In the judgment of the two writ petitions filed by the as many Judicial Officers from Jharkhand - Arun Kumar Gupta and Raj Nandan Rai v.State of Jharkhand & Another, delivered on February 27, 2020, Justice L. Nageswara Rao and Justice Deepak Gupta, at the Supreme Court have observed while dismissing those writ petitions that 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.
The law on the subject of compulsory retirement, especially in the case of judicial officers has been summarized by the Court pointing out that -
(1) An order directing compulsory retirement of a judicial officer is not punitive in nature;
(2) An order directing compulsory retirement of a judicial officer has no civil consequences;
(3) 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;
(4) Subsequent promotions do not mean that earlier adverse record cannot be looked into while deciding whether a judicial officer should be compulsorily retired;
(5) The “washed off’ theory does not apply in case of judicial officers specially in respect of adverse entries relating to integrity;
(6) The courts should exercise their power of judicial review with great circumspection and restraint keeping in view of the fact that compulsory retirement of a judicial officer is normally directed on the recommendation of a high powered committee(s) of the HC.
In the light of these parameters of law, the Court considered the factual aspects of these two cases.
In view of the fact that the Screening Committee has given detailed reasoning only after the orders of the Supreme Court and in view of the limited scope of judicial review, when there are no allegations of mala fide, the Court would have avoided giving reasons to uphold such an order since it does not amount to punishment and is not penal in nature. However, since the petitioners have insisted that there is no material against them, the Court had no option but to refer to some of the reasons given by the Screening Committee.
Case of Arun Kumar Gupta:
As far as the petitioner Arun Kumar Gupta is concerned, there are two very serious allegations against him. The first is that when he was working as Deputy Director, Administrative Training Institute at Ranchi, as many as 10 ladies, who were civil service probationers, made allegations that he was using unwarranted and objectionable language during his lectures. Therefore, the Court has been of the view that the Screening Committee was right that the victim may have been put under some pressure to withdraw the complaint. These occurrences of the year 2011-12 and cannot be said to be very old.
In Apex-Court’s view, the two instances are sufficient to decide the case against the petitioner. Even if the adverse entries in the ACRs are ignored, the petitioner cannot be granted relief for the stated reasons.
Case of Raj Nandan Rai:
As far as this officer is concerned, the Supreme Court found that his record on many counts is not at all good. His reputation and integrity had been doubted more than once in the years 1996-97, 1997-98 and 2004-2005. Some adverse remarks were conveyed to him. In the year 2015-16, even his knowledge of law and procedure was found to be average and his relation with the members of the Bar was found not very good. There are also allegations against him of having granted bail for illegal gratification and substance was found in that allegation in the report of the Judicial Commissioner, Ranchi (who is equivalent to the Principal District Judge). The officer had granted bail noting in the order that section 327 of the IPC, 1860 was bailable whereas the offence is non-bailable and an unrecorded warning regarding the integrity of the judicial officer was issued to him in 2012.
These writ petitions were filed by two erstwhile judicial officers, who were members of the Jharkhand Judicial service, directed against the orders whereby they had been compulsorily retired. Pursuant to the SC’s order of September 6, 2018, the matters were placed before the Screening Committee of the Jharkhand HC and the said Committee on October 11, 2018, found again sufficient reasons and approved the earlier action taken to compulsorily retire these officers. The Standing Committee of the HC approved the resolution of the Screening Committee on October 25, 2018.
The impugned orders passed to compulsorily retire these petitioners were passed in terms of Rule 74(b)(ii) of the Jharkhand Service Code, 2001, which is pari materia to Rule 56(j)of the Fundamental Rules.
Being conscious of the fact, that it is dealing with the cases of judicial officers, it underlines that the standard of integrity and probity expected from judicial officers, is much higher than that expected from other officers.
In the decision of the case - Union of India v. Col. J.N. Sinha – (1970) 2 SCC 458, the Court has held that compulsory retirement does not involve civil consequences. In this decision, it has also dealt with the issue of what constitutes public interest. This judgment was followed in the case - State of Gujarat v. Suryakant v. Chunilal Shah - (1999) 1 SCC 529, wherein the concept of public interest has been dealt with in greater detail.
As far as these 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 Standing Committee 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.
The Apex-Court has pointed out that the Senior Judges of the HC who were the members of the Screening Committee and the Standing Committee have taken a considered and well-reasoned decision. Unless there are allegations of malafides 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 senior HC Judges. In the Court’s opinion, these are not fit cases, wherein decisions can be interfered with. In view of this, the Supreme Court has dismissed both the writ petitions.