Haryana question paper leak; SC Judge recuses from hearing plea of suspended Registrar of P&H HC
Supreme Court judge Justice Surya Kant Thursday recused himself from hearing an appeal of a suspended Registrar of the Punjab and Haryana High Court who has been facing criminal trial and departmental proceedings for his alleged role in the leak of question paper of Haryana judicial examination in 2017.
The Punjab and Haryana High Court, on May 28, this year, had dismissed the plea of Balwinder Kumar Sharma, the then Registrar (Recruitment), Preliminary Examination of Haryana Civil Services (Judicial Branch), that the departmental proceedings against him be stayed till the conclusion of criminal case on the issue.
The division bench of the high court, in its detailed reportable judgement, had referred to facts and status of the disciplinary proceedings and the criminal trial against the suspended Registrar.
The trial court had framed charges against Sharma and eight others under various provisions of the IPC by prima facie observing that they entered into a criminal conspiracy to ensure leak of the question paper.
“Sharma leaked the said question paper before its due date to co-accused Sunita (prospective candidate) who further leaked the said question paper to co-accused Sushila (prospective candidate) and further allured Suman (complainant) to purchase the paper for the said examination for a sum of Rs. 1.5 crores...,” the high court had said referring to the trial court order on framing of charges.
The high court then referred to the articles of charge appended with the memorandum dated September 15, 2018 to Sharma in the disciplinary proceedings.
“That while you were posted as Registrar (Recruitment), Preliminary Examination of Haryana Civil Services (Judicial Branch) was held on 16.07.2017. The question paper of the said examination remained in your custody, was leaked out due to which some candidates including Ms. Sunita... took undue benefits. Ms. Sunita was in constant contact with you and due to unwarranted favour by you, she managed to get top position in General Category with exceptionally high marks...” the high court had said quoting the articles of charge.
A perusal of the charges framed in criminal trial and Articles of Charge issued to petitioner in departmental enquiry would show that the petitioner has been implicated in both the criminal as well as departmental proceedings on similar set of facts, it had said.
“However, in our opinion this is bound to happen. When an employee is roped in a criminal offence, the disciplinary authority by taking cognizance of such initiation of criminal offence, proceeds with the departmental proceedings to take appropriate action as per the statutory rules governing the post an employee is holding...,” it had said.
Holding that the departmental proceedings cannot be stayed, the early conclusion of such an inquiry is needed to “weed out an employee whose integrity / character has been put to doubt, prima facie, on account of some criminal proceedings having been initiated against him/her.” “At the same time, when an employee is suspended, he/she is entitled to at least half of the pay that it was drawing before being suspended and thus, any inordinate delay in conclusion of departmental proceedings, where charges are of very serious nature, would unnecessarily entail burden on exchequer and thus will be against public interest,” it had said.
The departmental proceedings is to maintain discipline in the service and efficiency of public service and thus, its initiation and conclusion as expeditiously as possible is in public interest, the high court had said.
In the present case, it is not disputed that the charge sheet was presented in 2019 and charges were framed on October 31, 2020, it said, adding that “however till date no progress has been made in the criminal trial on account of one reason or the other. “ Although, the delay in criminal trial cannot be attributed to the petitioner, at the same time, the department cannot be expected to wait endlessly for the trial to conclude, it held.
It said Sharma, being a judicial officer, was required to have the highest standards of propriety as well as moral conduct.
“One of the documentary evidence that has come on record is by way of call detail record of petitioner ... whereby 726 and 34 calls / SMSes have been made between him and accused-Sunita, who incidentally was a topper in the HCS (Judicial) Preliminary Examination. This prima facie reflects towards a conduct not behoving the post that petitioner...held,” it had said.
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