Union Territory, Chandigarh … vs Pradeep Kumar on 8 January, 2018

                                              REPORTABLE
            IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
             CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION
               CIVIL APPEAL NO. 67 OF 2018
         (Arising out of SLP(C) No.20750 of 2016)
UNION TERRITORY, CHANDIGARH
ADMINISTRATION AND ORS.                    …Appellants
                          Versus
PRADEEP KUMAR AND ANOTHER                  ...Respondents
                          WITH
              CIVIL APPEAL NO. 68 OF 2018
         (Arising out of SLP(C) No.23855 of 2016)

                          WITH
               CIVIL APPEAL NO.69 OF 2018
         (Arising out of SLP(C) No.23726 of 2016)

                          WITH
               CIVIL APPEAL NO. 70 OF 2018
          (Arising out of SLP(C) No.8905 of 2017)

                        JUDGMENT

R. BANUMATHI, J.

Leave granted

2. The question involved in these appeals is whether the

candidature of the respondents who had disclosed their

involvement in the criminal cases and also their acquittal

could be cancelled by the Screening Committee on the ground

Page No. 1 of 15
that they are not suitable for the post of constable in

Chandigarh Police and whether the court can substitute its

views for the decision taken by the Screening Committee.

Since the facts and issues are almost identical in all these

appeals, they were heard together and shall stand disposed of

by this common judgment. For convenience, we would deal

with the facts in appeal arising out of SLP(C) No. 20750 of

2016

3. On 14.03.2010, an advertisement was issued by UT

Chandigarh Police through its Deputy Inspector General of

Police inviting applications from the candidates to fill up 1200

temporary posts of Constable (Executive) in Chandigarh Police

with essential qualification as prescribed in the advertisement

with instructions for filling online application form. The

recruitment was to be done as per guidelines thereon as well

as standing order governing the recruitment of constables.

Guideline No.2(A)(a) deals with the circumstances when the

candidate does not disclose the factum of his involvement in

the attestation form and the same is found subsequently from

the verification report. The candidature of such candidates

Page No. 2 of 15
will be cancelled as per aforesaid guideline without making

any reference to any Committee for further probe into the

conduct of the candidate. In Guideline No.2(A)(b), it is

prescribed that if a candidate has disclosed his involvement in

some criminal case in the attestation form, then such case will

be referred to Screening Committee to assess his suitability

for appointment in Chandigarh Police irrespective of the fact

that the case is under investigation, trial or resulted in

conviction or acquittal.

4. Respondents were declared successful in the recruitment

for the post of Constable (Executive) in Chandigarh Police

after clearing the Physical Efficiency Test, Physical

Measurement Test, written test and interview. However, the

respondents were denied the employment on the ground that

the respondents had been prosecuted in a criminal trial for

the offences under Section 323 IPC and Section 506 read with

Section 34 IPC and were acquitted by the trial court vide

judgment dated 29.01.2010 giving them benefit of doubt. The

case was referred to the Committee headed by Senior

Superintendent of Police and it was found that the

Page No. 3 of 15
respondents were not suitable for appointment as Constables

in the Chandigarh Police.

5. Aggrieved, respondents filed OA before CAT. CAT vide

order dated 24.07.2012 allowed the OA and set aside the

orders of the Screening Committee and directed the

competent authority to consider the names of the

respondents for appointment to the post of Constable. The

State filed writ petition before the High Court which came to

be dismissed for all the respondents except Ombir holding

that there was no concealment of criminal antecedents. Being

aggrieved, the State has preferred these appeals.

6. Contention of the appellant is that acquittal of a person

does not entitle him to be appointed as a matter of right and

the appointing authority may still find such a person unfit to

be appointed to the post. It was urged by the appellant that

even though the respondents were acquitted in the criminal

case, the appointment of the respondents to the post of

Constable in Chandigarh police which is a disciplined force,

was found not desirable by the appointing authority. It was

submitted that the respondents were not honourably
Page No. 4 of 15
acquitted of the offences and the acquittal was only based on

the extension of benefit of doubt. Contention of the appellant

is that the post of Constable in disciplinary force demands an

impeccable integrity and track record besides good character

and suitability. Further contention is that the court cannot

overreach the jurisdiction of the Screening Committee by

substituting its own view in the decision of the said

Committee and hence, the impugned judgment of the High

Court and the Tribunal is not sustainable.

7. Per contra, contention of the respondents is that the

criminal case against the respondents was a case of ‘no

evidence’ and the acquittal of the respondents is an

honourable acquittal and the same cannot be termed to be

the case of ‘benefit of doubt’. Moreover, respondents had

fairly disclosed the factum of facing criminal trial by giving

complete details while applying for the job and there was no

suppression on the part of the respondents. On behalf of the

respondents, much reliance was placed upon Joginder Singh v.

