THE STATE OF RAJASTHAN & ORS. Versus PHOOL SINGH

THE STATE OF RAJASTHAN & ORS. Versus PHOOL SINGH

Landmark Cases of India / सुप्रीम कोर्ट के ऐतिहासिक फैसले


REPORTABLE
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION
CIVIL APPEAL NO. 5930 OF 2022
(ARISING OUT OF SLP (C) NO.11195 OF 2021)
THE STATE OF RAJASTHAN & ORS. ... APPELLANTS
Versus
PHOOL SINGH ... RESPONDENT
J U D G M E N T
Sudhanshu Dhulia, J.
1. Leave granted. The State of Rajasthan is in appeal
before this Court against the order dated
09.09.2020, passed by a Division Bench of
Rajasthan High Court (Jaipur Bench). By the
impugned order the Division Bench has upheld the
order of the learned Single Judge which had allowed
the writ petition of the present respondent,
quashing his dismissal from service.
2. Respondent Phool Singh had entered Rajasthan
Police Service as a constable, in the year 1987. The
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same year, while he was posted at the Police
Station Mania, District Dholpur (Rajasthan), he
allegedly committed a criminal offence, apart from
an act of gross indiscipline. On the fateful day of
15.10.1987, he was wandering around the town in
the evening, in company of one Lokman.
Respondent was off duty but in police uniform,
when he allegedly caught one Mahesh Kumar and
demanded Rs.100/- from him. On his refusal,
Mahesh Kumar was asked to show the papers of his
motorcycle and when he failed to show these
papers, Phool Singh took hold of this motorcycle,
and then tried to run away with it. Meanwhile, due
to the alarm raised by Mahesh Kumar a crowd also
gathers in support of Mahesh Kumar. At this point,
Phool Singh is alleged to have waved a gun
(“Pachpera”), towards the crowd but was
nevertheless chased by the crowd, till Phool Singh
succeeds in getting inside his house, which was
nearby. Once inside his house, he fires from his gun
2 | P a g e
which injures the inmates of the house, i.e., his
family members, besides damaging the property.
All this results in lodging of an FIR (No. 146/1987)
against the respondent, at Police Station Mania,
under Sections 392, 307 IPC and Section 34 of
Police Act read with Section 3/25 of Arms Act. After
investigation in the case a chargesheet was filed
against Phool Singh and Lokman. Ultimately
charges were framed under Section 392 IPC and
Section 3/25 of the Arms Act by the Trial Court. The
Trial Court then convicts Phool Singh, under Section
392 IPC and Section 3/25 Arms Act and sentences
him for one-year rigorous imprisonment and fine for
each of the above two offences, with default
stipulations, vide order dated 31.03.1994. The coaccused Lokman is acquitted. This order was
challenged by Phool Singh in appeal and the
learned Sessions Judge, Dholpur, allows the appeal,
and sets aside the order of the Trial Court, giving
“benefit of doubt” to the accused.
3 | P a g e
3. Meanwhile, a departmental proceeding had also
been initiated against the delinquent constable on
three charges, which are as follows:-

“CHARGE NO. l :- In the year 1987
when on 15.10.87 you, Shri Phool Singh
Constable No.386 was deputed with
Police Station Mania at that time while
off duty as Guard time at around 3:00 PM
dressed in police uniform you had
consumed alcohol and under the
influence of alcohol being highly
intoxicated continued to roam around in
Kasba Mania and snatched away
licensed Pachpcra (rifle) of Shivram
Kachhi.
CHARGE NO.2:- On 15.10.87, you in a
drunken state dressed in uniform
alongwith Lokman Gurjar went to
Bedia Kasba Mohalla where being off
duty and without any authority you
demanded for documents pertaining to
Rajdoot Motorcycle from Mahesh Kumar
S/o Shiv Hare Brahmin R/o Patpara
Dholpur and also indecently abused and
demanded for a bribe of Rs.100/- and
4 | P a g e
forcibly looted and took away Motorcycle
bearing registration No.RJD 7722 from
Mahesh Kumar and due to which a lot of
people gathered and they chased behind
you.
