`Delay in inquiry no reason to quash deptt proceedings`
Mumbai: Refusing to grant relief to a Customs officer facing department inquiry for misconduct and fraud, the Bombay High Court has observed departmental proceedings are not liable to be quashed on the ground of delay in initiation of the inquiry.
A division bench headed by Justice DD Sinha was hearing a petition filed by Raj Kuwatkar, employed as Appraising Officer in Customs department, seeking to quash a notice of chargesheet issued against him in 2002 to initiate departmental inquiry by the Commissioner of Customs.
Kuwatkar, who has been employed with the Customs department since 1991, was accused of allowing unauthorised persons to make false entries in Duty Entitlement Pass Book (DEPB) of non-existent firms, thereby causing loss of over Rs one crore to the government exchequer.
According to the Customs department, Kuwatkar committed these lapses during the year 1998, when he was an upper divisional clerk and was assigned the verification of DEPB of exporters.
Kuwatkar had challenged the commissioner of customs` issuance of chargesheet for initiation of inquiry before the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT). However, the tribunal in March this year dismissed his application following which he approached the high court.
Advocate SV Marne, appearing for Kuwatkar, argued that the memorandum of chargesheet was liable to be set aside and quashed as it was issued after an inordinate and unexplained delay. The high court refused to accept this argument and said departmental proceedings are not liable to be quashed on the ground that there has been a delay in initiation of proceedings or could not be completed within a reasonable period unless the delay creates prejudice to the accused.
"In this case, the so-called delay in issuing the chargesheet has not resulted in causing any prejudice to the petitioner since the petitioner in 2004 was promoted to the post of Inspector (Examiner) and in 2008 was promoted to the post of Appraiser," the court said.
The bench further observed while it is true that the department is expected to issue chargesheet for inquiry within a reasonable time from the date of detection of misconduct there is no straight-jacket formula in all type of cases.
Stating that the charges levelled against Kuwatkar were serious, the high court has upheld the order passed by the tribunal directing the Commissioner of Customs to complete department inquiry against the petitioner within four months.
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