It was to be just another day of work for Mintu Mallick as he waited for a Kolkata local train at the Lake Gardens railway station to reach Sealdah on May 5, 2007. A magistrate in Sealdah, he also held additional charge of the railways.
But the Budge Budge to Sealdah local was late that day and it changed Mallick’s life.
As the railway magistrate, Mallick decided to take the officials to task and remedy the situation. However, what followed was not the train running on time but protests against him, and being compulsorily retired from service.
Last week, after 12 years, the Calcutta High Court reinstated Mallick and said he was wrongly dismissed from service. The High Court also lauded his intentions even as it concluded that he had exceeded his jurisdiction.
“This judicial officer foolishly thought that he could single-handedly take on the smuggler mafia,” the High Court said in its verdict on July 4.
While waiting for the train that May day in 2007, Mallick spoke to several passengers about why trains were invariably late in suburban Kolkata and learnt that drivers and guards played ball with smugglers by stopping the train illegally to offload contraband material.
Mallick then travelled in the motorman’s cabin though he knew it was unauthorised. He verbally directed the motorman and train guard to appear before his court and file a report on why the train was delayed. The police took the motorman and the guard to a police station before presenting them before Mallick.
Within hours, however, railway employees staged a protest that turned violent and train services in Sealdah were disrupted till evening. The protests led to immediate suspension of Mallick and a disciplinary inquiry against him. The Calcutta High Court, in an unanimous decision on the administrative side, ruled against Mallick.
The first charge against Mallick that he travelled in the motorman’s cabin without permission was proved. The enquiry had also found that the railway magistrate had no legal sanction under the Code of Criminal Procedure or the Railways Act to take suo motu steps for the delayed running of any train. The punishment of compulsory retirement was imposed on Mallick by the Administrative Committee of the High Court.
His challenge against the punishment before the Governor was dismissed after which Mallick moved the High Court. A single-judge bench in 2017 had dismissed Mallick’s petition following which he appealed before a two-judge bench and argued the case himself.
While ruling against its own order, the High Court admitted to procedural infirmities in its decision, and that it did not justify the stringent punishment. It also imposed a cost of Rs 1 lakh on itself.
The High Court also admitted that the single-judge bench had “missed the wood for the trees” in its narration of the sequence of events. The court concluded that Mallick did not force his entry into the cabin and that he had due authority to call for reports from the motorman and the guard for the delay.
The court said that the punishment was unjustified as the charges against Mallick did not involve any matter of “moral turpitude or even the performance of the appellant as a judicial officer”.
The High Court also directed the government to pay Mallick 75 per cent of the salary that he would have earned had he remained in service.
A relaxed Mallick is getting ready to rejoin the cadre and take the train again. “I can’t speak about the verdict but I hope the train is on time this time,” he said.