1. The petitioner is an ex-employee of the Bombay Port Trust (B.P.T.). The petitioner was originally employed as a tally clerk and in the year 1970 he was arrested on the charge of theft. On 21st April, 1970 an order was passed suspending him from service. After being convicted by the Magistrate, the petitioner was acquitted by the High Court on 5th/6th February, 1973. A copy of the judgment acquitting him was sent by the petitioner to the officer concerned, of the B.P.T., on 10th February, 1973. By letter dated 21st February, 1973, the petitioner was asked to resume duties, which he did on 22nd February, 1973.
2. On 14th May, 1974 a show-cause notice was issued to the petitioner intimating about the proposed departmental inquiry against him, based substantially on the same allegation on the basis of which he was prosecuted and ultimately acquitted. On 10th March, 1975, the Deputy Docks Manager addressed a letter to the petitioner intimating that the superannuation age had been raised from 55 years to 58 years and enquiring whether the petitioner would like to continue after attaining 55 years of age which he would be attaining on 18th July, 1975. Between 12th July and 18th July, 1975, the petitioner intimated that he would like to continue in the service. After about one and half year, on 28th October, 1975, the charges against the petitioner were withdrawn. However, soon after withdrawing the charges as aforesaid, a notice dated 30th October, 1975 was served on the petitioner giving him notice of compulsory retirement under Rule 44(b) of the Pay and Allowances, Leave and Pension Rules, with the result that the petitioner was retired with effect from 1st February, 1976.
3. While in service the petitioner made an application dated 23rd January, 1976, to the Docks Manager for the salary that he would have received during the suspension period with yearly increments and allowances and other dues. The respondents did not give any reply to the said letter and the petitioner had to send a reminder on 15th May, 1976. Ultimately the Docks Manager by his letter dated 3rd July, 1976, referred to the said reminder dated 15th May, 1976 ignoring completely the original application of 23rd January, 1976 and informed the petitioner that his period of suspension was treated as one of suspension and accordingly no further dues were payable to him. The said letter does not give any reason for arriving at the said conclusion, and is obviously not a speaking order and it was difficult for the petitioner to know as to why his application was being rejected. By a letter dated 7th July, 1976, B.P.T. reiterated that full dues were paid and nothing further was payable.
4. After the petitioner was compulsorily retired as aforesaid, the petitioner was issued a booklet described as 'Pension Payment Order' which was given No. P.P.O. 846/17/9/76 from the dated appearing at the bottom of the page No. 2, it would appear that the said book was issued sometime on or after 29th September, 1976. It would thus appear that the petitioner was not paid any pension for several months after his retirement. This book contains a writing on page 2 and also on page 5 to the effect that the full pension was Rs. 299 which was reduced by the chairman by Rs. 15 to Rs. 284. No particulars are given as to when and under what order and why this was done by the chairman. The petitioner has described this as a reduction in pension on 19th May, 1976, in paragraph 12(XI) and an order of reduction communicated to the petitioner on 19th May, 1976 in prayer (b)(3). The petitioner filed this petition originally for setting aside the order dated 3rd July, 1976, refusing to grant full salary and allowance during the period of suspension and the order contained in the letter dated 7th July, 1976, reiterating that the full dues were paid and nothing further was payable. Subsequently by an amendment allowed by an order dated 19th February, 1980, the petitioner challenged the order of compulsory retirement as well as the reduction in pension.
5. As regards the payment of salary during the period of suspension the relevant rules as contained in the Digest of Pay and Allowances, Leave and Pension Rules are as follows :
'41. An officer or servant under suspension is entitled to a subsistence grant.
42. When the suspension of an officer or servant as penalty for misconduct is, upon reconsideration or appeal, held to have been unjustifiable or not wholly justifiable : or when an officer or servant who has been dismissed or removed or suspended pending enquiry into alleged misconduct, is reinstated; the Chairman or Board may grant to him for the period of his absence from duty -
(a) if he is honourably acquitted, the full pay to which he would have been entitled if he had not been dismissed, removed or suspended and, by an order to be separately recorded, any allowance of which he was in receipt prior to dismissal, removal or suspension; or
(b) if otherwise, such proportion of such pay and allowance as the Chairman or the Board may prescribe.