Union Territory of Chandigarh and others (2015) 2 SCC 377.

Page No. 5 of 15

8. On the basis of the aforesaid rival contentions urged on

behalf of both the parties, the following points arise for

consideration:-

(i) Whether the contention of respondents that they
were honourably acquitted and that they should not be
deprived of being appointed to the post of Constable is
acceptable?

(ii) Whether the High Court was right in setting aside the
decision of the Screening Committee and directing the
authorities to consider the respondents to the post of
Constable in the disciplined police force?

9. On 23.06.2010, the Inspector General of police, UT

Chandigarh issued Standing Order No.44 of 2010 laying down

the guidelines to consider cases of candidates selected in

Chandigarh Police on having found involvement in criminal

cases in the past. This standing order deals with the cases of

candidates before issuance of appointment and after issuance

of appointment and joining. Relevant portion of the said

Guidelines reads as under:-

“GUIDELINES
(A) CASES BEFORE ISSUE OF APPOINTMENT

(a) The candidature will be cancelled in case the candidate
does not disclose the fact of his involvement and/or
arrest in criminal case(s), complaint case(s), preventive
proceedings etc. in the attestation form and the fact is
subsequently found out from any verification report

Page No. 6 of 15
received from the District authorities or for any/other
source.

(b) If a candidate has disclosed his involvement and/or
arrest in criminal cases(s), complaint case(s),
preventive proceedings etc. the case will be referred to
the Screening Committee to assess his suitability for
appointment in Chandigarh Police irrespective of the
fact that the case is under investigation, trial or
decided in conviction or acquittal.

………”

In Guideline 2(A)(b), it is prescribed that if a candidate has

disclosed his involvement in some criminal case in the

attestation form then such case will be referred to Screening

Committee to assess his suitability for appointment in

Chandigarh Police irrespective of the fact that the case is

under investigation, trial or decided in conviction or acquittal.

In the present case, in all the cases of respondents, the

aforesaid situation arises. On noticing the acquittal of the

candidates, the cases of respondents were referred to

Screening Committee. The Screening Committee carefully

examined the cases of the respondents and the reasonings for

their acquittal and the candidature of the respondents were

rejected finding them not suitable.

10. The acquittal in a criminal case is not conclusive of the

suitability of the candidates in the concerned post. If a person

Page No. 7 of 15
is acquitted or discharged, it cannot always be inferred that

he was falsely involved or he had no criminal antecedents.

Unless it is an honourable acquittal, the candidate cannot

claim the benefit of the case. What is honourable acquittal,

was considered by this Court in Deputy Inspector General of

Police and Another v. S. Samuthiram (2013) 1 SCC 598, in

which this Court held as under:-

“24. The meaning of the expression “honourable acquittal”
came up for consideration before this Court in RBI v.
Bhopal Singh Panchal (1994) 1 SCC 541. In that case, this
Court has considered the impact of Regulation 46(4)
dealing with honourable acquittal by a criminal court on
the disciplinary proceedings. In that context, this Court
held that the mere acquittal does not entitle an employee
to reinstatement in service, the acquittal, it was held, has
to be honourable. The expressions “honourable acquittal”,
“acquitted of blame”, “fully exonerated” are unknown to
the Code
of Criminal Procedure or the Penal Code, which
are coined by judicial pronouncements. It is difficult to
define precisely what is meant by the expression
“honourably acquitted”. When the accused is acquitted
after full consideration of prosecution evidence and that
the prosecution had miserably failed to prove the charges
levelled against the accused, it can possibly be said that
the accused was honourably acquitted.”

11. Entering into the police service required a candidate to

be of good character, integrity and clean antecedents. In

Commissioner of Police, New Delhi and Another v. Mehar

Singh (2013) 7 SCC 685, the respondent was acquitted

based on the compromise. This Court held that even though
Page No. 8 of 15
acquittal was based on compromise, it is still open to the

Screening Committee to examine the suitability of the

candidate and take a decision. Emphasizing upon the

importance of character and integrity required for joining

police force/discipline force, in Mehar Singh case, this Court

held as under:-

“23. A careful perusal of the policy leads us to conclude
that the Screening Committee would be entitled to keep
persons involved in grave cases of moral turpitude out of
the police force even if they are acquitted or discharged if
it feels that the acquittal or discharge is on technical
grounds or not honourable. The Screening Committee will
be within its rights to cancel the candidature of a candidate
if it finds that the acquittal is based on some serious flaw in
the conduct of the prosecution case or is the result of
material witnesses turning hostile. It is only experienced
officers of the Screening Committee who will be able to
judge whether the acquitted or discharged candidate is
likely to revert to similar activities in future with more
strength and vigour, if appointed, to the post in a police
force. The Screening Committee will have to consider the
nature and extent of such person’s involvement in the
crime and his propensity of becoming a cause for
worsening the law and order situation rather than
maintaining it. In our opinion, this policy framed by the
Delhi Police does not merit any interference from this Court
as its object appears to be to ensure that only persons with
impeccable character enter the police force.

