Chennai: The Madras high court has set aside an order of Principal District Judge, Erode, suspending a Sheristadar (chief officer in court) on the verge of his retirement and retaining him in service until the criminal case based on a complaint from a woman employee, alleging misconduct (he uttered offensive words against her in the office of the Magalir Neethimandram), is concluded and final orders are passed thereon.
A division bench comprising Justices R.Subbiah and T.Krishanavalli set aside the order dated March 28, 2018 while allowing a petition from K.Eswaramurthi.
The bench directed the authorities to permit the petitioner to retire from service and settle all the terminal benefits arising there from within 12 weeks.
While Eswaramurthi was working as Sheristadar at Fast Track Mahila Court, Erode, on the basis of a complaint from one Revathi, working as Xerox Operator, alleging misconduct, disciplinary proceedings were initiated and he was suspended and penalty of withholding his increment for 2 years was also imposed. Simultaneously, on a complaint from her, criminal proceedings were also initiated.
Subsequently the suspension period was regulated as earned leave. Challenging the penalty, he approached the high court, which directed the authorities to quantify the increment and deduct the same from the sum of Rs 2.43 lakh payable to him towards earned leave. While so, he was due to retire from service on March 31, 2018. At the verge of his retirement, he was suspended and retained in service citing pendency of the criminal case.
The bench said even before the conclusion of the criminal proceedings, the disciplinary proceedings against the petitioner were concluded and he was already mulcted with punishment of stoppage of increment for two years. While so, the outcome of the criminal proceedings in the present case against the petitioner will have no bearing on the petitioner in getting his terminal benefits. If at all the criminal proceedings ended in conviction, the petitioner has to undergo incarceration. While so, retaining the service of the petitioner and withholding the terminal benefits payable to him, when already he was imposed with punishment in the departmental proceedings would amount to double jeopardy, the bench added.
The bench said it was evident that Rule 56 (1) © of Fundamental Rules specifically states that if a government servant was facing departmental proceedings with respect to any misconduct, he shall not be permitted to retire from service to facilitate the employer to conclude the departmental enquiry.
Similarly, if the departmental proceedings were not initiated against a delinquent officer, but only criminal proceedings were initiated and pending trial, the employer was empowered to retain the services of the delinquent officer beyond the age of retirement. At the same time, Rule 56 (1) © can be pressed into service only when the departmental proceedings were not concluded or any punishment thereof was not imposed before the retirement. In the present case, already the petitioner was imposed with punishment in the departmental proceedings initiated against him. “By citing the pendency of criminal proceedings, the authorities are not justified in retaining the service of the petitioner beyond the age of retirement”, the bench added.