IN THE CENTRAL ADMINISTRATIVE TRIBUNAL HYDERABAD BENCH : AT HYDERABAD OA No. 324 of 2008 Date of Order : 16-09-2008. Between:- P. Venu aged 51 years, working as Asst. Salt Commissioner in the Office of the Asst. Salt Commissioner, Salt Building, Sumair Club Rd, Jamnagar - 361 005. .Applicant And 1. The Secretary, Dept. of Industrial Policy & Promotions, M/o Industry, Udyog Bhavan, New Delhi - 110 011. 2. The Salt Commissioner, Lavan Bhavan, Lavan Marg, Jhalana Doongari, Jaipur-302 004. 3. The Dy. Salt Commissioner, Ajanta Commercial Centre, B-Block, 4th Floor, Ashram Rd, Ahmedabad - 380 014. 4. Union of India through the Secretary, M/o Finance, Dept. of Expenditure, North Block, New Delhi - 110 001. . ...Respondents Counsel for the Applicant : Sri P. Venu (Party-in-person) Counsel for the Respondents : Sri G. Jayaprakash Babu, Sr. CGSC CORAM: THE HON'BLE MR.JUSTICE P. LAKSHMANA REDDY:VICE-CHAIRMAN THE HON'BLE MR.R. SANTHANAM : MEMBER (ADMN) (Order per Hon'ble Mr. R. Santhanam, Member (A) ) ---
This application was originally filed before C.A.T, Ahmedabad Bench while the applicant was working at Jamnagar and after his transfer to this State, this O.A. has been transferred to this Bench for adjudication. The applicant herein has challenged the communication dated 09.09.2004 from the 2rd Respondent directing that the applicant should take prior approval of the Controlling Officer whenever he proceeds on tour even within his sphere of duty and that he should send his T.A. bills to the 3rd Respondent for getting them passed and the subsequent inaction of the 3rd Respondent in not passing the TA bills submitted by the applicant.
2. The applicant belongs to the Indian Salt Service and is posted at Jam- nagar as Asst. Salt Commissioner, which is termed as Divisional Office (DO) of the Salt Organization. The applicant is in the rank of Under Secretary in the pay scale of Rs.10000-325-15200. His jurisdiction covers the districts of Valsad, Navsari, Surat, Bharuch, Anand, Bhavnagar, Amreli, Junagadh, Porbandar and Jamnagar. There are statutory and administrative functions vested in a Divisional Officer with reference to the functioning of salt works within his division as well as the work and conduct of the officials placed in his charge. The due performance of the duties of a Divisional Officer involves extensive tour to the field offices as well as the salt works. It is the applicant's contention that as per the provisions of SR 61 only tours outside the sphere of the duty require prior permission and that proceeding on tour within the sphere of the duty does not require prior permission as it is an essential part of the duty of the Government Servant. The statutory rules provide freedom to the executive officers holding supervisory posts to make unscheduled visits to their field of action. The applicant claims that he undertakes tours strictly in accordance with the rules and instructions and in due discharge of his bonafide duties of the Divisional Office. It is his contention that he is his own controlling officer since the Govt. of India had, by the decision dated 12.8.1994 under SR 191, declared the officers of the rank of Under Secretary and above as their own controlling officers. Therefore, the applicant contends that the decision of the second respondent in disabling him from performing his legitimate duties is erroneous, unreasonable and opposed to the provisions of statutory rules. The applicant had submitted a letter dated 22.3.2005 to the second respondent pointing out the inconsistency with the statutory provisions. This was followed by a further letter dated 15.6.2005. Since there was no response, he submitted a memorial dated 14.1.2006 to the Hon'ble President of India. Since no decision has been communicated to him, he has filed this OA.
3. The Respondents have filed a detailed counter affidavit contesting the claims of the applicant. According to them, the legality of instruction regarding obtaining prior approval of the tour program of the applicant can be examined under the provisions contained in General Rules on Journey on Tours i.e. SR 59 to 63. In terms of provisions contained in SR 61, they have agreed that the applicant is eligible to undertake tours for attending government work but have added that the second respondent in terms of provisions contained in SR 62 and 63 is competent to ask the applicant to obtain the prior approval of the tour program from his controlling authority viz., the 3rd Respondent, in public interest. The Respondents have further stated that the applicant had never been refused permission to go on tour. But the second Respondent, being the competent authority, can certainly ask the applicant to get his tour program approved before proceeding on tour. The Respondents have also refuted the claim of the applicant that statutory powers are conferred on him making him his own controlling officer for the purpose of passing of TA claims. They have submitted that though the pay scales of Asst. Salt Commissioner and Under Secretary are identical, the post of Asst. Salt Commissioner has not been delegated with the powers to act as his own controlling authority for the purpose of passing of his TA claims. The applicant by violating statutory rules, passed his own TA claims. The applicant has also filed a rejoinder justifying his stand that the Asst. Salt Commissioner has to take extensive tour within his jurisdiction.
