Supreme Court of India
Union Of India & Ors vs Balwant Singh on 22 July, 2015Bench: Jagdish Singh Khehar, Adarsh Kumar Goel



(Arising from SLP(C) No.12917/2012)

Union of India and others …Appellants


Balwant Singh ..Respondent


Jagdish Singh Khehar, J.

1. The respondent was inducted into the service of the Assam
Rifles as a Rifleman on 25.11.1991. He claims to have discharged his
duties to the absolute satisfaction of his superiors, and earned promotions
to higher ranks till 2007, when he came to hold the rank of Havaldar.
Whilst holding the rank of Havaldar, he was issued a show cause notice
dated 27.08.2008 informing him, that he had earned four “Red Ink entries”,
and asking him why he should not be discharged from service. The aforesaid
show cause notice relied upon certain provisions of the Assam Rifles Act,
1941, besides the Assam Rifles Manual, and also Clause 5 of the Record of
Office Instructions 1/2004 (hereinafter referred to as the ‘ROI 1/2004’).
2. In the show cause notice, the respondent was intimated, that he
had earned nine punishments which included five “Red Ink entries” and “four
Black Ink entries”. The details of the disciplinary action taken against
the respondent has been depicted in a compilation, which is a part of the
record of the case, and is being extracted hereunder:|S. NO. |OFFENCE |DATE OF OFFENCE|STATEMENT OF |PUNISHMENT |
|(a) |AA Sec 39 (b) |14 Nov 99 |Without sufficient |10 days pay |
| | | |cause of |fine on 30 Nov|
| | | |overstaying leave |99 |
| | | |granted to him | |
|(b) |AR Act 1941 Sec|27 Mar 05 |Intoxication |7 days |
| |9 An act | | |forfeiture od |
| |prejudicial to | | |pay on 28 Mar |
| |good order and | | |05 |
| |discipline | | | |
|(c) |AA Sec – 48 |24 May 07 |Intoxication |14 days pay |
| | | | |fine on 01 Jun|
| | | | |07 |
|(d) |AA Sec – 48 |23 Jul 07 |Intoxication |Severe |
| | | | |reprimand and |
| | | | |14 days pay |
| | | | |fine on 23 Jul|
| | | | |07 |
|(e) |AA Sec – 48 |07 Oct 07 |Intoxication |Severe |
| | | | |reprimand on |
| | | | |15 Oct 07 |
|(f) |AA Sec – 48 |10 Oct 07 |Intoxication |14 days pay |
| | | | |fine on 16 Oct|
| | | | |07 |
|(g) |AA Sec – 39 (b)|06 Feb 08 |Without sufficient |Severe |
| | | |cause of |reprimand on |
| | | |overstaying leave |01 Mar 08 |
| | | |granted to him | |
|(h) |AA Sec – 48 |11 Aug 08 |Intoxication |Severe |
| | | | |reprimand on |
| | | | |26 Aug 08 |
|(i) |AA Sec – 39 (c)|29 Dec 08 |Absenting himself |Severe |
| |and AA Sec – 48| |without leave and |reprimand on |
| | | |intoxication |06 Jan 09 |

