IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
C.A. Nos. 1958 and 1964 of 2009
Decided On: 06.08.2014
Appellants: Registrar General, High Court of Judicature at Madras
Respondent: K. Muthukumarasamy
Hon’ble Judges/Coram:Ranjan Gogoi and M. Yusuf Eqbal, JJ.
- Both these appeals being directed against the judgment and order dated 20th June, 2007 passed by the High Court of Judicature at Madras in Writ Petition No. 29024 of 2003 were heard together and are being disposed of by this common order. Civil Appeal No. 1958 of 2009 has been filed by the Registrar General, High Court of Judicature at Madras whereas Civil Appeal No. 1964 of 2009 has been filed by the complainant – G. Pushkala challenging the aforesaid order of the High Court by which the punishment of Compulsory Retirement imposed on the Respondent – K. Muthukumarasamy has been interfered with and the said Respondent has been exonerated of the charges leveled against him.
- We have heard Mr. Anand Grover, learned Senior Counsel appearing for the Appellant in Civil Appeal No. 1964 of 2009; Dr. Rajeev B. Masodkar, learned Counsel appearing for the Appellant in Civil Appeal No. 1958 of 2009; and Mr. Arjun Singh Bhati, learned Counsel appearing for the Respondent – K. Muthukumarasamy.
- By memo dated 5th June, 2000, following two charges were brought against the Respondent/delinquent.
“Charge No. I.
That you, Thiru. K. Muthukumarasamy, Deputy Registrar, now on deputation as Deputy Registrar, Tribunal under Criminal Law Amendment Act, Chennai, had behaved in an improper manner with Tmt. G. Pushkala, P.A. to Hon’ble Judges, while she was working as P.A. on deputation in the said Tribunal by issuing two slips to her containing the following words:
“……I want to kiss on cheeks, chin and lips….”
and this amounts to a demand or request for sexual favours and sexual harassment at the place of work and thereby you outraged her modesty and caused mental torture and agony to her and thus committed the acts of misconduct and conduct unbecoming of a Government Servant for which you are liable to be punished under the Tamil Nadu Civil Services (Discipline and Appeal) Rules.
Charge No. 2:
That you, Thiru. K. Muthukumarasamy, Deputy Registrar, now on deputation as Deputy Registrar, Tribunal under Criminal Law Amendment Act, Chennai, while Tmt. G. Pushkala, P.A. to Hon’ble Judges, was working as P.A. on deputation in the said Tribunal, called her house in the midnights and caused mental torture and agony to her and that even after her transfer from the said Tribunal, you had harassed her again and again by words and deeds, thereby outraged her modesty and caused mental torture and agony to her and thus committed the acts of misconduct unbecoming of a Government Servant for which you are liable to be punished under the Tamil Nadu Civil Services (Discipline and Appeal) Rules.”
- The Respondent/delinquent – K. Muthukumarasamy denied the charges leveled against him and submitted his written statement which led to the holding of a disciplinary proceeding against him. In the course of the said proceeding, six witnesses were examined in support of the charges leveled and a large number of documents were also exhibited. The Respondent – K. Muthukumarasamy i.e. the delinquent also examined one witness and exhibited certain documents in support of his case. The defence, it may be noticed at this stage, was to the effect that the two slips of paper which were claimed to have been handed over to the complainant by the delinquent (Exhibits P-2 and P-3) were actually part of his preparation/collection of materials for a dissertation which the delinquent was preparing in connection with his Master of Laws examination. According to the delinquent, the aforesaid slips were missing from his drawer and despite searching for the same he could not locate the said slips. The further defence of the delinquent was that the complainant had borrowed a sum of ` 10,000/- from his wife and it is to avoid the said loan that the false story of sexual harassment on the basis of the slips of paper marked as Exhibit P-2 and P-3 were introduced by her. Referring to the second charge, it is the defence of the delinquent that he had made phone calls to the complainant in connection with the loan that she had taken from his wife.
