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The notion that no action can be taken against government employees for their wrongdoings must stop: Bombay High Court

The Bombay High Court has upheld that the notion that no action can be taken against government employees for their wrongdoings must be stopped through Justices G.S. Patel & Gauri Godse in the case of Jaising Nivrutti Sonawane v. Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (WRIT PETITION NO. 5118 OF 2005)

FACTS OF THE CASE:

The Writ Petitioner was the Appellant. He was a bus conductor with the Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation Pune Division (“MSRTC”). On 12th December 1995, he was on duty on a Bus when inspections squad checked the bus at Lonavala. The inspection squad found that Sonawane had wrongly punched the tickets. There was an excess amount of Rs. 24.90 in Sonawane’s possession. Sonawane seems to have punched the tickets from Borivali to Pune, i.e. the return travel, rather than from Pune to Borivali for six of the guests on board. The ticket numbers were found. Each ticket’s denomination was also different. The inspections squad discovered that, in addition to these six tickets, other tickets were duly punched and shown in the Way Bill. However, there was no entry in the Way Bill for the six tickets that he presumably incorrectly punched. These tickets were confiscated. The inaccurate punching indicated that the journey’s starting place or origin was incorrect.

The charge-sheet was issued to Sonawane and after conducting an inquiry, his services were terminated.

Sonawane filed a complaint  under Maharashtra  Recognition of Trade Unions and Prevention of Unfair Labour  Practices Act 1971 . He ultimately  withdrew this. He then filed complaint No. 21 of 1997 under the  same Act. That was also withdrawn. Then he raised an industrial dispute and a reference came to be made to the Labour Court under  Section 10(1) and 12 (5) read with Section 2A of the Industrial Disputes Act 1947.  The Labour Court allowed both sides to lead evidence. It considered the rival submissions. It finally made an Award dismissing Sonawane’s reference. Sonawane then filed the Writ Petition assailing the Labour Court Award. 

JUDGEMENT:

The Court observed that as to the generality of the proposition that proportionality is crucial in any decision-making process, there cannot be any doubt. But this does not mean that every infraction has to be allowed to be got away with just a slap on the wrist, as it was. When one assesses the doctrine of proportionality, one looks not only at the immediate cause inviting punishment but also at the entire context and, in a given case, a pattern or a history of conduct, especially past conduct.

The court found Sonawane’s lawyer’s contention that there was no genuine defalcation and misappropriation to be unconvincing. It was observed that “It means that unless somebody actually commits theft, no action can be taken even if the person is apprehended while in the process of attempting a wrongdoing.”

Furthermore, it was held that the approach in the country of believing that when one works for government no action can ever be taken no matter how persistently one is found to be doing wrong is an approach that needs to now stop as fast as possible.The bench stated that it is settled law that if a decision does not reflect points actually argued and canvassed it is for counsel to make an application to the Judge, whether orally or by submitting a note requesting that those arguments be recorded and be dealt with. Without doing this it is unacceptable and impermissible to assail an order either on the ground that the impugned order does not reflect an argument never made or does not reflect a submission or argument that was made.

Thus, the Court did not see a reason to interfere with the impugned order. The Appeal was dismissed accordingly. 

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JUDGEMENT REVIEWED BY REETI SHETTY

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