It is relevant to mention, that the four “Red Ink entries” taken into
consideration, insofar as the show cause notice dated 27.08.2008 is
concerned, are depicted at serial nos. (d), (e), (g) and (h) of the above
compilation. The details of the cause/action, why the above punishments
were inflicted on the respondent (at serial nos. (d), (e), (g) and (h)),
have also been expressed in the pleadings. Insofar as the punishment at
serial no. (d) is concerned, the same came to be imposed on the respondent
on account of the fact that on 23.07.2007, while he was on “motor vehicle
check post duty” at 19:50 hrs., he was found in an intoxication state.
Insofar as the punishment at serial no. (e) is concerned, it was pointed
out, that the respondent was again found in an intoxicating state, while on
“platoon training duty” at Diphu on 07.10.2007 at 20:45 hrs. The third
punishment at serial no. (g) was imposed on the respondent, on account of
his having overstayed leave, granted to him, for a period of eighteen days.
The last of the above punishments, depicted at serial no. (h), was imposed
on the respondent, on account of the fact, that he was again found in an
intoxicated state on 11.08.2008 at 17:00 hrs., while on “road opening
party duty”.
3. In addition to the factual position, indicated hereinabove,
learned counsel for the appellants highlights the fact, that after the
first three “Red Ink entries” were recorded against the respondent, a
notice dated 2.3.2008 was issued to him, informing the respondent, that he
had already been issued three “Red Ink entries”, and that he was liable to
be discharged from service, in case one further “Red Ink entry” is
recorded. The respondent submitted a reply thereto, undertaking not to
commit any further delinquency, and acknowledging, that in case one further
“Red Ink entry” was issued to him, he may be discharged from service.
4. In response to the show cause notice dated 27.08.2008, which
was issued to the respondent after the fourth “Red Ink entry” was recorded
on 26.08.2008, the respondent submitted a reply acknowledging the entire
factual position depicted in the show cause notice. It is therefore, that
an order of discharge dated 7.2.2009 was passed. In the above order of
discharge, it was mentioned, that the action had been taken against the
respondent, inter alia, under Clause 5 of ROI 1/2004, as it had been
concluded, that he was an ‘incorrigible offender’. Despite having so
concluded, he was held entitled to pension and gratuity, as were admissible
under the rules.
5. Dissatisfied with the order of discharge, the respondent
addressed a representation dated 20.04.2009 to the Director General, Assam
Rifles. The aforesaid representation was rejected by an order dated
8.5.2009. The respondent assailed all the adverse orders passed against
him, by filing Writ Petition No. 167(SH) of 2009 before the Gauhati High
Court. The aforesaid writ petition was dismissed by a learned Single Judge
on 22.4.2010. The respondent then preferred Writ Appeal No. (SH)54 of
2010, which was allowed by an order dated 2.11.2011. The instant special
leave petition was filed by the Union of India and others, so as to assail
the order passed by the Division Bench on 2.11.2011.
6. Delay condoned. Leave granted.
7. A perusal of the impugned order reveals, that the Division
Bench of the High Court did not find any serious fault with the impugned
order passed by the learned Single Judge, except that it was felt, that the
punishment imposed upon the respondent was disproportionate, when compared
to the charges on which the four “Red Ink entries” had been recorded. To
appreciate the basis of the directions, and the nature of the direction
issued by the High Court while disposing of the writ appeal filed by the
respondent on 2.11.2011, we find it just and appropriate to extract
paragraphs 18 and 19 of the order passed by the Division Bench:
“18. Bearing in mind the long service career that the delinquent was left
with in the Organization and considering the serious hardship that the
family would suffer when the breadearner is discharged at the age of 35
years after 17 years of service and also taking into consideration the
discretionary nature of the power under Clause 5 of the Record Office
Instructions (ROI) and taking into account the nature of the 4 violations
for which the red ink entries were given, we feel that a penalty which will
not result in discontinuation of service, would better serve the cause of
justice. In the context of the charges, we feel that the punishment is
disproportionate and the disciplinary authority should have inflicted a
lesser punishment to the delinquent, so that he could continue in service.

19. Consequently we feel inclined to interfere with the impugned order(s)
of 07-07-2009 and 08-05-2009 and accordingly the same are set aside and
quashed. The petitioner is ordered to be reinstated in service subject to
assessment of his physical fitness. However, the respondents are at liberty
to impose any lesser punishment balancing the interest of the organization
and also of the delinquent. Accordingly we interfere with the impugned
judgment of 29-11-2010 and allow this Appeal without any order of cost.”

8. During the course of hearing, learned counsel for the
appellants supported the impugned order of discharge dated 7.2.2009,
merely on the strength of Clause 5 of the ROI 1/2004. The same is being
extracted hereunder:
“5. Discharge/Disposal of Undesirable/Inefficient Personnel : Vide
Chapter VIII, Rule 24 of the Assam Rifles Manual confers powers on the
commandants of Assam Rifles Battalion to discharge any members of the Assam
Rifles below the rank of Nb/Sub. This power may be exercised by a
Commandant in case where a person has got four or more red ink entries. In
case, it is necessary to send an individual on discharge under this
provision, a notice will be served on the individual affording an
opportunity to him to explain his case. Thereafter the complete case will
be forwarded to Sector HQ along with the notice and reply received from the
individual, for the approval of the Sector Commander. Thereafter the
documents will be sent to this Directorate, Record Branch/UPAO for final
settlement of his IRLA.”

