Pritam Singh Vs. Union of
India & Ors  Insc 567 (22 September 2004)
K.G. Balakrishnan & Dr. Ar.
Lakshmanan (Arising out of S.L.P. (Civil) No. 24665 of 2003) Dr. Ar. Lakshmanan,
The above appeal was filed against the impugned judgment and order dated
24.07.2003 passed by the High Court of Punjab & Haryana at Chandigarh in
Civil Writ Petition No. 10285/CAT/2003 wherein the High Court as dismissed the
writ petition filed by the appellant-herein and confirmed the orders of the Central
Administrative Tribunal imposing the punishment of compulsory retirement.
The short facts are as follows:
The appellant was appointed in the Northern Railways in Ministerial Service
on 14.07.1965 and was due to retire on 31.05.2002. The appellant, while working
as Head Clerk in the Northern Railways was issued a Merit Certificate, wherein
his work and conduct had been highly commended. The appellant was also selected
for being promoted as Office Superintendent Grade-II. However, he was not given
posting of the supervisory post. A junior to the appellant was favoured with
the said posting and the appellant had protested against the favoured treatment
and in the process he incurred the displeasure of his superior officers,
particularly, respondent No.2. One of the employees sought for the
"absentee" statement of tool room shop from the appellant.
The said "absentee" statement was given by the appellant to the
said employee. This "absentee" statement was used by the employee in
his petition filed against the Railways challenging the disciplinary action
against him. This act on the part of the appellant was viewed as a mis-conduct
and leakage of the official information. Charge- sheet was issued to the
appellant alleging act of mis-conduct against him. The charge- sheet reads
"Article 1 That the said Shri Pritam Singh while functioning as OS-II
in time office on 31.08.1995 at 9.00 hrs. took the record of absence statement
of tool room pertaining to 20.12.1993 from Shri O.P. Saini and leaked it out
with the result the photocopy of absentee statement was attached by Shri Sewa
Singh, Harjit Singh and Subeg Singh with their rejoinder to O.A. No.859/PB/95
filed in CAT/CDG to be used against UOI leaking of absentee statement is a
serious misconduct and speaks of doubtful integrity of Shri Pritam Singh.
Thus, he violated the Rule 31(i), (ii) and (iii) of Rly. Services Conduct
Rules, 1966." Sd/- (HARSH KUMAR) Dy. CME/ASR N.Rly, Mech. Workshop, ASR.
14.11.1995." An enquiry was held against the appellant and a report was
submitted holding the appellant guilty of leaking official documents. The
appellant, by his memo submitted to his higher officer, admitted the finding of
guilt in respect of the charges made against him on 16.03.1996. The said letter
reads as follows:- "DB CME/ASR R/Sir, Sub: Findings of the enquiries
officer against SF-5 Ref: Your letter No.727-E/4531/DAR/ dated 02.03.1986 Since
I have received the findings of the enquiry officer by proving me guilty of the
charges. I have nothing to represent against this as such, I admit the charges.
The statement given by me during enquiry for denying the charges was not
correct. I feel sorry for the same.
I am at the verge of retirement and request your goodself to consider my
case sympathetically. I assure your goodself to remain disciplined in future.
Thanking you, Yours faithfully, Sd/- Dated : 16.03.1996 (PRITAM SINGH)
Supdt. II DSC Shop Asstt." On the basis of the enquiry report and the
statement of the appellant, respondent No.3 passed an order of compulsory
retirement of the appellant. The appellant, by his appeal against the order of
the respondent No.3 filed before respondent No.2, gave a detailed account of
the revengeful measures practised by the respondent No.3 against him. It was
also pointed out as to how five charge-sheets were issued one after the another
in the course of 15 days against the appellant by using one O.P. Saini, the
colleague of the appellant against him. The appeal was rejected by respondent
No.2. The revision filed by the appellant was also rejected.
The appellant, thereafter, approached the CAT, Chandigarh and filed O.A. No.
1148/ PB/2002 which was rejected by the Tribunal holding that the punishment
alone cannot be interfered with. The appellant, thereafter, filed the writ
petition in the High Court which was also rejected by the Division Bench.
