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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

service matter - doctrine of proportionality - unauthorised absent for a considerable long period and belated production medical certificate - failure to give reply for earlier memos etc., all clearly shows his indiscipline towards institution - Dismissal was awarded - whether proportionate - High court and D.B. order infavour of worker and order for reinstatement with out back wages - Apex court set aside the orders of high court and D.B and confirmed the orders of dismissal as apt = Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board and others … Appellants Versus T.T. Murali Babu …Respondent = 2014 (Feb.Part)judis.nic.in/supremecourt/filename=41213

  service matter - doctrine  of  proportionality - unauthorised absent for a considerable long period and belated production medical certificate  - failure to give reply for earlier memos etc., all clearly shows his indiscipline towards institution - Dismissal was awarded - whether proportionate - High court and D.B. order infavour of worker and order for reinstatement with out back wages - Apex court set aside the orders of high court and D.B and confirmed the orders of dismissal as apt =

the
           Division  Bench  has  affirmed  the  judgment  and  order  dated
           21.7.2011 in W.P. No.  25673  of  2007  whereunder  the  learned
           single Judge had allowed the writ petition,  and  after  setting
           aside the punishment of dismissal, directed reinstatement of the
           respondent with continuity of service but without back wages.=

whether any reasonable  employer  would
           have imposed such punishment in like circumstances  taking  into
           consideration the major, magnitude and degree of misconduct  and
           all other  relevant  circumstances  after  excluding  irrelevant
           matters before imposing punishment.
 It is apt to note here that
           in the said case  the  respondent  had  remained  unauthorisedly
           absent from duty for six  months  and  admitted  his  guilt  and
           explained the reasons for his absence by stating that he neither
           had any intention nor desire to disobey the  order  of  superior
           authority or violated any of the rules or  regulations  but  the
           reason was purely personal and beyond his control.
Regard being
           had to the obtaining factual matrix, the Court  interfered  with
           the punishment on the ground of proportionality.
The  facts  in
           the present case are quite different. 
As has been seen from the
           analysis made by the High Court, it has given emphasis  on  past
           misconduct of absence and first time  desertion  and  thereafter
           proceeded  to  apply  the  doctrine  of  proportionality.    
The
           aforesaid approach is obviously incorrect.
It is telltale  that
           the respondent had remained absent for a considerable length  of
           time.
He had exhibited adamantine attitude in not responding to
           the communications from the employer while he was unauthorisedly
           absent.  
As  it  appears,  he  has  chosen  his  way,  possibly
           nurturing the idea that he can remain absent for any  length  of
           time, apply for grant of leave at any time and also knock at the
           doors of the court at his own will.
 Learned  counsel  for  the
           respondent has endeavoured hard to impress upon us that  he  had
           not been a habitual absentee.
We really fail to fathom the said
           submission when the respondent had remained  absent  for  almost
           one year and seven months.
The plea  of  absence  of  “habitual
           absenteeism” is absolutely unacceptable and, under the obtaining
           circumstances, does not commend acceptation.
We are disposed to
           think that the respondent by remaining unauthorisedly absent for
           such a long period with inadequate reason  had  not  only  shown
           indiscipline but also made an attempt to get away with it.  
Such
           a conduct is not permissible and we are inclined to  think  that
           the  High  Court  has  erroneously  placed   reliance   on   the
           authorities where this Court had interfered with the punishment.
            We have no shadow of doubt that the doctrine of proportionality
           does not get remotely attracted to such a case.  The  punishment
           is definitely not shockingly disproportionate.


       31. Another aspect needs to be noted.
The respondent was  a  Junior
           Engineer.  Regard being had to his  official  position,  it  was
           expected of him to maintain discipline, act with responsibility,
           perform his duty with sincerity and serve the  institution  with
           honesty.  
This kind of conduct  cannot  be  countenanced  as  it
           creates  a  concavity  in  the  work  culture  and   ushers   in
           indiscipline in  an  organization.   In  this  context,  we  may
           fruitfully quote a passage from Government of India and  another
           v. George Philip[18]: -


           “In a case involving overstay of leave and  absence  from  duty,

           granting six months’ time to  join  duty  amounts  to  not  only
           giving premium to indiscipline but is wholly subversive  of  the
           work culture  in  the  organization.   Article  51-A(j)  of  the
           Constitution lays down that  it  shall  be  the  duty  of  every
           citizen  to  strive  towards  excellence  in  all   spheres   of
           individual and collective activity so that the nation constantly
           rises to higher  levels  of  endeavour  and  achievement.   This
           cannot be achieved unless the employees maintain discipline  and
           devotion to duty.  Courts should  not  pass  such  orders  which
           instead of achieving the underlying spirit and objects  of  Part
           IV-A of the Constitution have the tendency to negate or  destroy
           the same.”
       

