How to conduct/defend Departmental Inquiries?

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How to Conduct/Defend Departmental Inquiry
How to Reply A Charge Sheet

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How a Charged officer is to Reply a Charge sheet as Part of
the Strategy to Counteract the Same?

To the charged officer, the charge sheet is a challenge directly hitting his bonafides and raising doubts about his integrity and devotion to duty. It can adversely affect the security of his service, or may tarnish his fair name and service record. Replying the charge sheet should, therefore, be a part of his overall strategy for counteracting the disciplinary case. His purpose or objective is not merely to protect the security of his service, but also to re-confirm the utmost good faith, trust, and fidelity that should characterise an employee's intangible assets in public service. In short he has to re-assert his bonafides.

Detailed guidelines are given to the charged officer and the Defence Assisting office to counter-act the likely harm that the charge sheet can inflict and how to build and present the case of the defence effectively in the oral inquiry.

Here our objective is confined to the single point of responding and sending a suitable reply to the charge sheet.

Steps/Formalities that should have been completed before
Replying the Charge Sheet

As per detailed guidelines given to the charged officer, the following steps must have been already attended by him.

  1. Omission-removal (rectification of irregularities) and overall compliance of house-keeping listed for attendance in the "Pre-emptive Stage"(Refer the Guidelines to the charged officer -Page: 3)

  2. Recollecting from all sources including stretching of his memory to pool all facts and particulars about the "Issues-in-dispute" and compiling the Case Dairy representing the defence of the charged officer with material particulars. On this subject also detailed prescriptions are given in the guidelines intended for the Charged Officer.

  3. Identifying a suitable person to eventually act as your defence-assisting officer, when the inquiry is ordered and taking him into confidence immediately, by disclosing all relevant information about the disciplinary case and steps already effected by you. He must be associated in all decision process with reference to the disciplinary case henceforward.

  4. Responding to the Investigation and cooperating with the investigating officer and making the view points of the charged officer forcibly conveyed to him with a request for incorporation in the report.

  5. Conducting a critical analysis of the report of investigation and the charge sheet and drawing out the material discrepancies in each of the documents. About this also detailed directions are included in the aforesaid guidelines intended for the chargedofficer.

You have now prepared and are holding the requisite background information for submission of a reply to the charge sheet. However you have to decide what to state or how much to state foreseeing the likely effects of your reply. In this context please peruse the relevant provisions of the DA Regulations (6.3 & 6.4) to understand the scope and purpose of your reply, as provided therein.

Regulation 6.3

"Where it is proposed to hold an inquiry, the Disciplinary Authority shall frame definite and distinct charges on the basis of the allegations against the officer employee and the articles charge, together with a statement of allegations, on which they are based, shall be communicated in writing to the officer employee, who shall be required to submit within such time as may be specified by the disciplinary authority (not exceeding 15 days), or within such extended time as may be granted by the said authority, a written statement of his defence.

Regulation 6.4

On receipt of the written statement of the officer employee, or if no such statement is received within the time specified, an inquiry may be held by the disciplinary authority itself, or if it considers it necessary so to do appoint under sub-regulation (2) an inquiring authority for the purpose

Provided that it may not be necessary to hold an inquiry in respect of the articles of charge admitted by the officer employee in his written statement but shall be necessary to record its findings on each such charge."

These are omnibus provisions. Identically worded provisions can be found in C.C.S.(C.C.A) Rules or in any other DA Regulations. It will be seen from the wording of these regulations that there is no obligation statutorily cast on the disciplinary authority to consider your written statement of reply and review the case on the merits thereof. If you deny the charges and explain why they should be dropped, it is still open to the disciplinary authority to directly order an oral inquiry, heeding only your denial of the charges and disregarding your explanation, why the charges should be dropped, without commenting on any way on the merits of your reply. And if you accept the charges, the disciplinary authority without further inquiry can record his findings and to award appropriate penalties immediately.

