Ignoring the requirement of public interest under Rule 67(1) Kerala Education Rules 1959, prejudicial to the intent and language of the provision: Kerala High Court

Under Rule 67(1) of the Kerala Education Rules 1959, ignorance of the Public Interest condition apart from the other three conditions for suspension of a teacher would not only be prejudicial but may amount to conferring unbridled, unguided, and absolute powers upon the manager to suspend a teacher. This judgment was passed in the case of The Manager, Zamorin’s Higher Secondary School Vs. The District Educational Officer And Anr.[Wa.1375/2020] by a Bench consisting of Hon’ble Justice Bechu Kurian Thomas and Hon’ble Justice S.V.Bhatti.

In the present case under Rule 67(8) of the Kerala Education Rules 1959, the 1st respondent directed the appellant to reinstate a teacher, after canceling an order of suspension. The appellant challenged the said order in the writ petition, but the learned Single Judge dismissed the same. Against the same order, the present appeal is preferred. The appellant had placed the 3rd Respondent under suspension on 13.02.2020 due to the registration of a crime. The 1strespondent canceled the same by the order under the impugned writ petition. Without inquiry or factual situation, the 1st respondent observed the alleged assault was not proved and that the frequent initiation of disciplinary proceedings against the 3rd respondent without adhering to the Kerala Education Rules was also adversely affecting the smooth academic atmosphere of the school apart from creating headache to the department. On the above reasoning, the order suspending the 3rd respondent was canceled. The 3rd respondent is a High School Teacher and by order dated 27-1-2020, he was under suspension pending the disciplinary proceedings as per section 67(1)(a) of chapter XIVA of KER. an application to continue the suspension was made on 03-02-2020, but the same was rejected by the 1st respondent on 10-02-2020. Meanwhile, a crime was registered against the 3rd  respondent on the basis of a private complaint filed by a student, alleging offense under sections 323, 341 of the IPC and section 75 of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015. On the information regarding the crime, the 3rd respondent was under suspension on 13.02.2020. Vide a letter on 14-02-2020, the appellant reported the suspension to the 1st respondent and also sought an extension for the period of such suspension. The said application was rejected.

The Kerala High Court after hearing the contentions of all the parties to the case, observed Rules 67(1), (3), and (8) of Kerala Education Rules 1959 indicates that the right to place a teacher under suspension is that of the manager. To place a teacher under suspension, rule 67(1) stipulates that three conditions are to be satisfied: disciplinary proceedings are contemplated or pending, an investigation for a criminal offense against the delinquent is going on, and final orders are pending in disciplinary proceedings. Apart from the aforementioned three conditions, one additional condition shall be met, i.e., suspension of the teacher is necessary for the public interest. Public interest is necessary to suspend a teacher in all the three situations mentioned in Rule 67(1) of Chapter XIVA of KER.

Under rule 67(8), one manager orders the suspension of the educational officers have to be reported on the same day, and on conduction preliminary investigation by him the suspension is justified, permission is granted to continue the order beyond 15 days. A detailed inquiry or investigation will be part of the disciplinary proceedings only. Since the investigation under Rule 67(8) is preliminary, the findings will also be preliminary.

The High Court observed that the findings of the 1st  respondent, that the alleged assault of a student was not proved can be treated only for the limited purpose of continuing the suspension of the teacher. The said observations shall not influence the disciplinary proceedings nor can they be used for any purpose in the criminal proceedings. The order to suspend a teacher has certain repercussions as far as the teacher, the school’s functioning, and the administrative functions of the education department. It is for this purpose that Rule 67(8) provides for a re-evaluation by the controlling officer at the initial stage. The existence of a public interest in suspending a teacher, therefore, looms large.

The Kerala High Court concluded by holding, “The judgment of the learned single Judge does not warrant any interference and hence the appeal is only to be dismissed. The writ appeal therefore fails and is dismissed.”

Click here for the judgment.

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