State Bank of Patiala & Ors. vs. S.K. Sharma
(1996) 3 SCC 364
Key Words: non-compliance, substantial compliance, prejudice, substantive, procedural
A disciplinary enquiry was held against the respondent in respect of certain charges. At the conclusion of the enquiry, a report was submitted by the enquiry officer holding both the charges established. The competent authority accepted the report and ordered the removal of the respondent from the service.
Issue: Whether each and every violation of rules or regulations governing the enquiry automatically vitiates the enquiry and the punishment awarded or whether the test of substantial compliance can be invoked in cases of such violation and whether the issue has to be examined from the point of view of prejudice.
The Apex Court in para 11 observed that-
“In our opinion, the test in such cases should be one of prejudice, as would be later explained in this judgment.”
…(3) In respect of procedural provisions other than of a fundamental nature, the theory of substantial compliance would be available. In such cases, complaint/objection on this scope have to be judged on the touch-stone of prejudice, as explained later in this judgment.”
Again in para 18 the Court referred to the judgment of R v. Secy. of State for Transport, ex p Gwent County Council and observed that-
“Dealing with a complaint of procedural impropriety, the Court of Appeal held that unless prejudice is established to have resulted from the procedural impropriety, no interference was called for.”
At para 33, it was noted that-
(1)… The Court or the Tribunal should enquire whether (a) the provision violated is of a substantive nature of (b) whether it is procedural in character.
(2) A substantive provision has normally to be complied with as explained hereinbefore and the theory of substantial compliance or the test of prejudice would not be applicable in such a case.
(3) In the case of violation of a procedural provision, the position is this: Procedural provisions are generally meant for affording a reasonable and adequate opportunity to the delinquent officer/employee. They are, generally speaking, conceived in his interest. Violation of any and every procedural provision cannot be said to automatically vitiate the enquiry held or order passed.-Except cases falling under ‘no notice’, ‘no opportunity’ and ‘no hearing’ categories, the complaint of violation of procedural provision should be examined from the point of view of prejudice…”
The Court noted that though the copies of the statements of two witnesses were not furnished, the respondent was permitted to peruse them and take notes therefrom more than three days prior to their examination. The respondent did not raise any objection during the enquiry that the non-furnishing of the copies of the statements was disabling him from effectively cross-examining the witnesses or to defend himself, the Trial Court has not found that any prejudice has resulted from the said violation.
The Court remarked that there was no prejudice caused to the respondent on account of not furnishing him the copies of the statements of witnesses. Therefore, on account of the said violation, it cannot be said that the respondent did not have a fair hearing or that the disciplinary enquiry against him was not a fair enquiry.
- Procedural lapses can be overlooked if there is a substantial compliance and no prejudice is caused due to the non-compliance.
 (1987) 1 All ER 161, CA