  Judged on the anvil of the aforesaid premises, the  irresistible
           conclusion is that the interference by the High Court  with  the
           punishment is totally unwarranted and unsustainable, and further
           the High Court was wholly unjustified in entertaining  the  writ
           petition after a lapse of four years.  The result  of  aforesaid
           analysis would  entail  overturning  the  judgments  and  orders
           passed by the learned single Judge and the Division Bench of the
           High Court and, accordingly, we so do.


       34. Consequently, the appeal is allowed and the judgments and orders

           passed by the High Court are set aside leaving  the  parties  to
           bear their respective costs.         
2014 (Feb.Part)judis.nic.in/supremecourt/filename=41213
H.L. GOKHALE, DIPAK MISRA

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA


                        CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION


                      CIVIL APPEAL NO.  1941    OF 2014
                (Arising out of S.L.P. (C) No. 15530 of 2013)


      Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply
      and Sewerage Board and others           … Appellants


                                   Versus


      T.T. Murali Babu                         …Respondent










                               J U D G M E N T




      Dipak Misra, J.




           Leave granted.
        2. The present appeal, by special leave, is  directed  against  the
           judgment and order dated 22.11.2012 passed by the High Court  of
           Judicature at Madras in Writ Appeal No. 2531 of 2012 whereby the
           Division  Bench  has  affirmed  the  judgment  and  order  dated
           21.7.2011 in W.P. No.  25673  of  2007  whereunder  the  learned
           single Judge had allowed the writ petition,  and  after  setting
           aside the punishment of dismissal, directed reinstatement of the
           respondent with continuity of service but without back wages.

        3. Bereft of unnecessary details, the expose’ of  facts  that  have
           been undraped  are  that  the  respondent  was  appointed  as  a
           Surveyor in Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board
           (for  short,  “CMWSSB”)  and  subsequently  promoted  as  Junior
           Engineer in  1989.   From  28.8.1995  he  remained  continuously
           absent from duty without any intimation to the employer and  did
           not respond to the repeated memoranda/reminders requiring him to
           explain his unauthorized absence from duty and to  rejoin  duty.
           On 1.4.1997 he reported to duty with the medical certificate for
           his absence from duty for the  period  commencing  28.8.1995  to
           31.3.1997.  As he had already remained unauthorisedly absent and
           did not respond to the  memos  by  offering  an  explanation,  a
           charge-sheet had already been  issued  on  11.9.1996  under  the
           Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage  Board  Employees
           (Discipline and Appeal)  Regulations,  1978  (for  brevity  “the
           Regulations”).  
The charge memo contained two  charges,  namely,
           that the respondent-herein had failed to submit  an  explanation
           to the first charge memo dated 11.10.1995 inspite  of  reminders
           and
second, he deserted his  post  by  remaining  unauthorisedly
           absent  from  duty  from  28.8.1995,   and   thereby   committed
           misconduct under Regulations 6(1) and 6(2) respectively  of  the
           Regulations.  
Be it noted, though  the  charge  memo  was  duly
           acknowledged by the respondent on 19.11.1996, yet he  chose  not
           to submit his explanation till 6.1.1997, much after the  charge-
           sheet was issued.

        4. As the factual matrix would further uncurtain,  an  enquiry  was
           conducted against the respondent  and  his  explanation  in  the
           enquiry was that he could not attend to the duties and could not
           give explanation to the first charge memo because of ill health.
            The enquiry officer found charges were proved and, accordingly,
           submitted  the  enquiry  report  which  was  accepted   by   the
           disciplinary authority and after  following  the  due  procedure
           punishment of dismissal was passed on 16.4.1998.
In  the  order
           of  dismissal  disciplinary  authority  observed  that   belated
           submission of medical certificate on 1.4.1997  irresistibly  led
           to   the   conclusion   that   the   respondent   employee   was
           unauthorisedly absent from 28.8.1995.   A  conclusion  was  also
           arrived at that the  first  charge,  namely,  that  he  had  not
           responded to the  letters  and  reminders,  also  stood  proved.
           Being of this view, the disciplinary authority thought it apt to
           impose the punishment of dismissal from service and he did so.

        5. On an  appeal  being  preferred  by  the  respondent  the  Board
           rejected the appeal dated 30.6.1998.  Being dissatisfied by  the
           order of dismissal and the affirmation thereof  in  appeal,  the
           respondent preferred W.P. No. 15272 of 1998.  The learned Single
           Judge, by order dated 12.3.2003,  directed  re-consideration  of
           the appeal solely on the ground that the Managing  Director  who
           was the disciplinary authority had taken part in the proceedings
           of the Board which decided the appeal.   After  the  said  order
           came to be passed, the matter was again placed before the  Board
           and the appellate authority, considering the enquiry report, the
           evidence brought on record and after  due  discussion,  affirmed
           the order of disciplinary authority and  consequently  dismissed
           the appeal on 1.7.2003.

