Supreme Court Clarifies on Burden of Proof in Disciplinary Proceedings

Supreme Court Law Insider

LI Network

Published on: 29 August 2023 at 12:10 IST

The Supreme Court has recently clarified that the burden of proof in disciplinary proceedings varies based on the specific nature of the charges levied against the respondent and the explanation provided by them in State Bank of India v. A.G.D. Reddy.

The court emphasized that the burden of proof might shift to the respondent depending on the nature of their explanation.

The court also underscored the restricted scope of judicial review in departmental enquiry proceedings. It clarified that judicial review does not involve re-evaluating the decision’s merits but rather focuses on ensuring the decision-making process’s legitimacy and verifying the presence of evidence supporting the findings.

The case before the bench, composed of Justices J.K. Maheshwari and K.V. Vishwanathan, involved an appeal against a Karnataka High Court Division Bench’s judgment, which upheld a single bench decision to nullify an order penalizing a respondent after a disciplinary proceeding.

The respondent faced disciplinary proceedings for alleged acts of misconduct during their tenure as a Field Officer at the Mahadevapura Branch of the State Bank of India.

The charges included failure to conduct periodic inspections for specified units and the omission of equitable mortgage stipulations for a loan.

The respondent had requested inspection records, but no response was provided during the proceedings.

The court noted that the records did not demonstrate how the respondent countered the failure-to-inspect charge. It highlighted that once the records were available for review, the burden of proof shifted to the respondent to refute the charge.

Regarding the omission of equitable mortgage stipulations, the court found evidence that the Field Officer and Branch Manager were responsible for setting the credit limit and collateral security terms. Therefore, the court ruled that the conclusion that the respondent’s negligence led to the absence of stipulations and the inability to create an equitable mortgage was not baseless.

Considering these findings, the court noted that there was substantial evidence for imposing the penalty. It relied on the principle that penalties can be sustained if they relate to proven charges, even if some charges lack proof.

The penalty imposed, a reduction in basic pay to the lowest stage in Scale-I, was deemed justified since charges against the respondent were supported by evidence.

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