Sadhna Chaudhary vs The State Of Uttar Pradesh on 6 March, 2020


Supreme Court of India

Sadhna Chaudhary vs The State Of Uttar Pradesh on 6 March, 2020

Author: Hon’Ble The Justice

Bench: Hon’Ble The Justice, B.R. Gavai, Surya Kant

                                                                        REPORTABLE
                                    IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
                                     CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION


                                      CIVIL APPEAL NO. 2077 OF 2020
                         [Arising out of Special Leave Petition(C)No. 8550 OF 2019]



      Sadhna Chaudhary                                                  ..... Appellant



                                           VERSUS



      State of U.P. & Anr.                                           .....Respondents



                                               JUDGMENT

Leave Granted.

2. This appeal has been preferred by Sadhana Chaudhary, being

aggrieved, against an order dated 12.12.2018 passed by the High

Court of Judicature at Allahabad by which her writ petition, seeking

judicial review of her dismissal from the Uttar Pradesh Higher Judicial

Services by Respondent No. 1, had been rejected.

FACTUAL MATRIX

3.
Signature Not Verified The appellant was recruited into the Uttar Pradesh Judicial
Digitally signed by
CHARANJEET KAUR

Services on 05.06.1975 and was posted as Additional Munsif,
Date: 2020.03.06
17:05:50 IST
Reason:

Dehradun. She was subsequently promoted to the Chief Judicial

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Magistrate Cadre in 1981, and again to the Uttar Pradesh Higher

Judicial Services on 21.03.1987.

4. A Division Bench of the High Court of Judicature at Allahabad,

while seized of the first appeal against a Land Acquisition Reference,

made certain observations on 05.03.2004 with regard to the manner

in which some other land acquisition cases of similar nature were

being adjudicated by subordinate judicial officers in the state of Uttar

Pradesh.1 A copy of the judgment was placed by the Registrar before

the Administrative Committee of High Court for appropriate action.

The Administrative Committee constituted a committee comprising of

two Judges to probe into complaints of collusion in land acquisition

matters. This enquiry committee after visiting numerous districts of

western Uttar Pradesh (UP) and examination of many judgments,

submitted a report on 19.09.2004 recommending initiation of

disciplinary action against certain judicial officers, including the

appellant.

5. Accordingly, a Charge Sheet was served upon the appellant with

regard to two judicial orders delivered by her during her stint as

Additional District Judge at Ghaziabad. Following were the charges

attributed to the appellant:

“Charge No.1 ­ That you on 10.02.2003 while posted as IInd
Additional District Judge Ghaziabad decided Land Acquisition
Reference No.193/1996 Lile Singh Vs. State of U.P. and 35

1
Agra Development Authority v. State of UP, 2004 All LJ 1853.

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others illegally and against all judicial norms and propriety
awarding to the claimants solatium, additional amount and
interest over and above the rate at which two other claimants
had entered into compromise which was inclusive of such
other benefits at an enhanced rate of Rs.265/­ per sq. yard as
against Rs.74.40 determined by the S.L.A.O. for land area 276
Bighas 12 Biswas and 15 Biswansi, unduly awarded an
additional amount of Rs.47,73,39,903.86 which leads to an
inference that you were actuated by extraneous
considerations and you thereby failed to maintain absolute
integrity and complete devotion to duty and you thus
committed misconduct within the meaning of Rule 3 of UP
Govt. Servants Conduct rules 1956.

Charge No.2 ­ That you on 7.11.2003 posted as Additional
District Judge, Court No.1, Ghaziabad, while deciding Land
Acquisition Reference No.91 of 2001 Umesh Chandra Vs.
State of UP and 66 other cases enhanced the rate of
compensation from Rs.100/­ per square yard determined by
the S.L.A.O to Rs.160/­ per square yard, illegally disregarding
the exemplars filed by the defendants including your own
award in Land Acquisition Reference No.1 of 1992, Surendra
Vs State of UP decided on 24.03.1993, for land acquired in the
same year, in the same area and under the same scheme in
order to award an additional amount of Rs.28,53,24,896.80
to the claimants for land area 483 Bighas, 14 Biswas and 8
Biswansis leading to inference that you were actuated by
extraneous considerations and you thereby failed to maintain
absolute integrity and complete devotion to duty, and you
thus committed misconduct within the meaning of Rule 3 of
UP Government Servants Conduct Rules 1956. ”

(Emphasis applied)