4. Heard Sri P. Venu, applicant in person and Sri G. Jayaprakash Babu, learned senior Central Government standing counsel for the Respondents. The material papers prepared meticulously by the applicant and furnished by him were also perused.
5. The issues that arise for consideration in this case are (i) whether the applicant is justified in claiming that he is not required to obtain prior permission of the 3rd Respondent to proceed on tour within his jurisdiction and (ii) whether the applicant can be called his own controlling officer in terms of Govt. of India decision under SR 191 contained in OM dated 12.8.1994 for the purpose of passing his TA bills.
6. Issue No. (i) : The Office of Sal Commissioner which is located at Jaipur functions under the Ministry of Commerce & Industry, Dept. of Industrial Policy promotion headed by the Salt Commissioner. The Salt Commissioner has been declared as Head of the Department under Rule-3(f), Schedule (1) of the delegation of financial power Rules, 1978. A copy of this schedule is available at Annexure R-1. The Salt Commissioner in exercise of the powers conferred on Head of the Department under SR 191 has declared the Dy. Salt Commissioner of the Region as controlling officer in respect of Asst. Salt Commissioners, Asst. Civil Engineers and Superintendents of Salt working under them. This delegation has been made for the purpose of Travelling Allowance, LTC and medical reimbursement bills of each government servant or class of government servants mentioned against them. A copy of this communication has been annexed as Annexure R-2. These orders have not been challenged by the applicant. According to the respondents, the competent authority has not declared the Asst. Salt Commissioner as his own controlling officer and he is required to take prior permission of the superior officer before leaving headquarters on tour. In this context, they have quoted rule 63 which confers powers to the controlling officer to impose restrictions upon frequency and duration of tour. For the purpose of convenience, the rules relied upon and relevant to this case are reproduced below :-
"S.R.59. The headquarters of a Government servant shall be in such place as a Competent Authority may prescribe.
Limits of sphere of duty.
S.R. 60. A competent Authority may define the limits of the sphere of duty of any Government servant.
Definitions of tours S.R. 61. A government servant is on tour when absent on duty from his headquarters either within or, with proper sanction, beyond his sphere of duty. For the purpose of this section, a journey to a hills station is not treated as journey on tour.
S.R. 62. In case of doubt a Competent Authority may decide whether a particular absence is absence on duty for the purpose of Rule 61.
Restrictions on the duration and frequency of tours.
S.R. 63. A competent Authority may impose such restrictions as it may think fit upon the frequency and duration of journeys to be made on tour by any Government servant or class of Government servants.
The applicant has claimed that Rule-61 is unambiguous, in that, permission is required only when proceeding on tour beyond the government servant's sphere of duty. While he is right in saying that the rule is clear and explicit to this effect, we are in agreement with the Respondents' view that the SR 61 cannot be read in isolation and it has to be read along with SR 62 and 63. SR 63 gives powers to the competent authority to impose restrictions on the frequency and duration of journeys made by government servant. According to the applicant, the purpose of SR 62 is to prevent abuse of the facility of tour, if and when such absence from headquarters is unconnected with the discharge of duties. The applicant claims that in his 24 years of service, he had always availed the freedom of proceeding on tour to the field area in his sphere of duty with discretion. But the applicant should also appreciate that the rules are made not for one individual but for the entire class of Government Servants. While the applicant may exercise his freedom within his sphere of duty with discretion, the same attitude cannot be expected from all the government servants. Rules are made to provide for all contingencies, to the extent possible. It is in this context that some powers have been conferred on the competent authority to impose restrictions. At the same time, the competent authority should also bear in mind that the restrictions imposed should be reasonable. The applicant claims that the competent authority has not issued any order restricting the frequency and duration of tour any of the officials of the Salt Department in terms of SR 63. While that may be so, the power of the competent authority to impose restrictions cannot be denied. In the case before us, the competent authority has not debarred the applicant from undertaking tours. He has been advising the applicant to obtain prior permission or to inform the 3rd respondent over phone and to submit tour notes to enable him to know the work done by the applicant during his absence from the headquarters. In our considered view, this cannot be construed as an unreasonable restriction. We do not see how the instructions contained in OM dated 9.9.2004 disabled the applicant from carrying out the statutory and administrative duties. It is