A woman magistrate, who was sacked for travelling in Mumbai’s local trains without a ticket, has lost the battle in Supreme Court to retain her job.
A Supreme Court bench headed by Justice MK Sharma, upset with her “misbehaviour”, upheld the Bombay high court's verdict dismissing Arundhati Walavalkar from service and said: “In a country governed by the rule of law, nobody is above the law, including judicial officers.”
The bench turned down Walavalkar’s plea that she should be allowed to continue for another two years because it would entitle her to post-retirement benefits such as pension. “This is a case of judicial officer who was required to conduct herself with dignity and manner becoming of a judicial officer,” the court said.
Walavalkar was appointed magistrate in May 1992. She was caught travelling without a ticket in local trains thrice in 1997. On each occasion, she allegedly misbehaved with the railway staff and threatened the officers for checking her. Instead of apologising, Walavalkar justified travelling without a ticket. In a letter to the general manager of Central Railway, she claimed she could not buy tickets due to paucity of time.
Walavalkar said she was forced to travel by trains because the vehicle given to her under the carpool facility took very long to reach court due to unexpected traffic or breakdowns. She said magistrates including her should be allowed to stand in first class compartments of local trains because they also handled matters related to railway police on weekends and holidays.
She demanded to be treated like regular judicial officers who heard cases registered at the railway police station on weekdays.
After taking into account her letter and witnesses’ statements, the disciplinary authority punished Walavalkar with compulsory retirement on September 27, 2000.
The Supreme Court was of the view that a judge’s official and personal conduct must be in tune with the “highest standard of propriety and probity”. “If she has deliberately chosen to depart from these high and exacting standards, she is appropriately liable for disciplinary action,” it said.