Bhatia Vs. Union of India & Ors.  INSC 491 (5 March 2009)
SUPREME COURT OF INDIA CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION CIVIL APPEAL NO. 1536 OF
2009 (Arising out of SLP (C ) No. 18067 of 2006) Praveen Bhatia .....Appellant
Versus Union of India & Ors. ....Respondents
ARIJIT PASAYAT, J.
Challenge in this appeal is to the judgment of a Division bench of
the Bombay High Court dismissing the writ petition filed by the appellant.
before the High Court was to the order dated 24.6.1992 by which he was
compulsorily retired in exercise of powers conferred by Section 19 of the Air
Force Act, 1950 (in short the `Act') and Rule 15 of the Air Force Rules, 1969
(in short the `Rules').
Averments in the writ petition were to the following effect:
was granted commission in Air Force on 14.7.1973. After obtaining service in
October, 1985, he got engaged with daughter of one Mulkh Rajh Kakkar, a
contractor undertaking contracts from respondents only. The marriage was
performed on 14.1.1986. His father in law thereafter expected the appellant to
help him in procuring other Government contracts particularly from Air Force
and when the appellant refused to help him, the problem started. The marriage
was not working out smoothly and ultimately in 1988, his father in law lodged a
complaint in this respect with his employer. But by communication dated
8.12.1988 his employer refused to take congnizance of the matter on the ground
that it was a personal dispute for which no departmental action could have been
initiated. He was called upon to report to respondent No.3 at New Delhi on
19.6.1990 and when he accordingly reported, he was kept in confinement and on
25.6.1990 a document already written was got signed from him and said document
was 2 purported to be terms of settlement of dispute between the appellant and
his wife. The appellant was not even permitted to consult an advocate nor was
he allowed to leave the room. The appellant was thereunder informed that Court of
Enquiry would be held against him at Air Force Station, New Delhi, in February,
1991 and actually the terms of reference or any show cause notice in this
regard was not communicated to him. As many as 27 witnesses were examined by
both parties in these proceedings which were spread over for a period of five
months and ultimately the Court of Enquiry submitted a report almost
exonerating him on all counts. Thereafter a show cause notice dated 19.2.1992
was issued by respondent No. 3 calling upon him to show cause as to why he
should not be dismissed or removed from service. The appellant had not received
necessary documents and even he was not given inspection and hence the
appellant approached the High Court by filing a writ petition. By an order
passed on 12.3.1992, writ petition was dismissed by this Division Bench of the
High Court observing that the appellant was at liberty to file appropriate
representation before the authorities to highlight all his grievances-factual,
legal and constitutional.
terms of reference dated 5.2.1991 were received by him and he also got copy of
findings of Court of Enquiry dated 16.6.1991. Thereafter on 30.3.1992, he
submitted his reply to show cause notice pointing out that 3 there was no
misconduct warranting any action from respondents and the failure to submit the
property returns within time was not a misconduct serious enough to warrant
such grave punishment. An additional reply to show cause notice was filed on
22.6.1992. On 24.6.1992, the order which was impugned before the High Court
came to be passed and as already mentioned above, he was compulsorily retired.
the order of compulsory retirement the writ petition was filed. It was his
stand that the court of enquiry has exonerated him on all counts except late
filing of property returns. According to the appellant same was not of serious
nature which would warrant compulsory retirement.
of the respondent before the High Court was that the transactions were between
1981 to 1986 and the return was belatedly filed after about six years on
23.3.1992 therefore the conduct was most unbecoming of an officer of the Air
Force. Therefore the order of compulsory retirement was legal and valid. The
High Court accepted the stand of the respondent and dismissed the petition.
taken before the High Court is reiterated in the present appeal.
Learned counsel for the respondent pointed out that not only there
was belated filing of the returns but also there were several other instances
of misconduct which have been highlighted in the rejoinder affidavit filed
before this court.
According to him these misconducts were also taken note of while
directing compulsory retirement.