In a case falling under Clause (a), the period of absence from duty will be treated as a period spent on duty. In a case falling under Clause (b), it will not be treated as a period spent on duty unless the Chairman or the Board so direct'.
There is no rule which specifically gives any power to the respondent to suspend. However, the employer always has a power to suspend but unless there is something in the contract or the rules the employer will be bound to pay full salary during the suspension period. In the present case a power is given by Rule 41 to give subsistence grant which is something less than the salary. In any case no complaint is made by the petitioner that the respondents were not justified in giving lesser amount than the actual salary during the period of suspension.
6. Mr. Madnaney strongly relied on Rule 42 as also on the order of suspension and contended that the petitioner was honourably acquitted and, therefore, on reinstatement the Chairman of the Board was bound to grant him for the period of his absence from duty full pay to which he would have been entitled if he had not been suspended and also by a separate order grant all the allowances of which he was in receipt prior to suspension. He further contends that the period of suspension has to be treated as a period spent on duty because the case falls under cl. (a). He has relied strongly on paragraph 2(d) of the order of suspension dated 21st April, 1970, which reads as follows :
'(d) If the said Shri H. I. Kazi is discharged or acquitted, and there is either a delay of more than one week or omission on his part, in making to me the report, as required under (b) above, it shall be open to me, when the report is received by me or the fact of his discharge or acquittal comes to my notice, to terminate his suspension and treat him as having been on earned leave, half-pay leave or extraordinary leave, depending on the leave at his credit at the time, on and from the eighth day following the date of such discharge or acquittal. Any leave granted by me to the said Shri H. I. Kazi in such circumstances will not be affected by the final orders which I may pass on the question whether the said Shri H. I. Kazi should be reinstated and how the period of the suspensions should be treated.'
Based on this he contends that as soon as the petitioner sent a copy of the judgment it was the duty of the Authority to decide as to how the petitioner's case should be treated. There was no obligation cast on the petitioner to give any application but the Authorities on their own ought to have passed the necessary orders. He further contends that even if the case is falling in (b) there should be decision as to what proportion of pay and allowances should be payable to the petitioner, and this has to be decided by the Chairman or the Board. He contends that there is no application of mind by anybody on behalf of the Bombay Port Trust as to the requirements of Rule 42.
7. Mr. Cama appearing for the respondents contends that the contention of the petitioner is not supported by any pleadings; that the petitioner cannot be said to have been honourably acquitted and that in any event, the respondents have bona fide arrived at the decision that the petitioner was not honourably discharged and 'therefore' he is not entitled to full salary.
8. It is very difficult to define what is the meaning of the words 'honourable acquittal' In my view it will depend on the fact and circumstances of each case as to whether a person can be said to have been discharged or acquitted honourably or not. The Judgment of Supreme Court in State of Assam v. Raghvan, (1972) S.L.R. 344, is relied on by both the sides on the meaning of honourable acquittal as well as to show whether in the facts and circumstances of the present case petitioner can be said to have been honourably acquitted. At page 347 paragraph 8 a reference is made to a note and administrative instructions appearing under the rule similar to one applicable in this case, which seem to show that the words 'honourably' meant, acquitted of or that the Government servant has been fully exonerated. According to the Supreme Court this meaning was supported by a judgment of Calcutta High Court in Robert Stuart Wauchope v. Emperor, I.L.R. 1934 Cal. 168.
9. In my view, therefore, though it is very difficult to define precisely what is meant by the words 'honourably acquitted', it is safe to say that if an accused is acquitted or discharged because of some technicality not having been complied with or on the ground that though there is some evidence against him, he must be acquitted by giving benefit of doubt, it may not amount to an honourable acquittal. However, if an accused is acquitted after full consideration of evidence because the prosecution had miserably failed to prove the charges it would amount to honourable acquittal. It is difficult to understand what more is required for honourable acquittal of the accused than acquittal of the accused on disbelieving the prosecution evidence in toto In the present case, though there are some observations made at the end of the judgment by the High Court acquitting the petitioner which may appear to be ambiguous, if the judgment is read as a whole, there can be little doubt that the accused was acquitted not by giving benefit of doubt, in spite of there being some evidence against him but because the prosecution failed to prove the case against him.
