The Meghalaya High Court has set aside the order issued by NEEPCO appointing Pradip Pujari, a retired Superintendent of Police of Assam as an inquiry officer to enquire into the alleged misconduct by an employee of the corporation.
In a verdict passed today, the bench of Justice Hamarsan Singh Thangkhiew held that the order issued by NEEPCO on July 12, 2022 which appointed Pujari as the inquiry officer is beyond the scope of the powers of the disciplinary authority of the corporation.
While setting aside the NEEPCO order, the High Court also said that the inquiry proceedings are without jurisdiction.
“The respondent Corporation/disciplinary authority is, however, at liberty to restart the disciplinary proceedings on the appointment of a new inquiry officer, in accordance with the rules,” the High Court said.
The court also observed that by appointing an inquiry officer from outside the corporation, NEEPCO in the instant case has deviated from Rule 29.2 of the Conduct, Discipline and Appeal Rules.
It may be mentioned that Pinaki Das who is serving as an Assistant Accounts Officer in NEEPCO had moved the High Court challenging against the appointment of an inquiry officer from outside the corporation, to inquire into the charges framed against him, on the ground that, the Conduct, Discipline and Appeal Rules does not provide for the same. Das also sought the court’s order to set aside the appointment of the inquiry officer as also the pending disciplinary proceedings against him.
The NEEPCO management has accused Das of showing unruly and rude behaviour towards his Superior Officer, for which disciplinary proceedings had been drawn up against him, as per the Conduct, Discipline and Appeal Rules. Later, a Memorandum of Charges and Statement of Imputation of Misconduct dated October 6, 2021 was served upon him.
Prior to the institution of departmental proceedings, NEEPCO had on May 12, 2021, appointed a one-man inquiry, which was conducted by a Director (Technical) who had given a report to the disciplinary authority, which went against Das. As it appeared that he was not given adequate opportunity, another inquiry committee composed of three Executive Directors, to ascertain the culpability of Das was constituted. On the basis of the report of the inquiry team, the Memorandum of Charges was issued.
Das thereafter, gave a detailed reply to the disciplinary authority denying the charges, but however, after a gap of nine months, vide office order No. 162 dated July 12, 2022, another inquiry officer namely Pradip Pujari, retired Superintendent of Police, Assam, was appointed.
Das, by his own statements, cooperated with the inquiry, but it appears on coming to learn that the earlier inquiry report submitted by the inquiry team, was biased and prepared in haste. He also contended that the Conduct, Discipline and Appeal Rules stipulated that an officer to conduct a disciplinary inquiry against the employees of NEEPCO should be appointed from amongst the officers of the corporation.
He then raised objections before the NEEPCO management based on Rule 29.2, which provided that a disciplinary authority, may itself inquire, or appoint any officers of corporation to conduct the inquiry. Das also resisted the continuation of the disciplinary proceedings by maintaining that the inquiry officer not being an employee of the corporation, was incompetent and lacked jurisdiction.
Das did not cooperate any further with the inquiry and did not attend the subsequent hearings that were fixed before the inquiry officer. He also contended that the earlier inquiry report submitted by the inquiry team was illegal in view of the revelation of one of its members that the same was arrived at under duress and intimidation.