In a major embarrassment for the Centre, the Delhi High Court has imposed upon it a fine of Rs 25,000 for its “conflicting and inconsistent” stand on remitting pension benefit to a former Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) officer who was compulsorily retired from service after her identity became public.
A bench of Justice S Ravindra Bhat and Justice RV Easwar came down hard on the central government for its flip-flop on the stand on former R&AW director (training) Nisha Priya Bhatia’s 15 months unauthorised absence from duty.
The central government had argued before the court that the entire period of Bhatia’s absence was unauthorised, and amounts to “grave” misconduct, warranting inquiry.
However, at the same time, it had also expressed willingness to condone the “lapse” if she applies for leave.
“This approach, is conflicting and inconsistent,” the court said dismissing Centre’s appeal against a Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) order asking it to give full pension benefits to Bhatia from the day her compulsory retirement came into effect.
The bench took the decision after considering the circumstances under which Bhatia proceeded on leave. It rejected Centre’s plea to limit the argument of the case to the misconduct arising out of unauthorised absence.
The court noted that Bhatia’s trouble started in October 2007 after she complained of sexual harassment at the workplace.
Within a month she was posted as director (training) in place of the then director SS Mohapatra who was initially posted out as director (PR) Hqrs.
However, a week later, Mohapatra’s transfer was cancelled. “The result was that two officers were posted against one sanctioned post of director (training),” the court said.
In protest, Bhatia went on leave from August 29, 2008 to November 22, 2009. Later, the Central government, on December 18, 2009, compulsorily retired Bhatia on the ground that she was “exposed” as an intelligence officer.
It was only after the Central government’s prevaricate of the release of her pension and terminal benefits that she approached the CAT.
“This Court has no doubt that the CAT’s impugned order directing the Union government to not hold any inquiry into allegations of Ms. Bhatia’s period of absence, was justified and calls for no interference,” the court said.
The court also directed the government to clear all her dues within four weeks with nine percent rate of interest.