Sunday, 8 March 2020

Supreme Court: Upright and straightforward judicial officers should not subjected to unmerited onslaught

 We are also not oblivious to the fact that mere suspicion cannot
constitute ‘misconduct’. Any ‘probability’ of misconduct needs to be
supported with oral or documentary material, even though the
standard of proof would obviously not be at par with that in a criminal
trial. While applying these yardsticks, the High Court is expected to
consider the existence of differing standards and approaches amongst
different judges. There are innumerable instances of judicial officers
who are liberal in granting bail, awarding compensation under MACT
or for acquired land, backwages to workmen or mandatory
compensation in other cases of tortious liabilities. Such relieforiented
judicial approaches cannot by themselves be grounds to cast
aspersions on the honesty and integrity of an officer.
22. Furthermore, one cannot overlook the reality of ours being a
country wherein countless complainants are readily available without
hesitation to tarnish the image of the judiciary, often for mere pennies
or even cheap momentary popularity. Sometimes a few disgruntled
members of the Bar also join hands with them, and officers of the
subordinate judiciary are usually the easiest target. It is, therefore, the
duty of High Courts to extend their protective umbrella and ensure
that upright and straightforward judicial officers are not subjected to
unmerited onslaught.

REPORTABLE
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION
CIVIL APPEAL NO. 2077 OF 2020

Sadhna Chaudhary Vs State of U.P. 