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6. The appellant submitted detailed reply to the chargesheet, as

well as additional written arguments. Subsequently, an enquiry was

conducted and the Enquiry Committee through its report dated

09.09.2005 held that both the charges had been proved for these were

errors apparent in both cases which were such `shocking blunders’

that they could not be attributed to mere misjudgment, and

consequently were proved to be ‘deliberate’. The said report was placed

before the Administrative Committee which accepted the same vide

resolution dated 29.11.2005, and referred the matter to the Full Court

for determination of quantum of punishment. The Full Court resolved

to dismiss the appellant from service and consequently forwarded its

recommendation to the State (Respondent No. 1), which through an

office memorandum issued by its Appointments Department on

17.01.2006, dismissed the appellant from service with immediate

effect. The appellant challenged the order of dismissal before the High

Court on judicial side invoking the writ jurisdiction.

7. The Division Bench of the HC took note of the two land

acquisition references which had been decided by the appellant. With

regards to the first case of Lile Singh v. State2 it held that the

appellant had wrongly relied upon a compromise deed of two other

claimants to enhance compensation from Rs 74.40/sq yd (as

determined by the Special Land Acquisition Officer) to Rs 264/sq yd.

2
Land Acquisition Reference No. 193 of 2006, delivered on 10.02.2003.

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Additionally, she had awarded solatium and interest over and above

the said determined rate, which led to a steep escalation to Rs 720/sq

yd. Holding such reliance on compromise deeds as being

incomprehensible owing to the statutory bar of Section 11(3) of the

Land Acquisition Act, 1894, the escalation was deemed

disproportionate and against judicial propriety.

8. With regard to the second reference in Umesh Chandra v.

State3, the Court observed that the appellant as a judge illegally

disregarded exemplars filed by the State­respondents, particularly, an

award of Rs 108/sq yd passed only a few months ago by her in a

similar case. Notwithstanding such evidence, the appellant was said to

have increased the compensation from Rs 100/sq yd to Rs 160/sq yd,

in contravention of all judicial norms.

9. The Bench opined that it was settled law that although the final

decision made by a judicial officer was of no relevance for purposes of

disciplinary enquiry, however, the legality and correctness of the

decision­making process as well as the conduct of the officers in

discharge of their duties ought to be considered. The High Court

accordingly endorsed the Respondent’s plea that the decision­making

process of the appellant while deciding the aforementioned two land

acquisition references was bereft of judicial propriety, settled judicial

norms and was actuated by extraneous considerations. Additionally,

the High Court placed emphasis on the windfall gain made available to
3
Land Acquisition Reference No. 91 of 2001, delivered on 07.11.2003.

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the claimants as being evidence of the deliberate lapses made by the

appellant in response to extraneous considerations, and not merely

errors of judgment. This, the High Court noted, amounted to

misconduct as opined by the Enquiry Committee.

10. Furthermore, the Court noted that, even otherwise, strict rules of

evidence were inapplicable to departmental enquiries, and the scope of

judicial review in such matters also being very limited, findings of the

disciplinary enquiry could be interfered with only in the complete

absence of material, which was not the case at hand.

CONTENTIONS OF PARTIES

11. Counsel for the appellant made a spirited argument that

although the High Court undoubtedly expounded the correct law,

however it failed to appropriately apply it to the facts of the present

case. He argued that the chargesheet made no allegation of the

‘decision­making process’ being illegal, and the same could not be

made a ground for the appellant’s dismissal later. Taking the Court

through the charge sheet on record, it was highlighted that no

allegation of receipt of any illegal gratification or being swayed by any

specific extraneous factor was even levelled against her, let alone being

proved. No witnesses or material to cast doubts upon the decision­

making process were adduced, except for merely the two land

acquisition reference orders. This, as per PC Joshi v. State of UP4,

4
(2001) 6 SCC 491.

Page | 6
was clearly impermissible. Even otherwise, determining

appropriateness of the substance of the judicial orders was said to be

the domain of appellate courts and not the enquiry committees.

12. Even on merits, it was contended that the High Court erred in

holding that the appellant had illegally relied upon compromise deeds

while authoring the order in Liley Singh, for the supposed bar under

Section 11(3) of the LA Act was applicable only to awards by

Collectors. Reference Courts were guided by distinct legal provisions

under Sections 23 and 24, per which compromise deeds were not

excluded. The escalations were also shown as not being arbitrary, but

rather founded upon the Compromise Policy of the New Okhla

Industrial Development Authority, which was tweaked to grant

statutory dues of solatium and interest instead of the additional 10%

developed land being granted by the State authorities. Hence, it was

pleaded, that if anything, the net compensation of Rs 720/sq yd was

effectively lower in cost to the State than the Rs 1120/sq yd being

borne under their own policy.

