EPF Pension Case: Supreme Court Reserves Judgment On Appeals Of EPFO
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Fixing of time period for completing disciplinary proceedings causes more complications and harm rather than serving the cause of justice, the Supreme Court observed in a judgment recently


The bench comprising Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and Krishna Murari observed that fixing such a period could only be justified if there are strong and compelling reasons for the same.


If at all such period is proposed to be fixed, not only the reasons for the same but, even the consequences of default are also required to be stated if such period is, for any valid reason, expected to operate with adverse consequences on the defaulter, the court said.


In this case, the Central Administrative Tribunal set aside disciplinary proceedings initiated against an Electric Locomotive Driver and directed the Disciplinary Authority to proceed from the stage of consideration or (sic) representation against the report of the Enquiry Officer. It was also directed that this exercise should be completed within two months of receipt of the order (03.09.2010). Disciplinary Authority passed its order on 17.02.2011, once again imposing the major penalty of removal from railway service. The employee moved the Tribunal and filed OA contending that the Tribunal had stipulated a time limit of two months to complete the proceedings and the proceedings had abated for having not been completed within the prescribed time limit. The Tribunal dismissed the OA holding that the proceedings would have abated only if it were so directed in specific terms. The Tribunal found that in the instant case while directing the case be decided within two months, it had not been specifically provided that the proceedings would abate if not completed within two months.


This order of CAT was challenged before the Calcutta High Court by filing a writ petition. The High Court held that the Disciplinary Authority had no jurisdiction or authority to complete the proceedings beyond the period prescribed by the Tribunal. The High Court has observed that even though Miscellaneous Application seeking enlargement of time was dismissed by the Tribunal on 03.01.2011, the Disciplinary Authority proceeded with the matter; and such proceedings beyond the time prescribed were nullity in the eyes of law. It was further held that once the proceedings were held to be a nullity, there could be no question of preferring a statutory appeal, and such proceedings could only be challenged before a Court of law.


In appeal, the bench comprising observed that the propositions of the High Court, treating the proceedings in question as having abated or having been rendered nullity cannot be approved from any standpoint. The court made the following observations:


The jurisdiction to fix such a time period inheres to the jurisdiction to extend the time initially fixed.


It remains trite that if an Adjudicating Authority in the exercise of its jurisdiction could grant or fix a time period to do a particular thing, in the absence of a specific statutory provision to the contrary, the jurisdiction to fix such a time period inheres the jurisdiction to extend the time initially fixed. Such conditional orders have regularly been construed by this Court to be in terrorem so as to put a check on the dilatory tactics by any litigant or to guard against any laxity on the part of the Adjudicating Authority but, the Court is not powerless to enlarge the time even though it had peremptorily fixed the period at an earlier stage.

Proceedings would not come to an end immediately after the expiry of the time fixed.


When a conditional order is passed by the Court/Tribunal to do a particular act or thing within a particular period but the order does not provide anything as to the consequence of default, the Court/Tribunal fixes the time for doing a particular thing obviously retains the power to enlarge such time. As a corollary, even the Appellate Court/Tribunal or any higher forum would also be having the power to enlarge such time, if so required. In any case, it cannot be said that the proceedings would come to an end immediately after the expiry of the time fixed.



While allowing the appeal, the bench further observed:

We are impelled to observe that while treating the proceedings as having abated and as a nullity, the High Court has ignored the fundamental principles that fixing such a time period was only a matter of procedure with an expectation of conclusion of the proceedings in an expeditious manner. This period of two months had not acquired any such mandatory statutory character so as to nullify the entire disciplinary proceedings with its expiry. 

The court also clarified that it will be permissible for the respondent to prefer an appeal before the Appellate Authority.


Case details

Union of India vs Sharvan Kumar | 2022 LiveLaw (SC) 595 | CA 1942 OF 2014 | 6 July 2022

 Coram: Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and Krishna Murari


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