October 2, 2022

West Bengal State Electricity Board vs Dilip Kumar Ray-An Analysis

The present case is an important case on service rules and disciplinary proceedings. The court also discussed the nature of ‘malicious prosecution’ in the judgment.

Facts of the Case

  • Dilip Kumar Ray, was an employee of the West Bengal State Electricity, Board and disciplinary proceeding was initiated against him and a First Information Report was lodged against him and others per alleged misconduct and commission of various offences.
  • Initially, Dilip Kumar was placed under suspension for alleged acts of misconduct while functioning as the Superintending Engineer, pending investigation drawal and disposal of the disciplinary proceedings against him.
  • Since no charge sheet was issued within a period of four months a writ petition was filed by him for quashing departmental proceedings.
  • The writ petition was disposed of directing the Board to issue the charge sheet. Accordingly, the charge sheet was issued on 17.1.1986 containing 10 charges.
  • Dilip Kumar submitted his reply to the said charge sheet inter alia denying and disputing each and all of the charges levelled against him. He prayed for permission to inspect certain documents and to take copies thereof. Since the said prayer was not accepted, another writ petition was filed on 13.9.1986 before the High Court.
  • In the said writ petition order passed by the High Court was with to the effect that the enquiry should continue upon proper inspection being granted to all documents for which inspection had been offered, excepting three items.
  • It was further directed that the enquiry should commence after grant of proper opportunity to petitioner in accordance with law. It was, further directed that the enquiry should be completed as expeditiously as possible preferably within six months from the date of commencement of the enquiry.
  • Dilip Kumar continued to make grievance about denial of opportunity and on 10th September, 1986 purportedly written statement of defence in reply to the charge sheet was filed. By order dated 12th December, 1986, Kumar was informed that his reply was found unsatisfactorily and it was decided to hold an enquiry. Subsequently enquiry officer was appointed and a presenting officer was also appointed. However, the enquiry officer appointed originally was replaced because of kumar’s allegations of bias.

The high court’s conclusion

The stand of the electricity board opposing the writ petition was that all relevant documents have been produced. Kumar with the sole object of delaying the proceedings had filed writ petitions at different points of time. Materials on record clearly established misconduct. Therefore, grievances of the writ petitioner cannot be entertained.

The High Court after considering the rival stand and materials on record ultimately came to hold as follows:

“To sum up: the enquiry proceedings were vitiated because the petitioner was not given reasonable opportunity of being heard. The petitioner was not given inspection of several vital documents which prejudiced his defence. The findings of the Enquiry Officer were vitiated being perverse. The punishment proposed to be imposed upon the petitioner was determined without considering the service records of the petitioner which is contrary to the provisions of Regulations 63.”

The writ petition was accordingly allowed and certain directions were given inter alia directing that Kumar was to be allowed to retire on 28th February, 1989 and all retrial benefits were to be paid to him within three months of the retirement.

Further suit in lower court

Subsequently, Kumar filed a civil suit before the Assistant District Judge, Alipur, claiming damages for the institution of disciplinary proceedings against him by the appellant and also the newspaper which purportedly made publication of certain news items.

In the suit, Kumar submitted that,

“The plaintiff submitted that the defendant had with malafide intention and to lower the Plaintiff’s reputation and prestige in the estimation of the public brought false charges against the Plaintiff illegally suspended him from service. It has been clearly held by the Hon’ble High Court at Calcutta that it has not only affected his reputation but also visited him with serious civil and pecuniary consequences.

The plaintiff submits that he has suffered great mental shock on account of such humiliation at the hands of the defendant Nos. 1-3 after having completed his long spell of a brilliant career in service. The Plaintiff had to engage reputed barristers and advocate at different stages of litigation for which the plaintiff had to spend a huge sum of money with much difficulty. The plaintiff, therefore, claims Rs.5,00,000/-only as compensation for defamation.”

The trial held that kumar entitled to damages of Rs.50,000/- for harassment and another Rs.50,000/- for loss of his reputation.

Appeal against the decision

Electricity board filed an appeal at High court of Calcutta against the decision of trial court but the High court dismissed the petition.

Present petition in the Supreme Court

When the appeal was filed by the board to supreme court, the court looked upon on all proceedings conducted before the present case and then gave a whole discussion on ‘malicious prosecution’ and reached on the conclusion that,

“A bare perusal of the averments made in the plaint show that they are extremely vague, lacking in details and after the learned trial judge held that the Board alone was responsible because it was not established that any individual officer was responsible for it and dispute only have been revealed by the high-power enquiry which the court was incompetent to direct, the award for damages is clearly indefensible. The High Court’s judgment suffers from various infirmities. Firstly, it has taken a confused view of the matter. It failed to notice that the trial court itself had held “it was highly probable” that the plaintiff was suspended for extraneous reasons. This conclusion is based on surmises and conjectures. This had not been established. As noted above, the High Court noted that the Trial Court itself held that the plaintiff was not entitled to damages for defamation.

But while affirming the judgment and decree, it held that the damages granted for harassment must be read as damages for malicious prosecution causing harassment. To say the least, all the conclusions are confusing, contradictory and do not convey any sense. Looked at from any angle the impugned judgment of the High Court is indefensible and is set aside.”

Reference

West Bengal State Electricity vs Dilip Kumar Ray, 2006