Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In an interesting case where the Division Bench of Sanjay Kishan Kaul* and M.M. Sundresh, JJ., was to answer whether pending criminal appeal, and with the sentence being suspended, could the DCRG be directed to be released on the construction of the applicable rules, the Bench resolved the issue against the employees and held there was not statutory mandate that DCRG should be released to the respondents pending consideration of the criminal appeal.

The moot question before the full Bench of the Kerala High Court was whether on conviction in a criminal case for violation of integrity norms in performance of official duties and an appeal pending before the High Court, is the employee still entitled to the release of his Death-cum-Retirement Gratuity (DCRG). The High Court, by the impugned judgment had ruled in favour of the employees and had held that the recovery under Rule 3 of Kerala Services Rules could only be against pension and not DCRG, and Rule 3A insofar as it permitted DCRG to be withheld was struck down.

The Rules in Question

The Rule 3 of Kerala Services Rules reads as:

“withholding or withdrawing a pension or any part of it, whether permanently or for a specified period, and the right of ordering the recovery from a pension of the whole or part of any pecuniary loss caused to government if in a departmental or judicial proceeding, the pensioner is found guilty of grave misconduct or negligence during the period of his service, including service rendered upon re-employment after retirement…”

Whereas, Rule 3A provides that:

“3-A. (a) Where any departmental or judicial proceedings is instituted under Rule 3 or where a departmental proceeding is continued under clause (a) of the proviso thereto, against an employee who has retired on attaining the age of compulsory retirement or otherwise he shall be paid during the period commencing from the date of his retirement to the date on which, upon conclusion of such proceeding final orders are passed, a provisional pension not exceeding the maximum pension which would have been admissible on the basis of his qualifying service up to the date of retirement, or if he was under suspension on the date of retirement up to the date immediately preceding the date on which he was placed under suspension, but no gratuity or death-cum-retirement gratuity shall be paid to him until the conclusion of such proceeding and the issue of final orders thereon.”

Noticeably, Rule 3 in the KSR deems continuation of service in the case of a delinquent servant even after superannuation if any departmental or judicial proceedings are initiated, for the limited purpose of their finalisation. In the event of an order of dismissal being passed, even after retirement, the Government servant would have to forfeit his pension and DCRG.

Impugned Judgment

The High Court read the Rule 3 of the KSR as empowering the Government to punish the delinquent employee by withholding, withdrawing or reducing, for a specified period or permanently, the pension payable or to order recovery for any  pecuniary loss, but again only from the pension. The Court opined that the same could not be done from the DCRG. While, Rule 3A of the KSR was opined to be only tailored towards the effective implementation of Rule 3 and could not have any separate or distinct consequences.

Noting that the Rule 3A has two parts, the Court observed that the first part dealt with certain conditions on the disbursal of pension in the cases of a continuing proceeding while the second part allowed DCRG or gratuity to be withheld until the conclusion of the proceedings. By the impugned judgment, the second part was held to have an unnecessary penalising effect on an employee while proceedings are pending and would have onerous consequences if the proceedings ended in exoneration since the provision did not contemplate any modality for re-compensation if the DCRG is paid after a long period of time.

Further, observing that Note 2 to Rule 3 provided that the word ‘pension’ did not include DCRG and, that that liabilities could be recovered from DCRG only after giving the employee a reasonable opportunity to explain, the Court held that the recovery under Rule 3 could only be against pension and not DCRG, and Rule 3A insofar as it permitted DCRG to be withheld was struck down.

Analysis and Interpretation by the Court

Noticeably, the State in its wisdom had preferred to await the outcome of criminal proceedings in the instant case and had not initiated any separate departmental proceedings. Rule 3 of the KSR provides that Government reserves to themselves the right to withhold or withdraw a pension or any part of it, whether permanently or for a specified period, and all its ramifications. Further, the word pension is clarified by Note 2, as it would not include DCRG. Thus, DCRG and pension have been dealt with as separate aspects.

However, on the further reading of Note 2, which provides that the liabilities fixed against an employee or a pensioner can be recovered from DCRG without the departmental/judicial proceedings but after giving an employee or pensioner concerned a reasonable opportunity to explain, the Bench opined,

“If any part of DCRG was not supposed to be available for recovery of amounts, there would be no reason of inclusion of this aspect of DCRG in Note 2 and a view to the contrary would make the latter part of Note 2 otiose.”

The Bench observed that Note 2 is further clarified by Ruling 3, which stipulates that Note 2 does not mean that the employee’s or pensioner’s consent should be obtained for recovering the liabilities from DCRG. What has been contemplated is only a communication of such liabilities to him so as to enable him to submit his explanation. Thus, this Ruling No.3 also deals with the DCRG. Therefore, the important aspect before the Bench was whether Rule 3A is to be construed in the context of Rule 3 or should be read independently of itself. The High Court had sought to take a view that Rule 3A is in a sense assisting Rule 3 and does not have any independent existence. The Bench stated,

“The High Court, in our view, has introduced a new legislation by undertaking the exercise of reading down. We do believe that there is absolutely no need to do so when the language of the rule is so clear conveying its intended meaning without any ambiguity.”