10. Three persons were accused under S. 381 read with S. 109 of the Indian Penal code for theft of three wooden cases containing stamping foils from the docks. Two of them being employees of the B.P.T. and one of them being a clearing agent Accused No. 3 was the petitioner and accused No. 2 was the clearing agent. Prosecution case, shortly stated was that two of the security officers received information that accused No. 1 and 3 were going to remove some property from the docks on the scooter of the petitioner. The information was alleged to have been given in the presence of two zonal officers out of whom one was examined. On the information six persons had kept watch over the hazardous goods ware-house from 9 a.m. onwards. A watchman who had to keep watch over the movements of accused Nos. 1 and 2 found that accused Nos. 1 and 2 were moving suspiciously between the office of accused No. 1 in compartment No. 3 of the hazardous goods ware-house. At about 10.30 a.m. accused Nos. 1 and 2 were seen entering this compartment and were inside for sometime. At about 2-30 p.m. accused Nos. 1 and 2 again paid visit to compartment No. 3, Accused No. 1 came out and accused No. 2 was locked inside. After about 20 minutes the lock ware opened and accused Nos. 1 and came out and thereafter went to the office of accused No. 1. At about 4.45 p.m. the petitioner came on his scooter and stopped in front of the office of accused No. 1. The scooter had a side car. Accused Nos. 1 and 2 talked with accused No. 3. Accused Nos. 1 and 3 then went to compartment No. 3 and accused No. 1 came out with a gunny-bag containing some articles followed by accused No. 2. Accused No. 2 locked the door and handed over the keys to accused No. 1. Accused No. 3 went slightly ahead towards them, took the hand-bag from the hand of accused No. 1 and kept it in the side car of the scooter. It appeared that on feeling suspicious that somebody was watching them, accused No. 1 took out the hand-bag from the side car and he alongwith accused No. 2 started going towards the office, In the meanwhile, accused No. 3 started scooter and went towards the yellow gate. What happened thereafter concerns only concerns only accused Nos. 1 and 2. The only allegations against accused No. 3 were that he came to the godown at 4.45 p.m., had some talk with accused Nos. 1 and 2, one bag was deposited in the side car of the scooter and immediately taken out. Only on these allegations the petitioner was involved in this prosecution. It was later found that the gunny bags contained some goods but there was no evidence to show that accused No. 3 had any knowledge for the same. The defence of accused No. 3 was that at about 4 p.m. he went to his own staff office on scooter and thereafter went to hazardous goods warehouse to give a lift to accused No. 1. He offered lift to accused No. 1 who told him that he could not come as he had found some stolen property and there were none to help him. Accused No. 1 requested accused No. 3 to inform the police or watchman or the security officer about the find of the stolen property. Accused No. 3 started going towards the Yellow Gate where he saw Balaram and Waikar, who were found checking out-going vehicles. They also talked about the finding of stolen property. The scooter of accused No. 3 was checked and thereafter he was allowed to leave the place. Accused No. 3 admitted that his scooter had a side car but denied that it was covered.
11. Shah, J. in his judgment has held that even on an assumption that the evidence is believable and reliable in so far as accused Nos. 1 and 2 were concerned, accused No. 3 cannot be held guilty. The effect of the judgment, therefore, is that there was absolutely no evidence against accused No. 3. However, while dealing with the evidence of the said witnesses for determining guilt of accused Nos. 1 and 2, the evidence was not found acceptable. It is also held by him that there was nothing to reject the case of accused No. 3 that he had gone to the office of accused No. 1 just to give accused No. 1 a lift from his office to his residence on scooter. He also held that the approach of the learned Magistrate was entirely erroneous as regards the finding of accused No. 3 guilty. He found the story given by the witness for the prosecution on major points clearly improbable and their conduct not normal. The learned Judge thereafter has observed as follows :
'I have already indicated above the serious infirmities in the evidence of the three eye-witnesses. Their conduct cannot be said to be natural. Even the evidence of the eye-witnesses must stand the test of probabilities, and if their conduct is not natural, a doubt is created about the prosecution case. It is quite likely that the eye-witnesses are not giving a true account of what they have seen. They seem to be suppressing the truth and are not at all able to give proper explanation due to their unnatural conduct discussed above. It may be that having seen accused No. 1 handling the property which he admits to have done, they suspected him and were excited to find one of their officers in possession of the property, In this context, it is necessary to mention that the defence of all three accused is the same and consistent with each other. Accused No. 3 has entered in the witness-box and supported the defence. If the prosecution case regarding the two visits of accused Nos. 1 and 2 to compartment No. 3 after a talk with accused No. 3 and bringing the property openly towards the scooter be considered not probable, there is no reason to discard the defence version of the incident as untrue.'
