State’s confidence in conduct of police integral for maintaining law & order: SC

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New Delhi, Oct 29 (PTI) State’s confidence in the conduct of those appointed in police is integral to its duty to maintaining law and order, the Supreme Court said on Thursday while setting aside the Rajasthan High Court direction to reinstate a constable, who was accused in a murder case and later acquitted.

The apex court said that acquittal in criminal trial did not conclude the disciplinary proceedings, convened on a serious charge of misconduct against the constable who was later dismissed from service.

A bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and Indira Banerjee said this in its verdict on an appeal by Rajasthan against the April last year order of the high court’s division bench which had ordered reinstatement of the constable saying there was no evidence in the disciplinary enquiry to sustain the finding that he had committed the murder while on leave from duty.

“The verdict of the criminal trial did not conclude the disciplinary enquiry. The disciplinary enquiry was not governed by proof beyond reasonable doubt or by the rules of evidence which governed the criminal trial,” the top court said in its verdict.

The bench said there are circumstances emerging from record of the disciplinary proceedings which bring “legitimacy to the contention of the state that to reinstate such an employee back in service will erode the credibility of and public confidence in the image of the police force”.

“Therefore, the direction of the division bench for reinstatement is set aside. In exercise of the jurisdiction under Article 142 of the Constitution, we direct that the cessation from service will notionally take place on the respondent (constable) completing minimum qualifying service,” it said, while upholding the high court’s direction that he shall not be entitled to back wages.

The apex court noted in its verdict that involvement of a member of police service in a heinous crime, if it is established, has a direct bearing on the confidence of society in the police and in this case, on his ability to serve as a member of the force.

“Confidence of the state in the conduct and behaviour of persons it has appointed to the police is integral to its duty to maintain law and order,” the bench said.

The apex court said in its judgement that in exercising judicial review in disciplinary matters, there are two ends of spectrum.

“The first embodies a rule of restraint. The second defines when interference is permissible. The rule of restraint constricts the ambit of judicial review. This is for a valid reason.

'The determination of whether a misconduct has been committed lies primarily within the domain of the disciplinary authority. The judge does not assume the mantle of the disciplinary authority. Nor does the judge wear the hat of an employer,” the bench said.

It said disciplinary enquiries have to abide by the rules of natural justice but they are not governed by strict rules of evidence which apply to judicial proceedings.

“Proportionality is an entrenched feature of our jurisprudence. Service jurisprudence has recognized it for long years in allowing for the authority of the court to interfere when the finding or the penalty are disproportionate to the weight of the evidence or misconduct.

'Judicial craft lies in maintaining a steady sail between the banks of these two shores which have been termed as the two ends of the spectrum,” the bench said.

“Judges do not rest with a mere recitation of the hands-off mantra when they exercise judicial review,” it added.

The man was appointed as a constable in Rajasthan Police in 1992 and in August 2002, he proceeded on leave and had to report back on duty on 16 August.

He failed to join his duty on time and eventually reported for work on August 19.

On 15 August, 2002 a written complaint was lodged at police station regarding death of a man in an accident and later, the constable was arrested along with two others in connection with the murder case.

During the pendency of the criminal trial, a memorandum was issued in January 2003 to him, followed by a charge-sheet, convening disciplinary proceedings under the provisions of the Rajasthan Civil Services (Classification, Control and Appeal) Rules.

He was acquitted by the trial court in the case in October 2003.

However, in the disciplinary enquiry he was eventually dismissed from service following which he had moved the high court.

A single judge bench of the high court had rejected his plea.

Later, the division bench of the high court directed his reinstatement in service with consequential benefits but without back-wages. PTI ABA MNL SJK SA