Referring to the above clause, it was the contention of the learned counsel
for the appellants, that before an order of discharge could be passed by
the Commandant, there were certain perquisites which included that a notice
need to be served to the concerned individual, affording him an opportunity
to explain his case. Upon receipt of his reply and the determination of
the issue, the complete case need to be forwarded to the Sector Headquarter
(along with the notice and the reply, for approval at the hands of the
Commander), and finally all the documents were to be sent to the
Directorate, Record Branch/UPAO for final settlement of the “individual
running ledger account”. It was submitted by the learned counsel for the
appellants, that all the necessary perquisites were complied with, and more
particularly, the show cause notice dated 27.8.2008 was issued to the
respondent, and action was taken against the respondent, only upon his
having submitted a reply thereto. It is also the contention of the learned
counsel for the appellants, that in the reply filed by the respondent, he
had admitted the factual position, namely, the recording of four “Red Ink
entries”, which constituted the basis for the show cause notice for
discharge, issued to him.
9. Despite the satisfaction of the terms and conditions of
discharge emerging from Clause 5 of ROI 1/2004, it was the contention of
the learned counsel for the respondent, that it will be unfair and unjust
to discharge the respondent from service, on account of his unblemished
record of service, including the fact that he had been selected for
participation in the Republic Day contingent for three consecutive years,
besides that, he had also earned laurels for having captured militants and
recovered arms and ammunitions. Additionally, it was the contention of the
learned counsel, that the respondent had discharged unblemished service
selflessly by risking his life on various occasions, only with the object
of obediently discharging the duties assigned to him.
10. The second contention advanced at the hands of the learned
counsel for the respondent, was of discrimination. It was the contention
of the learned counsel for the respondent, that one Jose Nedum Joseph, who
was dismissed from service, had approached the High Court by filing Writ
Petition (C) No. 2099 of 1999, and the order of dismissal from service
inflicted upon him, was reduced to that of discharge. It was submitted,
that the afore-stated Jose Nedum Joseph was alleged to have committed
delinquencies relating to cheating, indiscipline, and such actions, where
the safety of the unit was compromised. Additionally, the aforesaid Jose
Nedum Joseph was also accused of insubordination. It was the contention of
the learned counsel for the respondent, that as compared to the delinquency
alleged against the afore-stated Jose Nedum Joseph, the charges levelled
against the respondent were only, that of having been found intoxicated
while on duty on three occasions, and absent from duty without leave on one
occasion. It was submitted, that none of the above charges compromised the
security of the unit, and as such, the punishment of discharge was highly
disproportionate to the accusations levelled against him.
11. We have given our thoughtful consideration to the submissions
advanced at the hands of the learned counsel for the rival parties. Assam
Rifles is admittedly a disciplined force, wherein indiscipline would
undermine the task entrusted to it. Therefore, indiscipline at that hands
of the uniformed personnel of force, cannot be tolerated. Insofar as the
present controversy is concerned, after three “Red Ink entries” were issued
to the respondent, wherein he was “severely reprimanded”, he was issued a
notice dated 2.3.2008 informing him that one further “Red Ink entry” would
entail discharge from service. The respondent acknowledged the receipt of
the aforesaid notice, and undertook to ensure that he would not earn any
further “Red Ink entry”. And that, in case another “Red Ink entry” was
issued to him, he would accept discharge from service. Despite the above,
soon after the receipt of the above notice dated 2.3.2008, yet another “Red
Ink entry” was issued to the respondent on 11.08.2008. Not only that, even
a further punishment was inflicted on the respondent, after the last of the
four “Red Ink entries”, on 29.12.2008, when he was again severely
reprimanded and issued a further “Red Ink entry” on 6.1.2009, for having
absented himself without leave and for having been found in an intoxicated
state, while on duty, on 29.12.2008.
12. In the above view of the matter, we are of the view, that not
only were the parameters depicted in Clause 5 of the ROI 1/2004 fully
satisfied, even the Commanding Officer was satisfied that the delinquency
of the respondent could be ignored, and as such, the order of discharge
dated 7.2.2009 was passed. We find no infirmity in the passing of the above
13. Another basis, for concluding the issue in favour of the
respondent by the Division Bench was, that while exercising the power to
discharge, the competent authority had not complied with the mandate
contained in sub-section (3) of Section 4 of the Assam Rifles Act. Section
4, relied upon by the High Court, is being extracted hereunder:

1.) The appointment of all riflemen shall rest with the Commandant.