13. Qua Umesh Chand, it was submitted that the deviation from the

appellant’s very own judgment rendered five months ago, was a result

of the substantial development and increase in prices which took place

in the interregnum. This was duly backed up by documentary

evidence produced by the vigilant claimants, and hence compensation

was enhanced by a factor of 60% to Rs 160/sq yd. Glaringly, this very

Page | 7
compensation, which was found as being a shocking blunder by the

enquiry committee, was further enhanced by the Apex Court in an SLP

filed by some other claimants to Rs 297/sq yd., and appeals filed by

the Local Development Authority had been dismissed. Thus, the very

basis of the inference of misconduct was claimed as not having

survived.

14. Reiterating the position of law expounded by the High Court, the

appellant argued that it was the conduct of a judicial officer in

discharge of her duties, and not the legality/correctness of her

decision, could be subjected to disciplinary action. Given the detailed

reasons in both references by the appellant, there was no ‘reckless

discharge of duties’ either. Even if there were to be such omission in

duty, in the absence of any charge of illegal gratification, it would

amount to ‘negligence’ and not ‘misconduct’ as per this Court’s order

in Union of India v. J Ahmed5. The charges were said to be based

merely upon unfounded suspicion, and any possible errors in the

judicial orders were contended not to be grounds for action, owing to

long­settled principles of judicial immunity tracing back to the

Judicial Officers Protection Act, 1850.

15. The enquiry itself was stated to be roving in nature, without any

rational basis for selecting those two cases only. The order of the High

Court in Agra Development Authority (supra) was to be applicable

5
AIR 1979 SC 1022.

Page | 8
only to instances where complaints of judicial impropriety or

allegations of collusion in land acquisition reference cases were made

against judicial officers, which was not the present case.

Notwithstanding guilt, the appellant urged that the quantum of

punishment was unfair. Having rendered almost thirty years of

unblemished service, dismissing her on the strength of abovestated

charges, was prayed as being disproportionate.

16. On the other hand, Learned Counsel for the High Court

(Respondent No. 2) contended that judicial officers are not ordinary

government servants, and that they must adhere to a higher standard

of probity and ought to be above suspicion. Persons occupying such

high posts should have high integrity, honesty, moral vigour, fairness

and must be impervious to corrupt or venial influences. The limited

scope of interference in matters of domestic enquiry where the

allegations founded upon specific facts have been proved, was also

highlighted.

17. The scope of the present proceedings, thus was sought to be

restricted, by drawing attention to constitutional provisions which

bestowed exclusive control of the High Court over the subordinate

judges, with the aim of preserving independence of judiciary. Given

the fact that opportunities of being heard and placing on record

written submissions were duly accorded to the appellant, and her

detailed replies had been considered and rejected, it was not open for

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her to seek re­determination of her case through this Court. Both the

enquiry committee and the Full Court were contended to have applied

their minds and passed reasoned orders wherein it was unequivocally

found that the appellant had utterly failed to justify her conduct and

had acted in a most reckless and arbitrary manner, which was bereft

of all judicial propriety. This was pleaded to undoubtedly amount to

‘gravest misconduct’, justifying the dismissal of services for preserving

public trust in the judiciary.

ANALYSIS

18. Undoubtedly, the High Court is correct in its observation of the

applicable law. Indeed, the end result of the judicial process does not

matter, and what matters is only the decision­making process

employed by the delinquent officer. Clearly, it is a principle since the

nineteenth century that judges cannot be held responsible for the end

result or the effect of their decisions. 6 This is necessary to both uphold

the rule of law, and insulate judicial reasoning from extraneous

factors.

19. Even furthermore, there are no two ways with the proposition

that Judges, like Caesar’s wife, must be above suspicion. Judicial

officers do discharge a very sensitive and important constitutional

role. They not only keep in check excesses of the executive, safeguard

6
See Judicial Officers Protection Act, 1850.

Page | 10
citizens’ rights and maintain law and order. Instead, they support the

very framework of civilised society. It is courts, which uphold the law

and ensure its enforcement. They instil trust of the constitutional

order in people, and ensure the majesty of law and adherence to its

principles. Courts hence prevent people from resorting to their

animalistic instincts, and instead provide them with a gentler and

more­civilised alternative of resolving disputes. In getting people to

obey their dicta, Courts do not make use of guns or other

(dis)incentives, but instead rely on the strength of their reasoning and

a certain trust and respect in the minds of the general populace.

