Mere Acquittal In Criminal Case Not A Ground For Employee's Reinstatement If It Is Not Honorable Acquittal - Delhi HC
The Delhi High Court while dismissing a Writ Petition seeking reinstatement placed reliance on a Supreme Court judgment in the case of Union Territory, Chandigarh Administration & Ors. v. Pradeep Kumar & Anr., and held that mere acquittal in a criminal case is not conclusive of the suitability of the candidate to the post concerned. If a person is acquitted or discharged, it cannot always be inferred that he was falsely implicated or that he had no criminal antecedents. If it is not an honorable acquittal, the candidate cannot claim the benefit of the case.
A bench of Justice V Kameshwar Rao was hearing the plea of the Petitioner who assailed an order whereby the petitioner was dismissed from service under Rule 19(i) of the CCS (CCA) Rules, based upon his conviction under Section 7 and Section 15 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988.
The Petitioner was appointed as an accounting clerk in 1990 by the Respondent. Corruption allegations surfaced against him and it was alleged that he had taken a bribe for processing the release of the amount outstanding to a vendor. He was convicted by a special court, CBI via an order dated November 22, 2012.
The Respondent, after going through the Judgment dated November 22, 2012, came to the conclusion that the charges established against the Petitioner involved moral turpitude and showed a lack of integrity and honesty, which made him unsuitable for retention in the services of the Respondent. Thereafter a show-cause notice was issued, to which the petitioner replied. After considering all the relevant facts including the reply to the show-cause notice, it was decided to dismiss the Petitioner from the services of the Respondent.
The Petitioner was acquitted by the judgment of the High Court on 4th May 2020. On acquittal, the Petitioner demanded salary and allowances for the period when he remained suspended/dismissed, vide legal notice dated January 12, 2021. He also claimed annual increment, gratuity, earned leaves, bonus, and group insurance from the respondent and demanded that he be reinstated in service. In reply to the Petitioner's notice, the Respondent denied him reinstatement. Aggrieved by this order the petitioner approached Delhi High Court.
Ms. Purnima Mheshwari Counsel for the Petitioner contended that he was falsely implicated in the criminal case. Ms. Maheshwari also stated that though there was no separate charge memo or inquiry / departmental proceedings conducted against the Petitioner, the Respondent suo moto proceeded against him by passing the final order dated March 19, 2013, and imposing the penalty of dismissal of the petitioner. She also contended that the State/CBI has not preferred an appeal before the Supreme Court and the period of 90 days for filing an appeal has expired. Therefore the judgment of this court dated November 22, 2012, has become final.
Mr. Rajesh Gogna CGSC appearing on behalf of the Respondent submitted that it is settled law that the competent authority can still decide whether the services of the petitioner should be reinstated or dispensed of in view of his conduct of demanding bribe from a vendor. Further, he contended that due to the pandemic, the provisions of the Limitation Act, 1963 have not been made strictly applicable, and therefore, the expiration of the limitation period is not a ground for arriving at the conclusion that no challenge is going to be made against the Judgment of May 4, 2020. He also contended that the acquittal of the Petitioner is not an honorable acquittal. The same was not on merits and the Petitioner was merely accorded the benefit of the doubt. In such a scenario, reinstatement is not an obligation.
The court in this context, the court relied on Union Territory, Chandigarh Administration & Ors. v. Pradeep Kumar & Anr., (2018) 1 SCC 797, which returned the finding that the mere acquittal in a criminal case is not conclusive of the suitability of the candidate to the post concerned. If a person is acquitted or discharged, it cannot always be inferred that he was falsely implicated or that he had no criminal antecedents. If it is not an honourable acquittal, the candidate cannot claim the benefit of the case.
The Court further placed reliance on Inspector General v. S. Samuthiram,(2013) 1 SCC 598, where the honorable acquittal was explained in the following terms, when the accused is acquitted after full consideration of prosecution evidence and that the prosecution had miserably failed to prove the charges leveled against the accused, it can possibly be said that the accused was honorably acquitted.
In this context the Court came to the conclusion, 'The nature of the charges levied against the petitioner, coupled with the fact that he was merely accorded the benefit of the doubt on account of the failure of the prosecution to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt, would cast a shadow of doubt, in the eyes of the employer, insofar as his suitability for re-employment / reinstatement in public service is concerned.
The Court finally observed, "The prosecution of the petitioner, who was an accountant in public service, has culminated in his acquittal on account of the benefit of the doubt, however, while seeking reinstatement, such acquittal alone cannot be claimed to be an indubitable testament to the bona fide conduct of the petitioner".
Accordingly, the Court dismissed the petition.