Supreme Court: The Division Bench of Ajay Rastogi* and Sanjiv Khanna, JJ., reversed the impugned order of Delhi High Court whereby the High Court had upheld the dismissal order of appellant owing to suppression of information/false declaration in the verification form regarding criminal antecedent.
The Court held that the effect of suppression of material/false information involving in a criminal case is that it is left for the employer to consider all the relevant facts and circumstances available as to antecedents and keep in view the objective criteria and the relevant service rules, while taking appropriate decision regarding continuance/suitability of the employee into service.
The appellant, having qualified the recruitment exam for Railway Protection Force (RPF), including Railway Police Special Force (RPSF), was sent for training. However, before the training process could complete he came to be discharged by the respondent under clause 9(f) of the employment notice no.1/2011 dated 27-02-2011 and Rule 67.2 of the RPF Rules 1987 for suppressing material information as it came on record that at one stage the appellant was charge-sheeted for offences under Sections 148/149/323/506/356 IPC which fact was not disclosed by the appellant in his attestation form.
Suppression of Information & False Declaration
Indisputably, on the date when the application form was filled by the appellant, no such criminal case was either instituted or pending against him and what was disclosed by him at the time of filling his application form pursuant to employment notice no.1/2011, there was no suppression of relevant information or submission of false declaration at that stage. Unfortunately, a false criminal case of trivial nature came to be registered against him on 04-04-2011 and since it has no legs to stand as much before the charge sheet could be filed, the de facto complainant submitted his affidavit that no such alleged incident had taken place and the complaint was lodged by him under misconception. Since the prosecution witness had not supported case of the prosecution during the course of trial, the appellant was honourably acquitted.
However, the appellant while filling his attestation form at a later stage on 27-05-2014, mentioned “No”, when he was asked to disclose as to whether he has ever been arrested or has been prosecuted, in answer to clauses 12(a) and (b), which was considered to be a suppression of relevant information/submission of false declaration in the verification form as regards to his criminal antecedents.
Analysis and Findings
The Court observed that under Rule 52 of the RPF Rules 1987, though before a recruit is formally appointed, his character/antecedents have to be verified so as to determine his suitability for appointment as a member of the force, once the verification of character/antecedents has taken place, it casts an obligation on the appointing authority to take into consideration as to whether the kind of suppression of alleged information/false declaration would affect his suitability for appointment or not.
Further, the Court noted that in para 5(c) of the discharge order, a reference had been made of the affidavit submitted by the appellant at the time of filling his application form, but on the day when the application form was filled, undisputedly, no criminal case was either instituted or pending against him. Noticeably, the employment notice was of 27-02-2011 and the alleged criminal case was instituted on 04-04-2011. Emphasising on the duty of participants to furnish correct information regarding his/her antecedents, the Court expressed,
“…the person who has suppressed the material information or has made false declaration indeed has no unfettered right of seeking appointment or continuity in service, but at least has a right not to be dealt with arbitrarily and power has to be judiciously exercised by the competent authority in a reasonable manner with objectivity having due regard to the facts of the case on hand”.
Following the law as laid down in Avtar Singh v. Union of India, (2016) 8 SCC 471, the Court held that mere suppression of material/false information regardless of the fact whether there is a conviction or acquittal has been recorded, the employee/recruit is not to be discharged/terminated axiomatically from service just by a stroke of pen.
Considering the above backdrop, the Court reached to following findings:
- The nature of the allegations made in the criminal case and that the matter was of trivial nature not involving moral turpitude.
- Further, the proceedings had ended in a clean acquittal of the appellant.
- The criminal case indeed was of trivial nature and the nature of post and nature of duties to be discharged by the recruit has never been looked into by the competent authority while examining the overall suitability of the incumbent keeping in view Rule 52 of the Rules 1987 to become a member of the force.
Conclusion: No Straightjacket Rule to Terminate Employee
The Court opined that the effect of suppression of material/false information involving in a criminal case, if any, is that it is left for the employer to consider all the relevant facts and circumstances available as to antecedents and keep in view the objective criteria and the relevant service rules, while taking appropriate decision regarding continuance/suitability of the employee into service. Therefore, the Court remarked,
“The authority has not even considered the scope and ambit of Rule 52 of the Rules 1987 that after verification of the character/antecedents of the incumbent, it will be an obligation upon the authority to examine as to whether the incumbent/recruit is suitable to become a member of the force and without appreciation in a mechanical manner confirmed the order of discharge dated 24th April, 2015.”
In the light of above, the impugned judgment was set aside.
[Pawan Kumar v. Union of India, 2022 SCC OnLine SC 532, decided on 02-05-2022]
*Judgment by: Justice Ajay Rastogi
Tags: Recruitment, RPF, RPSF, Forces, False Information, Suppression of Fact, Criminal Antecedent, Termination