24. We find no substance in the contention that by
cancelling the respondents’ candidature, the Screening
Committee has overreached the judgments of the criminal
court. We are aware that the question of co-relation
between a criminal case and a departmental enquiry does
not directly arise here, but, support can be drawn from the
principles laid down by this Court in connection with it
because the issue involved is somewhat identical, namely,
whether to allow a person with doubtful integrity to work in
the department. While the standard of proof in a criminal
Page No. 9 of 15
case is the proof beyond all reasonable doubt, the proof in
a departmental proceeding is preponderance of
probabilities. Quite often criminal cases end in acquittal
because witnesses turn hostile. Such acquittals are not
acquittals on merit. An acquittal based on benefit of doubt
would not stand on a par with a clean acquittal on merit
after a full-fledged trial, where there is no indication of the
witnesses being won over. In R.P. Kapur v. Union of India
AIR 1964 SC 787 this Court has taken a view that
departmental proceedings can proceed even though a
person is acquitted when the acquittal is other than
honourable.

25. The expression “honourable acquittal” was considered
by this Court in S. Samuthiram (2013) 1 SCC 598. In that
case this Court was concerned with a situation where
disciplinary proceedings were initiated against a police
officer. Criminal case was pending against him under
Section 509 IPC and under Section 4 of the Eve-Teasing Act.
He was acquitted in that case because of the
non-examination of key witnesses. There was a serious
flaw in the conduct of the criminal case. Two material
witnesses turned hostile. Referring to the judgment of this
Court in RBI v. Bhopal Singh Panchal (1994) 1 SCC 541,
where in somewhat similar fact situation, this Court upheld
a bank’s action of refusing to reinstate an employee in
service on the ground that in the criminal case he was
acquitted by giving him benefit of doubt and, therefore, it
was not an honourable acquittal, this Court held that the
High Court was not justified in setting aside the
punishment imposed in the departmental proceedings. This
Court observed that the expressions “honourable
acquittal”, “acquitted of blame” and “fully exonerated” are
unknown to the Criminal Procedure Code or the Penal
Code
. They are coined by judicial pronouncements. It is
difficult to define what is meant by the expression
“honourably acquitted”. This Court expressed that when
the accused is acquitted after full consideration of the
prosecution case and the prosecution miserably fails to
prove the charges levelled against the accused, it can
possibly be said that the accused was honourably
acquitted.

…………….

33. So far as respondent Mehar Singh is concerned, his
case appears to have been compromised. It was urged that
acquittal recorded pursuant to a compromise should not be

Page No. 10 of 15
treated as a disqualification because that will frustrate the
purpose of the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987. We see
no merit in this submission. Compromises or settlements
have to be encouraged to bring about peaceful and
amiable atmosphere in the society by according a quietus
to disputes. They have to be encouraged also to reduce
arrears of cases and save the litigants from the agony of
pending litigation. But these considerations cannot be
brought in here. In order to maintain integrity and high
standard of police force, the Screening Committee may
decline to take cognizance of a compromise, if it appears to
it to be dubious. The Screening Committee cannot be
faulted for that.

……………

35. The police force is a disciplined force. It shoulders the
great responsibility of maintaining law and order and public
order in the society. People repose great faith and
confidence in it. It must be worthy of that confidence. A
candidate wishing to join the police force must be a person
of utmost rectitude. He must have impeccable character
and integrity. A person having criminal antecedents will not
fit in this category. Even if he is acquitted or discharged in
the criminal case, that acquittal or discharge order will
have to be examined to see whether he has been
completely exonerated in the case because even a
possibility of his taking to the life of crimes poses a threat
to the discipline of the police force. The Standing Order,
therefore, has entrusted the task of taking decisions in
these matters to the Screening Committee. The decision of
the Screening Committee must be taken as final unless it is
mala fide. In recent times, the image of the police force is
tarnished. Instances of police personnel behaving in a
wayward manner by misusing power are in public domain
and are a matter of concern. The reputation of the police
force has taken a beating. In such a situation, we would not
like to dilute the importance and efficacy of a mechanism
like the Screening Committee created by the Delhi Police to
ensure that persons who are likely to erode its credibility
do not enter the police force. At the same time, the
Screening Committee must be alive to the importance of
the trust reposed in it and must treat all candidates with an
even hand.”

