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The concept of charge sheet is derived from criminal law. Under the criminal procedure code the charges are framed by the Magistrate. In case of investigations made by the police, in terms of Sec.173 of Code of Criminal Procedure the officer in-charge of the police station shall forward a report in the form prescribed to the Magistrate empowered to take cognisance of the offence. The magistrate can discharge the the accused person, if on consideration of the document, the charge is deemed groundless. Otherwise the magistrate is to frame the charge. In disciplinary inquiries in public and private employment such a charge is framed by the disciplinary authority, if he thinks fit to do so.
The charge sheet pin-points the lapses of the employee. It is a document of indictment. The employee is called upon to explain properly or else the charges are deemed proved. But then the employee is not going to oblige and accept the charges. Issuing a charge sheet therefore calls upon the inherent obligation to prove the facts mentioned therein. It is easier to make allegations, but not so to substantiate the same, unless sufficient home-work is done and proper care is taken in the expression of the allegations. It is possible to prove the charges, if the facts are correctly mentioned and supporting material by way of proof is readily made available. The employee could have in fact committed lapses bordering serious misconduct, and there could be material in support of the same. But it needs special skill to understand the exact lapses of the employee and state the same in precise terms, as is seen in the material placed as evidence. An objectivity of the mind, free from malice and bias towards the charged officer is needed to draft a proper charge sheet.
The charges should be specific and should not be expressed in generic or vague terms. Suspicions, assumptions or surmises expressed cannot constitute grounds for awarding punishment to the employee. What is needed is categorical statements. There is to be material information. Taken together, these material facts should convey an act/acts of misbehaviour and these have to be conclusively established through documents or witnesses. The documentation of the charge sheet, has, therefore, to be expressed as the initiator or pre-enquiry presentation of the allegations and thus to serve as the prime or basic record in a disciplinary case. There has to be an inherent harmony between the allegations expressed and the supporting material produced.
Charge of misconduct should not be vague. If it is so, it can be said rules of natural justice have not been followed. If the charge sheet is vague there is no reasonable opportunity to show cause. The charge sheet must be specific and must set out all the necessary particulars, irrespective of the fact, whether in view of the previous preliminary inquiry the delinquent officer knows about the charges.
What is meant by vague? Vague can be considered as the antonym of the word 'definite'. If the ground is incapable of being understood or defined with sufficient clarity, it can be called vague.
The government servants have got protection under Article 311 of the Constitution of India and their services can only be terminated after giving them reasonable opportunity to show cause. The reasonable opportunity implies that the charge sheet should not be vague. If the services of an employee are terminated in disregard to provisions of Article 311 then the dismissal is wholly void and the enquiry is vitiated.
Even when the employee have got no constitutional protection, the vagueness in the expression of the charge may prejudice the employee and disable him from properly understanding the implications and submitting his defence. If this happens the enquiry is vitiated.
There can be no hasty action. The competent authority should first order an investigation and call for the facts and then only he must issue a charge sheet. But if he were to issue a charge sheet, even before a regular investigation was done, one will find it difficult to draft a charge sheet setting forth precisely the lapses of the officer.
The Central Vigilance Commission has stressed the importance of documentation of the charge sheets in precise and clear terms and has also pin-pointed the omissions in this important formality observed frequently. The contents of their circular letter No.3(v)/99/8 Dated the 5th October,1999 is appended hereunder for an understanding of the importance of this prime formality.
(Observations of CVC about Inadequate skill in Drafting Charge Sheets)
Inadequate skill in drafting the charge-sheet is one of the reasons which help the charged officials to get away with lapses/misconduct committed by them. Many cases fail before the Courts of Law just because of the defective framing of charge-sheets. It has been observed by the Commission that the charge-sheets are sometimes framed in a very general way and the existing practice with regard to framing of charges and imputations vary widely.