You may choose not to reply the charge sheet, and still the disciplinary authority has to conduct a regular oral inquiry and cannot deem the charges as accepted, despite any such clause incorporated in the charge sheet (e.g. "if no reply is received with in....days, it will be deemed that you have nothing to offer by way of explanation and that you accept the charges etc..."). However it will be a weak course of action on the part of the charged officer to take recourse to this step. It will be a negative beginning to start with and imply lack of resources on the part of the CO to meet the situation. He must reply the charge sheet and must submit the reply at least one day earlier, before expiry of the time granted for submission of reply. He should not seek extension of time, unless justifiably warranted.

While thus there is no statutory obligation cast on the disciplinary authority, he can still exercise his discretionary powers and consider the written statement of reply and thereafter either drop the disciplinary case in toto (seldom done in practice) or he can award a minor punishment (normally "censure") and complete the process of the disciplinary case without an oral inquiry.

However there are other limitations in the way. If the case is investigated by the CBI, their consent has to be obtained by the disciplinary authority for such an exercise of discretionary powers and premature disposal of the case, and if the disciplinary case is covered under the compulsory advisory jurisdiction of the CVC, the second stage advice is to be obtained from CVC before such closure of the case. So normally when a charge sheet is issued there will be an oral inquiry. Only in rare occasions, in non-vigilance cases, the disciplinary case may be closed awarding a minor penalty to the charged officer, after submission of his written statement of reply, without conducting a regular inquiry. Whether this is beneficial to the charged officer is doubtful. The disciplinary authority will only take recourse to this route as an administrative expediency, when he has a number of disciplinary cases on hand and want to circumvent or cut short avoidable job.

It is more appropriate for the charged officer to act on the assumption that there would be an inquiry and that he has to categorically deny the allegations, or else it would he held by the disciplinary authority that he has admitted the charges and to award the penalty without an oral inquiry.

Submission of written Statement of Reply to the Charge Sheet

Submission of the written statement of reply is the first response from the charged officer to the disciplinary authority after initiating the disciplinary case. His reply should indicate a calm, controlled and dignified demeanor of the charged officer. The charged officer should accept total emotional control and there is no scope for exhibition of anger or frustration or to be seen as beseeching pity or sympathy from the management. It should only convey that the charge officer is confident of proving the truth, which will speak in his favour.

Do not bring in extraneous assertions or statements in your reply (like -"the records will clearly convey that I have an unblemished service throughout my career for the last....years" or "the authorities are well aware that I am steadfast in my duties and would never compromise" etc.)

You may acknowledge the receipt of the charge sheet, specifically mentioning the date of receipt. This is more important when the charge sheet is received more than 2 days from the date it bears.

Do not ask for additional time. Any sign of delaying effort, from your side will convey the disposition on your part that your case is week and you are nervous about it. Avoid generating this feeling in the mind of anyone. The time for reply should be minimum 7 days and maximum 15 days. If you are not permitted to refer to the relevant records, 7 days time may be given. This can be position if the charge-sheet case pertains to the same branch where you are presently working.

But if the case relates to transactions more than one year old at an earlier branch, if no permission for referring to the records is allowed, immediately, you must represent, for permission to visit the branch for 2 days and to refer to relevant records to refresh your memory and submit you reply. You can also commit that your reply will be sent within 7 days after verification of the records.

If reasonable facilities are denied, be firm in your action, but do not be impolite. Do not exhibit the feeling in others that you are inclined to make an issue of each and every trivial and insignificant matter and prefer to lodge a number of procedural complaints, but express all your objections in convincing language as genuine "grievances" affecting your interests. Mere procedural violations will not render an inquiry invalid, unless if it is also proved that such violations have materially harmed the interests of the charged officer.

If examination of records is not permitted, or if only 3 days time is allowed to you to submit your reply, You may only deny categorically deny each and every allegation (articles and imputations) and request the disciplinary to conduct a bonafide oral inquiry and disclose before hand the complete material he relies in support of the charges, to enable you to submit your defence. By way of a rider, you may also add that, however, if reference to records is permitted and minimum time of....days for replying the charge sheet is allowed, you will be in a position to submit a "more detailed submissions representing your stand point".

