P. Ramakrishnam Raju, J
1. Petitioner-Appellant was appointed as Conductor in A.P. State Road Transport Corporation and was working in Mancherial Depot. A check was conducted while he was conducting his bus on the route Gollette-I and Tandur-I-B on 24-11-1988 and detected certain cash and ticket irregularities. Accordingly a charge-memo was issued for having re-issued tickets to 9 passengers after collecting money which were already issued earlier. The enquiry officer who conducted domestic enquiry submitted his report that the charges are proved. Accepting the findings, the disciplinary authority removed him from service. The petitioner-Appellant raised an industrial dispute in I.D.No.10667 of 1989 before the Industrial Tribunal challenging the proceedings unsuccessfully. Petitioner-Appellant again invoked the jurisdiction of this Court under Article 226 of the Constitution of India by filing Writ Petition No. 11844 of 1992. Learned single Judge found that it is not a matter where he can interfere with the punishment as it is not disproportionate to the gravity of misconduct. The writ petition was accordingly dismissed. Hence the writ appeal
Writ Appeal No.679 of 1997 :
2. Petitioner-Appellant was working as Conductor in the second respondent-A.P. Stale Road Transport Corporation. While he was conducting Bus No.AAZ 2656 on the route Warangal-Sangam on 2-6-1990, a check was conducted and irregularities were noticed. A charge-memo was served on the petitioner-Appellant with five charges that he failed to observe the rules to complete ticket issue and close the S.R; failed to collect fair and issue tickets to four passengers; having collected the fair, failed to issue tickets to five passengers; apart from other irregularities. The Enquiry Officer submitted his report after conducting domestic enquiry and the disciplinary authority after considering the entire material including the explanation offered by the petitioner-Appellant removed him from service, since charges are proved. Petitioner-Appellant raised an Industrial dispute in I.D.No.20 of 1990 in which the Industrial Tribunal confirmed the said punishment. Petitioner-Appellant challenged the same before learned single Judge in Writ Petition No/15644 of 1992. As the learned single Judge also did not interfere, this writ appeal.
3. Large number of cases, day in and day out, are filed resorting to proceedings under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, contending that a Bus Conductor of a Road Transport Corporation, or employee of a Public Sector Undertaking, or even a Government servant who has misappropriated small sum, when found that he is guilty, should be treated leniently while awarding punishment. This vexed question has been agitating this Court. Therefore, a Division Bench of this Court, of which one of us -Sri P.S. Mishra, C. J. is a member, felt the necessity of laying down certain guidelines to throw light for deciding such cases : in WANos. 125 and 27 of 1997 dated 11-9-1997:
"(1) In a case where the bus fare is collected from a passenger by the bus conductor without issuing the ticket instantly, the magnitude of the amount involved shall not be treated as rendering any yardstick for determining the gravity of the mis-conduct. Such mis-conduct is a mis-conduct per se which is serious eventually leading to the cracking of the economic backbone of the Transport Corporation;
(2) No lenient view need be taken in such cases. The punishment as may be provided in the Rules and Regulations of the Transport Corporation should be strictly construed without being influenced by the principles of punishment to be commensurate with the gravity of the mis-conduct;
(3) The bus having been crowded much exceeding its capacity can also not be treated as rendering any justification in cases where the conductor has already collected the bus fare and has not issued the ticket;
(4) Once fare is collected, the conductor is bound to issue the ticket. It is a different situation altogether if the conductor is unable to collect the fare and unable to issue the ticket to a passenger in view of heavy crowd in the bus. In fact the nature of such misconduct is different from the misconduct of collecting the fare and not issuing the ticket. The rule of "issue and start" will apply in such cases and the charge, if levelled, has to be viewed from that angle;
(5) Closing the SR without issuing ticket to a passenger from whom the bus fare has already been collected is a deliberate act of mis-conduct on part of the bus conductor, leaving no scope for any presumption other than the presumption that the delinquent had a dishonest intention of causing wrongful loss to the Corporation and wrongful gain for himself Such mis-conduct should be viewed strictly and no interference need be made by the Court of law if the quantum of punishment imposed is in accordance with the disciplinary Rules of the Corporation for that purpose. It is a clear manifestation of the dishonest intention of the delinquent and no leniency could be shown to the culprit; and
(6) The defence, if taken by the delinquent that he was about to issue the ticket when the inspecting party raided the bus could also not be treated as a remitting factor unless the margin of time when the bus fare was collected on one hand and the time when the raiding party raided the bus on the other was very narrow."
In State of Orissa v. Bidyaghushan, , the Apex Court held thus :
"But the Court in a case in which an order of dismissal of a public servant is impugned, is not concerned to decide whether the sentence imposed, provided it is justified by the rules, is appropriate having regard to the gravity of the misdemeanour established. The reasons which induce the punishing authority, if there has been an enquiry consistent with the prescribed rules, are not justiciable : nor is the penalty open to review by the Court.''
