in discharge

of his duties as a custodian when the theft had taken place on

16
10th/11th November, 1999 but the High Court in the impugned

judgment has not taken pains to examine the finding recorded by

the inquiry officer in reference to the responsibility which the

respondent delinquent failed to discharge as a custodian of cash at

the relevant point of time when the theft was committed.

21. That apart, what has been recorded by the inquiry officer has

been revisited by the disciplinary/appellate authority and after re­

appreciation of record of inquiry and due application of mind, the

appellate authority while exonerating the respondent delinquent

from charge no. 3 held charge nos. 1 and 4 proved against him and

punished him by an order dated 23rd December, 2002. Neither the

learned Single Judge nor the Division Bench of the High Court has

taken pains to look into the finding which was recorded by the

inquiry officer in reference to charge nos. 1 and 4 and appreciated

thereafter by the disciplinary/appellate authority in passing of the

order of penalty inflicted upon the respondent delinquent.

22. In our considered view, the finding which has been recorded

by the High Court in the impugned order is unsustainable and not

supported with the report of inquiry available on record.

17

23. The submission made by learned counsel for the respondent

that the inquiry officer was biased and that caused prejudice to

him, suffice it to say, that merely making allegation that he was

biased is not sufficient unless supported by the material placed by

him either during the course of inquiry or before the

disciplinary/appellate authority. Even no submission was made

before the High Court also and it deserves no consideration except

rejection.

24. So far as the submission regarding non­supply of document is

concerned, inquiry officer has observed that the record which was

demanded by the respondent delinquent was made available to him

except the one which was confidential in nature still he was

permitted for inspection. At the same time, the respondent failed to

show as to what prejudice has been caused to him in reference to

the alleged non­supply of the documents demanded by him.

25. The further submission of learned counsel for the respondent

that the decision of the disciplinary/appellate authority being a

non­speaking and cryptic in nature is concerned, it is a sorry state

of affairs to say so that both the orders of the disciplinary/appellate

18
authority are on record and cogent reasons have been assigned

while concurring with the finding of the inquiry officer in order of

the disciplinary authority. The appellate authority also, after due

appreciation of the record of inquiry and confirmed by the

disciplinary authority, arrived to the conclusion that the finding

recorded in reference to charge no. 3 is not proved and held charge

nos. 1 and 4 proved on the basis of which he was persuaded to

modify the punishment under the Order dated 23 rd December,

2002.

26. In our considered view, the High Court has exceeded in its

jurisdiction while interfering with the disciplinary proceedings

initiated against the respondent delinquent and being

unsustainable deserves to be set aside.

27. Consequently, the appeal succeeds and is allowed. The

judgment of the Division Bench of the High Court dated 21 st

January, 2021 is accordingly quashed and set aside. No costs.

28. Pending application(s), if any, stand disposed of.

………………………J.

(AJAY RASTOGI)

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……………………….J.

(ABHAY S. OKA)
NEW DELHI
FEBRUARY 18, 2022

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