Paramount Consideration is Discipline in Military Services, Leniency Risks Disorder: Madras HC

The Madras HC made this observation while dismissing a writ petition challenging compulsory retirement from service at the OTA in Chennai for a wilful absence of 99 days from work.
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The petitioner was punished with a major penalty of compulsory retirement from his post at the OTA in Chennai, five years after he was selected as a driver through the employment exchange in September 2011

The Madras High Court recently observed that paramount consideration is discipline in the military services and any lenient view will render great organisational disorder.

The court made this observation while dismissing a writ petition moved by one S Harikrishnan, who challenged his compulsory retirement from service at the Officers Training Academy (OTA) in Chennai for a wilful absence of 99 days from work.

Harikrishan had been punished with a major penalty of compulsory retirement with effect from May 2016, just five years after he was selected as a driver through the employment exchange and posted at the CMD, MT Section of the OTA in September 2011.

The charges against him were that he was sanctioned only 17 days of earned leave, but he did not return to work for 99 days. His explanation was that while he was on his sanctioned leave, he slipped in the bathroom and sustained severe pain in his lower back.

He claimed that initially, the doctors advised him to take bed rest for 43 days but since he still could not walk due to the severity of the pain, they asked him to continue for another 56 days.

Harikrishnan submitted that the commandant at the OTA issued a show-cause notice directing him to report to duty in 10 days. But, he could only do more than a month later.

He further submitted that during the inquiry, he gave his explanation that he did not undergo any surgery and only took physiotherapy treatment and medicines. He also provided a medical certificate but despite this, the competent authority found the charges substantiated.

Harikrishnan challenged the punishment imposed upon him before the appellate authority narrating the circumstances that led to his continuous absence and sought reinstatement, but his appeal was dismissed. The Chennai bench of the Central Administrative Tribunal also upheld his compulsory retirement on the ground of unauthorised absence.

Before the high court, his counsel argued that his absence was only due to his back injury, which prevented him from reporting for employment, and that the orders were passed mechanically without any application of mind. The counsel also contended that the punishment awarded was disproportionate to the charges framed.

The additional central government standing counsel argued that Harikrishnan was employed with the CMD, MT Section, OTA that was under military service and, therefore, any delinquency had to be viewed seriously.

The division bench of Justice D Krishnakumar and Justice N Senthilkumar said it appeared that Harikrishnan, who was appointed through the employment exchange, seems to have not considered the value of his employment seriously.

“…that too when he has been employed in a force attached to the military service,” the court said. It held that Harikrishnan’s absence, coupled with the fact that he did not choose to inform his superiors at any point in time during his unauthorised absence, was rightly viewed by his employer as a serious lapse.

“If such unauthorised absence is not viewed strictly, it will set a bad precedent, especially among those serving in the offices of the armed/military forces,” the court said.

But, it clarified that it is common for such absences to occur and it must, to the maximum extent possible be authorised, while an opportunity must be given to government employees before any action is proposed to showcause if such absence was genuine.

Further, regarding the allegation of disproportionate punishment, the court held that it was neither disproportionate nor something that shook the conscience of the court. It also highlighted that Harikrishnan had been given penalties on two earlier occasions, and he had been habitual in taking unauthorised leave.

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