Dated: 06.03.2020



Leave Granted.
2. This appeal has been preferred by Sadhana Chaudhary, being
aggrieved, against an order dated 12.12.2018 passed by the High
Court of Judicature at Allahabad by which her writ petition, seeking
judicial review of her dismissal from the Uttar Pradesh Higher Judicial
Services by Respondent No. 1, had been rejected.
FACTUAL MATRIX
3. The appellant was recruited into the Uttar Pradesh Judicial
Services on 05.06.1975 and was posted as Additional Munsif,
Dehradun. She was subsequently promoted to the Chief Judicial
Page | 1
Magistrate Cadre in 1981, and again to the Uttar Pradesh Higher
Judicial Services on 21.03.1987.
4. A Division Bench of the High Court of Judicature at Allahabad,
while seized of the first appeal against a Land Acquisition Reference,
made certain observations on 05.03.2004 with regard to the manner
in which some other land acquisition cases of similar nature were
being adjudicated by subordinate judicial officers in the state of Uttar
Pradesh.1 A copy of the judgment was placed by the Registrar before
the Administrative Committee of High Court for appropriate action.
The Administrative Committee constituted a committee comprising of
two Judges to probe into complaints of collusion in land acquisition
matters. This enquiry committee after visiting numerous districts of
western Uttar Pradesh (UP) and examination of many judgments,
submitted a report on 19.09.2004 recommending initiation of
disciplinary action against certain judicial officers, including the
appellant.
5. Accordingly, a Charge Sheet was served upon the appellant with
regard to two judicial orders delivered by her during her stint as
Additional District Judge at Ghaziabad. Following were the charges
attributed to the appellant:
“Charge No.1 That
you on 10.02.2003 while posted as IInd
Additional District Judge Ghaziabad decided Land Acquisition
Reference No.193/1996 Lile Singh Vs. State of U.P. and 35
1 Agra Development Authority v. State of UP, 2004 All LJ 1853.
Page | 2
others illegally and against all judicial norms and propriety
awarding to the claimants solatium, additional amount and
interest over and above the rate at which two other claimants
had entered into compromise which was inclusive of such
other benefits at an enhanced rate of Rs.265/per
sq. yard as
against Rs.74.40 determined by the S.L.A.O. for land area 276
Bighas 12 Biswas and 15 Biswansi, unduly awarded an
additional amount of Rs.47,73,39,903.86 which leads to an
inference that you were actuated by extraneous
considerations and you thereby failed to maintain absolute
integrity and complete devotion to duty and you thus
committed misconduct within the meaning of Rule 3 of UP
Govt. Servants Conduct rules 1956.
Charge No.2 That
you on 7.11.2003 posted as Additional
District Judge, Court No.1, Ghaziabad, while deciding Land
Acquisition Reference No.91 of 2001 Umesh Chandra Vs.
State of UP and 66 other cases enhanced the rate of
compensation from Rs.100/per
square yard determined by
the S.L.A.O to Rs.160/per
square yard, illegally disregarding
the exemplars filed by the defendants including your own
award in Land Acquisition Reference No.1 of 1992, Surendra
Vs State of UP decided on 24.03.1993, for land acquired in the
same year, in the same area and under the same scheme in
order to award an additional amount of Rs.28,53,24,896.80
to the claimants for land area 483 Bighas, 14 Biswas and 8
Biswansis leading to inference that you were actuated by
extraneous considerations and you thereby failed to maintain
absolute integrity and complete devotion to duty, and you
thus committed misconduct within the meaning of Rule 3 of
UP Government Servants Conduct Rules 1956. ”
(Emphasis applied)
Page | 3
6. The appellant submitted detailed reply to the chargesheet, as
well as additional written arguments. Subsequently, an enquiry was
conducted and the Enquiry Committee through its report dated
09.09.2005 held that both the charges had been proved for these were
errors apparent in both cases which were such `shocking blunders’
that they could not be attributed to mere misjudgment, and
consequently were proved to be ‘deliberate’. The said report was placed
before the Administrative Committee which accepted the same vide
resolution dated 29.11.2005, and referred the matter to the Full Court
for determination of quantum of punishment. The Full Court resolved
to dismiss the appellant from service and consequently forwarded its
recommendation to the State (Respondent No. 1), which through an
office memorandum issued by its Appointments Department on
17.01.2006, dismissed the appellant from service with immediate
effect. The appellant challenged the order of dismissal before the High
Court on judicial side invoking the writ jurisdiction.
7. The Division Bench of the HC took note of the two land
acquisition references which had been decided by the appellant. With
regards to the first case of Lile Singh v. State2 it held that the
appellant had wrongly relied upon a compromise deed of two other
claimants to enhance compensation from Rs 74.40/sq yd (as
determined by the Special Land Acquisition Officer) to Rs 264/sq yd.
2 Land Acquisition Reference No. 193 of 2006, delivered on 10.02.2003.
Page | 4
Additionally, she had awarded solatium and interest over and above
the said determined rate, which led to a steep escalation to Rs 720/sq
yd. Holding such reliance on compromise deeds as being
incomprehensible owing to the statutory bar of Section 11(3) of the
Land Acquisition Act, 1894, the escalation was deemed
disproportionate and against judicial propriety.
8. With regard to the second reference in Umesh Chandra v.
State3, the Court observed that the appellant as a judge illegally
disregarded exemplars filed by the Staterespondents,
particularly, an
award of Rs 108/sq yd passed only a few months ago by her in a
similar case. Notwithstanding such evidence, the appellant was said to
have increased the compensation from Rs 100/sq yd to Rs 160/sq yd,
in contravention of all judicial norms.
9. The Bench opined that it was settled law that although the final
decision made by a judicial officer was of no relevance for purposes of
disciplinary enquiry, however, the legality and correctness of the
decisionmaking
process as well as the conduct of the officers in
discharge of their duties ought to be considered. The High Court
accordingly endorsed the Respondent’s plea that the decisionmaking
process of the appellant while deciding the aforementioned two land
acquisition references was bereft of judicial propriety, settled judicial
norms and was actuated by extraneous considerations. Additionally,
the High Court placed emphasis on the windfall gain made available to
3 Land Acquisition Reference No. 91 of 2001, delivered on 07.11.2003.
Page | 5
