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Negligence Without Ill Motive is Not Misconduct, Says Bombay HC

A division bench of Justices Ranjit More and N J Jamadar said this last week while hearing a petition filed by Satyendra Singh Gurjar, an appraiser in Customs department.

PTI

Updated:December 24, 2019, 2:56 PM IST
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Negligence Without Ill Motive is Not Misconduct, Says Bombay HC
File photo of Bombay High Court.

Mumbai: Negligence or lapse in performance of duty, error of judgment or innocent mistake in the absence of ill motive does not constitute 'misconduct', the Bombay High Court said while quashing a tribunal order holding a customs officer guilty of misconduct.

A division bench of Justices Ranjit More and N J Jamadar said this last week while hearing a petition filed by Satyendra Singh Gurjar, an appraiser in Customs department.

Gurjar challenged a November 2017 order of the Central Administrative Tribunal, finding him guilty of misconduct under the Central Civil Services (CCA) Rules.

A departmental inquiry was initiated against the petitioner in 2006 for clearing a consignment by making a false report that he had examined 40 packages, despite the consignment not being detained in the area of his jurisdiction.

While the consignment owner claimed it contained baby products like toothbrushes and powders, a random search conducted by the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) revealed counterfeit watches in the consignment.

Gurjar's counsels Devanshi Singh and Sujay Kantawala argued that there was no element of any mens rea (intent) on part of the petitioner to cause wrongful gain to the importer and/or wrongful loss to the revenue.

They further argued that Gurjar made an inadvertent mistake by issuing the clearance, as he was handed the bill of the consignment along with other bills of those entry points which fall under his jurisdiction.

The bench in its judgment noted that an act which is tainted with ill motive, moral turpitude and improper or unlawful behaviour with an element of willfulness falls within the mischief of misconduct.

"Negligence or lapse in performance of duty, errors of judgment or innocent mistake, on the other hand, stand at the other end of the spectrum and generally do not constitute a misconduct," the court said in its judgment.

The court said in the present case, there was no intent on part of the petitioner to either assist the importer nor there was any intent to cause wrongful loss to the revenue (of the government).

"Though there was a lapse on part of the petitioner in issuing the charge order, undoubtedly without inspecting the consignment in question; yet it cannot be said to be such a gross negligence as would constitute misconduct," the court observed.

The high court further noted that perusal of facts and circumstances of the case lead to a legitimate inference that the act on part of the petitioner was the result of negligence and carelessness.

"It falls short of misconduct," the bench said.

The court subsequently quashed and set aside the tribunal's order against Gurjar.

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