CHARGE NO.3:- On being chased by
public you ran and reached your quarter
in the compound of Police Station Mania
and in a drunk state fired in your selfdefence inside your house from the
Pachpera snatched away by you from
Shiv Ram but the gunshot hit the
balcony in the chowk of the quarter and
as a result broken pieces of balcony fell
on your family members and due to
which your family members got injured
and the said incident led to the
registration of FIR No.146 dated
15.10.87 against you u/s 392, 307/34 of
Police Act & 3/25 of Arms Act thereafter
investigation was conducted.”
In the departmental enquiry fourteen prosecution
witnesses were examined. Some of these
witnesses supported the case of the prosecution,
others did not. Additionally, material exhibits were
5 | P a g e
also examined such as, the first information report,
the memorandum of seizure of the motorcycle and
more importantly the Breath Alcohol Analysis Test
of respondent which was positive for alcohol
consumption. The delinquent constable had also
examined nine defence witnesses.
All the three charges were ultimately proved
against the respondent in the disciplinary
proceedings and he was dismissed from service,
vide order dated 18.12.1989. This order of the
disciplinary authority was taken in appeal by
respondent which was also dismissed by the
Appellate Authority on 23.08.1990. Then a review
was also filed, which was also dismissed on
03.06.1994. By the time the Reviewing Authority
had dismissed the review of the respondent (i.e., on
03.06.1994), the respondent who was also facing a
criminal trial was convicted by the Trial court, under
Section 392 IPC and under Section 3/25 of the Arms
Act, on 31.03.1994, as already referred above.
6 | P a g e
Later, as we know, his conviction was set aside by
the Sessions Court.
4. Respondent Phool Singh after his acquittal moves
an application before the authorities for his
reinstatement. Since the authorities did not respond
favourably, he filed a writ petition in the year 1998
before a learned Single Judge of Rajasthan High
Court. The challenge of his dismissal from service
though was made only after his acquittal in the
criminal case, yet the challenge was on various
other grounds as well, such as the order of
termination not being passed by the appointing
authority, non-supply of inquiry report, not being
allowed to cross examine the witness, etc. All these
grounds did not find favour with the learned Single
Judge, except for the ground raised by the
respondent that now since he has faced a criminal
trial on the same set of charges, where he was
ultimately acquitted by the Sessions Court, his
dismissal order is liable to be quashed and he
7 | P a g e
should be reinstated in service. The learned Single
Judge allowed his writ petition and his dismissal
order was quashed and orders for his reinstatement
were made with 50% back wages. State of
Rajasthan filed an appeal against this order before
Division Bench of the High Court which was
dismissed on 09.09.2020. The State is now before
this Court against the order of reinstatement
passed by the Rajasthan High Court.
5. We must reiterate that the High Court of Rajasthan,
both in the writ petition and special appeal had
allowed the case of respondent, Phool Singh only on
the ground, that now since he has been acquitted
by a criminal court, on the same set of facts and
charges on which he had faced a departmental
proceeding, the orders passed in departmental
proceedings are liable to be quashed and he must
be reinstated in service. As we have already
referred above, none of the other arguments raised
on behalf of the private respondent challenging
8 | P a g e
procedural anomalies in the departmental
proceedings, violation of principles of natural justice
and fair play or lack of jurisdiction of the authority,
had found favour with either the learned Single
Judge or the Division Bench.
6. The case of the State, who is the appellant before
this Court is that the respondent was a member of a
disciplined force. There were extremely serious
charges against the respondent in the departmental
proceedings. He was charged of threatening and
extorting money from a member of public, roaming
in a public place under influence of liquor, and then
using a fire arm and causing injuries, which were all
very serious charges. Respondent was given full
opportunity to defend his case in the departmental
proceedings. He was given the opportunity to crossexamine the prosecution witnesses and in fact, he
also presented nine defence witnesses who were
examined in the departmental proceedings. The
disciplinary authority concluded that the delinquent
9 | P a g e
constable (respondent) had committed an act of
gross indiscipline and negligence, as well as
dereliction of duties and of misbehavior and
misconduct, and all this had tarnished the image of
Rajasthan Police in public. Under the circumstances,
the delinquent officer cannot be retained in Police
service and was thus dismissed from service with
immediate effect. The State would also argue that
the acquittal by the criminal court is of no
consequence, as far as departmental proceedings
are concerned.