Aggrieved against the same, the above special leave petition was filed.
We have heard Mr. K.R. Nagaraja, learned counsel appearing for the appellant
and Mr. Rajiv Dutta, learned senior counsel appearing for the Railways.
We have been taken through the pleadings, the documents marked as annexures
etc. Mr. K.R. Nagaraja, learned counsel appearing for the appellant, after
narrating the facts submitted that the punishment imposed on the appellant is
unreasonable, irrational and disproportionate to the guilt found against the
appellant. It was submitted that the charge against the appellant is that he
supplied "absentee" statement to one of the employees who in turn
utilised the same in the case filed by him against the Railways and that
"absentee" statement supplied by the appellant was neither a
confidential document nor a privileged document. The employee concerned has the
right of information and when he asked for the same, the same could not have
been denied to him and that the supply of the "absentee" statement
was not prohibited either by law or by any administrative circulars. It was
further submitted that the appellant had a long service career of 31 years and
his service was highly commended with merit certificate issued to him.
Concluding his argument, the learned counsel submitted that the entire act of
respondent No.3 in slapping one after another five charge-sheets in the course
of 15 days was an act of revengeful and malafide and that the appellant
admitted the charge by filing a memo of confession hoping against hope that he
would be leniently dealt with. Mr. Nagaraja submitted that in view of the above
factors, the extreme punishment of compulsory retirement is vitiated by unreasonableness,
irrationality and dis-proportionality.
Per contra Mr. Rajiv Dutta, learned senior counsel appearing for the
Railways submitted that the document in question can be supplied to any
employee, specially one who is locked in litigation with the Railway
Administration, only on his written request and with the approval of the
competent authority. The appellant in the instant case has failed to do so. The
appellant is only the custodian of the document and not the approving authority
to supply such document to any employee. As such, the appellant has not
followed the proper procedure for supplying the document and is guilty of
unauthorisedly communicating the said document to another employee of the
Railways who is litigating against the Railways.
It was further argued that in the enquiry, the appellant was proved to be
guilty of the charges and that the appellant also accepted his guilt and
expressed his regret vide letter dated 16.03.1996. Learned counsel also denied
that the appellant has served for 31 long years without any blemish in his
service record and that he was awarded three punishments, namely, (1) stoppage
of two sets of privilege passes and three sets of privilege ticket; (2)
stoppage of two sets of privilege passes on 20.01.1998 (after retirement); and
(3) withholding of increment temporarily for two years on 01.04.1994 which
punishment was later reduced to censure. Concluding his argument, the learned
senior counsel for the Railways submitted that the order of punishment imposed
on the appellant is in accordance with the gravity of the offence committed by
the appellant and that the appellant has been found to be guilty in earlier
cases also and awarded punishments. Since the appellant has admitted the
charges and requested for a sympathetic consideration, he was awarded
punishment of compulsory retirement. He would further urge that the Railway
Administration has a right to maintain discipline in the services and in that
context the punishment imposed on the appellant is appropriate keeping in view
the magnitude and gravity of the mis- conduct.
In this background of facts, the following question of law arises for
consideration by this Court:- Whether the punishment of compulsory retirement
imposed upon the Petitioner is highly disproportionate to the admitted guilt of
supplying absentee statement to one of the employees particularly when the
Petitioner, in his long devoted blemishless service of 31 years, was never
served with any adverse entries/remarks and all of a sudden in the course of a
fortnight, on the verge of his retirement, was slapped with one after another
series of charge-sheets on account of the wrath and displeasure of Respondent
No.3 only? We have given our thoughtful consideration to the facts and
circumstances of the case with reference to the records placed before us. It is
true that the appellant has supplied a document containing information
regarding the absentee details of a co-worker which is neither confidential or
privileged information nor the appellant was under any official communication
prohibiting him to supply the same. It was a right of the employee concerned to
obtain the information from the office. Therefore, the appellant bonafide
believed that he had not committed any offence. Learned counsel appearing for the
Railways, in his reply, referred to some penalties imposed on the appellant on
earlier occasion. The punishment imposed, in those cases, are in the nature of
stoppage of privilege passes and censure. According to the appellant, no other
penalty or punishment admittedly was not communicated to the appellant.