the claimants as being evidence of the deliberate lapses made by the
appellant in response to extraneous considerations, and not merely
errors of judgment. This, the High Court noted, amounted to
misconduct as opined by the Enquiry Committee.
10. Furthermore, the Court noted that, even otherwise, strict rules of
evidence were inapplicable to departmental enquiries, and the scope of
judicial review in such matters also being very limited, findings of the
disciplinary enquiry could be interfered with only in the complete
absence of material, which was not the case at hand.
CONTENTIONS OF PARTIES
11. Counsel for the appellant made a spirited argument that
although the High Court undoubtedly expounded the correct law,
however it failed to appropriately apply it to the facts of the present
case. He argued that the chargesheet made no allegation of the
‘decisionmaking
process’ being illegal, and the same could not be
made a ground for the appellant’s dismissal later. Taking the Court
through the charge sheet on record, it was highlighted that no
allegation of receipt of any illegal gratification or being swayed by any
specific extraneous factor was even levelled against her, let alone being
proved. No witnesses or material to cast doubts upon the decisionmaking
process were adduced, except for merely the two land
acquisition reference orders. This, as per PC Joshi v. State of UP4,
4 (2001) 6 SCC 491.
Page | 6
was clearly impermissible. Even otherwise, determining
appropriateness of the substance of the judicial orders was said to be
the domain of appellate courts and not the enquiry committees.
12. Even on merits, it was contended that the High Court erred in
holding that the appellant had illegally relied upon compromise deeds
while authoring the order in Liley Singh, for the supposed bar under
Section 11(3) of the LA Act was applicable only to awards by
Collectors. Reference Courts were guided by distinct legal provisions
under Sections 23 and 24, per which compromise deeds were not
excluded. The escalations were also shown as not being arbitrary, but
rather founded upon the Compromise Policy of the New Okhla
Industrial Development Authority, which was tweaked to grant
statutory dues of solatium and interest instead of the additional 10%
developed land being granted by the State authorities. Hence, it was
pleaded, that if anything, the net compensation of Rs 720/sq yd was
effectively lower in cost to the State than the Rs 1120/sq yd being
borne under their own policy.
13. Qua Umesh Chand, it was submitted that the deviation from the
appellant’s very own judgment rendered five months ago, was a result
of the substantial development and increase in prices which took place
in the interregnum. This was duly backed up by documentary
evidence produced by the vigilant claimants, and hence compensation
was enhanced by a factor of 60% to Rs 160/sq yd. Glaringly, this very
Page | 7
compensation, which was found as being a shocking blunder by the
enquiry committee, was further enhanced by the Apex Court in an SLP
filed by some other claimants to Rs 297/sq yd., and appeals filed by
the Local Development Authority had been dismissed. Thus, the very
basis of the inference of misconduct was claimed as not having
survived.
14. Reiterating the position of law expounded by the High Court, the
appellant argued that it was the conduct of a judicial officer in
discharge of her duties, and not the legality/correctness of her
decision, could be subjected to disciplinary action. Given the detailed
reasons in both references by the appellant, there was no ‘reckless
discharge of duties’ either. Even if there were to be such omission in
duty, in the absence of any charge of illegal gratification, it would
amount to ‘negligence’ and not ‘misconduct’ as per this Court’s order
in Union of India v. J Ahmed5. The charges were said to be based
merely upon unfounded suspicion, and any possible errors in the
judicial orders were contended not to be grounds for action, owing to
longsettled
principles of judicial immunity tracing back to the
Judicial Officers Protection Act, 1850.
15. The enquiry itself was stated to be roving in nature, without any
rational basis for selecting those two cases only. The order of the High
Court in Agra Development Authority (supra) was to be applicable
5 AIR 1979 SC 1022.
Page | 8
only to instances where complaints of judicial impropriety or
allegations of collusion in land acquisition reference cases were made
against judicial officers, which was not the present case.
Notwithstanding guilt, the appellant urged that the quantum of
punishment was unfair. Having rendered almost thirty years of
unblemished service, dismissing her on the strength of abovestated
charges, was prayed as being disproportionate.
16. On the other hand, Learned Counsel for the High Court
(Respondent No. 2) contended that judicial officers are not ordinary
government servants, and that they must adhere to a higher standard
of probity and ought to be above suspicion. Persons occupying such
high posts should have high integrity, honesty, moral vigour, fairness
and must be impervious to corrupt or venial influences. The limited
scope of interference in matters of domestic enquiry where the
allegations founded upon specific facts have been proved, was also
highlighted.
17. The scope of the present proceedings, thus was sought to be
restricted, by drawing attention to constitutional provisions which
bestowed exclusive control of the High Court over the subordinate
judges, with the aim of preserving independence of judiciary. Given
the fact that opportunities of being heard and placing on record
written submissions were duly accorded to the appellant, and her
detailed replies had been considered and rejected, it was not open for
Page | 9
her to seek redetermination
of her case through this Court. Both the
enquiry committee and the Full Court were contended to have applied
their minds and passed reasoned orders wherein it was unequivocally
found that the appellant had utterly failed to justify her conduct and
had acted in a most reckless and arbitrary manner, which was bereft
of all judicial propriety. This was pleaded to undoubtedly amount to
‘gravest misconduct’, justifying the dismissal of services for preserving
public trust in the judiciary.
ANALYSIS
18. Undoubtedly, the High Court is correct in its observation of the
applicable law. Indeed, the end result of the judicial process does not
matter, and what matters is only the decisionmaking
process
employed by the delinquent officer. Clearly, it is a principle since the
nineteenth century that judges cannot be held responsible for the end
result or the effect of their decisions.6 This is necessary to both uphold
the rule of law, and insulate judicial reasoning from extraneous
factors.