As regards the alleged information, after noting that certain witnesses had not been examined, the learned Judge observes as follows,
'In view of the evidence on record, it is not possible to accept the case of the complainant and the other prosecution witnesses that they had any prior information that accused Nos. 1 to 3 were to remove any property belonging to the Bombay Port Trust. It is also not possible to accept that they had kept a watch over the movements of the accused from the morning till evening as alleged by them. I see no reason to reject the defence version that accused No. 1 found a part of the property in question in the open space outside the warehouse at about 4-30 p.m. as alleged by him and thereafter he kept the same in compartment No. 3 for safe custody. Similarly, there is no reason to reject his case that thereafter he found a part of the stolen property lying under the wooden chowky which he later removed and kept in his office. During this period, he met accused Nos. 2 and 3 and had a talk with them. It is very likely that the complainant might have witnessed this removal of the stolen property by accused No. 1 as also his talk with accused Nos. 2 and 3 which might have aroused some suspicion in his mind that the accused Nos. 1 to 3 were trying to remove the stolen property. The fact, that they did not apprehend accused No. 3 or chase him, clearly corroborates this inference. It is not possible to accept the prosecution case that they had any prior information and that the complainant and other witnesses had kept watch over the movements of accused Nos. 1 and 3 from morning till evening as alleged by the prosecution.'
It is after making the aforesaid comments that it was observed that the defence of accused Nos. 1 to 3 was probable and there was no valid ground to reject the same, and that in the view taken on the merits of the prosecution case and in view of the several serious infirmities in the prosecution case referred to above, it cannot be said that the prosecution has been able to establish its case against the accused beyond all reasonable doubts.
12. Mr. Cama has emphasized that accused No. 3 was acquitted because the prosecution failed to lead evidence of two witnesses. That his, defence was not believed but was only found to be probably true and that he was acquitted on the ground of the prosecution not having proved the case beyond reasonable doubt. He contends that when two views are possible on whether the judgment amounted to honourable acquittal or it did not, and the officer concerned had decided that this judgment did not amount to honourable acquittal, this Court should not interfere with the decision. Assuming the correctness of the contention of Mr. Cama on the Court's power to interfere with such decision, I am of the view that the judgment clearly acquits the accused not on some technical ground or not because there was evidence both ways but the evidence of prosecution being found slightly wanting, the benefit of doubt was given to petitioner. The judgment clearly establishes that the prosecution had miserably failed to establish the case against accused No. 3 and if this is not honourable acquittal, it is difficult to say what can be said to be the honourable acquittal. The decision, if any, arrived in the face of such a judgment cannot be said to be reasonable and, therefore, cannot be said to be bona fide and it discloses non-application of mind.
13. In so far as the contention of the lack of pleadings is concerned Mr. Cama relied on the decision of the Supreme Court in Management of Hindustan Steel Ltd. v. The workman and others, (1973) I.L.I.C. 461 In that case a notice of retrenchment under S. 25F of the Industrial Disputes Act was attacked on the ground that the very notice indicated that the retrenchment compensation was not paid and was not intended to be paid before retrenchment and, therefore, the retrenchment was bad. This issue was not raised in pleadings. The Tribunal, however, allowed the objection on the ground that on the face of it the notice was conditional and that the objection was covered by general plea in the written statement filed on behalf of worker concerned, to the effect that the grounds given in the retrenchment notice were bad. Supreme Court held that the Tribunal was in error in holding the general ground of notice being bad can sustain the plea non-compliance with a condition precedent. If the judgment of the Supreme Court is read in the light of the fact of the case, the existing plea amounted to challenging the correctness of retrenchment only and, therefore, by no stretch of imagination, the said ground could have been said to cover the challenge to retrenchment notice on the ground of non-compliance with condition precedent, viz., payment of compensation.
