Q: I was an employee of a society registered under the Societies Registration Act, which is engaged in research in the field of jute and textiles. The society is under direct control of the ministry of textiles.
About two years ago, a chargesheet was issued to me, containing various allegations of misconduct. The chargesheet had hit me like a bolt and I kept on asserting that the allegations were baseless. But to no avail. Subsequently, a domestic enquiry was initiated against me.
The enquiry officer appointed by the management is a lawyer who has represented the society in various court cases. I participated in the proceedings and produced sufficient evidence to disprove the allegations of misconduct. However, the enquiry officer submitted a report holding me guilty.
Much to my consternation, the disciplinary authority agreed with the enquiry report and terminated my service. I feel that the enquiry officer, being the society's lawyer, was biased against me and should not have acted as the enquiry officer.
As someone who has represented the society in the past, his obvious intention was to justify the chargesheet and safeguard the interest of the society. Now my question is ' can I challenge the enquiry report and the order of termination in a court of law' What is the remedy available to me in such a scenario' Please advise.
Kushal Sen, Howrah
A: There is no bar in law that states that the employer's lawyer cannot act as enquiry officer in a domestic enquiry. That the enquiry officer was the employer's lawyer per se does not give rise to any presumption of bias.
Further, it appears that you have participated in the enquiry proceeding without recording any objection as regards the person of the enquiry officer. Hence, on that ground, any challenge to the enquiry report is unlikely to be successful.
However, if you can demonstrate from the face of the enquiry that the same is perverse or clearly reflects a bias against you and if the society is a wing of the government and/or an authority within the meaning of Article 12 of the Constitution of India, you may file a writ application in the appropriate high court challenging the enquiry report and the resulting termination order.
Further, if the charges against you were not so serious as to warrant termination of services, you may challenge the termination order on the principle of proportionality, i.e. the punishment imposed was disproportionate to the charges brought against you.
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