High Court of Jammu and Kashmir at Jammu: A Division Bench comprising of Dhiraj Singh Thakur J. and Sanjay Kumar Gupta J. recently addressed a Letters Patent Appeal which challenged the order passed by the Single Judge wherein a Government Order directing the premature retirement of the petitioner had been quashed. The reasoning that had been provided for quashment of the order was that the retirement had been ordered simply based on an FIR registered against the petitioner and without considering his service record.
The facts of the case revolve around Regulation 226(2) of the Jammu & Kashmir Civil Services Regulations which authorizes the Government to retire a Government Servant at any time after completion of 22 years of service or after the employee has attained the age of 48 years in public interest. This regulation essentially exists for the government to get rid of any employee who is considered to be inefficient or of doubtful integrity or corrupt. For execution of this power, it has to follow the norms that have also been set by the Government. In the present case, the Government had set up a Committee in exercise of its powers under the aforementioned regulation. The Committee recorded that the petitioner against whom the regulation was being enforced did not have a good reputation in public, had an FIR registered against him on charges of bribery which was found to be true. Based on these grounds, the Government had passed the order for his pre-mature retirement from service.
This order was challenged by the petitioner on the grounds of it being arbitrary and without having recorded the requisite subjective satisfaction on the basis of the service record as was prescribed under Regulation 226. The petitioner had also argued that the FIR had been registered to demolish his good reputation. The counsel for the petitioner had relied on State of Gujarat v. Suryakant Chunilal Shah, (1999) 1 SCC 529 wherein the Supreme Court had envisaged a situation when mere registration of an FIR would constitute as relevant material for compulsory retirement, although it would then depend on the nature of the alleged offence committed. Counsel for the appellant, on the other hand, argued that the recommendations of the Committee were not made simply upon the fact of the registered FIR but also because the respondent lacked good reputation and was of doubtful integrity.
The Court referred to Baikuntha Nath Das v. Chief District Medical Officer, (1992) 2 SCC 299 wherein the Supreme Court had crystallized the principles surrounding “Compulsory Retirement”. Although principles of natural justice did not have a place in such situations, judicial scrutiny couldn’t be excluded. If the order was mala fide, not based on any evidence or arbitrary in the sense that no reasonable person would come to the decision in question on the available material, it would be a perverse order. The Court had emphasized that the Government would have to consider the record and performance of the public servant which would include character rolls, both favorable and adverse.
The Court also referred to M.S Bindra v. UOI, (1998) 7 SCC 310, wherein it was clarified that even though natural justice doesn’t have any role to play in the context of compulsory retirement, it wouldn’t exclude considering the version of the delinquent officer which would be imperative to reach the correct conclusion.
The Court pointed out that in State of Gujarat v. Suryakant Chunilal Shah, (1999) 1 SCC 529 it was held that the annual character roll of the Government Servant would give an appropriately objective assessment of his integrity and job performance since adverse remarks on such rolls would be warning signs of the absence of such a person’s job integrity. It also noted that the Court, in this case had held that merely being involved in a criminal case wouldn’t per se establish the person’s guilt and hence, a compulsory retirement based on such a factor wouldn’t stand.
The Court observed that hearsay reputation or casual statements questioning the integrity of a person would not be considered as they could be baseless or emanating from mala fide intentions. For the purposes of assessing the reputation of a government servant, the material would have to be cogent and in the shape of a record which would need to be considered in the correct perspective. Opinions regarding doubtful integrity and questionable reputation would need to emanate from an officer who had an opportunity to work with the delinquent officer on a day to day basis. Dismissing the appeal, the Court upheld the Single Judge’s decision. [State of J&K v. Krishan Lal, 2017 SCC OnLine J&K 731, order dated 12.12.2017]