19. Even furthermore, there are no two ways with the proposition
that Judges, like Caesar’s wife, must be above suspicion. Judicial
officers do discharge a very sensitive and important constitutional
role. They not only keep in check excesses of the executive, safeguard
6 See Judicial Officers Protection Act, 1850.
Page | 10
citizens’ rights and maintain law and order. Instead, they support the
very framework of civilised society. It is courts, which uphold the law
and ensure its enforcement. They instil trust of the constitutional
order in people, and ensure the majesty of law and adherence to its
principles. Courts hence prevent people from resorting to their
animalistic instincts, and instead provide them with a gentler and
morecivilised
alternative of resolving disputes. In getting people to
obey their dicta, Courts do not make use of guns or other
(dis)incentives, but instead rely on the strength of their reasoning and
a certain trust and respect in the minds of the general populace.
Hence, it is necessary that any corruption or deviation from judicial
propriety by the guardians of law themselves, be dealt with sternly
and swiftly.
20. It has amply been reiterated by this Court that judicial officers
must aspire and adhere to a higher standard of honesty, integrity and
probity. Very recently in Shrirang Yadavrao Waghmare v. State of
Maharashtra7, a Division Bench of this Court very succinctly collated
these principles and reiterated that:
“5. The first and foremost quality required in a Judge is
integrity. The need of integrity in the judiciary is much
higher than in other institutions. The judiciary is an
institution whose foundations are based on honesty and
integrity. It is, therefore, necessary that judicial officers
7 (2019) 9 SCC 144.
Page | 11
should possess the sterling quality of integrity. This Court
in Tarak Singh v. Jyoti Basu [Tarak Singh v. Jyoti Basu, (2005)
1 SCC 201] held as follows: (SCC p. 203)
“Integrity is the hallmark of judicial discipline, apart
from others. It is high time the judiciary took utmost
care to see that the temple of justice does not crack
from inside, which will lead to a catastrophe in the
justicedelivery
system resulting in the failure of
public confidence in the system. It must be
remembered that woodpeckers inside pose a larger
threat than the storm outside.”
6. The behaviour of a Judge has to be of an exacting
standard, both inside and outside the court. This Court
in Daya Shankar v. High Court of Allahabad [Daya
Shankar v. High Court of Allahabad, (1987) 3 SCC 1:1987 SCC
(L&S) 132] held thus: (SCC p.1)
“Judicial officers cannot have two standards, one in
the court and another outside the court. They must
have only one standard of rectitude, honesty and
integrity. They cannot act even remotely unworthy of
the office they occupy.”
7. Judges are also public servants. A Judge should always
remember that he is there to serve the public. A Judge is
judged not only by his quality of judgments but also by the
quality and purity of his character. Impeccable integrity
should be reflected both in public and personal life of a
Judge. One who stands in judgments over others should
be incorruptible. That is the high standard which is expected
of Judges.
8. Judges must remember that they are not merely employees
but hold high public office. In R.C. Chandel v. High Court of
M.P. [R.C. Chandel v. High Court of M.P., (2012) 8 SCC 58 :
(2012) 4 SCC (Civ) 343 : (2012) 3 SCC (Cri) 782 : (2012) 2 SCC
Page | 12
(L&S) 469] , this Court held that the standard of conduct
expected of a Judge is much higher than that of an
ordinary person. The following observations of this Court are
relevant: (SCC p. 70, para 29)
“29. Judicial service is not an ordinary government
service and the Judges are not employees as such.
Judges hold the public office; their function is one of
the essential functions of the State. In discharge of
their functions and duties, the Judges represent the
State. The office that a Judge holds is an office of
public trust. A Judge must be a person of impeccable
integrity and unimpeachable independence. He must
be honest to the core with high moral values. When a
litigant enters the courtroom, he must feel secured
that the Judge before whom his matter has come,
would deliver justice impartially and uninfluenced by
any consideration. The standard of conduct expected
of a Judge is much higher than an ordinary man. This
is no excuse that since the standards in the society
have fallen, the Judges who are drawn from the
society cannot be expected to have high standards
and ethical firmness required of a Judge. A Judge,
like Caesar's wife, must be above suspicion. The
credibility of the judicial system is dependent upon
the Judges who man it. For a democracy to thrive and
the rule of law to survive, justice system and the
judicial process have to be strong and every Judge
must discharge his judicial functions with integrity,
impartiality and intellectual honesty.”
9. There can be no manner of doubt that a Judge must decide
the case only on the basis of the facts on record and the law
applicable to the case. If a Judge decides a case for any
extraneous reasons then he is not performing his duty in
accordance with law.
10. In our view the word “gratification” does not only mean
monetary gratification. Gratification can be of various types. It
can be gratification of money, gratification of power,
gratification of lust etc., etc. ...”
Page | 13
(emphasis supplied)
21. We are also not oblivious to the fact that mere suspicion cannot
constitute ‘misconduct’. Any ‘probability’ of misconduct needs to be
supported with oral or documentary material, even though the
standard of proof would obviously not be at par with that in a criminal
trial. While applying these yardsticks, the High Court is expected to
consider the existence of differing standards and approaches amongst
different judges. There are innumerable instances of judicial officers
who are liberal in granting bail, awarding compensation under MACT
or for acquired land, backwages to workmen or mandatory
compensation in other cases of tortious liabilities. Such relieforiented
judicial approaches cannot by themselves be grounds to cast
aspersions on the honesty and integrity of an officer.
22. Furthermore, one cannot overlook the reality of ours being a
country wherein countless complainants are readily available without
hesitation to tarnish the image of the judiciary, often for mere pennies
or even cheap momentary popularity. Sometimes a few disgruntled
members of the Bar also join hands with them, and officers of the
subordinate judiciary are usually the easiest target. It is, therefore, the
duty of High Courts to extend their protective umbrella and ensure
that upright and straightforward judicial officers are not subjected to
unmerited onslaught.

