Tulip Kanth

New Delhi, May 07, 2022: While dismissing an appeal filed by a former Judicial Officer against the punishment of curtailment of his pensionary benefits, the Supreme Court has opined that judicial orders passed by the officer were in utter disregard of the specific provisions of law which unduly favoured the subsequent purchasers of the acquired lands who had no right to claim compensation.

The Division Bench of Justice D.Y.Chandrachud and Justice Bela M.Trivedi said, “A judge must decide the case on the basis of the facts on record and the law applicable to the case. If he decides a case for extraneous reasons, then he is not performing his duties in accordance with law. As often quoted, a judge, like Caesars wife, must be above suspicion.”

The challenge in the instant appeal was to the Order passed by the Allahabad High Court, filed by the appellant challenging the order of punishment issued by the respondent-State pursuant to the decision of the Full Court of the High Court taken on the report of the Enquiry Officer in respect of the disciplinary proceedings initiated against the appellant for the alleged misconduct committed by him as a judicial officer. 

The appellant had joined the Uttar Pradesh Judicial Services in 1978 and sought voluntary retirement from the said services in September 2003. Immediately after retirement, the appellant joined as a Judicial Member, Central Administrative Tribunal, Mumbai Bench. In 2005, the appellant was informed by a letter that the High Court had initiated a departmental enquiry against him. 

In the chargesheet it was alleged that the appellant, while posted as the 11th Additional District Judge, Agra during the period from May 23, 2001 to May 19, 2003, had decided a batch of matters under the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 and had awarded enhanced compensation which was multiple times more than the investments made by the subsequent purchasers of the acquired land and such subsequent purchasers had no right to claim compensation for the acquired lands.

It was alleged that the appellant had determined the compensation in terms of square yards and not in terms of bighas, and had awarded such compensation with a view to unduly favour such subsequent purchasers. It was therefore alleged that the appellant had failed to maintain absolute integrity and complete devotion to duty, and thereby had committed a misconduct within the meaning of Rule-3 of U.P. Govt. Servants Conduct Rules, 1956. One of the charges levelled against the appellant pertained to an undue favour shown to the son of a Counsel by exorbitantly enhancing the compensation in his favour. 

After the enquiry Officer submitted his report and the appellant filed his response on such report, the Allahabad High Court resolved to punish the appellant with curtailment of 90% of his pensionary benefits. Pursuant to the said recommendation, the respondent-State passed an order sanctioning withholding of 90% from the pension of the appellant in view of the provisions contained in Article 351(A) of the Civil Services Regulations.   The order of punishment passed by the respondent-State on the basis of the said recommendation made by the full court of the High Court, was challenged by the appellant by filing a writ petition in the High Court. The High Court dropped the first three charges and upheld the rest of the eight charges against the appellant, and reduced the punishment to the curtailment of 70% in place of 90% of his pensionary benefits.

The Bench referred to its various judgments in C. Ravichandran Iyer Vs. Justice A.M. Bhattacharjee & Ors, Sadhna Chaudhary Vs. State of Uttar Pradesh, Union of India Vs. K.K. Dhawan and reiterated that judicial officers must aspire and adhere to a higher standard of honesty, integrity and probity and maintenance of high standard of conduct and character of the judicial officers has always been a matter of great concern for this court. 

It was observed by the Bench that  thepower of judicial review conferred on the constitutional Court is not that of an appellate authority but is confined only to the decision-making process. Interference with the decision of departmental authorities is permissible only if the proceedings were conducted in violation of the principles of natural justice or in contravention of statutory regulations regulating such proceedings or if the decision on the face of it is found to be arbitrary or capricious. 

The Courts would and should not act as an appellate Court and reassess the evidence led in the domestic enquiry, nor should interfere on the ground that another view is possible on the material on record. If the inquiry has been fairly and properly conducted, and the findings are based on evidence, the adequacy of the evidence or reliability of evidence would not be a ground to interfere with the findings recorded in the departmental enquiries, noticed the Bench.

On the factual background of the case the Bench affirmed that the appellant had not made any allegation with regard to violation of principles of natural justice or contravention of any statutory rules or regulations having occasioned during the course of enquiry proceedings or in the decision-making process. Therefore, in absence of any such allegations, the subjective satisfaction arrived at by the High Court on the administrative side, and the impugned order passed by the High Court on the judicial side did not warrant any interference of this court. 

According to the Top Court, when the Enquiry proceedings had been found to be conducted in proper and legal manner, and when the High Court on administrative side as well as on judicial side, had accepted the findings recorded by the Enquiry Officer holding him guilty of having committed misconduct, this court was not expected to sit as an appellate authority and revaluate the adequacy or reliability of the evidence adduced before the Enquiry Officer. 

It was also asserted that the appellant was found to have conducted the proceedings in the manner which had reflected on his reputation and integrity. There was enough evidence and material to show that the appellant had misconducted himself while discharging his duties as a judicial officer, and had passed the judicial orders in utter disregard of the specific provisions of law, to unduly favour the subsequent purchasers of the acquired lands who had no right to claim compensation, and such orders were actuated by corrupt motive. Under the circumstances, the Bench concluded that the High Court was perfectly justified in exercising its supervisory jurisdiction under Article 235 of the Constitution.

Dismissing the appeal, the Apex Court opined that the extraneous consideration for showing favour need not always be a monetary consideration and showing undue favour to a party under the guise of passing judicial orders is the worst kind of judicial dishonesty and misconduct.

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