Hence, it is necessary that any corruption or deviation from judicial

propriety by the guardians of law themselves, be dealt with sternly

and swiftly.

20. It has amply been reiterated by this Court that judicial officers

must aspire and adhere to a higher standard of honesty, integrity and

probity. Very recently in Shrirang Yadavrao Waghmare v. State of

Maharashtra7, a Division Bench of this Court very succinctly collated

these principles and reiterated that:

“5. The first and foremost quality required in a Judge is
integrity. The need of integrity in the judiciary is much
higher than in other institutions. The judiciary is an
institution whose foundations are based on honesty and
integrity. It is, therefore, necessary that judicial officers
7
(2019) 9 SCC 144.

Page | 11
should possess the sterling quality of integrity. This Court
in Tarak Singh v. Jyoti Basu [Tarak Singh v. Jyoti Basu, (2005)
1 SCC 201] held as follows: (SCC p. 203)

“Integrity is the hallmark of judicial discipline, apart
from others. It is high time the judiciary took utmost
care to see that the temple of justice does not crack
from inside, which will lead to a catastrophe in the
justice­delivery system resulting in the failure of
public confidence in the system. It must be
remembered that woodpeckers inside pose a larger
threat than the storm outside.”

6. The behaviour of a Judge has to be of an exacting
standard, both inside and outside the court. This Court
in Daya Shankar v. High Court of Allahabad [Daya
Shankar v. High
Court of Allahabad, (1987) 3 SCC 1:1987 SCC
(L&S) 132] held thus: (SCC p.1)

“Judicial officers cannot have two standards, one in
the court and another outside the court. They must
have only one standard of rectitude, honesty and
integrity. They cannot act even remotely unworthy of
the office they occupy.”

7. Judges are also public servants. A Judge should always
remember that he is there to serve the public. A Judge is
judged not only by his quality of judgments but also by the
quality and purity of his character. Impeccable integrity
should be reflected both in public and personal life of a
Judge. One who stands in judgments over others should
be incorruptible. That is the high standard which is expected
of Judges.

8. Judges must remember that they are not merely employees
but hold high public office. In R.C. Chandel v. High Court of
M.P. [R.C. Chandel v. High Court of M.P., (2012) 8 SCC 58 :
(2012) 4 SCC (Civ) 343 : (2012) 3 SCC (Cri) 782 : (2012) 2 SCC

Page | 12
(L&S) 469] , this Court held that the standard of conduct
expected of a Judge is much higher than that of an
ordinary person. The following observations of this Court are
relevant: (SCC p. 70, para 29)

“29. Judicial service is not an ordinary government
service and the Judges are not employees as such.
Judges hold the public office; their function is one of
the essential functions of the State. In discharge of
their functions and duties, the Judges represent the
State. The office that a Judge holds is an office of
public trust. A Judge must be a person of impeccable
integrity and unimpeachable independence. He must
be honest to the core with high moral values. When a
litigant enters the courtroom, he must feel secured
that the Judge before whom his matter has come,
would deliver justice impartially and uninfluenced by
any consideration. The standard of conduct expected
of a Judge is much higher than an ordinary man. This
is no excuse that since the standards in the society
have fallen, the Judges who are drawn from the
society cannot be expected to have high standards
and ethical firmness required of a Judge. A Judge,
like Caesar’s wife, must be above suspicion. The
credibility of the judicial system is dependent upon
the Judges who man it. For a democracy to thrive and
the rule of law to survive, justice system and the
judicial process have to be strong and every Judge
must discharge his judicial functions with integrity,
impartiality and intellectual honesty.”

9. There can be no manner of doubt that a Judge must decide
the case only on the basis of the facts on record and the law
applicable to the case. If a Judge decides a case for any
extraneous reasons then he is not performing his duty in
accordance with law.

10. In our view the word “gratification” does not only mean
monetary gratification. Gratification can be of various types. It
can be gratification of money, gratification of power,
gratification of lust etc., etc. …”

Page | 13
(emphasis supplied)

21. We are also not oblivious to the fact that mere suspicion cannot

constitute ‘misconduct’. Any ‘probability’ of misconduct needs to be

supported with oral or documentary material, even though the

standard of proof would obviously not be at par with that in a criminal

trial. While applying these yardsticks, the High Court is expected to

consider the existence of differing standards and approaches amongst

different judges. There are innumerable instances of judicial officers

who are liberal in granting bail, awarding compensation under MACT

or for acquired land, backwages to workmen or mandatory

compensation in other cases of tortious liabilities. Such relief­oriented

judicial approaches cannot by themselves be grounds to cast

aspersions on the honesty and integrity of an officer.