        6. The grievance of re-affirmation of the order  of  dismissal  was
           agitated by the respondent in W.P. No. 25673 of 2007  which  was
           preferred on 7.7.2007.    The  appellant-Board  in  the  counter
           affidavit, defending the order of  dismissal,  stated  that  the
           only reason given by the employee was that he could  not  attend
           the  duties  as  he  was  availing  continuous   treatment   for
           tuberculosis and, further, he  also  met  with  an  accident  in
           September 1995 which was  unacceptable.   In  addition,  it  was
           stated  in  the  counter  affidavit  that   bunch   of   medical
           certificates was produced by him  on  1.4.1997  which  mentioned
           that he was suffering from depressive psychosis  and  bronchitis
           and there was no mention about any accident and injury sustained
           by him in September 1995 and treatment availed by him.

        7. The learned  Single  Judge,  by  the  impugned  judgment,  after
           narrating the facts, noted the statement of the learned  counsel
           for the respondent that even if the employee had  absented  from
           duty, there was no past  misconduct  of  desertion/absence  and,
           therefore, the punishment of  dismissal  from  service  for  the
           first   time   desertion/absenteeism   is    too    harsh    and
           disproportionate  and  deserved  to  be  interfered  with.   The
           learned Single Judge did not  advert  to  any  other  facet  and
           referred  to  the  decisions  in  Shri  Bhagwan  Lal   Arya   v.
           Commissioner of Police, Delhi[1], B. C. Chaturvedi v.  Union  of
           India[2], V. Ramana v. A.P. SRTC[3],  Jagdish  Singh  v.  Punjab
           Engineering  College[4]  and  Division  Bench  judgment  in   V.
           Senthurvelan v. High Court of Judicature at Madras[5] and opined
           thus:-
           “10.  Applying the said judgment to the fact of  this  case  and
           considering the counter filed by the respondents wherein  it  is
           not stated as to whether the petitioner has deserted /  absented
           on any previous occasion, this Court is of the  view  that  this
           writ petition deserves to be allowed.

           11.   This writ petition is allowed  with  a  direction  to  the
           respondent to reinstate petitioner with  continuity  of  service
           but without backwage, within a period of  four  weeks  from  the
           date of receipt of a copy of this order.”

        8. Grieved by the aforesaid order the CMWSSB preferred Writ  Appeal
           No. 2531 of 2012 and the Division Bench accepted the  conclusion
           of the learned single Judge by stating thus: -


           “It is not in dispute that the respondent/ writ  petitioner  was
           unwell during the said period, though there might have been some
           discrepancies in the date of the certificate issued, it has  not
           been controverted by  the  appellant  that  the  respondent/writ
           petitioner  was  suffering   from   depressive   psychosis   and
           bronchitis.  That apart it has also not been disputed  that  the
           respondent/  writ  petitioner  had  not  suffered  any   earlier
           punishment while in the services of the appellant Board from the
           date of his appointment.  Therefore, in such  circumstances,  it
           would be very harsh and unreasonable to impose the punishment of
           removal from service for the charge of unauthorized absence,  as
           such punishment is awarded  for  acts  of  grave  nature  or  as
           cumulative effect of continued  misconduct  or  for  such  other
           reasons, where the charges are very serious and  in  case  where
           charge of corruption had been  proved.   Admittedly,  there  has
           been no such allegation against the respondent/writ  petitioner.
           Further, the learned single Judge while setting aside the  order
           of dismissal from service, rightly  denied  back  wages  to  the
           respondent/writ petitioner  as  the  respondent/writ  petitioner
           failed to discharge duty during the relevant period.”


                                                       [Underlining is ours]


        9. We have heard the learned counsel for the  parties  and  perused
           the material brought on record.


       10. On a keen scrutiny of  the  decision  rendered  by  the  learned
           single Judge as well as that of the Division Bench it is clearly
           demonstrable that there has been no advertence  with  regard  to
           the issue whether the charges levelled  against  the  respondent
           had been proved or not.  It is manifest that there had  been  no
           argument on the said score before the writ court  or  in  intra-
           court appeal and hence, we are obliged to state  that  the  only
           aspect which was really proponed before the High Court  pertains
           to the nature of  charges  and  proportionality  of  punishment.
           Therefore, we shall confine our analysis  with  regard  to  said
           limited sphere and an added facet which the learned counsel  for
           the appellant has emphatically urged before  us,  that  is,  the
           belated approach by the respondent in invoking the extraordinary
           jurisdiction of the High Court.


       11. The charges that were levelled against  the  respondent-employee
           read as follows: -


           “CHARGE NO. 1:


                 That he has failed to offer his explanation to this office
           Memo dated 11.10.95 in spite of reminders thereon dated 20.01.96
           and 23.04.96 which clearly shows his disobedience to  the  order
           of superior and it amounts to misconduct under  Regulation  6(1)
           of the MMWSS Board Employees (Discipline and Appeal) Regulations
           1978.


