Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Patna High Court ChiefJustice led Bench imposes costs on Bihar State

Chief Justice of Patna High Court Justice K. Vinod Chandran and Justice Harish Kumar heard the appeals of Kamini Kumari (Darbhanga), Sauda Khatun (Araria), Smt. Tara Singh (Saharsa), Smt. Meera Pathak (Munger), Smt. Rita Rani (Munger), Smt. Vimla Kumari (Munger) and Bansuri Acharya (Patna/North 24 Pargana) against the State of Bihar and others. 

Their appeals arise from the common judgment of a Single Judge in analogous writ petitions. After hearing the parties, the judgment was reserved on February 13, 2024.The judgement was delivered on February 27, 2024. Purushottam Kumar Jha, counsel for Kamini Kumari, the petitioner.

The petitioners were teachers appointed in the early 1980s whose appointments were subject of an inquiry, conducted by the CBI, on directions of the High Court in a Public Interest Litigation (PIL). A report was submitted by the CBI and no action was taken. A PIL was filed again which led to further action against the teachers who were alleged to have been appointed illegally; in the CBI report. The various punishments imposed were set aside, in some of the cases, finding the departmental inquiry initiated against each of them to be improper. By reason of the liberty left by the Court to proceed afresh, the Department proceeded de novo against the said teachers. Many of them had retired, against whom, after inquiry, punishment was imposed withdrawing their pension in toto. Those who were in employment at the time of the de novo inquiry were terminated from service. Both these categories of persons along with others who were issued with show-cause notices approached this Court with a number of writ petitions, all of which were rejected by the judgment impugned in the appeal.

After elaborate hearing and rigorous examination of the records and relevant laws, rules and notifications, the Court records that "the appointments made in the year 1981, 1988 and 1989 were subjected to a CBI inquiry, the report of which was filed in the year 2004. Apparently no FIR was lodged and the reports submitted remained with the State Government, without any further action. It was long after, in the year 2016 that a Public Interest Litigation motivated the State Government into taking action. The order in the PIL only directed the State Government to take proceedings in accordance with law. We have found that the State Government had flouted all principles of fairness in disciplinary inquiry and also violated the specific rules of procedure as brought out under Article 309 of the Constitution of India."

The Court observed: "We cannot but deprecate the manner in which the inquiry proceedings were initiated by the State Government. True there was a CBI inquiry initiated in the PIL, in the course of which the petitioners were not at all examined or given an opportunity to put up their defence. The report of the CBI was filed in the year 2004 when all the petitioners were in service. Even then if a disciplinary proceeding had been taken, it would have been grossly delayed since the appointments were made in 1980’s."

The order reads: "Less said the better about the manner in which the inquiry was conducted. The memo of charges only contained the extract of the CBI report pointing out the alleged irregularity, as against the appointment of the individual petitioners. There was none examined at the inquiry nor documents marked. The extract of the CBI report could have been marked and proved only by the person who prepared the report or another officer of the CBI, who could depose on the basis of the records. This procedure was not followed and the inquiry officer did not independently consider the irregularity in appointment alleged."

The order states: "We have also noticed that the irregularity of roster clearance having not been obtained and the reservation rules not being followed were not treated as a ground to find irregularity in the appointments, in many individual cases. Insofar as the contention of over age is concerned, the petitioner
who was accused with that, has demonstrated that it is otherwise."

The order concludes: "On the reasoning above, we reverse the judgment of the learned Single Judge by allowing the appeals and allow the writ petitions setting aside the impugned orders.The orders set aside are those in which the punishments have been imposed, produced in the writ petition or by way of interlocutory application. These produced in the appeals, passed while they were pending also are set aside. The petitioners/appellants would be deemed to have retired from service and their pension would be restored with immediate effect. The petitioners shall be paid pension from March-2024 and the arrears for the period when they were denied of such pension, by reason of the impugned orders in the writ petition, shall be paid within a period of four months from today. The State shall be mulcted with further liability of interest at the rate of 5 per cent i.e from the date of stoppage of pension, if the arrears are not paid within four months. If interest is attracted by reason only of the delay caused in disbursing the arrears, then the State would be entirely at liberty to proceed against those officers who are responsible for the delay and recover the interest portion from them." 

The Court expressed its anguish about "the manner in which the inquiry proceedings were initiated and proceeded arbitrarily, flouting all procedural requirements. There were even instances of the disciplinary authority finding the individual liable to be continued, after which, again without notice subsequent inquiry report was obtained and punishment imposed. The State, being a welfare state has an obligation to its employees. The persons appointed were appointed decades back and continued in the employment of the State. Even if the CBI found some irregularities, it was for the State to meticulously examine whether such irregularities existed and if it did, whether it was expedient to take action against the petitioners, especially considering the passage of time and the fact that the State had extracted work from such persons in the intervening years. There is also no complaint raised against the appellants who were teachers, teaching in various schools. There is not even one instance pointed out when their services were found to be unsatisfactory. None of them are accused of any misconduct, four years prior to their retirement, or at any time before, in their total service. The State having acted in such an arbitrary manner; put the petitioners, who retired from service, to unnecessary agony, despair and prejudice by denying the entire pension for long years; which is held to be a matter of right and not a bounty paid by the State. On the above reasoning, we are of the opinion that the State should be imposed with costs which is quantified at Rs. 5,000/- in each of the appeals, which shall be paid along with the arrears." The appeal was allowed. The judgement was authored by Justice Vinod Chandran.

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