The Delhi High Court on January 21, 2019, in the case of S.K. Tanwar v. Union of India, upheld the validity of a preliminary inquiry by an internal committee before conducting a final inquiry by a newly formed internal committee as per provisions of the Central Civil Services (Classification, Control & Appeal) Rules, 1965 (“Rules”).
Facts: A complaint of sexual harassment was raised against the S. K. Tanwar (“Petitioner”) by a female employee and the competent authority caused a preliminary inquiry to be held through the Internal Committee (“IC 1”). IC 1 submitted its preliminary report wherein on the basis of some inquiries, it concluded that there was cogent reason to proceed and conduct a formal inquiry against the Petitioner. On the basis of the preliminary findings of IC 1, the competent authority instituted a new IC (“IC 2”) to formally hear the complaint and hold an inquiry as per Rule 14 of the Rules. IC 2 then framed a chargesheet against the Petitioner which was duly issued to him.
Summary of the proceedings: On receipt of the said chargesheet, the Petitioner approached the Central Administrative Tribunal (“Tribunal”) on two grounds:
- IC 1 had already held him guilty and thus there was no reason to constitute IC 2;
- The first preliminary report was highly prejudicial to his interests as the principles of natural justice were not followed.
The Tribunal dismissed the Petitioner’s claim by holding that the competent authorities could have directly held a final inquiry but instead a summary preliminary inquiry was conducted where neither the Petitioner nor witnesses were called. However, the observations of the preliminary inquiry were not treated as binding and the matter would be decided on its own merits afresh before IC 2. The Petitioner then approached the Delhi High Court through this petition.
Held: The purpose of holding the preliminary inquiry was only to ascertain if the sexual harassment allegations required a deeper consideration by holding a proper, formal inquiry as per the Rules. The competent authority after examining the preliminary report deemed it appropriate to constitute IC 2 which would examine at length the allegation, call upon the Petitioner to make a representation and follow the principles of natural justice before preparing a final report. The counsel for the respondent had stated in the arguments that the Petitioner had not been appearing before IC 2. The Court, on this point, made it clear that this refusal to appear is detrimental to the Petitioner’s own interests as he will not be allowed to seek reopening of inquiry proceedings on this ground. Even at the current stage, if the Petitioner is willing to participate and cooperate, he must be permitted to do so, so as to remove any possible technical difficulty at later stages.
– – Adv. Shivangi Prasad – Corporate Lawyer, External Member & Trainer, Head – Legal & Compliance, Partner POSH at Work & Priyanka Pai, Associate, POSH at Work