Sumati Arora

Background and Facts of the Case

The case of Union of India & Ors. v Jagdish Chandra Sethy[i]involves an appeal against the decision of The High Court of Calcutta, which upheld the order of the Central Administrative Tribunal of Cuttack. The applicant, Jagdish Chandra Sethy, was subjected to proceedings under Rule 14 of the Central Civil Services (Classification, Control, and Appeal) Rules, 1965[ii], for certain misconduct. However, these proceedings were discontinued in 1995 due to his conviction in a criminal case. As a result of this conviction, he was dismissed from services under Rule 19(i) of the Central Civil Services (Classification, Control and Appeal) Rules, 1965[iii]. Subsequently, the same conviction was challenged in the Additional Sessions Court, which eventually acquitted the applicant.

The Senior Superintendent of Post Officers, Koraput Division, Jeypore, reinstated the applicant based on his acquittal but initiated an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding his earlier dismissal. Shri S.C. Padhi, a retired AD from Berhampur, was appointed as the inquiry officer and submitted a report on April 3, 2004, finding the applicant guilty of misconduct. The disciplinary authority accepted the report and imposed a penalty of dismissal from service.

This action was contested before the (DPS) Director of Postal Services, Office of the Post Master General, Berhampur, which ultimately rejected it. This prompted the filing of an original application, No. 828/2005[iv], in the Central Administrative Tribunal, Cuttack[v], challenging the orders and penalties. The primary contention raised by the applicant was the appointment of a retired public servant as an inquiry officer by the disciplinary authority. The Tribunal deemed the initiation of an inquiry by a retired officer as flawed, leading to the quashing of the disciplinary authority’s and the appellant authority’s orders, and the reinstatement of the applicant to service. However, this decision was appealed in The High Court of Orissa. On January 7, 2010, the High Court upheld the tribunal’s order, which was subsequently contested in the Honourable Supreme Court of India.

Arguments by the Appellant

The appellant, i.e., the Union of India presented a twofold argument. Firstly, it concerned the validity of the actions taken by the disciplinary committee, given that the inquiry officer was a retired public servant. The decisions rendered by the esteemed High Court and Central Administrative Tribunal, Cuttack in line with the precedent set in the case of Ravi Malik v. National Film Development Corporation[vi]. However, it should be noted that this decision is specific to the rules of the corporation and cannot be readily applied to all cases in a general manner. In this context, it is important to consider that the department is governed by the Central Civil Services (Classification, Control and Appeal) Rules, 1965[vii] which should be duly taken into account by the court for making a decision.

The second aspect of the argument pertained to the approval of the appointment of retired public servants as outlined in a circular dated December 19th, 1988 by the Department of Posts, the Government of India[viii]. This circular granted permission for the appointment of retired officers in order to expedite the resolution of pending disciplinary cases.

Arguments by the Respondents

The counsels of Jagdish Chandra Sethy presented their arguments in a threefold manner before the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT). The initial facet of their argument revolved around the tainting of the entire disciplinary proceedings due to the appointment of a retired public servant as an inquiry officer. They asserted that this appointment was unlawful, consequently rendering both the report of the inquiry committee and the subsequent actions devoid of validity.

The second argument addressed the failure to submit specific documents necessary for the inquiry. They contend that this omission undermined the credibility of the report, thus rendering it invalid.

Thirdly, the respondents argue that the penalty imposed was significantly disproportionate, indicating an arbitrary exercise of power.

Tough, in the Supreme Court, the respondents had emphasized primarily the argument concerning the merits of appointing the retired public servant as an inquiry officer.

Judgment and Reasoning by the Court

The Supreme Court has allowed the appeal by overturning the High Court’s order, which aligns with the decision of the Central Administrative Tribunal, Cuttack. The primary argument presented by the respondents, who were contesting the appointment of a former state employee as an inquiry officer to investigate allegations of misbehaviour and misconduct levelled against them, was completely dismissed by the apex court, which deemed it a “belated afterthought.”

Furthermore, the court noted that the legal issue at hand, specifically the validity of designating a retired public servant as an inquiry officer is not res integra, i.e., entirely new, thereby providing a way for the court to draw guidance from other established judicial pronouncements.

Moreover, the Supreme Court meticulously differentiated the current case from the precedent set by Ravi Malik v National Film Development Corporation Ltd[ix], thereby reaffirming the correct stance adopted by the courts in Union of India v. Alok Kumar[x] and Union of India v. P.C. Ramakrishnayya.[xi]


The Cuttack Tribunal’s (CAT) decision was primarily grounded in the precedent established by the Ravi Malik case, which held that a retired officer cannot be designated as an inquiry officer. The case of Ravi Malik v National Film Development Corporation Ltd[xii] pertained to a disciplinary inquiry involving misconduct charges against an employee of the National Film Development Corporation Limited, a government enterprise. The procedure for disciplinary action and the appointment of “any public servant” for such inquiries is outlined in Rule 23(b) of The Service Rules and Regulation,1982[xiii].

The inquiry into the employee/appellant’s conduct was challenged in the Supreme Court due to the selection of a retired employee as an inquiry officer. The Court ruled that Rule 23(b) explicitly mandates that the inquiry must be conducted by “a public servant,” and this designation does not encompass retired officers, as their authority dissipates upon retirement. Furthermore, the term “public servant” should be interpreted in its common usage. Consequently, the Court directed the continuation of the inquiry from the point prior to the appointment of the retired judge.

