New Delhi: Departmental enquiry and proceedings against government employee must be done in the language of his preference, the Supreme Court has said while setting aside punishment meted out to an official on the ground that proceedings were not conducted in Hindi as sought by him.
The apex court said refusal to conduct the proceedings as per the employee`s preferred language will violate his right to effective defence and to effectively put forth his case.
"If the said is not done, it would infringe the rule that justice must not only be done, but also seen to be done. However, abundant caution must be exercised in ensuring that this right to defend must not be reduced to mere lip service by the authority.
"The essence of this facet of natural justice lies in adequate and reasonable opportunity to put forth the defence before the disciplinary authority and any deviation from the said rule would tantamount to shell opportunity and will mean no opportunity in the eyes of law," a bench of justices HL Dattu and JS Khehar said.
The court passed the order on an appeal filed by a government employee Mithilesh Kumar Singh challenging the proceedings against him and punishment of reduction in his pay scale on the ground that inquiry was conducted against him in English against his desire.
He had pleaded that proceedings be conducted and all the documents be supplied to him in Hindi so that he could defend himself.
Advocate Pyoli Swatija, appearing for the petitioner, contended that it was a violation of fair justice and urged the court to set aside the proceedings against the employee.
The bench after hearing all parties including the Centre quashed the proceedings saying it was a violation of natural justice.
"The appellant had only required the charge-memo and the correspondence in Hindi language so as to exercise his right to defend himself against the charges so framed from the respondents.
The denial of the respondents to provide him with the charge-memo in Hindi language has directly impinged upon his right to effectively put forth his case in defence of the charges against him and thus resulted in gross injustice to the appellant," the bench said.
"The respondent (govt) without supplying a copy of the charge-memo, statement of imputation and official correspondences in the language desired by the appellant had proceeded to pass the impugned order of punishment imposing a penalty against the appellant causing economic hardship to him and his family.
"The respondent, even upon being apprised with the statutory provisions, acted in contravention of the same and kept the appellant bereft of his right under the statutory provisions. In our considered opinion, the same could not have been done by them and it is in absolute violation of the Act, the Rules and also their own order," the bench said.