Effect of acquittal in a criminal case on departmental inquiry
The question as to what is to be done in the case of acquittal in a criminal case has been answered by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in RP Kapur v Union of India and another [AIR 1964 SC 787 (a five-Judge bench judgment)] as follows:
If the trial of the criminal charge results in conviction, disciplinary proceedings are bound to follow against the public servant so convicted. Even in case of acquittal, proceedings may follow where the acquittal is other than honourable.
The issue was explained in the fol- lowing words by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the following words in Ajit Kumar Nag v GM, (PJ), Indian Oil Corporation Ltd [(2005) 7 SCC 764 ]:
Acquittal by a criminal Court would not debar an employer from exercising power in accordance with Rules and Regulations in force. The two proceedings criminal and departmental are entirely different. They operate in different fields and have different objectives. Whereas the object of criminal trial is to inflict appropriate punishment on offender, the purpose of enquiry proceedings is to deal with
the delinquent departmentally and to impose penalty in accordance with service Rules. In a criminal trial, incriminating statement made by the accused in certain circumstances or before certain officers is totally inadmissible in evidence. Such strict rules of evidence and procedure would not apply to departmental proceedings. The degree of proof which is necessary to order a conviction is different from the degree of proof necessary to record the commission of delinquency. The rule relating to appreciation of evidence in the two proceedings is also not similar. In criminal law, burden of proof is on the prosecution and unless the prosecution is able to prove the guilt of the accused `beyond reasonable doubt’, he cannot be convicted by a court of law. In departmental enquiry, on the other hand, penalty can be imposed on the delinquent officer on a finding recorded on the basis of ‘preponderance of probability’. Acquittal of the appellant by a Judicial Magistrate, therefore, does not ipso facto absolve him from the liability under the disciplinary jurisdiction of the Corporation.
The judgment of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in GM Tank v State of Gujarat [(2006) 5 SCC 446] has reaffirmed the principles laid down in RP Kapur (supra). In GM Tank case, the Court observed that there was not an iota of evidence against the appellant to hold that he was guilty. As the criminal case and the departmental proceedings were based on identical set of facts and evidence, the Court set aside the penalty imposed in the departmental inquiry also.
Ratio in the GM Tank judgment should not be misconstrued to mean that no departmental proceedings are permissible in all cases of acquittal or that in such cases the penalty already imposed would have to be set aside. What the Hon’ble Court has held is that no departmental inquiry would be permissible when the evidence clearly establishes that no charge against the Government servant may be made out.