- The Enquiry Officer returned a verdict of guilt against the delinquent. The said report, after a copy thereof was furnished to the delinquent and his explanations obtained, was considered by the learned Chief Justice of the High Court who by an elaborate order came to the conclusion that the charges against the delinquent, as found by the Enquiry Officer, were indeed proved. The learned Chief Justice of the High Court in the facts of the case thought it proper to impose the punishment of compulsory retirement which punishment was communicated to the delinquent by an order of the learned Registrar General of the High Court dated 10th October, 2002.
- Against the order of Compulsory Retirement imposed by the Disciplinary Authority, the delinquent moved the High Court by instituting a writ proceeding registered as Writ Petition No. 29024 of 2003. Earlier thereto, the complainant had filed another Writ Petition i.e. Writ Petition No. 10157 of 2000 seeking certain declarations, particularly, with regard to the constitution of a Committee to go into the cases of sexual harassment in the Registry of the High Court. Both the Writ Petitions came to be heard together. While the Writ Petition filed by the complainant was dismissed, the one filed by the delinquent was allowed giving rise to the present appeals before us.
- A reading of the very elaborate order of the High Court would seem to indicate that the High Court thought it proper to reverse the penalty imposed on the ground that the findings of the Enquiry Officer and the Disciplinary Authority leading to the impugned order of punishment were highly improbable and unacceptable. The contents of the dissertation marked as Exhibit D-14 were referred to the impugned judgment and the striking familiarity of the language used therein with the contents of Exhibit P-2 and P-3 were taken into account by the High Court to come to the conclusion that the charges of handing over of slips of paper as act of sexual harassment were not proved. The High Court, in the face of the admission of the delinquent that he had made the phone calls to the complainant, accepted the explanation offered to the effect that such phone calls were in connection with the loan taken by the complainant. It is on the aforesaid broad basis that the High Court had thought it proper to exercise its jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution of India to reverse the findings of the Enquiry Officer as accepted by the Disciplinary Authority and the consequential punishment imposed on the delinquent. In this regard, the High Court seems to have understood certain observations made by this Court in Mathura Prasad v. Union of India [SC/8620/2006 : (2007) 1 SCC 437] to mean that findings of fact recorded in a disciplinary enquiry would be open to challenge even when errors may not be apparent on the face of the record.
- We have read and considered the elaborate order passed by the learned Chief Justice of the High Court, acting as the Disciplinary Authority, accepting the findings of the enquiry and imposing the punishment in question. The learned Chief Justice in his order has discussed the evidence of all the six witnesses examined in support of the charges and has categorically held that the evidence of PW-1-complainant and PW-2-her husband stood corroborated by the evidence of PW-3, PW-4, PW-5 and PW-6 who are co-employees of the delinquent. The learned Chief Justice had also specifically recorded his reasons for holding that the issue with regard to the similarity of the contents of dissertation with the contents of Exhibit P-2 and P-3 would be immaterial in the present case.
- Undoubtedly, in the exercise of the writ jurisdiction, the High court would have the power and competence to disturb findings of fact so long such findings are opposed to the weight of the materials on record and the view taken cannot be sustained on a reasonable consideration of such materials. This wholesome power has to be exercised by the High Courts only on a careful appraisal of the facts of a given case. Care must be taken. Not to act as a Court of Appeal or in review of the decisions of the fact finding authority. The decision of this Court in Yoginath D. Bagde v. State of Maharashtra and Anr. reported in SC/0583/1999 : (1999) 7 SCC 739 (Para 51) relied upon by the learned Counsel for the Respondent is coincidentally to the above effect. It also appears to us from the order of the High Court that additional materials not produced before the Enquiry Officer were also considered by the learned Judges in coming to the impugned conclusions. It is, therefore, clear that the High Court had exceeded its jurisdiction in coming to the impugned findings with regard to the culpability of the delinquent and in reversing the order of Compulsory Retirement.
- We, therefore, set aside the order of the High Court; allow both the appeals and restore the order of the Disciplinary Authority, namely, the compulsory retirement of the Respondent – delinquent employee with effect from the date on which it was made.
- We are told that during the pendency of the present appeals the Respondent delinquent employee has completed the period of his service. What should be the consequences that should now visit the delinquent including his pensionary entitlements is a matter that we leave to the discretion of the Disciplinary Authority which power will naturally be exercised in accordance with known principles of law in this regard. Both the appeals shall stand allowed in terms of the above.