2.) Before any person is appointed to be a rifleman, the statement in the
Schedule shall be read and if necessary explained to him in the presence of
a Magistrate, Commandant, and shall be signed by him in acknowledgment of
it’s having been so read to him.

3.) A rifleman shall not be entitled to be discharged except in accordance
with the terms of the statement which he has signed under this Act or under
the Assam Rifles Act, 1920.”

14. Learned counsel for the appellants vehemently contended, that
sub-section (3) of Section 4, referred to by the High Court, is
inapplicable in a situation where the discharge is to be ordered by the
employer. According to the learned counsel, sub-section (3) of Section 4,
would be applicable when the concerned employee claims discharge after
having rendered specified service, as depicted in “The Schedule Statement”,
appended to the Assam Rifles Act, namely, four years of service in the
first instance.
15. We find merit in the contention advanced at the hands of the
learned counsel for the appellants. In a case of discharge by the
employer, namely, the Assam Rifles, sub-section (3) of Section 4 has no
applicability. A collective perusal of Section 4 extracted above, and “The
Schedule Statement” appended to the Assam Rifles Act, leaves no room for
any doubt, that the provisions of the Act also vest an option with the
employees governed by the Act to seek discharge from service. Section 4(3)
is the pointed provision. As such, it is imperative for us to hold, that
the Division Bench of the High Court erroneously concluded, that the
punishment in the present case, could not have been supported on the basis
of the powers given to the Commandant, under Section 4 of the Assam Rifles
16. Insofar as the issue of discrimination is concerned, insofar as
the instance of Jose Nedum Joseph has been cited on behalf of the
respondent, we find no comparison thereof with the delinquency alleged
against the respondent. Firstly, because Jose Nedum Joseph was originally
ordered to be dismissed from service. The High Court had reduced the order
of punishment of dismissal to that of discharge. In the instant case, on
account of the compliance of the provisions of Clause 5 of ROI 1/2004, the
respondent was merely discharged from duty. The order of discharge was in
compliance with the provisions made by the authorities. Moreover, it
cannot be accepted that the respondent did not compromise the safety of his
unit, whilst he was found to be in an intoxicated state while on duty. It
is quite another matter, that no incident occurred at the time, when the
respondent was found to be intoxicated. The plea of discrimination is
accordingly unacceptable.
17. For the reasons recorded hereinabove, we are satisfied that the
impugned order passed by the Division Bench of the High Court dated
2.11.2011 deserves to be set aside. Ordered accordingly.
18. The instant appeal is accordingly allowed. The parties shall
bear their own costs.

………………………………..J. [JAGDISH SINGH KHEHAR]




Civil Appeal No.5616/2015 @ SLP(C) No. 12917/2012

UNION OF INDIA & ORS. Appellant(s)


BALWANT SINGH Respondent(s)
(with appln. (s) for c/delay in filing SLP and interim relief and office

Date : 22/07/2015 This appeal was called on for hearing today.


For Appellant(s) Mr. R. Balasubramanian, Adv.
Ms. Madhvi Divan, Adv.
Ms. Rashmi Malhotra, Adv.
Mr. Santosh Kumar, Adv.
for Mr. B. Krishna Prasad,AOR

For Respondent(s) Mr. Avijit Bhattacharjee,Adv.
Ms.Upma Shrivastava, Adv.

UPON hearing the counsel the Court made the following

Delay condoned.

Leave granted.

The appeal is allowed in terms of the signed judgment.

(Renuka Sadana) (Parveen Kr. Chawla)
Court Master AR-cum-PS
{signed judgment is placed on the file]


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