Page No. 11 of 15
The same principle was reiterated in State of Madhya Pradesh

and Others v. Parvez Khan (2015) 2 SCC 591.

12. While considering the question of suppression of relevant

information or false information in regard to criminal

prosecution, arrest or pendency of criminal case(s) against the

candidate, in Avtar Singh v. Union of India and Others (2016)

8 SCC 471, three-Judges Bench of this Court summarized the

conclusion in para (38). As per the said decision in para

(38.5), “In a case where the employee has made declaration

truthfully of a concluded criminal case, the employer still has

the right to consider antecedents, and cannot be compelled to

appoint the candidate.”

13. It is thus well settled that acquittal in a criminal case

does not automatically entitle him for appointment to the

post. Still it is open to the employer to consider the

antecedents and examine whether he is suitable for

appointment to the post. From the observations of this Court

in Mehar Singh and Parvez Khan cases, it is clear that a

candidate to be recruited to the police service must be of

impeccable character and integrity. A person having criminal
Page No. 12 of 15
antecedents will not fit in this category. Even if he is

acquitted or discharged, it cannot be presumed that he was

honourably acquitted/completely exonerated. The decision of

the Screening Committee must be taken as final unless it is

shown to be mala fide. The Screening Committee also must

be alive to the importance of the trust repose in it and must

examine the candidate with utmost character.

14. In the case in hand, the details of the criminal cases in

which the respondents were involved and the reasonings for

their acquittal and the consideration by the Screening

Committee are as under:-


  Party     Allegations           Reasons for acquittal       Consideration
  Name/                                                       by            the
 SLP No.                                                      Screening
                                                              Committee
Pradeep     •   FIR      under      •   PW-1                     • Accused
Kumar           Sections 148,           (complainant) and           acquitted
SLP(C)          149, 323 and            PW-2        turned          because
No.             506 IPC.                hostile and denied          star
20750/16    •   Appeared                all the contents of         witnesses
                outside    the          complaint.                  turned
                class room of       •   Witnesses                   hostile and
                the                     admitted      their         thus
                complainant             signature       on          accused got
                therein along           complaint      but          benefit   of
                with     other          said that they              doubt.
                people.                 were obtained on         • Appears
            •   Carrying lathis         blank papers.               that
                and axe and         •   IO did not appear.          witnesses
                started             •   Therefore the trial         have been
                beating    the                                      won over.
                                        was closed as no
                complainant             useful     purpose       • Accused 19
                and      other          could be served             years    age
                persons of his          by examining the            at the time

                                                               Page No. 13 of 15
                village.                   remaining                   of
                                           witnesses.                  commission
                                                                       of offence.
Narender    •   FIR      under         •   PW1                      • Accused
Kumar           Sections 148,              (complainant) and           acquitted
SLP   (C)       149, 323 and               PW2         turned          because
No.20750        506 IPC.                   hostile and denied          star
/16         •   Appeared                   all the contents of         witnesses
                outside     the            complaint.                  turned
                class room of          •   Witnesses                   hostile and
                the                        admitted      their         thus
                complainant                signature       on          accused got
                therein along              complaint      but          benefit    of
                with     other             said that they              doubt.
                people.                    were obtained on         • Appears
            •   Carrying lathis            blank papers.               that
                and axe and            •   IO did not appear.          witnesses
                started                •   Therefore the trial         have been
                beating     the                                        won over.
                                           was closed as no
                complainant                useful     purpose       • Accused 21
                and      other             could be served             years     age
                persons of his             by examining the            at the time
                village.                   remaining                   of
                                           witnesses.                  commission
                                                                       of offence.
  Party     Allegations              Reasons for acquittal       Consideration
  Name/                                                          by             the
 SLP No.                                                         Screening
                                                                 Committee
Ajay        •   FIR        under       •   Delay of four days       • Ajay Kumar
Kumar           Sections 323,              in   lodging   the          has     been
SLP   (C)       307 and 34                 complaint.                  involved in
No.23855        IPC.                   •   Prosecution could           commission
/16         •   Inflicted                                              of heinous
                                           not come out with
                severe injuries            clear motive.               bodily
                to the sons of         •   Two      witnesses          injury.
                the                        were withheld by         • Acquitted
                complainant                the prosecution.            on the basis
                by      inflicting     •   Benefit of doubt            of benefit of
                blows         with                                     doubt.
                                           given    to    the
                hockey sticks
                                           accused.
                and kicks and
                fist blows to
                them.

