The Supreme Court has said that demanding money as illegal gratification while working in courts is "unacceptable" and very high standards apply to not only judges but also those employed there.
The apex court observed this while modifying the punishment given to a man, who was posted in a district court in Bihar and was dismissed from service on the charge of having demanded Rs 50,000 for acquittal of the accused in a case, to removal so that he may explore the possibility of another employment.
A bench of Justices A M Khanwilkar and C T Ravikumar was told by the counsel appearing for the appellant that for the last 24 years, the man had an unblemished service and this was the first allegation against him. "You (appellant) were working in court and demanding money…, the bench observed, adding that the appellant had admitted his guilt.
The top court was hearing a plea filed by the man against the January 2020 order of a division bench of the Patna High Court which had dismissed his plea against the single judge bench verdict. The single judge had in January 2018 refused to interfere with the punishment imposed upon the man, who was earlier posted in the office of a presiding officer of a court in Aurangabad.
During the arguments before the top court, the counsel appearing for the appellant said that the man was dismissed from service in 2014 and the punishment imposed upon him was extremely harsh. Why do you say harsh? It is after inquiry, is it not? the bench observed.
The counsel said the appellant was exonerated by the enquiry officer in the first inquiry. He said later, a fresh departmental proceeding was directed to be initiated and the charges were held to be proved against him.
"The appellant has admitted his guilt. That is the finding, the bench observed, adding, If you admit your guilt, what else can be done, tell us. When the appellant's counsel argued that if possible, the service be restored, the bench observed there is no question of reinstatement.
Working in court and demanding money, that is unacceptable, the bench orally said. The bench noted that the appellant has been dismissed from service by way of penalty, having admitted his guilt to the charges levelled against him.
After hearing counsel for the parties and keeping in mind the past service record of the appellant, to which our attention was invited to, in our opinion, interest of justice would be subserved by modifying the punishment from dismissal to removal so that the appellant may be able to explore possibility of another employment elsewhere, the court said. In its order, the division bench of the high court had noted that the man was proceeded against on the charge of having demanded Rs 50,000 for acquittal of the accused persons in a case.
It had noted that a preliminary enquiry was made and a report was submitted before the standing committee, which directed the District and Sessions Judge, Aurangabad, to initiate disciplinary proceedings against him. The high court had also noted that after holding the enquiry, the District and Sessions Judge had submitted his report to the standing committee, which was considered and turned down by it with a direction to initiate disciplinary proceedings against the delinquent afresh in the high court.
In the second enquiry report, the charges were held to be established and proved against the man and accordingly, he was given the punishment of dismissal from service with immediate effect.