           CHARGE NO. 2:


                 That he has deserted the post from  28.08.95  onwards  and
           remains  unauthorisedly  absent  from  duty  which  amounts   to
           misconduct under Regulation 6(2) of the  MMWSS  Board  Employees
           (Discipline and Appeal) Regulations 1978.”


       12. It is not in dispute that the Inquiry Officer  found  that  both
           the charges had been proved.   The  disciplinary  authority  had
           ascribed reasons and passed an order of dismissal from  service.
           On a perusal of the order of dismissal  it  is  vivid  that  the
           medical certificate was belatedly submitted and he had  remained
           unauthorisedly absent from 28.08.1995.  The question that arises
           is when the charges of unauthorized absence for  a  long  period
           had been proven, was it justified on the part of the High  Court
           to take resort to the doctrine  of  proportionality  and  direct
           reinstatement in service.  That apart, one aspect which has  not
           at all  been  addressed  to  by  the  High  Court  is  that  the
           respondent invoked the extraordinary jurisdiction  of  the  High
           Court after four years.


       13. First, we shall deal with the facet of  delay.   In  Maharashtra
           State  Road  Transport  Corporation  v.  Balwant  Regular  Motor
           Service, Amravati  and  others[6]  the  Court  referred  to  the
           principle that has been stated by Sir Barnes Peacock in  Lindsay
           Petroleum Co. v. Prosper Armstrong  Hurd,  Abram  Farewall,  and
           John Kemp[7], which is as follows: -


           “Now the doctrine of laches  in  Courts  of  Equity  is  not  an
           arbitrary  or  a  technical  doctrine.   Where   it   would   be
           practically unjust to give a remedy, either  because  the  party
           has, by his conduct, done that which might fairly be regarded as
           equivalent to a waiver of  it,  or  where  by  his  conduct  and
           neglect he has, though perhaps not waiving that remedy, yet  put
           the other party  in  a  situation  in  which  it  would  not  be
           reasonable to place him if the  remedy  were  afterwards  to  be
           asserted in either of these cases, lapse of time and  delay  are
           most material.  But  in  every  case,  if  an  argument  against
           relief, which otherwise would be  just,  is  founded  upon  mere
           delay, that delay of course  not  amounting  to  a  bar  by  any
           statute of limitations, the validity of  that  defence  must  be
           tried   upon   principles    substantially    equitable.     Two
           circumstances, always important in such cases, are,  the  length
           of the delay  and  the  nature  of  the  acts  done  during  the
           interval, which might affect either party and cause a balance of
           justice or injustice in taking the one course or the  other,  so
           far as relates to the remedy.”


       14. In State of  Maharashtra  v.  Digambar[8],  while  dealing  with
           exercise of power of the High Court under  Article  226  of  the
           Constitution, the Court observed that power of the High Court to
           be exercised under  Article  226  of  the  Constitution,  if  is
           discretionary, its exercise must be  judicious  and  reasonable,
           admits of no controversy.  It is for  that  reason,  a  person’s
           entitlement for relief from a High Court under  Article  226  of
           the Constitution, be it against the State or anybody else,  even
           if is founded on the allegation of  infringement  of  his  legal
           right, has to necessarily depend upon unblameworthy  conduct  of
           the person seeking relief, and the court refuses  to  grant  the
           discretionary relief to such person in exercise of  such  power,
           when he approaches it with unclean hands or blameworthy conduct.


       15. In State of M.P. and others etc. etc.  v.  Nandlal  Jaiswal  and
           others etc. etc.[9] the Court observed that it is  well  settled
           that power of the High Court to issue an appropriate writ  under
           Article 226 of the Constitution is discretionary  and  the  High
           Court in exercise of its discretion does not  ordinarily  assist
           the tardy and the indolent or the acquiescent and the lethargic.
            It has been further stated therein that if there is  inordinate
           delay on the part of the petitioner in  filing  a  petition  and
           such delay is not satisfactorily explained, the High  Court  may
           decline to intervene and grant relief in  the  exercise  of  its
           writ jurisdiction.  Emphasis was laid on the principle of  delay
           and laches stating that resort to the extraordinary remedy under
           the writ jurisdiction at a belated  stage  is  likely  to  cause
           confusion and public inconvenience and bring in injustice.