Nonetheless, in the present case, the Supreme Court had observed that the aforementioned precedent was decided on rules and regulations specific to the parties involved, whereas the current case presents a distinct legal context. Specifically, Rule 14 of the Central Civil Services (Classification, Control and Appeal) Rules, 1965 is applicable, stating:

“When the disciplinary authority believes that there are grounds to investigate any allegation of misconduct or misbehaviour against a government servant, it may conduct the inquiry itself or appoint an authority, as per this rule or the provisions of the Public Servants (Inquiries) Act, 1850, as applicable, to investigate the matter.”

This rule empowers the disciplinary authority to either conduct the inquiry itself or delegate it to another authority. Therefore, it cannot be deduced from this provision that “an authority” excludes a retired public servant. The decision to appoint an appropriate individual as the authority rests entirely with the disciplinary committee.

In interpreting Rule 14(2) of the Central Civil Services (Classification, Control and Appeal) Rules, 1965, the Court referred to the case of Union of India v P.C. Ramakrishnayya. This case contested the validity of an inquiry initiated by the disciplinary committee against the respondent, an employee at GSI. The disciplinary committee nominated a retired officer from some other organization to conduct the inquiry, which was vehemently challenged by the respondent. The Court highlighted that this issue had been previously addressed in the case of Union of India v. Alok Kumar, which analysed Rule 9 of the Railway Servants (Discipline and Appeal) Rules, 1968[xiv]. Since both sets of rules reference the procedure outlined in the Public Servants (Inquiries) Act, 1850[xv], they are analogous to the Central Civil Services (Classification, Control and Appeal) Rules, 1965.

The Court determined the meaning of “authority” based on the interpretation presented in the Alok Kumar case. This interpretation upheld the practice of appointing former employees for inquiries, as demonstrated by various precedents. Furthermore, it was emphasized that no legislative intent exists within the act and rules to restrict the appointment of only current employees to oversee inquiry proceedings.

In the same case of Alok Kumar, the Court differentiated it from the Ravi Malik decision based on the unique factual and circumstantial aspects. The Ravi Malik case revolved around the Rules and Regulations, 1982 of the National Film Development Corporation Limited, which explicitly permitted the appointment of “any public servant” by the disciplinary authority to conduct inquiries into misconduct. This specificity left no room to include ex-officers.

Furthermore, the Court considered a letter/circular issued on 19.12.1988 by the Department of Posts, Government of India. This circular granted the disciplinary authority the discretion to enlist retired government officers to investigate employee misconduct. The circular aimed to expedite pending disciplinary proceedings without compromising investigation protocols. Retired employees’ extensive experience in the field rendered their decisions and reports authoritative.

Consequently, based on the aforementioned reasons, the decisions of the High Court and the central administrative tribunal were overturned


In conclusion, the judgment rendered by the Supreme Court has brought about significant benefits and relief for both government departments and retired employees. By upholding the practice of appointing retired employees as inquiry officers under the discretion of disciplinary committees, the judgment has established a balanced approach that respects the rights and expertise of former public servants while ensuring efficient and effective conduct of inquiries.

One of the most noteworthy advantages of this decision is the positive impact it will have on government departments. The provision allowing the appointment of retired employees as inquiry officers provides a pragmatic solution, eliminating the need to recruit new personnel for conducting disciplinary proceedings. This not only optimizes resource utilization but also maintains the quality and accuracy of decision-making in investigations. The extensive experience and in-depth understanding of departmental procedures possessed by retired employees make them well-suited for handling such inquiries, ensuring fairness and thoroughness in the process.

Equally significant is the improvement in post-retirement conditions for former government employees. Post-retirement life often presents financial challenges due to limited benefits and various restrictions. The opportunity for retired employees to earn honorariums and other grants by working for the government serves as a valuable means to enhance their quality of life and alleviate financial burdens.

This dual benefit, catering to the needs of both departments and retirees, showcases the pragmatic approach taken by the Supreme Court in this judgment. In sum, this decision takes into account the unique needs and circumstances of different stakeholders while upholding the principles of fairness and effectiveness in the administration of disciplinary procedures.

[i] Union Of India v Jagdish Chandra Sethy, C.A. No.-006061-006061 / 2011.

[ii] Central Civil Services (Classification, Control and Appeal) Rules, 1965, r 14.

[iii] Central Civil Services (Classification, Control and Appeal) Rules, 1965, r 19(i).

[iv] O.A. No. 828/2005, The Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT), Cuttack.

[v] Sri Jagdish Chandra Sethy v Union of India (CAT Cuttack 2008) < > accessed 15th August 2023.

[vi] Ravi Malik v National Film Development Corporation Ltd, 2004 (13) SCC 427.

[vii] Central Civil Services (Classification, Control and Appeal) Rules, 1965.

[viii] Circular No.13/02/87-VIG.III dated 19.12.1988 of the Department of Posts, Ministry of Communication, The Government of India.

[ix] ibid iv.

[x] Union of India v Alok Kumar, (2010) 5 SCC 349.

[xi] Union of India v. P.C. Ramakrishnayya, (2010) 8 SCC 644.

[xii] ibid iv.

[xiii] Services Rules and Regulations (National Film Development Corporation Limited 1982), r 23(b).

[xiv] The Railway Servants (Discipline and Appeal) Rules, 1968.

[xv] Public Servants (Inquiries) Act, 1850 (37 of 1850).






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