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In an order passed by the Supreme Court recently, it expressed concern over the growing trend of penalizing judicial officers on account of agitations and demonstrations by others, regardless of the extent of their fault.
The Apex Court opined that judicial officers are being made “scapegoats” and punished through ways like inconvenient transfers and such, whenever there is an agitation against such an officer. As remarked by the Bench of Justices Indira Banerjee and BR Gavai,
“It is a disturbing trend nowadays that Judicial Officers are made scapegoats and penalized whether by inconvenient transfers or otherwise, whenever there are agitations/ demonstrations against the Judicial Officers whether by Advocates or others, irrespective of the extent of the fault or responsibility of the Judicial Officers concerned.”
The observations were made while upholding an order of a Division Bench of the Calcutta High Court to reinstate a judicial officer who was made to compulsorily retire from service.
The Judicial Officer in question had a dual charge of which Railway Magistrate was one. On suspicion of illegal activities involving smuggling of contraband, he registered a suo motu case and directed that a train driver and train guard be present in Court. This triggered protests by railway employees in open Court.
The furore prompted the Calcutta High Court to carry out a discreet inquiry. Subsequently the Judicial Officer was suspended and, thereafter, made to voluntarily retire. The punishment was approved by the Full Court of the Calcutta High Court. A writ plea challenging this decision was dismissed by a Single Judge Bench. The Division Bench, however, reversed the decision of the Single Judge and reinstated the Magistrate. It also imposed costs of Rs. 1 lakh on itself.
When the matter came before the Supreme Court in appeal, the Apex Court set aside the order as to costs but upheld the decision of reinstatement.
The Supreme Court observed that the action against the Judicial Officer was prompted by the agitation by the railway employees. It further highlighted that no justification was demanded of these employees for disruption of services. The employees were not examined for raising abusive slogans and hurling abuses at the Magistrate while threatening him in open Court.
The Court also stated, that there was no mala fide proven on the part of the Judicial Officer for taking suo motu cognizance of the problem. The Court observed that the Magistrate may have carried out some activities which were not in line with the norms and rules, but his ill intent was not proven. The Bench further observed that an error in the Magistrate’s judgment cannot be said to amount to misconduct. As observed in the order
“In his idealistic exuberance as Railway Magistrate he felt he could not shut his eyes to unlawful activities within his jurisdiction, by a group of Railway employees, in connivance with each other, and thus sprang into action. He assumed the role of a righteous ‘Don Quixote’ zealously fighting perceived wrong, and in the process he stirred up a hornets’ nest, which led to his suspension, disciplinary proceedings and an order of compulsory retirement, which has, in our considered opinion, very rightly been set aside by the Division Bench of Calcutta High Court.”
The Court proceeded to dismiss the appeal filed challenging the High Court Division Bench judgement, with the observation that the High Court should consider amending the West Bengal Judicial Service (Classification, Control and Appeal) Rules, 2007, particularly Rule 16. In this regard, the judgment notes,
“The High Court is requested to consider recommending amendment of the 2007 Rules, particularly Rule 16 which is ex facie invalid, in that, an appeal made to the Governor has to be referred to the High Court for opinion. In other words, the High Court takes a decision and an appeal therefrom must be decided on the basis of the opinion of the same High Court, which is absurd.”
[Read the Order]