7. The question before this Court is therefore only to
see whether the respondent can be reinstated in
service for the reason that now on the same set of
charges he has been acquitted by a criminal court?
8. There should be no ambiguity in law on this subject.
A departmental proceeding is different from a
criminal proceeding. The fundamental difference
between the two is that whereas in a departmental
proceeding a delinquent employee can be held
10 | P a g e
guilty on the basis of “preponderance of
probabilities”, in a criminal court the prosecution
has to prove its case “beyond reasonable doubt”. In
short, the difference between the two proceedings
would lie in the nature of evidence and the degree
of its scrutiny. The two forums therefore run at
different levels. For this reason, this Court has
consistently held that merely because a person has
been acquitted in a criminal trial, he cannot be ipso
facto reinstated in service.
9. Be that as it may, a delinquent employee after his
dismissal from service, nevertheless, seeks
reinstatement when he is acquitted by a criminal
court on the same set of charges and facts. A very
heavy reliance is then placed on a decision of this
Court given in Capt. M. Paul Anthony v. Bharat
Gold Mines Ltd. & Anr.1
 Reliance was placed on
this decision by the present respondent as well,
before the learned Single Judge, as well as before
the Division Bench of Rajasthan High Court. Both
1 (1999) 3 SCC 679
11 | P a g e
the courts have relied on this judgment while giving
their decision in favour of the respondent. In Capt.
M. Paul Anthony, this Court had indeed held that
as the petitioner before them had been acquitted
on the same set of charges by a criminal court, he
should be reinstated in service, though he was
dismissed from service after facing a departmental
proceeding. But then the case of Capt. M. Paul
Anthony must be appreciated in the background of
its unique facts.
10. Capt. M. Paul Anthony was working in the year 1985
as a ‘Security Officer’ with ‘Bharat Gold Mines Ltd.’,
which was engaged in the mining of gold in the
Kolar Gold mines in Karnataka. On 02.06.1985 a
raid was conducted by the Superintendent of Police
at the residence of Capt. M. Paul Anthony (whom
we should refer here also as the ‘petitioner’), from
where a sponge gold ball weighing 4.5 grams and
1276 grams of ‘gold bearing sand’ were recovered.
He was immediately suspended from his services
12 | P a g e
and the same day an F.I.R. was registered. The next
day petitioner received a charge sheet and hence
departmental proceedings were also initiated
against him. The petitioner then moved an
application before his disciplinary authorities
praying that the departmental proceedings be
stayed till the conclusion of the criminal
proceedings, but his request was turned down.
Meanwhile he returned to his home State of Kerala
and requested for an adjournment of the
disciplinary proceedings. This request was also
turned down. The departmental proceedings went
ex-parte against the petitioner where he was found
guilty of misconduct. On 07.06.1986 petitioner was
dismissed from service. During his entire period of
suspension, he was not given any subsistence
allowance.
 On 03.02.1987 Capt. M. Paul Anthony was
acquitted in the criminal trial, on the grounds that
the prosecution had failed to establish its case,
13 | P a g e
particularly the police raid on which the entire case
was based. The petitioner, immediately after his
acquittal, placed a copy of the judgment of the
criminal court before his departmental authorities
and prayed for his reinstatement. This was denied
and consequently the petitioner filed a
departmental appeal which was also dismissed. He
then approached the High Court of Karnataka,
where his writ petition was allowed by the Court
and his reinstatement was ordered on the ground
that on the same set of charges, the petitioner has
been acquitted by a criminal court and hence he
must be reinstated in service. The State filed a
special appeal before the Division Bench which was
allowed and the order of the learned Single Judge
was set aside. The petitioner (Capt. M. Paul
Anthony) then challenged the order of the Division
Bench of the Karnataka High Court before this
Court.
