New Delhi, March 25
The Supreme Court (SC) has set aside the Centre’s September 2019 decision to compulsorily retire an Indian Revenue Service (IRS) officer, saying the order failed to satisfy the public interest test.
“The order is punitive in nature and was passed to short-circuit the disciplinary proceedings pending against the appellant and ensure his immediate removal,” a Bench of Justice AS Bopanna and Justice Hima Kohli said, allowing IRS officer Captain Pramod Kumar Bajaj’s appeal against the May 31, 2022, order of the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court that had upheld a decision of the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT), Principal Bench.
The tribunal had turned down his petition challenging the September 27, 2019, order passed by the Central Board of Direct Taxes, Department of Revenue, Ministry of Finance, communicating the decision of the President of India to compulsorily retire him in exercise of powers conferred under Rule 56(j) of the Fundamental Rules.
However, writing the judgment for the Bench, Justice Kohli said, “In view of the above discussion, it is deemed appropriate to reverse the impugned judgment dated May 31, 2022, and quash and set aside the order dated September 27, 2019, passed by the respondents, compulsorily retiring the appellant. Resultantly, the adverse consequences, if any, flowing from the said order of compulsory retirement imposed on the appellant, are also set aside.”
The court noted, “The impugned order of compulsory retirement was passed in this case on September 27, 2019, whereas the appellant was to superannuate in ordinary course in January 2020. There appears an apparent contradiction in the approach of the respondents who had till as late as in July 2019 continued to grade the appellant as ‘outstanding’ and had assessed his integrity as ‘beyond doubt’. But in less than three months reckoned therefrom, the respondents had turned turtle to arrive at the conclusion that he deserved to be compulsorily retired.”
The top court said, “If the appellant was worthy of being continued in service for little short of a decade after he had attained the age of 50 years and of being granted an overall grade of 9 on the scale of 1 to 10 on July 31, 2019, it has not been shown as to what had transpired thereafter that made the respondents resort to FR 56(j) and invoke the public interest doctrine to compulsorily retire him with just three months of service left for his retirement, in routine. In such a case, this court is inclined to pierce the smoke screen and in doing so, we are of the firm view that the order of compulsory retirement in the given facts and circumstances of the case cannot be sustained.”
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