Read Order: Dr Bhupinderpal Singh Gill v. State of Punjab and Others 

Monika Rahar

Chandigarh, April 29, 2022: While dealing with a Letters Patent Appeal filed by a Senior Medical Officer who was punished and against whom a 2% permanent cut in his pension was imposed for allegedly taking three-day unsanctioned leave in 2017, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has held that the impugned order was disproportionate to the conduct of the appellant and thus the order of deduction of 2% cut in pension was reduced from perpetuity to five years. 

The Bench of Justices G. S. Sandhawalia and Vikas Suri held, “… we are of the considered opinion that the punishment inflicted on the writ petitioner being a 2% cut in pension, in perpetuity, even if the finding with regard to the charges is left untouched, is disproportionate to the misconduct and is sufficient to shock the conscience of the Court.”

In this case, the petitioner (now appellant) joined as Medical Officer at the Punjab Civil Medical Services in 1983. As per service conditions, he was to superannuate in March of 2017, on completion of 58 years of age. During his service, he was promoted to the post of Senior Medical Officer and was working as such, preceding his retirement.

On January 27, 2017, the writ petitioner applied to the Civil Surgeon for casual leave for three days, and thereafter he proceeded on leave, as per the practice followed earlier. However, on March 20, 2017, that is 11 days prior to his superannuation, a charge sheet was issued to the writ petitioner on the ground that the petitioner proceeded on leave without the leave being approved by the concerned person. 

As per the case of the respondents, the leave was declined, relying upon the instructions issued by the Punjab Health System Corporation on January 06, 2017, in view of the Vidhan Sabha Elections that were announced to be held in February 2017. 

The charge sheet alleged that the petitioner failed to comply with the directions of the Election Commission; he proceed without getting the leave sanctioned; he did not take part in the pulse polio program and lastly, that he gave threats for legal action against the Senior Assistant of the office of the Civil Surgeon. 

After inquiry, all charges were stated to be proved except the last. The petitioner while denying these charges, filed his reply which was not found to be satisfactory and thus, after granting an opportunity of hearing to the writ petitioner, the Principal Secretary, Department of Health and Family Welfare, Punjab proceeded to inflict punishment and imposed 2% cut in the pension with cumulative/permanent. 

The aforesaid inquiry report and punishment order were challenged by way of a writ petition and the present intra-court appeal arose from the decision of the Single Judge Bench in respect of the said petition. 

The counsel for the appellant-writ petitioner contended that the appellant was neither assigned any duty in the elections nor he was given any duty in the Pulse Polio Programme. It was also sought to be urged that the charge sheet was issued on account of the grudge harboured by the high-rank officials, who were impleaded by name in the cases instituted by the writ petitioner and the leave was sought for pursuing and attending the said cases. 

It was vehemently urged that with regard to the alleged cancellation of the leave, no letter was written by the Civil Surgeon, Sangrur or the Director, Health and Family Welfare, Punjab. Thus, it was also urged that in view of the above factual matrix, the authorities were vindictive and thus, punishment disproportionate to the alleged charges was awarded.  

ON the other hand, defending the impugned order, the State Counsel submitted that the genesis of not permitting casual leave and issuance of the charge sheet was that the Punjab Health System Corporation had issued instructions that the Specialist Doctors, General Medical Officers or other Para Medical Staff shall not proceed on leave during the election and if it is required in special cases, it will be only with the prior approval of the Director Health and therefore, the Writ Court has rightly not gone into the factual aspect whether the charges stood proved or not and 2% permanent cut in pension was rightly maintained. 

To refute the submissions of the State counsel, it was submitted that the petitioner was enforcing his fundamental right to seek judicial redress against the mighty State, and accordingly, casual leave was applied for and the litigating parties being unequal, the Courts of law were to balance the scales of equality and justice to protect the weaker party from harm that was occasioned on account of the wide disparity between the parties.

It was also added that in the past 34 years of service, no letter sanctioning casual leave was ever issued and on January 27, 2017, he was not given any telephonic message not to go on leave. It was argued that the Single Judge did not examine the disproportional aspect of the punishment inflicted.

“There is no discussion or consideration of the past service record, length of service, absence of complaints or misdemeanour in the past, the factum that the charge sheet was issued only 11 days prior to superannuation and that the appellant/writ petitioner was in litigation with the employer authorities”, the Counsel submitted while concluding his arguments. 

Addressing the argument of the petitioner’s counsel on disproportionate punishment, the Court observed that the Court, in the case of Dr Swaranjit Singh vs. Central Administrative Tribunal, Chandigarh and others after noticing and following the ratio of the judgments of the Apex Court in Coimbatore District Central Cooperative Bank vs. Coimbatore District Central Cooperative Bank Employees Assn. and another, (2007) 4 SCC 669 and Charanjit Lamba vs. Commanding Officer, Army Southern Command and others exercised its jurisdiction by remedying punishment disproportionate to the misconduct proved because the dis-proportionality was sufficient to shock the conscience of the Court.

Coming to the present case, the Court opined that the petitioner put in service of 34 years and not an iota of material was brought on record to even remotely suggest that the writ petitioner was a trouble maker or undisciplined employee or habitual of absenting himself from work without permission. 

On the contrary, the Court observed that the factors that ostensibly appear to have influenced the competent authority were also candidly pleaded and brought on record i.e. actively pursuing litigation in which the highest authority of the department i.e. Principal Secretary, Health and Family Welfare Department, Punjab was as such a party respondent by name, as a contemnor. Also, it was observed that no material was brought to the Court’s notice that the aforesaid factual aspect was ever denied or refuted or appropriately dealt with, at the time of imposing the punishment. 

Thus, the Court was of the considered view that the punishment inflicted on the writ petitioner being a 2% cut in pension, in perpetuity, even if the finding with regard to the charges is left untouched, is disproportionate to the misconduct and is sufficient to shock the conscience of the Court. 

Thus, the Court held, “the writ petitioner does not deserve to be treated any differently and as such taking a consistent view, the present appeal is liable to be allowed partly and the order of punishment deserves to be modified accordingly.”

Therefore, the Bench asserted that the ends of justice would be met if the impugned punishment was modified to be for a limited specific period other than being in perpetuity i.e. with cumulative effect. Nonetheless, the Court pertinently added that the same would still act as a deterrent for other employees to discharge their duties in a proper manner and remain careful to follow all instructions issued from time to time. 

Accordingly, the order passed by the Writ Court was aside and the order of the Principal Secretary, Punjab Government, Health and Family Welfare Department, imposing a 2% cut in pension with cumulative/permanent effect, was modified to that of a 2% cut in pension for a period of 5 years. 

“Consequently, the full pension would be restored on the completion of five years period from the date the inflicted punishment has been effected”, held the Court. 

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