The Commission has also issued instructions earlier which are reproduced in Para 14.1 to 14.3 of Chapter X of Vigilance Manual Part I stipulating that the articles of charge should be framed with great care. Broad guidelines as to how the articles of charge should be framed have also been indicated therein. Similarly, the common mistakes which have been noticed by the Commission in framing the charge-sheet have also been incorporated in Para 12.1.3 of the special Chapter on Vigilance Management in Banks and Para 20.1.3 in the Special Chapter in PSEs. These are reproduced below:-
Equally importantly, while drawing a charge sheet, special care
should be taken in the use of language to ensure that the guilt of the charged official is not pre-judged or pronounced upon in categorical terms in advance.
However, the statement merely of a hypothetical or tentative conclusion of guilt in the charge, will not vitiate the charge sheet
Notwithstanding the extant instructions/guidelines many organisations continue to make avoidable mistakes while framing the charge sheets. Therefore, it is reiterated that the extant instructions on the subject as stated in the aforesaid paragraphs may be followed carefully while drafting the charge sheet, in order to avoid subsequent difficulties. The CVOs of the organisations/Ministries etc. should ensure that these instructions are implemented scrupulously.
In addition as already summarised above, an IO is required to give his finding in respect of each article of charge and reasons thereof. As the articles of charge are definite and distinct substance of the statement of imputations of misconduct or misbehaviour, the findings on each articles of charge have to be inter-alia based on statement of imputations. Therefore, the Inquiry Officers are required to record their findings in respect of each allegation framed in support of an article of charge in order to ensure that inquiry reports do not suffer due to deficiencies.
[Source Circular instructions No.18 of CVC bearing office No. 3(v)/99/8 dated 5th October, 1999
Various lapses of the delinquent officer listed in the Report of the Investigation should be grouped category-wise and they should then be graded according to their severity. Discretion should be exercised whether to include minor lapses, along with more serious one, as it puts a severe load on the inquiry proceedings, by way of producing several dozens of documents and witnesses from both sides. When there are a number of lapses of the same category, it may be sufficient to make a general statement and give only a few salient cases as examples, instead of reproducing all such individual instances. If there are large number of minor lapses, it may be advisable to issue a separate charge sheet under minor penalty procedure, so that the core items of irregularities are only included in a compact charge sheet issued for major penalty, for which alone oral inquiry is to be conducted.
It is advisable not to group different types of lapses in a single charge sheet, i.e. lapses with vigilance angle, administrative misconduct and technical or procedural lapses (including negligence).
Similarly it is wrong to issue a consolidated charge sheet covering the entire tenure of an officer spread over 3 to 5 years at a branch. Does it mean that the watch dog was asleep for all three years or more, and wake up only leisurely, for a one-time vigilant action, and trying to clear all the old arrears, on a wholesale turnover stretching half-a-decade?
Age-old lapses should not crop up at the time of the retirement of the officer, for a last minute encounter. These is in bad taste, and reflects the Disciplinary Authority, himself not adhering to discipline. When there is inordinate delay in taking action, it leads to the logical surmise that the management has condoned the misconduct, and dropped the case already.
Charge sheet should not be issued without holding the supporting evidence on hand. It is violative of the provisions of the DA Regulation. After issuing the charge sheet, the presenting officer should not be asked to gather evidence, but to present the evidence already gathered. It is not the function of the presenting officer to search for and locate evidence, which would imply that the charge sheet was issued originally without supporting evidence.
For one and the same set of transactions different officers should not be charge sheeted separately at different occasions, but such charge sheets should be drafted and issued as a single exercise, to be covered by one single common proceeding.
The Branch Manager is responsible for the work and integrity of subordinate officers reporting to him at the branch. Primary responsibility for the lapses of the group, may stick to the Branch Manager. But however in respect of more serious lapses, the Branch Manager should not be singled out, and charge sheeted exclusively. When there is a role for a second/junior officer, he also must be made accountable.
In fact from the study of the wording and expression of statements in a charge sheet, it can be conclusively drawn out, if the charge sheet represents a bonafide disciplinary action initiated, or an exercise in personal vindictiveness.