A bureaucrat cannot be victimised for criticising a government before a judicial forum, as it does not amount to service misconduct, the Supreme Court has said while slapping a fine of Rs 5 lakh on the Centre and the UP government for harassing an IAS officer who approached it on the black money issue.
"The right to judicial remedies for the redressal of either personal or public grievances is a constitutional right of the subjects (both citizens and non-citizens) of this country. Employees of the state cannot become members of a different and inferior class to whom such right is not available," the bench headed by Justice J Chelameswar said.
The bench, also comprising Justice AK Sikri said it is "astounding" that the Centre and the state government consider that a complaint to the apex court of executive malfeasance causing debilitating economic and security concerns for the country amounts to inappropriate conduct for a civil servant.
"We are at a loss to comprehend how the filing of the writ petition containing allegations that the Government of India is lax in discharging its constitutional obligations of establishing the rule of law can be said to amount to either failure to maintain absolute integrity and devotion to duty or of indulging in conduct unbecoming of a member of the service," the bench said.
The bench said that the Constitution declares India as a sovereign democratic republic and "the requirement of such a democratic republic is that every action of the State is to be informed with reason. State is not a hierarchy of regressively genuflecting coterie of bureaucracy."
The apex court quashed the disciplinary proceedings initiated against UP cadre IAS officer Vijay Shanker Pandey for filing a writ petition through a India Rejuvenation Initiative, an NGO working on the issue of black money.
An enquiry officer appointed to probe the charges of misconduct against Pandey has given him a clean chit in his report which the UP government refused to accept, saying it was "cursory" and it did not consider the mandate of Indian Service Rules.
Another two-member inquiry board was setup by the state government in 2010, to look again into the charges against Pandey.
Imposing a fine of Rs 5 lakh on both the Centre and the UP government to be paid to the IAS officer, the bench said, "The purpose behind the proceedings appears calculated to harass the appellant since he dared to point out certain aspects of mal-administration in the Government of India," it said.
"The whole attempt appears to be to suppress any probe into the question of black money by whatever means fair or foul," the bench further said.
The bench said that disciplinary proceedings are nothing but a part of the strategy to intimidate not only the appellant but also to send a signal to others who might dare in future to expose any mal-administration.