Kerala HC directs reinstatement of University Assistant holding that “suspension order cannot be used as a weapon of penalization”

Kerala High Court: A Single judge bench comprising of A.Muhamed Mustaque, J. while hearing a civil writ petition against a University’s order of suspension against its employee, ruled that suspension must only be continued if there is a threat of tampering of evidence/ materials gathered.

Petitioner, an Assistant in the respondent University, was removed as a member of the respondent’s employee association, subsequent to which he made certain sarcastic posts on social media depicting activities of powerful persons. In his posts, he did not name any institution or person and there was nothing on the face to conclude that his posts were directed against the respondent University or its officials. Respondent thought that it was an attack on the University and/ or its administration, and suspended the petitioner from its service. This writ petition was filed challenging the said suspension.

The court noted that petitioner had been suspended for nearly 60 days. Relying on its decision in K.K. Ramankutty v. State of Kerala, 1972 SCC OnLine Ker 96 the High Court held that suspension cannot be used as a weapon to penalize and continuation of suspension must be in larger public interest. If the service of an employee poses threat to an ongoing inquiry, then such delinquent employee need not be reinstated pending such enquiry.

Adverting to the facts of the case, it was observed that in the present case there was no need to keep the petitioner under suspension for long because what could amount to alleged misconduct was already there in the form of his social media posts. There was no scope for him to interfere with any material(s) gathered. Therefore, larger public interest demanded that his services should not be kept in suspension.

Lastly, the court clarified that it had not ruled on the legality of the suspension order and the merits of the matter in relation to what would amount to ‘misconduct’. [Anil Kumar A.P. v Mahatma Gandhi University,2018 SCC OnLine Ker 4004, decided on 28-09-2018]

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