14. Mr. Cama also relied on : (1979)IILLJ194SC wherein the Supreme Court has stated as follows :
'A contention to substantiate which evidence is necessary has to be pleaded. If there is no pleading raising a contention there is no question of substantiating such a non-existing contention by evidence. It is well-settled that allegation which is not pleaded, even if there is evidence in support of it, cannot be examined because the other side has no notice of it and if entertained it would tantamount to granting an unfair advantage to the first mentioned party. We are not unmindful of the fact that pleadings before such bodies have not to be read strictly, but it is equally true that the pleadings must be such as to give sufficient notice to the other party of the case it is called upon to meet.'
In the present case, it is clear that the case of the petitioner was that he was entitled to full salary during the said period of suspension and it is with a view to claim this full salary, it is contended that the orders dated 3rd July, 1976 and 7th July, 1976 were illegal and that once the petitioner had been acquitted by the High Court and was reinstated by the respondent, he was to be deemed to be in service throughout the period of suspension and was entitled to full pay and allowances. The only thing lacking in the averment is use of the words honourable acquittal. The contentions in the petition can leave no doubt in the mind of any person that what was being contended was that the acquittal is such that the petitioner should have been continued in service for the period of his suspension. This could be on the basis that he was honourably acquitted. In my view there is, therefore, no substance in the contention of Mr. Cama that the contention raised by Mr. Madnaney did not find support in the petition.
15. Mr. Cama has contended that though the petitioner was reinstated long back, the petitioner did not apply for difference in pay during the suspension period and allowances, till January, 1976 and is guilty of laches and should be deprived of the relief even if he was held entitled to it. In my view there is no such delay on the part of the petitioner so as to deprive him of the relief. It is worth nothing that, as already stated, it is the duty of the chairman of the Board to pass necessary order under Rule 42. Apart from this, a show-cause notice was issued for departmental inquiry. Not only that, but the very order asking the petitioner to assume office contemplated a departmental inquiry against him. Till 28th October, 1975 the said inquiry was kept pending. Soon thereafter the petitioner was served with a notice of compulsory retirement after being given hopes that he would be continued in service, In this circumstance there cannot be said to be any delay on the part of the petitioner. I do not accept Mr. Cama's contention that the authority concerned acted bona fide in exercise of power given to it, and, therefore, the Court should not interfere under the power granted by Article 226 as the view that I have taken is that no reasonable person could have come to the conclusion that the petitioner was not honourably acquitted.
16. Mr. Madnaney thereafter contended that the order of compulsory retirement also is bad on the ground that the petitioner could only have been retired with effect from the date he completed the age of 55 years and not thereafter. He further contended that there was no material before the authority concerned on the basis of which it can come to the conclusion that the petitioner should be compulsorily retired. According to him, the Bombay Port Trust can retire an employee only on some valid ground and on the basis of some material before it. It contends that before the decision was arrived at, an opportunity should have been given to the petitioner to meet and explain the material against him. He has relied on various judgments in support of his contention.
17. So far as the point is concerned, I accept the contention of Mr. Cama that the petitioner should not be allowed any relief in respect of this matter because of complete lack of pleadings to support the contention and because of laches. I find nothing in the petition which can support the arguments advanced on this aspect of the matter. The only ground which is taken to challenge this compulsory retirement is that because of the inquiry whether the petitioner was willing to continue after the age of 55 years and because the service record was clean and satisfactory the petitioner could not have been retired and, therefore, the order was clearly illegal. The inquiry by an officer as to whether the petitioner should be continued or not cannot come in the way of the respondent to compulsorily retire the petitioner nor prove the fact of service record being clean. There are various factors such as the condition of the petitioner's health and mind which though may not call for any adverse remark may be such that within a short period after completing the age of 55 years the petitioner may not be able to attend his work with requisite efficiency. Therefore, to challenge such a decision, assuming that any ground is required for compulsory retirement of employees of B.P.T., it cannot be said that the petitioner has made out any ground in the petition for holding that the order is illegal.
