Punjab ordered to replace service tribunal member

Updated 11 Aug 2020

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Supreme COurt verdict says civil servant considered illegal gratification a minor act. — Photo by Aamir Qureshi/File
Supreme COurt verdict says civil servant considered illegal gratification a minor act. — Photo by Aamir Qureshi/File

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court has restrained a member of the Punjab Service Tribunal from discharging his duties over his understanding of the law since he considered the allegation of illegal gratification a minor offence.

Subsequently, the apex court ordered the Punjab government to find a qualified substitution whose knowledge, aptitude and experience should be suitable for the post.

“In our view, taking of illegal gratification itself is a grave offence requiring imposition of major penalty,” observed Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan in a nine-page order he wrote.

Justice Ahsan was a member of the three-judge SC bench, headed by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed.

Considering illegal gratification a minor act was altogether unjustifiable, Justice Ahsan regretted, adding the service tribunal member should not have taken on himself the task of declaring through a quasi judicial verdict a declaration that accepting illegal gratification was a minor act to be visited by minor penalty. This conduct of the member showed that he was perhaps not qualified or lacks aptitude to hold his current position, the SC observed.

Apex court verdict says civil servant considered illegal gratification a minor act

The controversy at hand revolves around an appeal against July 31, 2019 order of the Punjab Service Tribunal, Lahore which had modified a major penalty of compulsory retirement from service of an officer of the police department to withholding of one increment for one year. The departmental proceeding under the Punjab Police (E&D) Rules 1975 had imposed the penalty of compulsory retirement of Muhammad Hamid but the tribunal ordered to reinstate him into service whereas the intervening period was to be treated as leave.

The departmental inquiry under Mianwali District Police Officer had awarded major penalty against Hamid for receiving Rs20,000 from Waseem Hayat for obtaining a DNA test for him. But the service tribunal taking a lenient view converted the penalty of dismissal from service into compulsory retirement with an observation that the departmental inquiry was defective.

Justice Ahsan, in his order, deplored that the tribunal did not record any reasons to substantiate the conclusion that the departmental inquiry was ‘defective’ and that defective procedure was adopted to award the major penalty to Hamid.

The service tribunal had also held that the quantum of punishment awarded to the appellant (Hamid) did not commensurate with the gravity of the charge and that the appellant deserved a bit lenient treatment. “The philosophy of punishment is based on the concept of retribution which may be either through the method of deterrence or reformation,” the tribunal had held, adding that even otherwise the authorities overlooked the human factor and did not inquire the circumstances in its proper context.

Justice Ahsan in the Supreme Court judgement regretted: “We are unable to understand how, why, on what legal basis and in exercise of which jurisdiction the tribunal came to the conclusion that Hamid deserved lenient treatment.”

Also, the court observed what did the punishment awarded to Hamid had to do with the philosophy of punishment and on what basis the tribunal found that the act of an official of a disciplined force of receiving illegal gratification/bribe constituted “a minor act”.

The perusal of the tribunal’s judgement ex facie indicated that it did not qualify as a judicial order, had been passed in a slipshod manner, without due appreciation and application of the relevant laws, rules, regulations and principles of law enunciated by this court relating to the legal issues involved in this matter, the judgement explained.

Taking of illegal gratification itself was a heinous offence, requiring imposition of major penalty, the judgement said, adding the decision of the Punjab Service Tribunal member-I considering it a minor act and imposing a minor penalty showed that the member was neither sensitive nor alive to the offence of taking illegal gratification, which by law was considered serious misconduct.

The court had time and again held that accepting illegal gratification was a heinous offence and a civil servant, who was found guilty of this offence, could not be retained in the civil service and that major penalty had to be imposed on them.

The self-styled philosophy of punishment, retribution, deterrence versus reformation etc had time and again appeared in the orders passed by the member-I of the tribunal, the judgement recalled, observing that in the present case also the member had relied upon these half-cooked and clearly misunderstood concepts.

According to the SC verdict, the modus operandi adopted by the service tribunal member raised questions about his professional capacity to deal with matters of adjudicating service matters inter alia relating to the punishment of the civil servants who were involved in acts of misconduct. The judgement said: “It appears to us that the member-I of the tribunal has not bothered even to look into or examined the law let alone understood it in terms elaborated and settled by this court. On the contrary, he has opted to develop his own philosophy of punishment having underpinnings of reformation and thus allowed Hamid to continue in the civil service of the Punjab.”

Published in Dawn, August 11th, 2020