Paramjee    •   FIR      under         •   Complainant/solit        •   Accused
t Singh         Sections 323               ary eye witness              acquitted
SLP             and 506 IPC.               admitted      the            as       the
(C)No.237   •   Appeared at a              evidence      but            solitary eye
26/16                                      denied        the            witness
                satsang along
                with     other             involvement     of           turned
                accused.                   accused.                     hostile.
                Started                •   Stated       that        •   Considered


                                                                  Page No. 14 of 15
               creating               assailants   were         the same to
               hindrance     in       unidentified              be a case of
               the same and           persons.                  benefit   of
               thereafter         •   Stated         his        doubt.
               upon        the        signatures   were
               complainant.           obtained by police
           •   Trying to stop         on blank papers.
               him gave knife
               blows to the
               complainant.
           •   Caused injury
               to        other
               persons with
               iron rod.
           •   Threatened to
               kill        the
               persons with a
               pistol.

Ombir      •   FIR       under    •   The complainant       •   The
SLP(C)         Sections 323,          and one Pradeep           accused
No.8905/       354,    506/34         (PW2) has turned          was
17             IPC.                   hostile      and          acquitted
           •   Allegation    is       therefore                 as       the
               that     Ombir         prosecution               complainan
               along      with        evidence     was          t did not
               other                  closed and the            support the
               co-accused             accused                   case of the
               persons       in       acquitted.                prosecution
               furtherance of                                   .
               their common                                 •   The
               intention                                        accused
               outraged the                                     has
               modesty       of                                 committed
               one     Sudesh                                   offence   of
               (complainant).                                   outraging
           •   Caused hurt to                                   modesty of
               her,       after                                 woman and
               which       the                                  has     been
               complainant                                      acquitted
               was admitted                                     on       the
               in the hospital.                                 benefit   of
                                                                doubt.




                                                           Page No. 15 of 15

15. From the above details, we find that the Screening

Committee examined each and every case of the respondents

and reasonings for their acquittal and taken the decision.

While deciding whether a person involved in a criminal case

has been acquitted or discharged should be appointed to a

post in a police force, nature of offence in which he is

involved, whether it was an honourable acquittal or only an

extension of benefit of doubt because of witnesses turned

hostile and flaws in the prosecution are all the aspects to be

considered by the Screening Committee for taking the

decision whether the candidate is suitable for the post. As

pointed out earlier, the Screening Committee examined each

and every case and reasonings for their acquittal and took

decision that the respondents are not suitable for the post of

Constable in Chandigarh Police. The procedure followed is as

per guideline 2(A)(b) and object of such screening is to ensure

that only persons with impeccable character enters police

force. While so, the court cannot substitute its views for the

decision of the Screening Committee.

Page No. 16 of 15

16. On behalf of the respondents, much reliance was placed

upon Joginder Singh v. Union Territory of Chandigarh and

Others (2015) 2 SCC 377. In the said case, the appellant

thereon was charged under Sections 148, 149, 323, 325 and

307 IPC but acquitted by the trial court holding that the

prosecution has failed to prove the charges levelled against

him since complainant as well as injured eye witnesses failed

to identify the assailants and the complainant had stated that

his signature was obtained on a blank sheet by the

Investigating Officer. The case involved was a family dispute.

In such facts and circumstances, this Court held that acquittal

of appellant Joginder Singh was an honourable acquittal and

hence, he should not be denied appointment to the post in

question. The decision in Joginder Singh case does not

advance the case of the respondents herein.

17. In a catena of judgments, the importance of integrity and

high standard of conduct in police force has been emphasized.

As held in Mehar Singh case, the decision of the Screening

Committee must be taken as final unless it is mala fide. In the

case in hand, there is nothing to suggest that the decision of

Page No. 17 of 15
the Screening Committee is mala fide. The decision of the

Screening Committee that the respondents are not suitable

for being appointed to the post of Constable does not call for

interference. The Tribunal and the High Court, in our view,

erred in setting aside the decision of the Screening Committee

and the impugned judgment is liable to be set aside.

18. In the result, the impugned judgment is set aside and the

appeals are allowed. The cancellation of candidature of the

respondents is upheld. No costs.

…….………………………..J.

(R. BANUMATHI)

…….………………………..J.

(UDAY UMESH LALIT)
New Delhi;

January 08, 2018

Page No. 18 of 15

Article source: Supreme Court

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