Read Order: UNION OF INDIA AND ORS Vs. DILIP KUMAR MALLICK
New Delhi, April 11, 2022: The Supreme Court has recently observed that non-disclosure of fact concerning the pendency of a criminal case against an employee, is a ground to terminate the services of that employee.
A Two-Judge Bench of Justice Dinesh Maheshwari and Justice M.M. Sundresh was dealing with an appeal assailing the impugned judgment of the Division Bench of the High Court wherein the quantum of punishment was intervened in a case of non- disclosure of facts on the relevant column of the verification roll by a CRPF employee.
Brief facts of the case were such that the respondent was appointed under the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) Group Centre in Bhubaneswar. During his service, he was alleged of suppressing/ concealing certain facts with respect to an ongoing case against him at Kendrapara Police Station under Sections 341, 323, 294, 337, 506 read with Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code and was charge-sheeted for the said offences on December 1, 2001.
Though the said criminal case was pending before the competent Court, however at the time of filling the verification roll, the respondent did not disclose the same. Consequently, an inquiry was initiated against him and he was ordered to be removed from service by the Disciplinary Authority by observing that an act of such nature is prejudicial to the discipline of CRPF. The appeal taken up by the respondent-employee was also dismissed by the Appellate Authority on July 31, 2009.
However, on February 2, 2012 a writ petition filed by the respondent was allowed by the High Court to the extent that the Appellate Authority was directed to reconsider the appeal within two months in light of the judgement of this Court in the Commissioner of Police and Ors. v. Sandeep Kumar.
The Appellate Authority, thereafter, dismissed the appeal and refused to intervene with the decision of the Disciplinary Authority. The respondent again approached the High Court by way of the writ petition leading to the present appeal.
The respondent pleaded that he had not suppressed any information pertaining to the case. As far as the verification roll was concerned, the respondent pleaded that he neither stated “Yes” nor “No” with respect to the criminal case. He also stressed on the fact that he was never arrested or remanded to judicial custody in pursuant to the criminal case. According to him the matter was settled between the parties in the village and he was not apprised of the fact that the case was still lying pending before the competent Court and therefore he did not mention anything on the verification roll.
However the present appellants opposed the writ petition by submitting that not mentioning about the pendency of a criminal case, was sheer suppression of facts from the side of respondent. The Single Judge of the High Court, however did not concede with the submissions of the respondent and concluded that he did not disclose the fact pertaining to the pending criminal case intentionally. The above stated finding of the High Court was challenged by way of intra-appeal and the same was partly allowed by the Division Bench of the High Court by its order dated March 25, 2019. It was this impugned order of the High Court that was assailed by the appellants in the form of appeal before the present Court.
The Counsel for the appellant contended that the suppression / concealment of an important fact in the relevant column of verification roll pertaining to the pending criminal case against the respondent depicted his lack of integrity towards the institution and such an act called for a punishment of removal from service which was indeed awarded to the respondent.
The counsel for the respondent submitted that the respondent had been working for the appellants since 2009 and there was not even a single incident of a complaint. It was further submitted that as far as the criminal case was concerned, the respondent was acquitted in the same by an order passed by the Sub-Divisional Magistrate Court. It was further submitted that the respondent was charged for offences petty in nature and there were more than 50 persons of the village made party to the case. Thus, it was submitted that the respondent had no conduct of criminality in the above case and that the respondent had not suppressed any fact to be held guilty for .
The Top Court after considering the submissions from both the sides was of the view that the fact concerning the suppression/ concealment of facts by the respondent was not disputable as the respondent did leave the relevant column in the verification role blank even when he was aware of the fact that a criminal case was lying pending against him.
The fact that he surrendered before the Trial Court and was granted bail certainly did not justify his act of suppressing the facts. It was further observed that the Appellate Authority and the High Court were right in their approach of upholding the punishment awarded and the Division Bench also did not debate over the fact that there was intentional non-disclosure of facts.
The Court noted that the Divisional Bench of the High Court only intervened with the quantum of punishment awarded. By considering the same, the Apex Court refused to intervene with the quantum of punishment and relied to the judgment of this Court in Avtar Singh v. Union of India and Others, (2016) 8 SCC 471 wherein it was observed that once verification form requires certain information to be furnished, declarant is duty-bound to furnish it correctly and any suppression of material facts or submitting false information, may by itself lead to termination of his services or cancellation of candidature in an appropriate case. However, in a criminal case the incumbent has not been acquitted and case is pending trial, employer may well be justified in not appointing such an incumbent or in terminating the services as conviction ultimately may render him unsuitable for job and employer is not supposed to wait till outcome of criminal case. Insuch a case non-disclosure or submitting false information would assume significance and that by itself may be grounds for the employer to cancel candidature or to terminate services.
The Apex Court observed that as per the judgment in Avtar Singh’s Case (Supra) the fact that the employee suppresses information pertaining to a pending criminal case in itself is a ground to terminate the services of the employees and the same situation prevailed in the present case. The respondent left the column completely blank despite the fact that he had all the information on his case. It was further observed that in Avtar Singh’s Case (Supra), it was mentioned that if the offence was of trivial nature like shouting of slogans at a young age then the the employer may ignore such suppression of fact or false information depending on the factors as to whether the information, if disclosed, would have rendered incumbent unfit for the post in question.
The Division Bench said,”However, the aforesaid observations do not lead to the corollary that in a case of the present nature where a criminal case was indeed pending against the respondent and the facts were altogether omitted from being mentioned, the employer would be obliged to ignore such defaults and shortcomings. On the contrary, as indicated above, a non-disclosure of material information itself could be a ground for cancellation of employment or termination of services.”
It was also noted that decision of acquittal by the Trial Court was pronounced on May 1, 2008, which said that the respondent was employed in CRPF in 2003, therefore he was well apprised with the fact that a criminal case was pending before him and he still chose to not disclose the same until the department by its own findings became aware of the same.
Thus in light of above stated facts and principles, the Apex Court allowed the appeal and set aside the questioned part of the impugned order whereby the Division Bench interfered with the quantum of punishment. The writ petition filed by the respondent was dismissed.