Suspension Orders and corruption allegations against Public Officials: What Madras HC held

Suspension Orders and corruption allegations against Public Officials: What Madras HC held

The Madras High Court recently ruled that disciplinary proceedings initiated against public officials on allegations of corruption cannot be quashed merely because there was a delay in issuing the suspension order.

Justice SM Subramaniam has passed an order to this effect.

… this Court is of an undoubted opinion that in respect of the corruption cases, the initiation of disciplinary proceedings, more so, an order of suspension cannot be quashed merely on the ground that there is a delay in issuing an order of suspension.

While doing so, Justice Subramaniam also emphasised that the scope of judicial review when it comes to suspension orders passed against state functionaries is limited.

Judicial review against the order of suspension has to be exercised cautiously as the order of suspension is initiation of disciplinary proceedings and the merits and the demerits of the allegations can never be adjudicated. All such complex facts and circumstances are to be adjudicated only at the time of conducting an enquiry by affording the opportunity to the delinquent officials.

Ordinarily, the Court cannot adjudicate on the merits of a suspension order. It was noted that the Court can only intervene in such cases where the suspension order is passed without jurisdiction or in violation of a statute.

The reason for the same has also been summarised in the order thus:

… an order of suspension is not a final order. It is only initiation of disciplinary proceedings against an employee. Thus, the writ against the order of suspension can be entertained only on certain limited grounds.

The order of suspension can never be adjudicated in respect of the nature of the allegations or the complaint filed against the delinquent officials. All those allegations, counter allegations, documents are to be enquired into by the competent authorities and thereafter, a charge memo is to be issued and an enquiry is to be conducted by affording opportunity to the delinquent officials.”

The order was passed in a case involving the suspension of a Tahsildar on allegations of corruption. A criminal complaint against the Tahsildar was launched in 2016. However, it was only in October 2018 that the District Collector issued a suspension order against the Tahsildar on the basis of the 2016 corruption allegations.

While this was the case, the Tahsildar had moved the High Court, arguing that the suspension order was liable to be set aside since no action was taken on the 2016 corruption allegations for about 2 years. He had also contested the merits of the corruption allegations. However, in line with the above observations, the High Court declined to allow his plea, noting that,

… suspension is not a punishment. Suspension is an interim arrangement to keep the public servant away from performing the official duties and responsibilities for the purpose of conducting free and fair investigation and enquiries. Suspension being an interim arrangement, cannot be quashed based on the merits of the allegations nor on the basis of certain documents or complaint.

The Court passed the order after also noting that the delay in initiating action was attributed to the District Collector being unaware of the corruption allegations against the Tashildar up until then. On being informed of the same, appropriate actions were initiated, the Court was told.

Corruption in the nation is spreading like cancer

The Court was also prompted to pass the ruling on the ground that corruption in the country was on the rise. Justice Subramaniam opined,

Corruption is spreading like a Cancer in our great Nation. Courts cannot show any leniency or misplaced sympathy in respect of the corruption cases…The cases of corruption cannot be dealt with in a routine manner. Some amount of caution is to be exercised.”

On this note, the Court also recommended the introduction of a citizen’s charter to ensure more accountability from public functionaries. The order states,

The State Government has to take necessary steps to issue Citizen Charter, in order to regulate the issuance of all necessary and mandatory certificates to the citizen, who all are submitting their respective applications. Some States in our Country has already implemented the Citizen Charter by fixing the limit for issuance of the Legal Heir Certificate, Death Certificate, Nativity Certificate and all other certificates or documents.

Such an effort must be taken by the State Government, enabling the people to redress their grievances within a reasonable period of time. In the absence of any such Citizen Charter, it may not be possible to regulate these authorities to issue all the necessary certificates within a reasonable time.

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