The Calcutta High Court has set aside a punishment of compulsory retirement imposed on a lower court judge by the HC's administration for allegedly overstepping his jurisdiction and has taken the rare action of imposing a "cost" of Rs one lakh on itself.
Directing that the judge be reinstated immediately, a division bench comprising Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Suvra Ghosh ordered that "costs assessed at Rs 1 lakh to be paid by the high court to the appellant."
Mintu Mallick, a judge and a railway magistrate at the Sealdah court, was suspended in 2007 and given the punishment of compulsory retirement in 2013 for hauling up a driver and a guard of a suburban train for habitual delay.
The division bench on Thursday observed that the punishment was "disproportionate" and "shocking" even if the guilt was established.
Following Mallick's action, a section of the railway staff had held a demonstration and disrupted services at the Sealdah station.
The division bench said that rather than protecting the judicial officer from intimidation and insult by railway employees, the magistrate was pushed to the dock to suffer for wanting to remedy a public wrong.
The court directed that the ousted judicial officer be reinstated in service immediately and the appellant be considered to have been in continuous service without any break.
On the morning of May 5, 2007, Mallick was waiting for a local train at a station on the Budge Budge-Sealdah route.
The lower court judge had said the Up Budge Budge- Sealdah EMU local train, which he had intended to take, was late and on speaking to regular commuters, he learnt that the train was usually delayed due to extraneous reasons.
On the train's arrival, he boarded the driver's cabin and enquired about the reasons for the regular delays.
When he did not get a satisfactory reply, Mallick asked the train's driver and guard to report at the railway magistrate's court in Sealdah, so that the matter can be appropriately addressed, the division bench noted.
Mallick had also asked the railway police at the Sealdah station to ensure that the two were presented before the railway magistrate's court.
The driver and the guard submitted their report in court, but some railway employees shouted slogans and used abusive language in and around the courtroom, following which another proceeding was drawn under the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), according to Mallick, who pleaded his case himself before the division bench.
Following this, railway employees, mostly drivers, staged a protest at Sealdah and disrupted services for over three hours.
The incident led to a discreet inquiry by the high court in 2007, and on the basis of a preliminary report, Mallick, who was then serving as the judicial magistrate of the 4th court- cum-railway magistrate in Sealdah, was suspended.
On completion of the inquiry, the high administration handed him the punishment of compulsory retirement in 2013.
The deposed judicial officer appealed to the governor against the decision of the disciplinary authority, which was disallowed on the basis of opinion given by the high court.
Mallick then challenged his punishment before a single bench of the high court, which also upheld the disciplinary panel's findings against him in an order passed in July 2017.
The judicial officer then appealed before a division bench, which passed its order on July 4, 2019.
In its order, the division bench said, "It may have been wrong on the appellant's part to try to use his judicial office to right what he perceived was a public wrong.
"Indeed, most Indians look the other way even when a crime is committed in their presence or a grievous wrong is done, lest they be dragged into any avoidable court proceedings," the bench said.
The violent demonstration at the Sealdah station and temporary disruption of services were not the handiwork of the appellant, nor could Mallick have reasonably apprehended the same, it observed.
"If the judicial officer had acted illegally or in an unauthorised manner, the appellant's initiation of the relevant proceedings could have been challenged in accordance with law.
"But once it was evident that the appellant had assumed authority in his judicial capacity - however, erroneous he may have been --the punishment of compulsory retirement appears to be grossly disproportionate and shocking," the division bench said in its order.
It said the judge may have acted in error or in excess of authority that he perceived to possess but even the preliminary report said it did not find that the appellant acted in bad faith or with any malicious intention.
"The order of the disciplinary committee finding the appellant guilty of the charges brought against him cannot be sustained, and as a consequence, the punishment inflicted on the appellant, which is otherwise found to be disproportionate and shocking even if the guilt is established, is set aside," the bench said in its order.
The appellant will be entitled to all benefits and promotion as if no disciplinary proceedings had been initiated against the appellant, save the full complement of his salary, the court ordered, adding that Mallick will be paid 75 per cent of the salary that he would have earned had he remained in service.