14 | P a g e
 There were two factors which weighed with
the Supreme Court, while deciding that case. The
first was the admitted fact that the petitioner was
not given any subsistence allowance during his
period of suspension and therefore, he was not in a
position to face the departmental proceedings in
Karnataka while he was residing in Kerala. The
second aspect was that the petitioner was being
charged on the same set of facts in the two
proceedings and therefore, he had made request to
the departmental authorities to stay the
departmental proceedings till the conclusion of the
criminal case, a request which was denied. This
aspect seems to be the most important factor
weighing in the mind of this Court, as this Court
was of the opinion that the charges, (both in the
criminal court and with the department), involved a
complicated question of fact and law, relating to the
“raid” made by the police, and therefore the
departmental proceedings should have been stayed
15 | P a g e
and it should have awaited the result of the criminal
proceedings. It was in the raid made by the Police
that the ‘Gold sponge ball’ and ‘Gold bearing sand’
were allegedly recovered from his residence. This
factum of “raid and recovery” which was the
fulcrum of the case, stood disproved. Under these
circumstances, it was held that the petitioner was
liable to be reinstated. Capt. M. Paul Anthony
thus must be appreciated for its unique facts and to
our mind it does not lay down a law of universal
application.
11. We say this because as against Capt. M. Paul
Anthony, we have a large number of cases where
this Court has consistently held that the two
proceedings, i.e., criminal and departmental, are
entirely different and merely because one has been
acquitted in a criminal trial that itself will not result
in the reinstatement in service when one has been
found guilty in a departmental proceeding. We may
refer to a few of these decisions.
16 | P a g e
In the case of Union of India v. Sitaram
Mishra2
, a constable in Central Reserve Police
Force (CRPF) was charged for being negligent and
careless and therefore, was removed from service.
The facts of the case were that the constable while
removing the magazine of his 9mm carbine gun,
accidently fired eight rounds which resulted in the
death of one constable who was at the relevant
time in the same barrack. The constable was held
guilty of misconduct in the disciplinary proceedings
and was dismissed from service. Meanwhile the
constable was also tried for the offence under
Section 304 of IPC in a criminal trial where he was
acquitted. He thereafter filed a writ petition before
the High Court challenging his dismissal from
service. The writ petition was dismissed but later on
an appeal before a Division Bench, the order of the
learned Single Judge was set aside and it was
ordered that since the constable by that time had
2 (2019) 20 SCC 588
17 | P a g e
been acquitted in the criminal court, he is liable to
be reinstated in service and since by that time he
had retired from service, he was to be treated in
service with directions that he be given back wages
and pension. This Court while deciding the appeal
filed by the Union of India came to the conclusion
that the grounds which weighed with the High Court
were specious, and merely because the employee
was acquitted by the criminal court it does not
mean, ipso-facto that he is entitled to be reinstated
in service, since he was dismissed from service
after facing a disciplinary proceeding. The reason
being that the disciplinary proceedings are
governed by a different standard of proof, which are
different from what is applied in a criminal
proceeding. Whereas, in a criminal trial the burden
lies on the prosecution to establish the charge
beyond reasonable doubt and in a departmental
proceeding, the charges have to be proved on the
basis of preponderance of probabilities.
