Armed Forces Tribunal: In an application seeking to quash the order discharging the applicant from service on the ground “unlikely to make an efficient Airman” under Chapter III Clause 15(2)(j) of the Air Force Rules, 1969 (‘AF Rules’), two-member bench of Rajendra Menon, J. and Lieutenant General P.M. Hariz held that neither was there any violation of the principles of natural justice nor the applicant was denied adequate opportunity before taking action, which allegedly has vitiated the proceedings. Further, once the requirements of the policy and rules were followed in matters of appointments to sensitive posts in the Armed Forces, sympathy cannot be a substitute to act in violation to the laid down administrative policies and grant benefit to a person.
The issues in the present case were:
1) Whether the application filed by the applicant is barred by limitation and whether it requires to be dismissed on the ground of delay and laches as contemplated under Section 22 of the Armed Forces Tribunal (‘AFT’) Act?
The Tribunal viewed that on the technical ground of delay and limitation, it is not appropriate to dismiss the application and it must be heard on merits
2) Whether the principles of natural justice had been violated while taking action against the applicant?
The Tribunal said that a show cause notice was issued to the applicant before his discharge from service while he was on training. Further, the applicant’s application for reconsideration of his case on sympathetic grounds was received by the respondents with a detailed speaking order, considering his representation. Moreover, the applicant was informed about the shortcomings and the failure on his part in clearing the examinations conducted during the training and he never disputed these facts. Thus, they rejected the contention of the applicant that the principles of natural justice were violated in the matter of taking action against the applicant.
3) Whether the respondents have acted illegally in discharging the applicant under Rule 15(2)(j) of the AF Rules?
The Tribunal said that merely because the applicant was not granted sympathetic consideration or his case was not considered in the manner he sought for, the action of the respondents cannot be termed as an arbitrary or illegal decision.
The Tribunal noted that after failing the tests twice, the applicant was back phased to the next junior intake and given one more opportunity to clear the examination. Despite granting such an opportunity, he failed to clear the examination,
The Tribunal also said that the applicant was evaluated not only individually, but the matter was referred to the competent Station Review Board (‘SRB’) for reconsideration, which evaluated his case and gave him an opportunity. Despite granting him sufficient opportunity, he failed the examinations and, therefore, the impugned action was taken.
Further, the applicant was evaluated as per the extant policy and he was granted adequate opportunity to appear for the examinations in accordance with the extant policy, thus, the action of the respondents in discharging him on such failure cannot be termed as an arbitrary or illegal action.
4) In exercise of the statutory discretion available to this Tribunal under Section 14 of the AFT Act, whether a sympathetic view is to be taken by giving one more opportunity to the applicant?
The applicant submitted that he may be given one more opportunity to participate in the examinations and to serve the nation, considering the emotional trauma suffered by the family members of the applicant on account of the sudden death of his sister.
The Tribunal said that there is no place for generosity or misplaced sympathy on the part of the judicial forums. Further, the policies and administrative systems established in an organization cannot be given a go and in violation of the policy, particularly in the matter of recruitment and employment in a sensitive establishment like the Armed Forces. Thus, it dismissed the said application.
[Ex AC Biswajit Chakraborty v. Union of India, 2022 SCC OnLine AFT 8731, decided on 07-12-2022]
Advocates who appeared in this case :
For Applicant: Advocate Udian Sharma;
Advocate Jaitegan Singh Khurana;
For Respondents: Advocate Harish V. Shankar.
*Apoorva Goel, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.