By M Ahmad
Srinagar- The Supreme Court has upheld an order by High Court of J&K and Ladakh, dismissing in August last year an appeal filed by the government against an order by Central Administrative Tribunal which had set aside J&K Home Department’s February 2018 order by virtue of which former Superintendent of central jail Srinagar, Hilal Ahmad Rather, was placed under suspension.
The case had genesis to the escape of Lashker-e-Toiba commander Naveed Jatt alias Abu Hanzalla from SMHS hospital here in February 2018. Hanzalla, according to police, was later killed in an encounter in Budgam district in June same year.
“We are not inclined to interfere with the impugned judgment and order passed by the High Court,” a bench of Justice J.B. Pardiwala and Justice Manoj Misra said while dismissing a special leave petition filed by the J&K government.
On August 24 last year, the high court had held that suspension of an employee is not a punishment but once it is prolonged then it amounts to the same due to “very strong stigmatic social connotations.”
The court had made the observation while dismissing an appeal filed by the government against an order by Central Administrative Tribunal on April 27 last year. The CAT had passed the order on a plea by Hilal, contending therein that as per the prescribed procedure, the order of suspension was required to be followed by a memorandum of charge or charge sheet against him and in case any inquiry was required to be conducted, the same had to be done “expeditiously”.
He had also submitted before the CAT that no charge sheet was served upon him despite efflux of more than 4 years from the date he was placed under suspension.
From the perusal of the order passed by the Tribunal, the Division Bench of the High Court had said it is apparent that despite the time given to the counsel for the government, no response was ever filed.
“Keeping in view the urgency involved in the petition as (the employee, Hilal) was due to retire on 30 April 2022, the case was taken up by the Tribunal and, accordingly, after appreciating all the material facts on record and relying upon the judgment passed by the Supreme Court, it quashed the order of suspension with a further direction by holding him entitled for consequential dues as per rules,” the High court’s Division Bench had said.
In the appeal against the Tribunal’s order before the High Court, the government had contended that charges against the employee are very serious and that the Tribunal did not provide ample time for response.
“On the one hand, the (government) have vehemently pleaded that there are very serious charges against (the employee) and on the other hand, the (government) failed to discharge obligations to proceed in accordance with law by issuing charge sheet and conducting inquiry after placing (employee) under suspension for more than 4 years,” the high court had said, adding, “No plausible reasons have been explained for such delay for not framing the charge sheet, even after a lapse of more than 4 years.”
No reason whatsoever has been spelled out by the authorities for such delay in filing the charge sheet nor any such ground has been taken in the petition, the high court had said.
“Since, as per the stand of the (government), there was grave charges against (the employee) then in that eventuality, the (government) could have acted with promptitude by issuing charge sheet by holding an inquiry within a stipulated time period, but the respondents by their own conduct have waived of their right either to charge sheet against the delinquent employee or conducting any inquiry.”
The high court said that the law was settled by the Supreme Court in various authoritative pronouncements that although suspension is not a punishment but once it is prolonged (in this case for four years), then it amounts to punishment, as it has very strong stigmatic social connotations.
From the perusal of the order of suspension, the Division Bench of the High Court observed that it is apparently clear that the inquiry was required to be completed within 15 days, “which itself proves beyond any shadow doubt that the State was conscious of the seriousness and urgency involved in the matter, yet they slept over the matter for four long years to initiate inquiry by way of issuing charge sheet to the delinquent.”
“By keeping the employee under suspension for four long years, the applicant (employee) has been put to lot of stress and temporary deprivation of his full wages over this period, and such inaction on part of the respondents indicate a total lack of seriousness in dealing with the matter as it was expected on the part of the respondents to have acted with promptitude by conducting the inquiry within the stipulated time period,” the high court had said and dismissed the appeal filed by the government.
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