22. Furthermore, one cannot overlook the reality of ours being a

country wherein countless complainants are readily available without

hesitation to tarnish the image of the judiciary, often for mere pennies

or even cheap momentary popularity. Sometimes a few disgruntled

members of the Bar also join hands with them, and officers of the

subordinate judiciary are usually the easiest target. It is, therefore, the

duty of High Courts to extend their protective umbrella and ensure

that upright and straightforward judicial officers are not subjected to

unmerited onslaught.

Page | 14

23. It is evident in the case in hand that the High Court itself was

cognizant of this settled proposition of law. Learned senior counsel for

the appellant also finds no fault with these principles, and instead

only seeks for their application to the facts of the present case.

24. It is a matter of record that at the time when the High Court was

seized of this matter, writ petitions against both of the appellant’s land

acquisition judgments had been dismissed by its coordinate benches.

The High Court has, nevertheless, rightly observed that dismissal of

writ petitions against the appellant’s orders did not serve as

vindication or confirmation of her orders. Indeed, as correctly noted

by the High Court, the scope of judicial review under Article 226 is

limited. The standards to be met prior to interference in exercise of

writ jurisdiction are very high, and there needs to be gross substantive

injustice through the conclusion, glaring irregularities in procedure or

the need to resolve important questions of law for a writ court to

overturn the Reference Court’s order. Hence, dismissal of writ petition

merely signifies the failure to demonstrate any of these high

standards, in a particular case, and not the endorsement of the orders

passed by a subordinate authority.

25. However, the facts of the present case are distinct. This Court, in

fact, entered into the merits of one of the allegedly erroneous orders.

Not only was the judgment affirmed, but rather the compensation was

further enhanced. It hence can no longer be stated that the appellant’s

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order was wrong in conclusion. This fact is significant as it establishes

that the increase in compensation by the appellant was not abhorrent.

26. Had the charge been specific that the decision­making process

was effectuated by extraneous considerations, then the correctness of

the appellant’s conclusions probably would not have mattered as

much. However, a perusal of the charges extracted above makes it

evident that the exclusive cause of enquiry, inference of dishonesty as

well as imposition of penalty was only on the basis of the conclusion of

enhancement of compensation. Given how the challenge to one of

those two orders had been turned down at the High Court stage, and

the other was both affirmed and furthered in principle by this Court,

the very foundation of the charges no longer survives.

27. We can find no fault in the proposition that the end result of

adjudication does not matter, and only whether the delinquent officer

had taken illegal gratification (monetary or otherwise) or had been

swayed by extraneous considerations while conducting the process is

of relevance. Indeed, many­a­times it is possible that a judicial officer

can indulge in conduct unbecoming of his office whilst at the same

time giving an order, the result of which is legally sound. Such

unbecoming conduct can either be in the form of a judge taking a case

out of turn, delaying hearings through adjournments, seeking bribes

to give parties their legal dues etc. None of these necessarily need to

affect the outcome. However, importantly in the present case, a

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perusal of the chargesheet shows that no such allegation of the

process having been vitiated has been made against the appellant.

28. There is no explicit mention of any extraneous consideration

being actually received or of unbecoming conduct on the part of the

appellant. Instead, the very basis of the finding of ‘misbehaviour’ is the

end result itself, which as per the High Court was so shocking that it

gave rise to a natural suspicion as to the integrity and honesty of the

appellant. Although this might be right in a vacuum, however, given

how the end result itself has been untouched by superior courts and

instead in one of the two cases, the compensation only increased, no

such inference can be made. Thus, the entire case against the

appellant collapses like a house of cards.

CONCLUSION

29. In light of the above discussion, the appeal is allowed. The

judgment of the High Court is set aside and the writ petition filed by

the appellant is allowed. The order of dismissal dated 17.01.2006

passed by Respondent No. 1 is set­aside, and the appellant’s prayers

for reinstatement with consequential benefits including retiral

benefits, is accepted. No order as to costs.

………………………….CJI
(S.A. BOBDE)

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……..……………………..J.

(B.R. GAVAI)

…………………………… J.

(SURYA KANT)
NEW DELHI
DATED : 06.03.2020

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