18. Apart from this, here in this case, there is laches and delay which would adversely affect the B.P.T. If the order was challenged soon after it was made, the B.P.T. could have decided to continue the petitioner in service and avoid the risk of paying him wages for the period during which he did not work. In these circumstances, without going into the merits of the contentions of Mr. Madnaney, I hold that the order of retirement is not liable to be set aside.
19. The next challenge is to the reduction in pension by 5%. The relevant rule is Rule 28 in the Pension Rules, 1973, which reads as follows;
'28(a) The full pension or gratuity and death-cum-retirement gratuity admissible under the Rules is not to be given as a matter of course, or unless this service rendered has been really approved.
(b) If the service has not been thoroughly satisfactory, the authority sanctioning the pensionary benefits should make such reduction in the amount as it thinks proper.
(5) No show-cause notice is required to be given to an employee when orders are intended to be passed reducing his pensionary benefits under this Rule. However, whenever such an order reducing the pensionary benefits of an employee is passed he shall have a right of appeal.'
Mr. Madnaney contends that so far as the petitioner was aware no order was passed for reduction in the pension but reduction was effected only by the remark referred to above in the pension payment order. The order is referred to as having been passed on 19th May, 1976 or prior thereto. There is no denial of the fact and there is no specific reference to any particular order in any of the affidavits of the respondents. Mr. Cama wanted to rely on an order passed on 17th September, 1976 but in absence of any reference to this order in any of the affidavits I did not allow him to rely on the same.
20. Though the rule states that the full pension is not to be given as a matter of course or unless the service rendered has been really approved, as per sub-rule (b) the power is given to reduce the pension if the service rendered is not found thoroughly satisfactory The reduction would obviously depend on service being not thoroughly satisfactory, the nature of dissatisfaction and the reason for dissatisfaction. This decision is again subject to appeal though no show-cause notice is required. In these circumstances it is obvious that the speaking order showing an application of mind is contemplated. On proper interpretation of the rule, the employee would ordinarily be entitled to full pension unless it is reduced or the ground mentioned in (b). The words, 'not to be given as a matter of course', only indicate that the authority has power to reduce pension on the grounds contemplated by sub-rule (b) without show-cause notice. It also indicates that authority need not start payment of the pension immediately but will have time to scrutinize the service record of the employee and to decide, within a reasonable time as to by what amount should the pension be reduced. Explanation (4) says that this Rule does not operate to authorise a reduction of pensionary benefits either to nothing or to a nominal amount. That an employee is entitled to pension and unless a clear decision is given on valid ground, reducing the pension by an amount which is correlated to the ground and which is reasonable considering the ground for reduction, the employee would be entitled to full pension.
21. In the present case, no reason has been given for reduction in the pension. There is nothing to show that there was any application of mind by the authority concerned in reducing the pension. No explanation has been given even in the affidavits for reduction in pension. It is found from the Appeal Rules framed by the Port Trust that though there is a right of appeal under the Pension Rules, no appellate authority was constituted. Therefore, it was not possible for the petitioner to go in appeal against the order. The contention of Mr. Cama that the petitioner is not entitled to full pension as a matter of course and that the petitioner has not preferred an appeal, though there was a provision of appeal, cannot, therefore, be accepted.
22. Mr. Cama's contention that this plea is not supported by the pleadings in the petition also cannot be accepted. It is stated that the reduction in pension is arbitrary and is without rhyme or reason and this, in my view, is enough to support the contention of Mr. Madnaney.
23. In the result, I make rule absolute in terms of prayer (a) and (b3) and set aside the orders refusing to grant to the petitioner full salary during the period of suspension and refusing to pass an order giving all allowances to the petitioner and refusing to treat the period of suspension as being a period of duty. The order of reduction of pension by 5% is also set aside. The respondents are directed to pass necessary orders in accordance with law on the principles already set-out above.
24. The respondents to pay to the petitioner the costs of the petition. The above directions should be carried out by the respondents within ten weeks from the date of singing of this judgment.