Contents of the Written Statement of the charged officer
by way of reply to the charge sheet

Follow the three guidelines as below:-

  1. Your reply should categorically deny in each and every allegation in the charge sheet by way of imputations or articles

  2. Also deny all relevant facts made in support of the imputations or articles, which you dispute or deem as incorrect. It is enough if you convey a denial and you need not explain further the discrepancies in the charge sheet. It is not your function to advise the disciplinary authority, how he should modify the charge sheet or rectify errors therein.

  3. You should not disclose beforehand the material evidences that you rely to explain your defence case prematurely at this stage.

  4. At the same time, your written statement should not be curt and convey that you are only merely denying the charges and inviting the disciplinary authority to conduct an inquiry. The question is what else to convey in the written statement? This is explained subsequently

  5. Avoiding blaming others (subordinates under you) for the alleged imputations and thus try to shift burden. This is a weak defence. In this process you are indirectly admitting the imputations of misconduct and only trying to plead about who is to be held responsible. If your argument fails the blame automatically sticks to you.

In case a spokesman of the management were to appear as the initial witness, before disclosing the material evidences of the management and testifies verbatim the contents of the charge sheet before the Inquiry Officer, and you are then asked to cross-examine this witness, what will you do? What questions and clarifications will you demand from the witness? Assume such a scenario and only put those questions and clarifications in your reply after categorically denying each and every imputations & articles of charge.

To illustrate this point, I will give a concrete case. My name is R.Kannan. In the 10th charge sheet served on me in my career, an allegation was made about one borrowal account "Decorators" as under:-

"The borrower was executing "job-orders" and still Mr.Kannan financed them"

"Decorators" were dealing with the Branch for the last 20 years, while I joined therein only a couple of years before. They are furniture makes and interior decorators. They will not manufacture products for store or stock adopting a standardised design and specifications as Godrej & Co will fabricate its steel furniture. They will only execute as per design and tastes of individual customers and execute the job at the site of the customer. The disciplinary authority has confused between "job-work" and "job-order". If I were to mention that the borrower is executing job-orders as per specifications of customers, the PO will contend that I have admitted the charge. My written statement of reply to this imputation was made as under:-

  1. I deny any misconduct in dealing with this loan account

  2. It is alleged that the borrower is executing "job-orders". He is dealing with the Branch for the last 20 years. Please clarify since when it is alleged that he is executing "job-orders". For want of this information I am unable to clarify the matter further

  3. Please also clarify - what is meant by "executing job-orders" as this is a technical jargon, and how it will constitute a misconduct? If this information is known to me, I will be able to furnish an appropriate answer.

  4. I may be in a better position to clarify this allegation, if the material evidences that you rely indicating that the borrower is "executing Job-orders" are conveyed to me

Indirectly I have brought out the discrepancies in the charge sheet, but these things will be recognised only if the inquiry is organised through a bonafide process and reply suibmitted by me is processed sincerely.

Seek information on all such discrepancies and weak points of the charge sheet. You are still submissive and polite in making such questions and no adverse comment can be made on you. If these are clarified in the preliminary inquiry, it will weaken the management case, and if these are not clarified, the discrepancies will continue to remain and to haunt the PO in the inquiry.

However the above is by way of suggestion and these should not be taken as directory or mandatory rules that should be invariably complied with. It all depends on the standard of the bonafides of the inquiry process and the sincerity and responsibility of your management. As these may differ from case to case. no thumb rules should be made for universal application. But understand the basic approach conveyed above and devise your standpoint as suited to the circumstance of the case.

My underlying point is that the management should learn to effectively deal with "misconduct" by employees and when management themselves perpetuate questionable acts the employee must learn necessary skills to cope up with the situation. Integrity and good conduct are not for one-way flow. It is wrong for an employee to abuse an officer, but is it justified for an officer to regularly be provoking an employee? Here the employee's misconduct occasions by way of "reaction to repeated provocation" and not by way of "his instinct or premeditated intention".

- - - : ( How to prepare the list of Defence Documents & Winesses? ) : - - -

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[..Page Last Updated on 19.08.2004..]<>[Chkd-Apvd]
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