The appellant himself has admitted that he had issued the absentee details
to a co-worker in good faith and bonafide. Just because an employee is facing
litigation, he does not lose his right to get the information to which he has a
right, so long as the same is not barred. Moreover, furnishing of such
information has not done or caused any damage to the office except causing some
inconvenient situation to the Railways in contesting the case of an employee
and the Railway Administration was confronted with the said absentee statement
which prompted the Railways to initiate action against the appellant. The
stoppage of two sets of privilege passes on 20.01.1998 is for the period after
the retirement of the appellant on 01.04.1996.
In our opinion, the High Court has committed an error in not interfering
with the punishment of compulsory retirement even though the appellant
submitted that the mis-conduct alleged against him was not at all an offence or
even a serious mistake.
The act of mis-conduct alleged against him was that he supplied a list of
absentee details to one of the employees, who was fighting a case before the
Tribunal against the Railways. This list contained the ticket numbers of the
workers of a shop, who were absent on that date. This was neither a
confidential document nor a privileged document. It contained details to which
the employee concerned had a right of information. The appellant being a
Superintendent Grade-II and in-charge of the information acted bona fide in
good faith while supplying the information. In our opinion, this kind of an act
was neither a mis-conduct nor a serious mistake. When the charges were found
proved against the appellant, the appellant admitted that he had supplied the
The only question, therefore, that survived was whether the punishment of
compulsory retirement against the appellant who had served 31 years of service
is vitiated as being disproportionate to the alleged mis-conduct. The Tribunal
and the High court have refused to interfere on the ground that the power of
judicial review does not permit interference with the quantum of punishment
unless the punishment imposed is shockingly disproportionate.
We are of the opinion that the instant case is a glaring example of abuse of
discretionary power of the Disciplinary Authority as the punishment of
compulsory retirement imposed on the appellant, who has put in 31 years of long
service only because he has supplied the details of absentation to one of the
employees, which was neither confidential nor a privileged document. In any
event, the appellant bonafide believed that he was right in furnishing the
details which the employee had right to ask for. In our opinion, this is a fit
case where the High Court and the Tribunal should have held that the punishment
imposed is vitiated on account of the disproportionality.
This Court in the case of Union of India and Anr. vs. G. Ganayutham, (1997)
7 SCC 463 while examining the scope of judicial review held that
"reasonableness" "rationality" and
"proportionality" are the grounds on the basis of which judicial
review of the administrative order can be undertaken. Considering the facts
extracted herein before, we find that the exercise of power by the Respondent
falls in the category of arbitrary exercise of power.
A perusal of the compulsory retirement order would reveal that it was not
stated that the action was initiated in public interest.
This Court also has held in the case of M.S. Bindra vs. Union of India &
Ors., (1998) 7 SCC 310 that judicial scrutiny of any order imposing premature
compulsory retirement is permissible if the order is either arbitrary or
malafide or if it is based on no evidence.
This Court in the case of State of Gujarat and Anr. vs. Suryakant Chunilal
Shah (1999) 1 SCC 529 held that in a case of compulsory retirement public
interest is the primary consideration.
In the instant case, no material on record was placed before the
disciplinary authority, appellate authority, revisional authority, Tribunal and
before the High Court to reasonably form an opinion that compulsory retirement
was in public interest. The case on hand is also not a case of doubtful
integrity. The impugned action of compulsorily retiring the appellant from
service can be termed as arbitrary in the sense that no reasonable person could
have come to the conclusion that the appellant had outlived his utility as a
member of railway service and had become a deadwood which had to be chopped
For the foregoing reasons, we allow the appeal and set aside the order of
compulsory retirement passed by the High Court affirming the order of the
The appellant is not now in service. He would have normally retired on
31.05.2002 from service on superannuation had he continued in service. Now that
we have set aside the order of compulsory retirement, the appellant will be
deemed to be on duty from the date of compulsory retirement till the date of
superannuation, namely, 31.05.2002. The appellant is entitled to all
consequential, monetary and other retiral benefits, which shall be calculated
and paid to the appellant within three months from today. No costs.