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Courts should not be guided by misplaced sympathy: SC

Statesman News Service |

Press Trust of India
New Delhi, 13 October
Courts should not be guided by “misplaced sympathy” while examining quantum of punishment of an offender, the Supreme Court has said as it ordered removal of a clerk from service for going to work in a drunken state.
A Bench of Mr Justice S J Mukhopadhaya and Mr Justice A K Sikri set aside the Meghalaya High Court decision ordering reinstatement of the man, who was working as an upper division clerk (UDC) in Kendriya Vidayala Sangthan and removed from job for going to work under the influence of alcohol during duty hours.
“Repeatedly this court has emphasised that the courts should not be guided by misplaced sympathy or continuity ground, as a factor in judicial review while examining the quantum of punishment,” the Bench said.
The HC had ordered for reinstatement of the clerk on the ground that the penalty of removal from service was disproportionate to the nature and gravity of his misconduct.
The school authorities had approached the apex court questioning the reasoning and rationale of the direction given by the HC.
The apex court, however, held that the reasoning of the HC was “unacceptable” and restored the decision of Central Administrative Tribunal upholding the punishment of removal of the man from service.
“We find that the high court has totally downplayed the seriousness of misconduct. It was a case where the respondent employee (clerk) had gone to the place of work in a fully drunken state. Going to the place of work under the influence of alcohol during working hours (it was 11.30 a.m.) would itself be a serious act of misconduct.
“What compounds the gravity of delinquency is that the place of work is not any commercial establishment but a school i.e. temple of learning. The high court has glossed over and trivialised the aforesaid aspect by simply stating that the respondent was not a habitual drunkard and it is not the case of the management that he used to come to the school in a drunken state regularly or quite often. Even a singular act of this nature would have serious implications,” the Bench said. 
The allegation against the UDC was that on 24 May 2000, during his duty hours, he had forcibly entered into the office of principal of the school in Tura in Meghalaya, in a fully drunken state.
The disciplinary authority had ordered for his removal from service which he had challenged in several forums.
The man, in his reply, had accepted that he had come to the school drunk but added that he had gone to the market and his friends offered him drinks which he consumed.
As it was a new experience for him, he felt drowsy and while returning home, he remembered that he had left some articles in the school and therefore he had gone there to pick them up, he said.
The Bench said entering in the school in a drunken state itself was a serious misconduct. “Thus, in our view, entering the school premises in working hours i.e. 11.30 a.m. in an inebriated condition and thereafter forcibly entering into the principal’s room would constitute a serious misconduct. Penalty of removal for such a misconduct cannot be treated as disproportionate.
“It does not seem to be unreasonable and does not shock the conscience of the court. Though it does not appear to be excessive either, but even if it were to be so, merely because the court feels that penalty should have been lighter than the one imposed, by itself is not a ground to interfere with the discretion of the disciplinary authorities,” the Bench said.