The Kerala High Court has reaffirmed that where charges against an employee are of serious and complex nature, the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) cannot abruptly terminate disciplinary proceedings..The petitioner, in this case, was working as Income Tax Commissioner (Appeals). Disciplinary action was initiated against him with respect to certain incidents that allegedly occurred in 2010. Disciplinary proceedings were initiated against him. He filed an Original Application before the CAT, Ernakulam for quashing the charges against him..The CAT dismissed the case holding that the Original Application was moved prematurely and it would be too early for the Tribunal to enter into any finding on any aspect touching the merits of the contentions..The petitioner then moved the Kerala High Court seeking termination of disciplinary proceedings..The High Court at the outset placed extensive reliance on two judgments of the Supreme Court..In the case of Union of India v. Ashok Kacker [(1995) Suppl 1 SCC 187], the respondent on being chargesheeted, without replying to it or waiting for the decision of the disciplinary authority, moved CAT seeking quashing of chargesheet. The CAT allowed the same and quashed the chargesheet. The Supreme Court overturned the decision of the CAT and held that it was premature for CAT to consider a challenge to the chargesheet where the employee rushed to the tribunal immediately on receiving it. Instead, the employee should have replied to the chargesheet and invited the decision of the disciplinary authority before moving the CAT..In the case of State of AP v. N Radhakrishnan, the Supreme Court considered whether the position laid down in Ashok Kacker’s judgment was inviolable..The Supreme Court answered the question by carving out certain exceptions to the general position. It held that interference is permissible to bring an end to disciplinary proceedings initiated after an inordinate delay or where there occurred inexplicable and inordinate delay in concluding it. Thus, as per the said decision under normal circumstances, disciplinary proceedings should be allowed to take their course as per the relevant rules. Whether such disciplinary proceedings have to be terminated or not depends on facts and circumstances of each case..In considering whether the delay has vitiated disciplinary proceedings, the court has to consider the nature of charge, its complexity and on what account delay has occurred. The fact that delay has occurred in initiation or conclusion of disciplinary proceedings cannot by itself be a reason for termination of such proceeding though it is permissible under certain rare and specific circumstances..In the instant case, the main contention of the applicant was that there was an inordinate delay in the initiation of disciplinary proceedings. The Court, therefore, applied the law laid down in Radhakrishnan’s case..It noted that the charge against the applicant was very grave and very serious in nature. The allegation was that he abused his position in the Income Tax Department to get possession of certain confidential documents in the possession of the Air Intelligence Unit. Further, the issue was of a complex nature, the Court said..Hence, the delay in the initiation of disciplinary proceedings cannot be said to be unsatisfactory, the Court held..Another contention raised by the petitioner was that the disciplinary authority had already arrived at the conclusion that the petitioner is guilty. Hence, the continuance of disciplinary proceedings would be a post-decisional hearing and hence a farce..The said contention was based on certain recitals in the chargesheet. The Kerala High Court noted that the said contention was considered in detail by the CAT which concluded that the said imputations were incorporated in the chargesheet only to explain the offending acts allegedly committed by the petitioner. It was only to make the imputation specific and clear that the same was stated. It was done to enable the chargesheeted officer to understand and defend the charges properly, the Tribunal had held. The Supreme Court agreed with the conclusion of the CAT in that regard..The Court, therefore, held that there is no reason to interfere with the order of the CAT and dismissed the petition. The Court, however, ordered that the disciplinary proceedings shall be concluded within six months..[Read Judgment].Bar & Bench is available on WhatsApp. For real-time updates on stories, Click here to subscribe to our WhatsApp.