ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court held that although the Service Tribunal has the discretion to interfere in questions of quantum of punishment, but such discretion can neither be arbitrarily and capriciously exercised nor are powers of the Tribunal unqualified or unlimited.
A two-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed and comprising Justice Ijazul Ahsan, delivered the judgment on the appeal of the special secretary, Specialized Healthcare and Medical Education Department, Lahore, against the verdict of the Punjab Service Tribunal, Bahawalpur.
The bench set aside the tribunal's judgment and declared it is not sustainable in law.
The tribunal had converted the major penalty of compulsory retirement from service into a minor penalty of forfeiture of past service for a period of two years.
Khadim Hussain Abbasi, (respondent) was serving as chief technician, District Blood Unit, Sheikh Zayed Hospital, Rahim Yar Khan.
He was proceeded against departmentally under the Punjab Employees Efficiency, Discipline and Accountability Act, 2006 (PEEDA Act, 2006) on the allegations of misconduct, illegal sale of blood, absence from duty without leave and malpractices.
A departmental inquiry was conducted, in which, the respondent was found guilty of the charges.
Consequently, vide order dated 09.03.2017, major penalty of compulsory retirement from service was imposed upon him.
He filed a departmental appeal, which was rejected.
Therefore, he approached the Tribunal, which converted the major penalty into a minor penalty.
Before the tribunal, the respondent's counsel pleaded that the major penalty awarded to his client may be converted into a minor penalty as he has been acquitted by the magistrate, Rahim Yar Khan, in the criminal case registered against him.
The tribunal; therefore, held that the respondent had been dealt with harshly and the penalty imposed on him was not commensurate with the gravity of the offence.
The Punjab government, aggrieved by the tribunal verdict, filed an appeal before the Supreme Court.
The apex court judgment noted the record indicates that the respondent was proceeded against under PEEDA Act, 2006 on the allegations of misconduct, illegal sale of blood, tempering with the record of the Blood Bank and unauthorised absence from duty for at least 75 days.
An inquiry was conducted against him, in which, he was found guilty of all charges.
It said surprisingly enough, the only defence taken before the Tribunal was that the punishment may be reduced from major penalty to a minor penalty. No effort whatsoever was made to deny or contest the charges against the respondent. This constituted admission of charges which were admittedly of a very serious nature. The Tribunal has for reasons best known to it chosen to ignore such a vital and material aspect of the case.
The Court said that although the judgment of Magistrate, Section 30 Rahim Yar Khan was produced before the Tribunal, whereby the respondent had been acquitted of the criminal charges, nothing turns on the same in view of the independent inquiry conducted by the Department and clear and categorical findings of the departmental authorities holding the Respondent guilty of the charges leveled against him. This Court has repeatedly held that departmental proceedings and criminal prosecution are not mutually exclusive, can be proceeded independently and acquittal in criminal proceedings does not affect the outcome of the departmental proceedings
The judgment said: "We have repeatedly held that although the Service Tribunal has the discretion to interfere in questions of quantum of punishment, such discretion can neither be arbitrarily and capriciously exercised nor are powers of the Tribunal unqualified or unlimited."
"Where the Tribunal exercises its discretion to interfere in the penalty awarded by the competent authorities, such discretion has to be exercised in a circumscribed, restricted, carefully calibrated and structured manner duly supported by legally sustainable reasoning, which is conspicuous by its absence in the instant case."
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021