The Supreme Court on Friday upheld the dismissal of ISRO scientist for unauthorized absence and publication of paper without permission.
The bench of Justices A.S. Bopanna and Hima Kohli was dealing with the appeal challenging the judgment passed by the Bombay High Court dismissing a writ petition preferred by appellant against an order passed by the Executive Council of Goa University (Disciplinary Authority) accepting the Report of the Standing Committee for Prevention of Sexual Harassment at Work Place and imposing upon him, a major penalty of dismissal from services and disqualification from the future employment under Rule 11(IX) of the Central Civil Services (Classification, Control and Appeal) Rules, 1965 which was duly upheld by the Governor and the Chancellor of Goa University, being the Appellate Authority.
In this case, The appellant commenced his career in the respondent no. 2 – Goa University as a Temporary Lecturer in the Department of Political Science, in 1996.
It is the appellant’s version, which is strongly refuted by the other side, that aggrieved by the passing of a resolution by the Departmental Council of the Department of Political Science against them, two girl students along with their friends submitted a complaint to the respondent no.2 – University, alleging physical harassment at his hands.
The Committee served a notice on the appellant calling upon him to explain the charges levelled against him in nine complaints and to appear before it for a personal hearing on 24th April, 2009, a date that was subsequently changed to 27 April, 2009.
Contemporaneously, the Registrar of the respondent no. 2 – University directed the appellant to hand over charge and proceed on leave till the conclusion of the inquiry.
The High Court observed that the Committee had granted ample opportunities to the appellant to cross-examine the complainants and the witnesses, but he had deliberately elected not to appear before it. In such circumstances, the Committee could not be blamed for proceeding ex-parte against him and submitting its Report.
It was also held that the Committee was justified in discarding the medical certificates submitted by the appellant as he kept on making flimsy excuses to stay away from the enquiry proceedings.
The issue for consideration before the bench was:
Whether the order passed by the High Court needs interference or not?
The bench observed that Article 309 does not by itself provide for recruitment or conditions of service of Government servants, but confers this power on the appropriate legislature to make the laws and on the President and the Government of a State to make rules relating to these matters. The expression “conditions of service” in Article 309 takes in its sweep all those conditions that regulate holding of a post by a person which begins from the time he enters the service till his retirement and even post-retirement, in relation to matters like pension, pending disciplinary proceedings, etc. This expression also includes the right to dismiss such a person from service.
Supreme Court stated that principles of natural justice that are reflected in Article 311, are not an empty incantation. They form the very bedrock of Article 14 and any violation of these principles tantamounts to a violation of Article 14 of the Constitution. Denial of the principles of natural justice to a public servant can invalidate a decision taken on the ground that it is hit by the vice of arbitrariness and would result in depriving a public servant of equal protection of law.
The bench referred to the case of Rustom Cavasjee Cooper v. Union of India where it was held that “The principle of reasonableness, which legally as well as philosophically, is an essential element of equality or non-arbitrariness pervades Article 14 like a brooding omnipresence and the procedure contemplated by Article 21 must answer the test of reasonableness in order to be in conformity with Article 14.”
Supreme Court opined that to satisfy itself that no injustice has been meted out to the appellant, the High Court was required to examine the decision-making process and not just the final outcome. In other words, in exercise of powers of judicial review, the High Court does not sit as an Appellate Authority over the factual findings recorded in the departmental proceedings as long as those findings are reasonably supported by evidence and have been arrived at through proceedings that cannot be faulted on account of procedural illegalities or irregularities that may have vitiated the process by which the decision was arrived at.
The bench stated that however salutary this enactment may be, it will never succeed in providing dignity and respect that women deserve at the workplace unless and until there is strict adherence to the enforcement regime and a proactive approach by all the State and non-State actors. If the working environment continues to remain hostile, insensitive and unresponsive to the needs of women employees, then the Act will remain an empty formality. If the authorities/managements/employers cannot assure them a safe and secure workplace, they will fear stepping out of their homes to make a dignified living and exploit their talent and skills to the hilt. It is, therefore, time for the Union Government and the State Governments to take affirmative action and make sure that the altruistic object behind enacting the PoSH Act is achieved in real terms.
Supreme Court issued directions on implementation of Sexual Harrasment of women at Workplace Act:
“To fulfil the promise that the PoSH Act holds out to working women all over the country, it is deemed appropriate to issue the following directions :
(i) The Union of India, all State Governments and Union Territories are directed to undertake a timebound exercise to verify as to whether all the concerned Ministries, Departments, Government organizations, authorities, Public Sector Undertakings, institutions, bodies, etc. have constituted ICCs/LCs/ICs, as the case may be and that the composition of the said Committees are strictly in terms of the provisions of the PoSH Act.
(ii) It shall be ensured that necessary information regarding the constitution and composition of the ICCs/LCs/ICs, details of the e-mail IDs and contact numbers of the designated person(s), the procedure prescribed for submitting an online complaint, as also the relevant rules, regulations and internal policies are made readily available on the website of the concerned Authority/Functionary/ Organisation/Institution/Body, as the case may be. The information furnished shall also be updated from time to time.
(iii) A similar exercise shall be undertaken by all the Statutory bodies of professionals at the Apex level and the State level (including those regulating doctors, lawyers, architects, chartered accountants, cost accountants, engineers, bankers and other professionals), by Universities, colleges, Training Centres and educational institutions and by government and private hospitals/nursing homes.
(iv) Immediate and effective steps shall be taken by the authorities/ managements/employers to familiarize members of the ICCs/LCs/ICs with their duties and the manner in which an inquiry ought to be conducted on receiving a complaint of sexual harassment at the workplace, from the point when the complaint is received, till the inquiry is finally concluded and the Report submitted.
(v) The authorities/management/employers shall regularly conduct orientation programmes, workshops, seminars and awareness programmes to upskill members of the ICCs/LCs/ICs and to educate women employees and women’s groups about the provisions of the Act, the Rules and relevant regulations.
(vi) The National Legal Services Authority(NALSA) and the State Legal Services Authorities(SLSAs) shall develop modules to conduct workshops and organize awareness programmes to sensitize authorities/managements/employers, employees and adolescent groups with the provisions of the Act, which shall be included in their annual calendar.
(vii) The National Judicial Academy and the State Judicial Academies shall include in their annual calendars, orientation programmes, seminars and workshops for capacity building of members of the ICCs/LCs/ICs established in the High Courts and District Courts and for drafting Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to conduct an inquiry under the Act and Rules.
(viii) A copy of this judgment shall be transmitted to the Secretaries of all the Ministries, Government of India who shall ensure implementation of the directions by all the concerned Departments, Statutory Authorities, Institutions, Organisations etc. under the control of the respective Ministries. A copy of the judgment shall also be transmitted to the Chief Secretaries of all the States and Union Territories who shall ensure strict compliance of these directions by all the concerned Departments. It shall be the responsibility of the Secretaries of the Ministries, Government of India and the Chief Secretaries of every State/Union Territory to ensure implementation of the directions issued.