       16. Thus, the doctrine of delay and laches  should  not  be  lightly
           brushed  aside.   A  writ  court  is  required  to   weigh   the
           explanation offered and the  acceptability  of  the  same.   The
           court should bear in mind that it is exercising an extraordinary
           and equitable jurisdiction.  As a constitutional court it has  a
           duty to protect the rights of the citizens but simultaneously it
           is to keep itself alive to the primary principle  that  when  an
           aggrieved person, without adequate reason, approaches the  court
           at his own leisure or pleasure, the Court would be  under  legal
           obligation to scrutinize whether the  lis  at  a  belated  stage
           should be entertained or not.  Be it noted, delay comes  in  the
           way of equity.  In certain circumstances delay  and  laches  may
           not be fatal but in most circumstances  inordinate  delay  would
           only invite disaster for the litigant who knocks at the doors of
           the Court.  Delay reflects inactivity and inaction on  the  part
           of a litigant – a litigant who has forgotten  the  basic  norms,
           namely, “procrastination is the  greatest  thief  of  time”  and
           second, law does not  permit  one  to  sleep  and  rise  like  a
           phoenix.  Delay does bring in hazard and causes  injury  to  the
           lis.  In the case at hand, though there  has  been  four  years’
           delay in approaching the court, yet the writ court chose not  to
           address the same.  It is the duty of  the  court  to  scrutinize
           whether such  enormous  delay  is  to  be  ignored  without  any
           justification.  That apart, in the present  case,  such  belated
           approach gains  more  significance  as  the  respondent-employee
           being  absolutely  careless  to  his  duty   and   nurturing   a
           lackadaisical  attitude  to  the  responsibility  had   remained
           unauthorisedly absent on the pretext of some kind of ill health.
            We repeat at the cost of repetition that remaining  innocuously
           oblivious to such delay does not foster the  cause  of  justice.
           On the contrary, it brings in injustice, for  it  is  likely  to
           affect others.  Such delay may have impact  on  others’  ripened
           rights and may unnecessarily drag others into  litigation  which
           in acceptable realm of probability, may  have  been  treated  to
           have attained  finality.   A  court  is  not  expected  to  give
           indulgence  to  such  indolent  persons  -  who   compete   with
           ‘Kumbhakarna’ or for that  matter  ‘Rip  Van  Winkle’.   In  our
           considered opinion, such delay does not deserve  any  indulgence
           and on the said ground alone the writ court should  have  thrown
           the petition overboard at the very threshold.


       17. Having dealt with the doctrine of delay  and  laches,  we  shall
           presently proceed to deal with the doctrine  of  proportionality
           which has been taken recourse to by the High Court regard  being
           had to the obtaining factual matrix.  We think it appropriate to
           refer to some of the authorities which have been placed reliance
           upon by the High Court.


       18. In Shri Bhagwan Lal Arya (supra)  this  Court  opined  that  the
           unauthorized absence was not a grave misconduct inasmuch as  the
           employee had proceeded on leave under compulsion because of  his
           grave condition of health.  Be it noted, in the  said  case,  it
           has also been observed that no reasonable disciplinary authority
           would term  absence  on  medical  grounds  with  proper  medical
           certificate from Government doctors as a grave misconduct.

       19. In Jagdish Singh (supra) the Court took note of  the  fact  that
           the appellant therein was a sweeper and had remained  absent  on
           four spells totalling to fifteen days in all in two months.   In
           that context, the Court observed thus: -

           “The instant case is not a case of  habitual  absenteeism.   The
           appellant seems to have a good track record  from  the  date  he
           joined service as a sweeper.  In his long career of service,  he
           remained absent for fifteen days on four occasions in the months
           of February and March 2004.  This was primarily to sort out  the
           problem of his daughter with her in-laws.   The  filial  bondage
           and the emotional attachment might have come in his way to apply
           and obtain leave from the  employer.   The  misconduct  that  is
           alleged, in our view, would definitely amount  to  violation  of
           discipline that is expected of an employee to  maintain  in  the
           establishment, but may  not  fit  into  the  category  of  gross
           violation of discipline.  We hasten to add, if  it  were  to  be
           habitual absenteeism, we would not have  ventured  to  entertain
           this appeal.”


       20. If both the decisions are  appositely  understood,  two  aspects
           clearly emerge.  In Shri Bhagwan Lal  Arya  (supra),  the  Court
           took note of the fact, that is,  production  of  proper  medical
           certificate from a Government medical doctor  and  opined  about
           the nature of misconduct and in Jagdish Singh (supra) the period
           of absence, status of the employee and his track record and  the
           explanation offered by him.  In the case at  hand,  the  factual
           score being different, to which we shall later  on  advert,  the
           aforesaid authorities do not really assist the respondent.