18 | P a g e
In the above case a distinction has also been
drawn by this Court between a “criminal offence”
and “misconduct”. One has to be proved in a
criminal court, the other in a departmental
proceeding, and though both may arise from the
same set of facts, yet there is a clear distinction
between the two and merely because one has been
acquitted in a criminal trial, it would not amount to
a reversal of the findings of “misconduct”, which
were arrived in a departmental proceeding. This
Court also observed that the High Court fell into an
error in doing exactly this, which was done by
drawing an ‘erroneous inference’ from the decision
of this Court given in Capt. M. Paul Anthony. We
must therefore, reproduce here the two paragraphs
from the judgment of this Court in Sitaram Mishra
(supra) :-
“14. The fact that the first
respondent was acquitted in the
course of the criminal trial cannot
operate ipso facto as a ground for
vitiating the finding of misconduct
19 | P a g e
which has been arrived at during
the course of the disciplinary
proceedings. The High Court, in our
view, has drawn an erroneous
inference from the decision of this
Court in M. Paul Anthony v. Bharat
Gold Mines Ltd. [M. Paul
Anthony v. Bharat Gold Mines Ltd.,
(1999) 3 SCC 679 : 1999 SCC (L&S)
810]. The High Court adverted to
the following principle of law laid
down in the above judgment: (SCC
p. 687, para 13)
“13….While in the
departmental
proceedings the
standard of proof is one
of preponderance of the
probabilities, in a
criminal case, the charge
has to be proved by the
prosecution beyond
reasonable doubt. The
little exception may be
where the departmental
proceedings and the
criminal case are based
on the same set of facts
and the evidence in both
the proceedings is
common without there
being a variance.”
15. It is undoubtedly correct that the
charge in the criminal trial arose
from the death of a co-employee in
the course of the incident resulting
from the firing of a bullet which took
20 | P a g e
place from the weapon which was
assigned to the first respondent as a
member of the Force. But the charge
of misconduct is on the ground of
the negligence of the first
respondent in handling his weapon
and his failure to comply with the
departmental instructions in regard
to the manner in which the weapon
should be handled. Consequently,
the acquittal in the criminal case
was not a ground for setting aside
the penalty which was imposed in
the course of the disciplinary
enquiry. Hence, having regard to the
parameters that govern the exercise
of judicial review in disciplinary
matters, we are of the view that the
judgment [Sitaram Mishra v. Union
of India, 2007 SCC OnLine Cal 718 :
(2008) 1 Cal LJ 863] of the Division
Bench of the High Court is
unsustainable.”
 A three Judge Bench of this Court in Ajit
Kumar Nag v. General Manager (PJ), Indian Oil
Corpn. Ltd.3 held the position of law, was
explained as follows :-
“11….. In our judgment, the law is
fairly well settled. Acquittal by a
criminal court would not debar an
employer from exercising power
in accordance with Rules and
Regulations in force. The two
proceedings criminal and
departmental - are entirely
3 (2005) 7 SCC 764
21 | P a g e
different. They operate in
different fields and have different
objectives. Whereas the object of
criminal trial is to inflict
appropriate punishment on
offender, the purpose of enquiry
proceedings is to deal with the
delinquent departmentally and to
impose penalty in accordance
with service Rules. In a criminal
trial, incriminating statement
made by the accused in certain
circumstances or before certain
officers is totally inadmissible in
evidence. Such strict rules of
evidence and procedure would
not apply to departmental
proceedings. The degree of proof
which is necessary to order a
conviction is different from the
degree of proof necessary to
record the commission of
delinquency. The rule relating to
appreciation of evidence in the
two proceedings is also not
similar. In criminal law, burden of
proof is on the prosecution and
unless the prosecution is able to
prove the guilt of the accused
'beyond reasonable doubt’, he
cannot be convicted by a court of
law. In departmental enquiry, on
the other hand, penalty can be
imposed on the delinquent officer
on a finding recorded on the basis
of 'preponderance of
probability'…..”
22 | P a g e
12. Thus, in the present case, the learned Single Judge
as well as the Division Bench of Rajasthan High
Court were clearly wrong in interfering with the
order of the Disciplinary Authority of the Rajasthan
Police and placing their reliance on Capt. M. Paul
Anthony. It is the Disciplinary Authority which is
best equipped to reach a finding whether a
“misconduct” has been committed. The prime
concern of a Judge should be whether such a
finding has been arrived after following a fair
procedure, following the principles of natural justice
and fairness. This aspect has been underlined in a
recent judgment of this Court (State of Rajasthan
v. Heem Singh4
). The relevant para is reproduced
as hereunder:-
“39. In exercising judicial review in
disciplinary matters, there are two
ends of the spectrum. The first
embodies a rule of restraint. The
second defines when interference
is permissible. The rule of restraint
constricts the ambit of judicial
review. This is for a valid reason.