The claim of the appellant for pension was also denied on the
ground that at the time of compulsory retirement, he had put in 18 years and 11
months of service. As per the Pension Regulations for the Air Force minimum
qualifying service for pension is 20 years. This statement was made with
reference to the prayer of the appellant to convert the compulsory retirement
in normal retirement with effect from the said date as that could not make the
appellant eligible for pensionary benefits.
The Scheme of the disciplinary rules in general is to identify the
conduct which is made punishable and then to provide for the various
punishments which may be imposed for the acts which are inconsistent with such
conduct. For example, the Central Civil Services (Conduct) Rules, 5 1964
contain provisions which pertain to the standards of conduct which the
Government servant (within the meaning of those rules) are to follow whereas
the Central Civil Services (Classification, Control and Appeal) Rules, 1965
provide the punishment or penalties which may be imposed for misconduct. The
conduct rules and the rules for punishment may be provided in separate rules or
combined into one. Moreover, there are a host of departmental instructions
which elucidate, amplify and provide guidelines regarding the conduct of the
The range of activities which may amount to acts which are
inconsistent with the interest of public service and not befitting the status,
position and dignity of a public servant are so varied that it would be
impossible for the employer to exhaustively enumerate such acts and treat the
categories of misconduct as closed. It has, therefore, to be noted that the
word "misconduct" is not capable of precise definition. But at the
same time though incapable of precise definition, the word
"misconduct" on reflection receives its connotation from the context,
the delinquency in performance and its effect on the discipline and the nature
of the duty. The act complained of must bear a forbidden quality or character
and its ambit has to be construed with reference to the subject-matter and the
context wherein 6 the term occurs, having regard to the scope of the statute
and the public purpose it seeks to serve.
In Union of India and Ors. v. Harjeet Singh Sandhu (2001 (5) SCC
593), in the background of Rule 14 of the Army Rules, it was held that any
wrongful act or any act of delinquency which may or may not involve moral
turpitude would be "misconduct" under Rule 14.
In Baldev Singh Gandhi v. State of Punnjab and Ors. (2002 (3) SCC
667), it was held that the expression "misconduct" means unlawful
behaviour, misfeasance, wrong conduct, misdemeanour etc.
Similarly, in State of Punjab and Ors. v. Ram Singh Ex. Constable
(AIR 1992 SC 2188), it was held that the term "misconduct" may
involve moral turpitude. It must be improper or wrong behaviour, unlawful
behaviour, wilful in character, forbidden act, a transgression of established
and definite rule of action or code of conduct but not mere error of judgment,
carelessness or negligence in performance of the duty; the act complained of
bears forbidden quality or character.
"Misconduct" as stated in Batt's Law of Master and Servant (4th
Edition) (at page 63) is "comprised positive acts and not mere neglects or
failures." The definition of the word as given in Ballentine's Law
Dictionary (148th Edition) is "A transgression of some established and
definite rule of action, where no discretion is left except what necessity may
demand, it is a violation of definite law, a forbidden act. It differs from
may be generally stated that the conduct rules of the Government and public
sector corporations constitute a code of permissible acts and behaviour of
scheme of the Conduct Rules, almost invariably, is to first of all enunciate a
general rule of conduct and behaviour followed by specific prohibitions and
restrictions. For example, Rule 3 of the Central Civil Services (Conduct)
Rules, 1964 which occurs under the heading "General"
that every Government servant shall at all times:
maintain absolute integrity;
maintain devotion to duty; and (iii) do nothing which is unbecoming of a
aforesaid aspects were highlighted in M.M. Malhotra v. Union of India &
Ors. [2005(8) SCC 351].
power of the court to interfere with the quantum of punishment is extremely
restricted and only when the relevant factors have not been considered the
Court can direct re-consideration or in an appropriate case to certain
litigation, indicate the punishment to be awarded; and that can only be in very
16. It is
evident from record that the prescribed period for filing property return is
six months and though appellant was aware of the requirement he did not choose
to file any return, even during the course of enquiry no return was filed and
ultimately after show cause notice was issued it was filed.
being so there is no merit in this appeal which is accordingly dismissed.
....................................J. (Dr. ARIJIT PASAYAT)