       21. Learned counsel for the  respondent  has  commended  us  to  the
           decision  in  Krushnakant  B.  Parmar  v.  Union  of  India  and
           another[10] to highlight  that  in  the  absence  of  a  finding
           returned  by  the  Inquiry  Officer  or  determination  by   the
           disciplinary  authority  that  the  unauthorized   absence   was
           willful, the charge could not be treated to  have  been  proved.
           To appreciate the said submission we have carefully perused  the
           said authority.  In the said case, the  question  arose  whether
           “unauthorized absence from duty” did tantamount to  “failure  of
           devotion to  duty”  or  “behavior  unbecoming  of  a  Government
           servant” inasmuch as the appellant  therein  was  charge-sheeted
           for failure to maintain devotion to duty and  his  behavior  was
           unbecoming of a Government servant.  After adverting to the rule
           position the two-Judge Bench expressed thus: -


           “16.  In the case of the  appellant  referring  to  unauthorized
           absence the disciplinary authority alleged  that  he  failed  to
           maintain devotion to duty and his behavior was unbecoming  of  a
           government servant.  The question whether “unauthorized  absence
           from duty” amounts to failure of devotion to  duty  or  behavior
           unbecoming of a government servant  cannot  be  decided  without
           deciding the question whether absence is willful or  because  of
           compelling circumstances.


           17.   If the absence is the result of  compelling  circumstances
           under which it was not possible to report or perform duty,  such
           absence cannot be held to be willful.  Absence from duty without
           any application or prior permission may amount  to  unauthorized
           absence, but it does not always  mean  willful.   There  may  be
           different eventualities due to which  an  employee  may  abstain
           from duty, including compelling circumstances beyond his control
           like illness, accident, hospitalization, etc., but in such  case
           the employee cannot be held guilty of  failure  of  devotion  to
           duty or behavior unbecoming of a government servant.


           18.    In  a   departmental   proceeding,   if   allegation   of
           unauthorized  absence  from  duty  is  made,  the   disciplinary
           authority is required to prove that the absence is  willful,  in
           the absence of such finding, the  absence  will  not  amount  to
           misconduct.”


       22. We have quoted in extenso as we are disposed to think  that  the
           Court has, while dealing with the charge of failure of  devotion
           to  duty  or  behavior  unbecoming  of  a  Government   servant,
           expressed the aforestated view and further  the  learned  Judges
           have also opined that  there  may  be  compelling  circumstances
           which are beyond the control of an employee.   That  apart,  the
           facts in the said  case  were  different  as  the  appellant  on
           certain occasions was prevented to sign the attendance  register
           and the absence was intermittent.  Quite apart from that, it has
           been stated therein that it is obligatory on  the  part  of  the
           disciplinary authority to come to a conclusion that the  absence
           is willful.  On an apposite understanding of the judgment we are
           of the opinion that the view expressed in the said case  has  to
           be restricted to the facts of the said case regard being had  to
           the rule position, the nature of the charge levelled against the
           employee and the material that had come  on  record  during  the
           enquiry.  It cannot be stated as an absolute proposition in  law
           that whenever there  is  a  long  unauthorized  absence,  it  is
           obligatory on the part of the disciplinary authority to record a
           finding that the said absence is willful even  if  the  employee
           fails to show the compelling circumstances to remain absent.


       23. In this  context,  it  is  seemly  to  refer  to  certain  other
           authorities  relating  to  unauthorized  absence  and  the  view
           expressed by this  Court.   In  State  of  Punjab  v.  Dr.  P.L.
           Singla[11] the Court, dealing  with  unauthorized  absence,  has
           stated thus: -


           “Unauthorised absence (or  overstaying  leave),  is  an  act  of
           indiscipline.  Whenever there is an unauthorized absence  by  an
           employee, two courses are open to the employer.  The first is to
           condone the unauthorized absence by  accepting  the  explanation
           and sanctioning leave for the period of the unauthorized absence
           in which event the misconduct stood condoned.  The second is  to
           treat the unauthorized absence as a misconduct, hold an  enquiry
           and impose a punishment for the misconduct.”


       24. Again, while dealing with the concept of  punishment  the  Court
           ruled as follows: -


           “Where the employee who is unauthorisedly absent does not report
           back to duty and offer any satisfactory  explanation,  or  where
           the explanation offered by the employee is not satisfactory, the
           employer will take recourse to disciplinary action in regard  to
           the unauthorized absence.   Such  disciplinary  proceedings  may
           lead to imposition of punishment ranging from  a  major  penalty
           like dismissal or removal from service to a minor  penalty  like
           withholding of increments without cumulative effect.  The extent
           of penalty will depend upon the nature of service, the  position
           held  by  the  employee,  the  period   of   absence   and   the
           cause/explanation for the absence.”


       25. In Tushar D. Bhatt v. State  of  Gujarat  and  another[12],  the
           appellant therein  had  remained  unauthorisedly  absent  for  a
           period of six months and further had  also  written  threatening
           letters  and  conducted   some   other   acts   of   misconduct.
           Eventually, the employee was visited with order of dismissal and
           the High Court had given the stamp  of  approval  to  the  same.
           Commenting on the conduct of the appellant the Court stated that
           he was not justified in  remaining  unauthorisedly  absent  from
           official duty for more than six months because in  the  interest
           of  discipline  of  any  institution  or  organization  such  an
           approach and attitude of the employee cannot be countenanced.