not the applicant's case that he has been singled out among all the Asst. Salt Commissioner's by such instructions. These instructions apply to the other Asst. Salt Commissioners as well who perform statutory and administrative duties. They have not complained that the instructions contained in OM dated 9.9.2004 disabled them from discharging their functions. As long as the Rules are made applicable to everyone, no malafide can be attributed. Admittedly, the Salt Commissioner's order conferring powers on Dy. Salt Commissioners, which is at Annexure R-2 is applicable to all the Dy. Salt Commissioners in the country and they would be exercising these powers in respect of all the Asst. Salt Commissioners, Asst. Civil Engineers and Superintendent of Salt working under them. It is nobody's case that applicant alone has been singled out. In the course of arguments, Sri P. Venu submitted that he has to make surprise visits to the field offices and if he has to obtain prior permission, then the very purpose of making surprise visits would be defeated. The respondents have stated that if it is not possible to get prior approval, atleast intimation over phone should be given and permission of the competent authority should be taken. We see some logic in the contention of the Respondents that if any government officer is allowed to be absent on official tour without the knowledge of his higher authority, it may lead to dislocation of functions of government offices and we do not certainly think that requiring the government servant to obtain prior permission either in writing or on phone is an unreasonable restriction. The applicant seems to think that information about his impending visit will be leaked out if he asks for prior permission. Cynicism of this kind is totally unwarranted. Trust begets trust. Unless the superior and subordinate officers have an understanding or some sort of trust in each other, it is difficult to get any work done, be it within the Government system or outside. Even officers in high positions are required to take prior permission of their immediate superior officers before proceeding on tour. It would enable the controlling officers not only to know the whereabouts of the officers under their control in case any emergency arises but also to assess the performance of these officers. Therefore, issue No. (i) is decided against the applicant.
7. Issue No. (ii) : The applicant has claimed that as per Government of India, M/o Finance OM No. F.19041/3/94-E IV dated 12.8.1994, Govt. of India declaration No. 1 under SR 191, all officers of the rank of Under Secretary and above may be declared as their own controlling officers. According to him, since it is a policy decision, the word 'may' has the import of the word 'shall' and since the instructions cover a class of government servants and he being one in such a class, it is perfectly legitimate for him to rely upon this decision and pass his own TA bills. The applicant has quoted only one portion of the office memorandum to justify his claim that he is his own controlling officer. Para-3 of the OM states that tour program (of the Under Secretary) will however continue to be approved by the Joint Secretary and equivalent concerned. It is obvious that while amending Government of India declaration under SR 191, the Government have not taken away the powers of the controlling officers with regard to approval of the tour programs. As pointed out earlier, the order in Annexure R-2 has been issued by the Salt Commissioner in exercise of the powers conferred under SR 191 only. The Respondents have submitted that though the pay scales of Asst. Salt Commissioner and Under Secretary are identical, the post of Asst. Salt Commissioner has not been delegated with the powers to act as his own controlling authority for the purpose of passing of TA bills. In fact, in SR 193, marked as Annexure R-9, officers who are in higher pay scales than the Under Secretary have been allowed to present bills for TA without the counter signature of the controlling officer. According to the Respondents, the Salt Commissioner, viz., the 2nd Respondent is not competent to declare the Dy. Salt Commissioner, the 3rd Respondent or the applicant, to act as their own controlling officer. Since the competent authority has not done so, not only the applicant but also the 3rd Respondent is not eligible to act as his own controlling officer merely on the ground that all the officers of the rank of Under Secretary and above may be declared as their own controlling officer. We are inclined to agree with the respondents that no sub-ordinate officer can exercise statutory powers till it has been delegated by the authority under whom the powers are vested. If any competent authority in exercising the powers conferred on him issues instructions within the legal frame work, the sub-ordinate officers are required to comply. This is one of the cardinal principles in Government Service. Therefore, we are of the considered view that the applicant has not been able to establish his claim that he is his own controlling officer for passing his TA bills. Thus the second issue is also decided against the applicant.
8. In the result, the OA is dismissed as devoid of merits. No order as to costs.
(R.SANTHANAM) (P.LAKSHMANA REDDY) Member (Admn) Vice-Chairman