SC upholds dismissal of service of bank employee for drunken brawl in 1988

By PTI

NEW DELHI: Over 33 years after the incident, the Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld a penalty of dismissal of service awarded to a bank employee for drunkenness within the premises of the bank and for manhandling, assaulting the senior officers, and also hurling abuses at the management.

The plea of a multi-national bank against the High Court order remained pending before the top court for six years after being filed in 2015.

A bench of Justices Ajay Rastogi and Abhay S Oka set aside the order of the Allahabad High Court and the labour court and upheld the dismissal of service awarded by internal dispute enquiry conducted on one RC Srivastava after the incident which happened on January 12, 1988.

The top court said, “the decision of the Labour Court should not be based on mere hypothesis. It cannot overturn the decision of the management on ipse dixit. Its jurisdiction under Section 11­A of the Act 1947 although is a wide one but it must be judiciously exercised. Judicial discretion, it is trite, cannot be exercised either whimsically or capriciously. It may scrutinize or analyse the evidence but what is important is how it does so”.

The bench in its verdict said that in the given facts and circumstances, looking to the peculiar facts of this case where the workman (Srivastava) had been paid over Rs.57 lakh and had attained the age of superannuation on January 31, 2012, and therefore it considers it appropriate to observe that no recovery shall be made in reference to the payment which has been made over to the workman in the interregnum period.

“The appeal succeeds and is accordingly allowed and the judgement of the High Court dated November 21, 2014, affirming the Award dated September 14, 2006, passed by the Tribunal (Labour court) is set aside with the clarification that there shall be no recovery in reference to the payment which has been made over to the respondent­ workman in the interregnum period,” it said.

The bench said that it is of the considered view that the Award passed by the Tribunal and confirmed by the High Court under impugned judgment is not sustainable in law.

It said that this court finds that the labour court has converted itself into “a Court of Appeal as an appellate authority and has exceeded its jurisdiction” while appreciating the finding recorded in the course of domestic enquiry and tested on the broad principles of charge to be proved beyond reasonable doubt which is a test in the criminal justice system and has completely forgotten the fact that the domestic enquiry is to be tested on the principles of the preponderance of probabilities.

“if a piece of evidence is on record which could support the charge which has been levelled against the delinquent unless it is per se unsustainable or perverse, ordinarily is not to be interfered by the Tribunal, more so when the domestic enquiry has been held to be fair and proper and, in our view, the Tribunal has completely overlooked and exceeded its jurisdiction while interfering with the finding recorded during the course of enquiry in furtherance of which, the respondent was dismissed from service and the High Court has also committed a manifest error while passing the judgement impugned,” the bench said.

The top court noted that after the charge sheet dated January 27, 1988, was served, of which a detailed reference has been made in the course of an enquiry, the officers of the Bank with whom the alleged misconduct was committed by Srivastava had appeared as a witness on behalf of the management in support of the allegations.

It said that for the reason best known Srivastava had not recorded his own statement in defence in the course of enquiry but produced a Watchman and an ex-employee of the Bank who confronted the statement of the witnesses of the management with whom the alleged incident occurred, based on the ocular evidence.

The bench said that the Tribunal after a reappraisal of the record of domestic enquiry and holding it to be fair and proper has a very limited scope to interfere in the enquiry to the extent as to whether there is any apparent perversity in the finding of fact or violation of the procedure of holding an enquiry or the punishment levelled against the workman does not commensurate with the nature of allegation proved against him.

The incident occurred on January 12, 1988, and the enquiry officer after holding the charges against Srivastava proved, ordered the punishment of dismissal from service by an order dated August 22, 1991.

Srivastava then approached the labour court or industrial dispute tribunal which set aside the order of dismissal from service and directed the Bank to reinstate the employee in service with full back wages, seniority, and all the consequential benefits attached to the post by its Award dated September 14, 2006.

The award of the tribunal was challenged before the Allahabad High Court which on November 21, 2014, dismissed the plea of the bank.