       26. Thus, the unauthorized absence by an employee, as a  misconduct,
           cannot be put into a straight-jacket formula for  imposition  of
           punishment.  It will depend upon many a factor as has been  laid
           down in Dr. P.L. Singla (supra).


       27. Presently, we shall proceed to scrutinize whether the High Court
           is  justified  in  applying  the  doctrine  of  proportionality.
           Doctrine of proportionality in  the  context  of  imposition  of
           punishment in service law gets attracted when the court  on  the
           analysis of material brought on record comes to  the  conclusion
           that the punishment imposed by the Disciplinary Authority or the
           appellate authority shocks the conscience of the court.  In this
           regard a passage from Indian Oil Corporation Ltd. and another v.
           Ashok Kumar Arora[13]  is worth reproducing: -


           “At the outset, it needs to be mentioned that the High Court  in
           such cases of departmental enquiries and the  findings  recorded
           therein   does   not   exercise   the   powers   of    appellate
           court/authority.  The jurisdiction of the  High  Court  in  such
           cases is very limited for instance where it is  found  that  the
           domestic  enquiry  is  vitiated  because  of  non-observance  of
           principles of natural justice, denial of reasonable opportunity;
           findings are based on no  evidence,  and/or  the  punishment  is
           totally  disproportionate  to  the  proved  misconduct   of   an
           employee.”


       28. In Union of India and another v. G.  Ganayutham[14],  the  Court
           analysed the conception of proportionality in administrative law
           in England and India and thereafter addressed itself with regard
           to the punishment in disciplinary matters and opined that unless
           the  court/tribunal  opines  in  its  secondary  role  that  the
           administrator  was,  on  the  material  before  him,  irrational
           according  to  Associated  Provincial  Picture  Houses  Ltd.  v.
           Wednesbury Corpn.[15] and Council of  Civil  Service  Unions  v.
           Minister for Civil Service[16] norms, the punishment  cannot  be
           quashed.


       29.  In  Chairman-cum-Managing  Director,  Coal  India  Limited  and
           another v. Mukul Kumar  Choudhuri  and  others[17],  the  Court,
           after analyzing the doctrine of proportionality at length, ruled
           thus: -


           “19.  The doctrine of proportionality is, thus,  well-recognised
           concept of  judicial  review  in  our  jurisprudence.   What  is
           otherwise within the discretionary domain and sole power of  the
           decision-maker  to  quantify  punishment  once  the  charge   of
           misconduct stands proved, such discretionary power is exposed to
           judicial intervention if exercised in a manner which is  out  of
           proportion to the fault.  Award of punishment which  is  grossly
           in excess to the allegations cannot claim immunity  and  remains
           open for interference under limited scope of judicial review.


           20.   One of the tests to be  applied  while  dealing  with  the
           question of quantum of punishment would be: would any reasonable
           employer have imposed such  punishment  in  like  circumstances?
           Obviously, a  reasonable  employer  is  expected  to  take  into
           consideration measure, magnitude and degree  of  misconduct  and
           all other relevant circumstances and exclude irrelevant  matters
           before imposing punishment.


           21.   In a case like the present one where the misconduct of the
           delinquent was unauthorized absence from duty for six months but
           upon being charged of such misconduct, he  fairly  admitted  his
           guilt and explained the reason for his absence by  stating  that
           he did not have intention nor desired to disobey  the  order  of
           higher authority or violate  any  of  the  Company’s  rules  and
           regulations but the reason was purely personal  and  beyond  his
           control and, as a matter of fact, he sent his resignation  which
           was not accepted, the order of removal  cannot  be  held  to  be
           justified, since in our judgment, no reasonable  employer  would
           have   imposed   extreme   punishment   of   removal   in   like
           circumstances.  The punishment is  not  only  unduly  harsh  but
           grossly in excess to the allegations.”


