The Supreme Court on Monday ruled that any civil servant who exposes corruption and other illicit acts by knocking on the doors of a court cannot be subjected to disciplinary proceedings.
A bench of Justices J Chelameswar and A K Sikri said that if a bureaucrat files a petition, alleging that the government was lax in discharging its constitutional obligations of establishing the rule of law, his or her conduct does not imply that he or she failed to maintain absolute integrity and devotion to duty, or indulged in conduct unbecoming of a member of the service.
“Clearly the rule only prohibits criticism of the policies of the government or making of any statement which is likely to embarrass the relations between the government of India and a foreign state or the government of India and the government of a state. Allegations of maladministration, in our opinion, do not fall within the ambit of any of the three categories (warranting disciplinary actions),” said the bench.
It added, “The right to judicial remedies for the redressal of either personal or public grievances is a constitutional right of the subjects of this country. Employees of the state cannot become members of a different and inferior class to whom such right is not available.”
The court issued the ruling while quashing disciplinary proceeding against IAS officer Vijay Shankar Pandey. The proceeding had been initiated against Pandey under charges of misconduct after he joined a campaign to bring back black money stashed abroad. He had actively participated as a member of a social group that filed a PIL and prompted the Supreme Court to pass a judgement on setting up a special investigation team to retrieve black money. He also gave his personal affidavit in the matter.
While an enquiry officer had given Pandey a clean chit after proceeding were initiated, authorities refused to accept this view and set up another board in September 2012 to look into his conduct.
The bench said that the purpose behind these proceedings appeared “calculated to harass the appellant since he dared to point out certain aspects of maladministration in the government of India” and that the order of a second inquiry was “wholly untenable”.
“The whole attempt appears to be to suppress any probe into the question of black money by whatever means, fair or foul. The present impugned proceedings are nothing but a part of the strategy to intimidate not only the appellant but also to send a signal to others who might dare in future to expose any maladministration,” it noted.
Highlighting that the petition filed by Pandey led to some effective orders, the court said, “The Constitution declares that India is a sovereign democratic Republic. The requirement of such democratic republic is that every action of the State is to be informed with reason. State is not a hierarchy of regressively genuflecting coterie of bureaucracy.” The court also directed the authorities to pay Rs 5 lakh to Pandey.