Holding that it was a very restrictive view to disburse DCRG on account of the proceedings against a pensioner coming to an end, even where a conviction had arisen, specially where the convicted person has availed of the remedy of appeal, the Bench reiterated that an appeal is a continuation of the proceedings in trial and would be, thus, a continuation of judicial proceedings.  Therefore, pendency of the appeal cannot disentitle the State from withholding the DCRG, considering that it is a hiatus period within which certain arrangements have to be made which would be dependent on the outcome of the appeal.

Conclusion

In the light of the above, the Bench concluded that Rule 3A could not be read in isolation nor the latter part of it struck down as done by the High Court. Rule 3, Note 2, Ruling 3, and Rule 3A have to be read in conjunction as they provide for the treatment of the DCRG in case of disciplinary or judicial proceedings pending at the stage of retirement.

Accordingly, the impugned judgment was set aside holding that it could not be opined that the DCRG would have to be released to the respondents pending consideration of the criminal appeal.

[Local Self Government Department v. K. Chandran, 2022 SCC OnLine SC 318, decided on 15-03-2022]

*Judgment by: Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul


Kamini Sharma, Editorial Assistant has put this report together 

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Administrative Tribunal: The Division Bench of Justice R.N. Singh and A. K. Bishnoi, Member (A), settled a case of family pension and retirement dues in favour of widow of the deceased ASI who had committed suicide while in judicial custody. The Bench held,

“When subjective satisfaction of dispensing with the inquiry is not supported by any independent material, dispensing with holding the inquiry would be illegal and if a preliminary inquiry could be conducted, there may not be any reason as to why formal departmental inquiry could not have been initiated against the delinquent.”

The applicant – widow of deceased Satbir Singh, ASI (Exe.) in Delhi Police, had challenged the impugned order whereby the deceased was dismissed from service by the respondents without conducting the regular departmental inquiry.

The deceased was implicated in case under Sections 302 of Penal Code, 1860 read with Sections 25/54/59 of Arms Act, pursuant to which he was placed under suspension w.e.f. 21-01-2019. A preliminary inquiry was conducted by the respondents and taking into account the allegations levelled against the deceased the respondents had dismissed him from service by dispensing with the departmental inquiry by invoking the provisions of Article 311 (2) (b) of the Constitution. Consequently, the deceased committed suicide while in judicial custody.

The applicant contended that though the respondents had heavily relied upon the report of the preliminary inquiry as well as the allegations levelled against the her husband, no copy of the said report was ever served to the deceased and so her husband was deprived of an opportunity to refute the said report, findings in the said preliminary inquiry report and/or the allegations levelled against him in the said FIR, therefore, the impugned order was illegal, bad in the eyes of law and not sustainable.

The Bench noticed that the deceased had 37 years of unblemished service under the respondents and was to retire on attaining the age of superannuation on 31-05-2021. Moreover, keeping in view the facts noted hereinabove, he committed suicide while in judicial custody on 08-06-2019 and whatever the applicant would have got as retirement/terminal benefits had also been taken away in view of the orders passed by the respondents.

Hence, the application was allowed and the impugned orders were set aside. The respondents were directed to grant and release death-cum-retirement dues, viz., family pension, DCRG, leave encashment etc. with all consequential benefits family pension, arrears of family pension and interest on family pension, gratuity, etc. [Santra Devi v. GNCT of Delhi, O.A. No.3170 of 2019, decided on 07-10-2021]


Kamini Sharma, Editorial Assistant has put this report together 


Appearance by:

For the Applicant: Advocate Sourabh Ahuja

For the GNCT of Delhi: Advocate Sameer Sharma

Punjab and Haryana High Court
Case BriefsHigh Courts

Punjab and Haryana High Court: Arvind Singh Sagwan J. allowed the present application and ordered a departmental inquiry against the officers on the ground of lapse in investigation.

A petition for regular bail under Code of Criminal Procedure was filed for the offence under Section 18 of Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985. The interim bail was granted to the petitioner.

The facts of the case were that a car was stopped by the police which was driven by the petitioner. The Investigation officer gave them an option to be searched before either a gazette officer or before a Magistrate and in reply of which a non-consent memo was recorded which was jointly signed by accused. There after the opium was recovered which was carried by accused.

The Court opined that the procedure adopted by the Investigation officer and DSP while recording the joint non-consent as well as consent memo was not as per the principle applied down by the Supreme Court in the case  of  State of Rajasthan v. Parmanand, wherein it has been held that considering the stringent provisions under the NDPS Act, the right available to an accused person under Section 50 of the NDPS Act, to be searched before a Gazetted Officer or a Magistrate, will be frustrated in case clear, unambiguous and individual offer is not given to the accused person. It is further held that joint communication of a right may not be clear or unequivocal as it may create confusion and may result in diluting the right. Thus, appropriate departmental action in the matter for a serious lapse in the investigation was ordered by the court. Also, the petition was allowed and the interim bail was made absolute.[Harjit Singh v. State of Punjab, 2019 SCC OnLine P&H 1426, decided on 16-08-2019]