In the judgment of the case – Union of India & Others v. Methu Meda, delivered on October 6, 2021, Justices Indira Banerjee and J.K. Maheshwari, at the Supreme Court, had occasion to deal with various shades of "acquittal" developed through the judicial pronouncements, as related expressions are unknown to the Code of Criminal Procedure or the Indian Penal Code, while answering the question arising in this appeal.
The question was as to whether the decision of the Screening Committee rejecting the candidature of the respondent, when there was no allegation of malice against the Screening Committee and the respondent- writ petitioner had been acquitted of serious charges, inter alia, of kidnapping for ransom as some prosecution witnesses had turned hostile, ought to have been interfered with.
While addressing the question, as argued the meaning of expression 'acquittal' is required to be looked into. The expressions 'honourable acquittal', 'acquitted of blame' and 'fully acquitted' have been developed through judicial pronouncements. In the case of State of Assam & Another v. Raghava Rajagopalachari –(1972) 7 SLR 44, the effect of the expression "honourably acquitted" has been considered in the context of Assam fundamental Rules (FR) 54 (a) for entitlement of full pay and allowance, if the employee is not dismissed. The Court has referred to the judgment of Robert Stuart Wauchope v. Emperor- (1934) 61 ILR Cal. 168 in the context of expression 'honourably acquitted'.
In the case of R.P.Kapoor v. Union of India- AIR 1964 SC 787, Justice Wanchoo held that "Even in case of acquittal, proceedings may follow where the acquittal is other than honourable".
If the acquittal is directed by the court on consideration of facts and material evidence on record with the finding of false implication or the finding that the guilt had not been proved, accepting the explanation of accused as just, it be treated as honourable acquittal.
In other words, if prosecution could not prove the guilt for other reasons and accused is not 'honourably' acquitted by the Court, it be treated other than 'honourable', and proceedings may follow.
The expression 'honourable acquittal' has been clarified in the judgment of the case- Inspector General of Police & Another v. S. Samuthiram- (2013) 1 SCC 598. After considering the judgments in the cases- Reserve Bank of India v. Bhopal Singh Panchal –(1994) 1 SCC 541, R.P. Kapur and Raghava Rajagopalachari; the SC has observed that the standard of proof required for holding a person guilty by a criminal court and inquiry conducted by way of disciplinary proceeding is entirely different.
In a criminal case the onus of establishing guilt of the accused is on the prosecution, until proved beyond reasonable doubt. In case, the prosecution failed to take steps to examine crucial witnesses or the witnesses turned hostile, such acquittal would fall within the purview of giving benefit of doubt and the accused cannot be treated as honourably acquitted by the criminal court.
While in a case of departmental proceedings, the guilt may be proved on the basis of preponderance and probabilities, it is thus observed that acquittal giving benefit of doubt would not automatically lead to reinstatement of candidate unless the rules provide so. Recently, The SC has observed in the decision of the case – Union Territory, Chandigarh Administration & Others v. Pradeep Kumar & Another – (2018) 1 SCC 797, relying upon the judgment of the Samuthiram's case , that acquittal in a criminal case is not conclusive of the suitability of the candidates for the post concerned.
It is observed, acquittal or discharge of a person cannot always be inferred that he was falsely involved or he had no criminal antecedent. The said issue has been considered further in the judgment of the case – Commissioner of Police, New Delhi & Another v. Mehar Sngh-(2013) 7 SCC 685 holding non-examination of key witnesses leading to acquittal is not honourable acquittal .In fact, it is, by giving benefit of doubt. The Court has said nature of acquittal is necessary for core consideration.
If acquittal is not honourable, the candidates are not suitable for government service and are to be avoided. The relevant factors and the nature of offence, extent of his involvement, propensity of such person to indulge in similar activities in future, are the relevant aspects for consideration by the Screening Committee, which is competent to decide all these issues.
In the present case, the charges were framed against the respondent for the offences punishable under sections 347, 327, 323, 506(Part-II) and 364A IPC. He was acquitted after trial through the judgment on March 19, 2010 by the Sessions Judge, Jhabua, because the person kidnapped Nilesh and also his wife did not support the case of prosecution. As per prosecution, the complainant was beaten by the respondent and the said fact found support from the evidence of doctor. Therefore, it appears that the Committee was of the view that acquittal of the respondent, in the facts of the present case, cannot be termed as 'honourable acquittal' and the said acquittal may be treated by giving benefit of doubt.
In the facts of the present case, it is clear that the employer is having right to consider the suitability of the candidate as per government orders / instructions/ rules at the time of taking the decision for induction of the candidate in employment. Acquittal on technical ground in respect of the offences of heinous/ serious nature, which is not a clean acquittal, the employer may have a right to consider all relevant facts available as to the antecedents, and may take appropriate decision as to continuance of the employee. Even in case, truthful declaration regarding concluded trial has been made by the employee, still the employer has right to consider antecedents and cannot be compelled to appoint the candidate.
According to the official Circular of March 31, 2010, after seeking instruction from the headquarter, the Standing Committee had taken the decision on October 15, 2012 that because of acquittal with benefit of doubt , the respondent-writ petitioner was not considered eligible for appointment Central Industrial Security Force (CISF).
The SC has pointed out that the law is well settled in this regard. The employer has a right to consider the candidature of the employee in terms of the circulars issued by the Screening Committee. The mere disclosure of the offences alleged and result of the trial is not sufficient. In the said situation, the employer cannot be compelled to give appointment to the candidate. Both the Single Bench and Division Bench of the Madhya Pradesh High Court at Indore did not consider the said legal position. Therefore, the impugned orders passed by the High Court in writ petition and writ appeal are not sustainable in law, hence the Supreme Court has allowed the present appeal and set aside the impugned orders passed by the High Court.