In a recent notable judgment of the Supreme Court, State of MP v. Bhupendra Yadav, by a division bench consisting of Justices Hima Kohli and Justice Rajesh Bindal, it was held that an acquittal judgment does not give the candidate a right to appointment, especially in cases where the acquittal statement was given on technical grounds such as ‘benefit of doubt’ and in a heinous case.
The Supreme Court has highlighted that an employer has a right to assess the aptness of a candidate according to the position that the candidate is being considered for, the higher the post, the more stringent standards should be employed and truthful disclosure by the candidate cannot circumvent the standard. It is the right of the employer to scrutinize the suitability of the candidate and should verify the same. In cases of a concluded criminal case, heinous or not, the nature of the offence committed and the acquittal given, honourable or benefit on technical grounds, should be taken into consideration while making any decision. Subsequently, if the employer were to conclude that the candidate is unfit, the employer is within their rights to not appoint the candidate or discontinue their service. It further held that an acquittal in a heinous criminal case cannot automatically make a candidate qualify for a law enforcement post, more so specifically in cases where the acquittal verdict was a result of ‘the benefit of doubt’ extended to the candidate.
The court held that the dismissal by the State Government was not mala fide or arbitrary, hence, the dismissal of the Candidate was upheld.
The candidate had been the accused in a POSCO case where he had been acquitted on ‘benefit of doubt’ by the Hon’ble Court. He was accused of wrongfully restraining a minor and an attempt to outrage her modesty. A criminal case was filed in May 2015 against the candidate, in the Special Sessions Case before the Court Additional Sessions Judge. The charges were drafted in accordance with the IPC and the POCSO Act.
At a later stage, the trial Court noted that a compromise was reached between the complainant and the candidate, as a result of which the complainant along with her friends who were witnesses in the case turned hostile. Further, it was also noted that the charges made against him under Section 341 of the IPC were compounded based on the compromise application sought by the parties. The Court attempted to continue the case as the rest of the charges were non-compoundable but as the complaint and the witness in the case had turned hostile, the Court acquitted the Candidate.
In 2016, the next year, the State Government held an entrance examination to fill constable vacancies. The candidate took part in the examination and qualified under the OBC category and was subsequently chosen and assigned to Ujjain based on his performance.
The candidate was asked to provide the required information in accordance with the specified form by the Superintendent of Police, Ujjain. The candidate submitted information concerning his involvement in the criminal case and the trial Court’s ruling of acquittal on the verification form. After reviewing his verification form, the Superintendent of Police, Ujjain sent a communication to the respondent advising him that he was unsuitable for recruitment.
Aggrieved by the decision, the Candidate filed a writ petition in the High Court which held that the case was of moral turpitude. The Court held that as it is not an appellate authority, it cannot interfere in a decision made by the departmental authority under Article 223 of the Constitution. However, it was quashed by a Division bench of the High Court. Aggrieved by which, the present appeal was filed.
The main issue that the Supreme Court dealt with in the State of MP v. Bhupendra Yadav was whether the appellants had committed an error in their decision to disqualify the respondent from candidacy for the position of Constable, notwithstanding the respondent’s voluntary disclosure in his affidavit of his prior involvement in a criminal trial that culminated in his acquittal.
The Apex Court highlighted that there is no set of rules for testing the suitability of a candidate. The standards for testing an employee are decided by the employer which can be based on many different factors including the nature of the post, nature of duties, effect of suppression over suitability, etc. It is also essential that during this course, the candidate provides accurate information and does not conceal any facts. It is then the right of the employer to assess the candidate based on its standards.
The higher the post is the more stringent the standard. The employer has the discretion to assess the information provided by the candidate to judge their suitability. Just because the candidate has voluntarily admitted to being an accused in a POSCO case, the employee’s discretion to assess the candidate cannot be undermined. It is up to the employees to assess the candidate based on the nature of the crime, whether the acquittal was honourable or benefit extended on technical grounds or any other factors that the employer may consider important.
In this case, the Supreme Court has held that a candidate cannot claim the right to an appointment on the grounds that they voluntarily divulged their involvement in a criminal case even if it resulted in a verdict of acquittal. The Judgment has also highlighted the right of the employer to assess the suitability of its employees and in cases where it deems them to be unsuitable then it is within its power to either not hire them or dismiss them. In the case of appointment in the Law Enforcement Agency, the standards for assessing the suitability of a candidate should be much more stringent than usual appointment.
Moreover, an acquittal verdict does not make a candidate automatically fit for the appointment to a post. The appointment is based on the assessment by the employee and it is the right of the employee to assess the candidate against its standards. If the employer reaches the conclusion that the candidate is not suitable for the post, provided that the decision is not mala fide or arbitrary, then the employee is within its power or not to appoint the candidate.
This article is written and submitted by Aditi Raj during her course of internship at B&B Associates LLP. Aditi Raj is a BBA. LLB 4th year student at National University of Study and Research in Law, Ranchi.