23. It is evident in the case in hand that the High Court itself was
cognizant of this settled proposition of law. Learned senior counsel for
the appellant also finds no fault with these principles, and instead
only seeks for their application to the facts of the present case.
24. It is a matter of record that at the time when the High Court was
seized of this matter, writ petitions against both of the appellant’s land
acquisition judgments had been dismissed by its coordinate benches.
The High Court has, nevertheless, rightly observed that dismissal of
writ petitions against the appellant’s orders did not serve as
vindication or confirmation of her orders. Indeed, as correctly noted
by the High Court, the scope of judicial review under Article 226 is
limited. The standards to be met prior to interference in exercise of
writ jurisdiction are very high, and there needs to be gross substantive
injustice through the conclusion, glaring irregularities in procedure or
the need to resolve important questions of law for a writ court to
overturn the Reference Court’s order. Hence, dismissal of writ petition
merely signifies the failure to demonstrate any of these high
standards, in a particular case, and not the endorsement of the orders
passed by a subordinate authority.
25. However, the facts of the present case are distinct. This Court, in
fact, entered into the merits of one of the allegedly erroneous orders.
Not only was the judgment affirmed, but rather the compensation was
further enhanced. It hence can no longer be stated that the appellant’s
Page | 15
order was wrong in conclusion. This fact is significant as it establishes
that the increase in compensation by the appellant was not abhorrent.
26. Had the charge been specific that the decisionmaking
process
was effectuated by extraneous considerations, then the correctness of
the appellant’s conclusions probably would not have mattered as
much. However, a perusal of the charges extracted above makes it
evident that the exclusive cause of enquiry, inference of dishonesty as
well as imposition of penalty was only on the basis of the conclusion of
enhancement of compensation. Given how the challenge to one of
those two orders had been turned down at the High Court stage, and
the other was both affirmed and furthered in principle by this Court,
the very foundation of the charges no longer survives.
27. We can find no fault in the proposition that the end result of
adjudication does not matter, and only whether the delinquent officer
had taken illegal gratification (monetary or otherwise) or had been
swayed by extraneous considerations while conducting the process is
of relevance. Indeed, manyatimes
it is possible that a judicial officer
can indulge in conduct unbecoming of his office whilst at the same
time giving an order, the result of which is legally sound. Such
unbecoming conduct can either be in the form of a judge taking a case
out of turn, delaying hearings through adjournments, seeking bribes
to give parties their legal dues etc. None of these necessarily need to
affect the outcome. However, importantly in the present case, a
Page | 16
perusal of the chargesheet shows that no such allegation of the
process having been vitiated has been made against the appellant.
28. There is no explicit mention of any extraneous consideration
being actually received or of unbecoming conduct on the part of the
appellant. Instead, the very basis of the finding of ‘misbehaviour’ is the
end result itself, which as per the High Court was so shocking that it
gave rise to a natural suspicion as to the integrity and honesty of the
appellant. Although this might be right in a vacuum, however, given
how the end result itself has been untouched by superior courts and
instead in one of the two cases, the compensation only increased, no
such inference can be made. Thus, the entire case against the
appellant collapses like a house of cards.
CONCLUSION
29. In light of the above discussion, the appeal is allowed. The
judgment of the High Court is set aside and the writ petition filed by
the appellant is allowed. The order of dismissal dated 17.01.2006
passed by Respondent No. 1 is setaside,
and the appellant’s prayers
for reinstatement with consequential benefits including retiral
benefits, is accepted. No order as to costs.
………………………….CJI
(S.A. BOBDE)

……..……………………..J.
(B.R. GAVAI)
…………………………… J.
(SURYA KANT)
NEW DELHI
DATED : 06.03.2020

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