4 (2020) SCC OnLine SC 886
23 | P a g e
The determination of whether a
misconduct has been committed
lies primarily within the domain of
the disciplinary authority. The
judge does not assume the mantle
of the disciplinary authority. Nor
does the judge wear the hat of an
employer. Deference to a finding of
fact by the disciplinary authority is
a recognition of the idea that it is
the employer who is responsible
for the efficient conduct of their
service. Disciplinary enquiries
have to abide by the rules of
natural justice. But they are not
governed by strict rules of
evidence which apply to judicial
proceedings. The standard of proof
is hence not the strict standard
which governs a criminal trial, of
proof beyond reasonable doubt,
but a civil standard governed by a
preponderance of probabilities.
Within the rule of preponderance,
there are varying approaches
based on context and subject. The
first end of the spectrum is
founded on deference and
autonomy – deference to the
position of the disciplinary
authority as a fact finding
authority and autonomy of the
employer in maintaining discipline
and efficiency of the service. At
the other end of the spectrum is
the principle that the court has the
jurisdiction to interfere when the
findings in the enquiry are based
on no evidence or when they
24 | P a g e
suffer from perversity. A failure to
consider vital evidence is an
incident of what the law regards as
a perverse determination of fact.
Proportionality is an entrenched
feature of our jurisprudence.
Service jurisprudence has
recognized it for long years in
allowing for the authority of the
court to interfere when the finding
or the penalty are disproportionate
to the weight of the evidence or
misconduct. Judicial craft lies in
maintaining a steady sail between
the banks of these two shores
which have been termed as the
two ends of the spectrum. Judges
do not rest with a mere recitation
of the hands-off mantra when they
exercise judicial review. To
determine whether the finding in a
disciplinary enquiry is based on
some evidence an initial or
threshold level of scrutiny is
undertaken. That is to satisfy the
conscience of the court that there
is some evidence to support the
charge of misconduct and to guard
against perversity. But this does
not allow the court to reappreciate evidentiary findings in
a disciplinary enquiry or to
substitute a view which appears to
the judge to be more appropriate.
To do so would offend the first
principle which has been outlined
above. The ultimate guide is the
exercise of robust common sense
25 | P a g e
without which the judges’ craft is
in vain.”
It is true that this Court, apart from the case of
Capt. M. Paul Anthony, has in a few cases not
interfered with the reinstatement of an employee
who was dismissed as a result of disciplinary
proceedings, and was only reinstated in service
because of his acquittal in criminal proceedings, but
again the reasons which weighed with the Court in
such cases were that in almost in all such cases,
the acquittal was an honourable acquittal and not
an acquittal on a technicality, or on acquittal given
because of “benefit of doubt”.
13. In the case at hand, respondent was convicted by
the Trial Court and in appeal the Appellate Court
only acquitted him by giving him a “benefit of
doubt”. The operative part of order dated
26.11.1994 of the Appellate Authority reads as
under: -

“Hence, on the basis of aforesaid
analysis the present appeal on
behalf of the appellant accused
26 | P a g e
against the respondent/
prosecution is allowed and the
judgment and sentence dated
21.3.94 passed by the
Subordinate Court of Munsif &
Judicial Magistrate Dholpur is
hereby quashed and the above
appellant/accused Phool Singh is
acquitted for the charge u/s 392
IPC & u/s 3/25 of Arms Act by
giving benefit of doubt.”
14. Therefore, in the present case the acquittal of the
respondent is not an honourable acquittal, but an
acquittal given due to a “benefit of doubt”. Under
these circumstances and in view of the position of
law as stated above, this appeal is allowed and the
order dated 29.01.2014 of the learned Single Judge
and the order dated 09.09.2020 of the Division
Bench of Rajasthan High Court, Jaipur Bench are
hereby set aside.

……..............................J
[S. RAVINDRA BHAT]
……............................J.
[SUDHANSHU DHULIA]
New Delhi,
September 02, 2022.
27 | P a g e

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