The Apex Court again in State Bank of India v. Samarendra Kishore, (1997) 2 SCC 537 indicated that the Court while exercising power of judicial review under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, shall not sit as the Court of appeal and the power of the Court is circumscribed by well-established principles relating to judicial review. Speaking for Division Bench of this Court one of us -Sri P.S. Mishra, Chief Justice, in Writ Appeal No. 1135 of 1995, observed thus:
"It is obvious that learned single Judge has not taken notice of the law on the subject that the High Court had no jurisdiction to review the penalty imposed by a competent authority on a public servant if the conditions of the constitutional protection have been complied with and unless it is found that punishment imposed is shockingly disproportionate to the proved guilt or misconduct and is obviously arbitrary and discriminatory so as to attract Article 14 of the Constitution of India. The Court must exercise the well considered refrain by leaving the discretion about the imposition of penalty with the competent authority. Quite a few other aspects in the impugned judgment, it has been canvassed at the Bar, cannot be said to be in accordance with the rules the Courts apply for judicial review of an order of the competent authority in the matter of disciplinary proceedings or otherwise in respect of quasi-judicial orders. One of the settled principles is that adequacy of evidence is not a matter which would ever receive attention of the Court exercising power under Article 226 of the Constitution It is absence of evidence or any irrelevant material taken into consideration which alone would give occasion for interference in the matter of finding of guilt of any delinquent officer. Evidence for the purposes of disciplinary enquiry is not strictly the evidence as understood in the context of a civil proceedings in a Court of law. It is just taken as equivalent to material exhibiting the conduct of the delinquent officer. Learned single Judge has gone quite beyond the rules recognised by the Courts for the purposes of judicial review of administrative or quasi-judicial orders."
To the same effect is another Division Bench judgment in District and Sessions Judge, Guntur v. Madhava Rao, 1996 (1) ALD 761. In this case, the respondent working in Subordinate Judiciary, was served with a charge memo. After a full-fledged enquiry, the charges were proved and a punishment of compulsory retirement from service was imposed. Questioning the said order, he approached the High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution, and the learned single Judge did not find any defect with the enquiry or the findings recorded on the charges. However, he interfered with the punishment and reduced the punishment of compulsory retirement to one of withdrawing increments on the ground that the punishment is disproportionate to the alleged mis-conduct. When the matter was carried in appeal a Division bench of this Court, one of us Sri P.S. Mishra, the Chief Justice, speaking for the Court observed as follows:
"Learned single Judge has committed exactly that mistake which the Courts have always opined it should not do i.e., he has almost entered into the merits to decide the adequacy of the punishment and substituted his order for the order of the disciplinary authority. While such a tiling as pointed, out above can be one by the appellate authority, it cannot be done in a proceeding for judicial review of an order imposing punishment which is passed in a disciplinary proceeding in accordance with law. Learned Counsel for the respondent has however, urged before us that the writ petitioner-respondent, when found that another person similarly charged, and according to her of no serious misdemeanour than the charge against the writ petitioner-respondent, has been reinstated in service, the writ petitioner thought this to be a ground to move the Court on its judicial side and invoke its jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution. If at all such a ground is available to the writ petitioner-respondent, he could have taken the matter in appeal against the order of the disciplinary authority. In view of the principles above stated, it could not be taken as a ground for judicial review of the order of punishment which is passed in a departmental proceeding. Since we have found that the learned single Judge has committed an obvious error of law, we have no hesitation in interfering with the impugned order."
From a conspectus of decided cases, the golden thread which is noticed throughout, is that this Court while exercising the power of judicial review under Article 226 of the Constitution cannot lightly interfere with the punishment imposed by the disciplinary authority, since the High Court does not sit as a Court of appeal over the decision of the authority holding domestic enquiry against a public servant. It is not open to the High Court to re-appraise the evidence and to arrive at an independent conclusion on the evidence adduced in the case. However, the grey area where the High Court can interfere is only where during the course of departmental proceeding, principles of natural justice were violated causing prejudice to the delinquent officer. The High Court may interfere with the punishment when the same is shockingly disproportionate to proved guilt or on misconduct no reasonable prudent man would award such a punishment which is so arbitrary and unreasonable attracting application of Article 14 and in such circumstances, the High Court may well be justified in treating such cases as amounting to discrimination calling for redressed under Article 14 of the Constitution of India. Even here, this Court while exercising the power of judicial review may not substitute the punishment which is reasonable according to its opinion, for the punishment awarded by the disciplinary authority. It should always be left to the disciplinary authority to impose appropriate punishment in the circumstances of the case. Such power may be exercised by a Court of Appeal and not by the High Court while exercising jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution of India
4. For all these reasons, we are of the opinion that in cases of misappropriation of public funds, whether the sums so misappropriated are small or large, deterrent punishment is always called for in the interest of administration and what should be the appropriate punishment in the circumstances of each case, should always be left to the discretion of the disciplinary authority and the High Court while exercising judicial review under Article 226 of the Constitution of India shall not interfere and substitute itself as a Court of appeal. In this view of the matter, we do not find any merit in these Writ Appeals.
5. The Writ Appeals are accordingly dismissed. No order as to costs.