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Whether a compulsory retirement order can be set aside if it is found to be punitive?

Court name – Supreme Court

Judgement Name – Captain Pramod Kumar Bajaj v. Union of India and Another, CIVIL APPEAL NO. 6161 OF 2022

Judgement date – March 03, 2023

Judges/bench – A.S. Bopanna, Hima Kohli


Introduction –

The present case revolves around the power vested in Rule 56(j) of the Fundamental Rules. The main issue before the Court was whether the respondents’ order of compulsory retirement was based on valid evidence and was in the public interest. Brief facts of the Case – The appellant was dissatisfied with the judgement of the Allahabad High Court, which upheld the order of the Central Administrative Tribunal. The tribunal had turned down his challenge to an order passed by the CBDT communicating the President of India’s decision to retire him compulsorily. The appellant passed the Civil Services Examination and was appointed as an Officer in the Indian Revenue Service’s 1990 Batch. Eventually, he was promoted to Commissioner in the Department of Income Tax. While some proceedings were pending, the respondents proceeded to compulsorily retire the appellant approximately three months before his superannuation date. He appealed to the Tribunal the final order of compulsory retirement and the subsequent order of the Representation Committee declining to intervene in the order of mandatory retirement. The High Court dismissed and upheld the petition.


Contentions of the Appellant/s –

The appellant’s contentions were:

§ Firstly, It was submitted that the prejudice was caused to him due to the active involvement of the Additional Director General (Vigilance) as a Member of the Internal Committee and the involvement of the Chairman of the CBDT in the meeting of the Review Committee.

§ Secondly, the appellant contended that the impugned order of his pre-mature retirement is punitive and has been passed solely to prevent him from an opportunity to be appointed as Member ITAT. However, it did not reach fruition due to the hurdles made
by the respondents, who retained his vigilance clearance without a justifiable reason and followed by a disciplinary enquiry against him on baseless charges.

§ Lastly, it was submitted that the High Court had overlooked the Annual Performance Assessment Report of the appellant, which was flawless. Furthermore, he was graded as ‘outstanding ‘, and his integrity was evaluated as ‘Beyond Doubt’.


Contentions of the Respondent/s –

The respondent’s contentions were:

§ It was contended that the impugned judgment is well-reasoned and does not deserve interference. Additionally, the order of compulsory retirement was passed after the duly consideration of the appellant’s entire service record . The Tribunal carefully considered the material relied upon by the respondents for passing an order under FR 56(j) and before dismissing the Original Application filed by the appellant as meritless, it was also contended that the allegations of institutional malice and bias levelled are ill-founded.

§ The scope of an enquiry under FR 56(j) is limited and the standard of adjudication is a subjective opinion as to an officer’s suitability to continue in service, keeping in mind the public interest.

§ It was also submitted that a charge sheet was lying against the appellant for major penalty proceedings, which he unsuccessfully challenged before the tribunal . It was submitted on behalf of respondents that courts should generally refrain from returning findings of the allegations against the concerned officer. After an order of compulsory retirement has been passed bona fide without any extraneous motive, there is no justification for interference.

Principles and observations of the Court –

(a) Principle 1 The bench noted that, even though FR 56(j) provides the absolute right to respondents to retire a government servant in the public interest and that such an order could have been issued against the appellant at any time after he reached the age of fifty, the respondents did not make such a decision until the very end of his career.

(b) Principle 2 The bench stated that if the appellant was worthy of being continued in service for a little less than a decade after reaching the age of 50 years and of being granted an overall grade of 9 on July 31 2019, it has not been demonstrated what happened thereafter that caused the respondents to invoke the public interest doctrine under FR 56(j)to compulsorily retire him with only three months of service left for his retirement.


Judgement held-

The apex court quashed the respondent’s order, compulsorily retiring the appellant. It said the order was punitive and was passed to short-circuit the pending disciplinary proceedings against the appellant and ensure his immediate removal. Further, it said that the
impugned order passed by the respondents could not be sustained as it fails to satisfy the test of serving the public’s interest. Accordingly, the appeal was allowed.


Your Opinion –

I opine with the apex court. It can be observed from the facts and circumstances of the case that the respondents wanted the immediate removal of the appellant. In addition, the said order failed the test of serving the public’s interest, which is a significant factor while applying Fundamental Rule 56(j). Hence, the Supreme Court rightly struck down the respondent’s order.


By: Stuti Nayak.

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