       30. After so stating the two-Judge Bench proceeded to say  that  one
           of the tests to be applied while dealing with  the  question  of
           quantum of punishment is
  whether any reasonable  employer  would
           have imposed such punishment in like circumstances  taking  into
           consideration the major, magnitude and degree of misconduct  and
           all other  relevant  circumstances  after  excluding  irrelevant
           matters before imposing punishment.
 It is apt to note here that
           in the said case  the  respondent  had  remained  unauthorisedly
           absent from duty for six  months  and  admitted  his  guilt  and
           explained the reasons for his absence by stating that he neither
           had any intention nor desire to disobey the  order  of  superior
           authority or violated any of the rules or  regulations  but  the
           reason was purely personal and beyond his control.
Regard being
           had to the obtaining factual matrix, the Court  interfered  with
           the punishment on the ground of proportionality.
The  facts  in
           the present case are quite different.
As has been seen from the
           analysis made by the High Court, it has given emphasis  on  past
           misconduct of absence and first time  desertion  and  thereafter
           proceeded  to  apply  the  doctrine  of  proportionality.    
The
           aforesaid approach is obviously incorrect.
It is telltale  that
           the respondent had remained absent for a considerable length  of
           time.
He had exhibited adamantine attitude in not responding to
           the communications from the employer while he was unauthorisedly
           absent.
As  it  appears,  he  has  chosen  his  way,  possibly
           nurturing the idea that he can remain absent for any  length  of
           time, apply for grant of leave at any time and also knock at the
           doors of the court at his own will.
 Learned  counsel  for  the
           respondent has endeavoured hard to impress upon us that  he  had
           not been a habitual absentee.
We really fail to fathom the said
           submission when the respondent had remained  absent  for  almost
           one year and seven months.
The plea  of  absence  of  “habitual
           absenteeism” is absolutely unacceptable and, under the obtaining
           circumstances, does not commend acceptation.
We are disposed to
           think that the respondent by remaining unauthorisedly absent for
           such a long period with inadequate reason  had  not  only  shown
           indiscipline but also made an attempt to get away with it.  
Such
           a conduct is not permissible and we are inclined to  think  that
           the  High  Court  has  erroneously  placed   reliance   on   the
           authorities where this Court had interfered with the punishment.
            We have no shadow of doubt that the doctrine of proportionality
           does not get remotely attracted to such a case.  The  punishment
           is definitely not shockingly disproportionate.


       31. Another aspect needs to be noted.
The respondent was  a  Junior
           Engineer.  Regard being had to his  official  position,  it  was
           expected of him to maintain discipline, act with responsibility,
           perform his duty with sincerity and serve the  institution  with
           honesty.  
This kind of conduct  cannot  be  countenanced  as  it
           creates  a  concavity  in  the  work  culture  and   ushers   in
           indiscipline in  an  organization.   In  this  context,  we  may
           fruitfully quote a passage from Government of India and  another
           v. George Philip[18]: -


           “In a case involving overstay of leave and  absence  from  duty,
           granting six months’ time to  join  duty  amounts  to  not  only
           giving premium to indiscipline but is wholly subversive  of  the
           work culture  in  the  organization.   Article  51-A(j)  of  the
           Constitution lays down that  it  shall  be  the  duty  of  every
           citizen  to  strive  towards  excellence  in  all   spheres   of
           individual and collective activity so that the nation constantly
           rises to higher  levels  of  endeavour  and  achievement.   This
           cannot be achieved unless the employees maintain discipline  and
           devotion to duty.  Courts should  not  pass  such  orders  which
           instead of achieving the underlying spirit and objects  of  Part
           IV-A of the Constitution have the tendency to negate or  destroy
           the same.”


       32. We respectfully reiterate the said feeling and re-state with the
           hope  that  employees  in  any  organization  should  adhere  to
           discipline for not only achieving personal  excellence  but  for
           collective good of an organization.  When we say  this,  we  may
           not be understood to have stated that the  employers  should  be
           harsh to impose grave punishment on any misconduct.  An  amiable
           atmosphere in an organization develops the work culture and  the
           employer and the employees are expected to remember the same  as
           a precious value for systemic development.


       33. Judged on the anvil of the aforesaid premises, the  irresistible
           conclusion is that the interference by the High Court  with  the
           punishment is totally unwarranted and unsustainable, and further
           the High Court was wholly unjustified in entertaining  the  writ
           petition after a lapse of four years.  The result  of  aforesaid
           analysis would  entail  overturning  the  judgments  and  orders
           passed by the learned single Judge and the Division Bench of the
           High Court and, accordingly, we so do.


       34. Consequently, the appeal is allowed and the judgments and orders
           passed by the High Court are set aside leaving  the  parties  to
           bear their respective costs.

                                                             …………….……..…..J.
                                                              [H.L. Gokhale]




                                                               …………………….….J.
                                                               [Dipak Misra]


      New Delhi;
      February 10, 2014.


-----------------------
[1]    (2004) 4 SCC 560
[2]    (1995) 6 SCC 749
[3]    (2005) 7 SCC 338
[4]    (2009) 7 SCC 301
[5]    (2009) 7 MLJ 1231
[6]    AIR 1969 SC 329
[7]    (1874) 5 PC 221
[8]    (1995) 4 SCC 683
[9]    AIR 1987 SC 251
[10]   (2012) 3 SCC 178
[11]   (2008) 8 SCC 469
[12]   (2009) 11 SCC 678
[13]   (1997) 3 SCC 72
[14]   (1997) 7 SCC 463
[15]   (1948) 1 KB 223 : (1947) 2 All ER 680
[16]   1985 AC 374 : (1984) 3 All ER 935
[17]   (2009) 15 SCC 620
[18]   (2006) 13 SCC 1


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