The Division Bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao and Deepak Gupta was deciding on petitions filed by two judicial officers from Jharkhand, who were made to compulsorily retire from service after a Screening Committee comprising Senior High Court Judges made adverse entries about the two.
Facts of the case
The two petitioners, Arun Kumar Gupta and Ran Nandan Rai, were made to compulsorily retire on account of misconduct and other allegations.
Gupta had two charges against him, first one being the use of indecent, unwarranted, and objectionable language and double meaning statements while working as Deputy Director of an Administrative Training Institute. The second charge against him pertained to physically assaulting a washerman. Rai’s record, the Court noted, had come to be questioned for bad conduct multiple times. His knowledge of the law was found to be average and his conduct and behavior with the members of the Bar was found not to be good. There were also allegations against him for accepting illegal gratification while granting bail in a criminal matter. The files of these two officers were directed to be placed before a Screening Committee. In turn, the Committee also found sufficient reason in both cases for ordering compulsory retirement. The resolution of the Screening Committee was placed before a Standing Committee of the Jharkhand High Court and the same was then approved.
The orders for their compulsory retirement were passed under Rule 74(b)(ii) of the Jharkhand Service Code, 2001. These were the orders challenged by way of writ petitions by the two judicial officers. The petitioners contended that their compulsory retirement was “not in public interest”. They had also argued that their entire record was not considered. Further, it was contended that the fact that they were granted promotions through their service would “wash off” any earlier adverse entries. Before delving into the facts of the case, the Court first laid down the standard of integrity expected from judicial officers, observing that, “The standard of integrity and probity expected from judicial officers is much higher than that expected from other officers. Supreme Court”
Addressing this argument, the Court placed reliance on various judgments to summarise the law on compulsory retirement as follows:
- An order directing compulsory retirement of a judicial officer is not punitive in nature;
- An order directing compulsory retirement of a judicial officer has no civil consequences;
- While considering the case of a judicial officer for compulsory retirement the entire record of the judicial officer should be taken into consideration, though the latter and more contemporaneous record must be given more weightage;
- Subsequent promotions do not mean that earlier adverse record cannot be looked into while deciding whether a judicial officer should be compulsorily retired;
- The ‘washed off’ theory does not apply in case of judicial officers specially in respect of adverse entries relating to integrity;
- The courts should exercise their power of judicial review with great circumspection and restraint keeping in view the fact that compulsory retirement of a judicial officer is normally directed on the recommendation of a high-powered committee(s) of the High Court.
The main contentions raised on behalf of the petitioners are that their retirement is not in the public interest: their entire service record especially the contemporaneous record has not been taken into consideration and also that the petitioners have been granted various promotions which would have the effect of washing off their previous adverse entries, if any, Principles Governing Compulsory Retirement. This Court in Union of India v. Col. J.N. Sinha held that compulsory retirement does not involve civil consequences. It also dealt with the issue of what constitutes public interest. Compulsory retirement involves no civil consequences. The aforementioned Rule 56(j) is not intended for taking any penal action against the Government servants. That rule merely embodies one of the facets of the pleasure doctrine embodied in Article 310 of the Constitution. Various considerations may weigh with the appropriate authority while exercising the power conferred underthe rule. In some cases, the Government may feel that a particular post may be more usefully held in public interest by an officer more competent than the one who is holding. It may be that the officer who is holding the post is not inefficient but the appropriate authority may prefer to have a more efficient officer.
In our opinion the High Court erred in thinking that the compulsory retirement involves civil consequences. Such a retirement does not take away any of the rights that have accrued to the Government servant because of his past service. It cannot be said that if the retiring age of all or a section of the Government servants is fixed at 50 years, the same would involve civil consequences. Under the existing system there is no uniform retirement age for all Government servants.This judgment was followed in State of Gujarat v. Suryakant ChunilalShah, wherein this Court dealt with the concept of public interest in great detail.
Washed off theory
One of the main arguments raised by the petitioners is that since the petitioners have been promoted to various higher posts, their record prior to the promotion will lose its sting and is not of much value. Reliance is placed on the observations of this Court in D. Ramaswami v. State of T. N. wherein this Court held as follows: “In the face of the promotion of the appellant just a few months earlier and nothing even mildly suggestive of ineptitude or inefficiency thereafter, it is impossible to sustain the order of the Government retiring the appellant from service. The learned counsel for the State of Tamil Nadu argued that the Government was entitled to take into consideration the entire history of the appellant including that part of it which was prior to his promotion. We do not say that the previous history of a government servant should be completely ignored, once he is promoted. Sometimes, past events may help to assess present conduct. But when there is nothing in the present conduct casting any doubt on the wisdom of the promotion, we see no justification for needless digging into the past.”
As is obvious from the law quoted above, adverse entries with regard to integrity do not lose their sting at any stage. A judicial officer’s integrity must be of a higher order and even a single aberration is not permitted. As far as the present cases are concerned, the matter has been considered by the Screening Committee on two occasions and the recommendations of the Screening Committee have been accepted by the StandingCommittee on both occasions. The action taken is not by one officer or Judge, it is a collective decision, first by the Screening Committee and then approved by the Standing Committee. Senior judges of the High Court who were the members of the Screening Committee and Standing Committee have taken a considered and well reasoned decision. Unless there are allegations of mala fides or the facts are so glaring that the decision of compulsory retirement is unsupportable this court would not exercise its power of judicial review. In such matters the court on the judicial side must exercise restraint before setting aside the decision of such collective bodies comprising of senior High Court Judges. In our opinion these are not fit cases to interfere with the said decisions. In view of the above, both the writ petitions are dismissed.
Any pending application(s) shall stand(s) disposed of.
…………..J. L. Nageswara Rao
…………………J. Deepak Gupta
February 27, 2020
Edited by Pragash Boopal
Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje