(1) This appeal is directed against the order of Veeraswami J. in W. P. 113 of 1960. The appellant, K. Dakshinamurthi, was employed as a police constable serving in the Special Armed Police. The departmental authorities framed the following charge against him:--
"Conduct unbecoming of a police constable in having political leanings towards Drivada Munnetra Kazhagam party".
The charge itself, as contained in a letter in Tamil dated 3-9-1957 addressed t o Sri Kannadasan, Editor, Thenral, Madras. The translation of the letter in Engl ish is this:--
"Many regards. We are sorry to hear about the death of your mother. We regret m ust that she could not live longer to watch your patriotism any your popularity. We came to your office many times to express our condolences in person but coul d not, as you were not available. On Sunday last we came at 2-30 p.m. to your of fice but in vain. So we are expressing our condolences by means of this letter. We pray God to bless her soul.
S. A. P. Comardes" (Tholargal)
It was also alleged in the Memorandum of charge issued to the appellant, that the State Examiner of Questioned Documents. Madras, opined that there were indications that the appellants wrote the anonymous petition, that thereby he revealed his political leanings towards the Dravide Munnetra Kazhagam party and that as a Government servant he should not have had any political leanings. The above mentioned letter seems to have reached the hands of the C. I. D. of the police department. How it reached them is not before us, nor are we asked to go into it. During the enquiry held against the appellant on the above charge, he was also shown a letter dated 2-11-1967, from the Superintendent of Police, Special Branch, C. I. D., Madras, to the Inspector-General of Police, Madras. It is stated in this letter:--
"In the course of enquiries made to locate the writer of this communication it was ascertained that P. C. No. 1203 K. Dakshinamurthi..... is a sympathiser of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and that he often visits the office of the Tamil weekly Thenral."
The appellant's signature was also obtained in token of his having been made aware of the contents of this letter.
(2) The defence of the appellant was that he did not write the above letter. Even on its face, it purports to be a communication sent by a group of people, and not by any one person. It was urged that at best it was only a letter of condolence, and could not be characterised as evidence of political leanings. Consequently the very basis of the charge was unfounded. It was contended further, that the extract of the letter of the Superintendent of Police to the Inspector-General of Police, was only an opinion of some official communicated to another official and could not form legal material for basing a charge against the appellant. The departmental authority's finding at the enquiry was that as a member of a disciplined force the appellant ought not to have any kind of political leanings. The opinion of the State Examiner of Questioned Documents was conclusive to establish that the author of the letter was the appellant. By his undisciplined conduct he had rendered himself unfit for retention in a disciplined force. He was there upon dismissed from service.
(3) Against this order of dismissal the appellant filed a writ petition for the issue of an order of certiorari, before this court. The learned Judge, who disposed of the writ petition. held:
"(1) that the finding of the departmental authorities that the appellant was the author of the letter was based on some material but it would not be for the court in writ proceeding to go behind that conclusion 'reached on the facts; (2) It may be that two opinions may be possible on the effect of the letter in respect of the alleged political leanings, but where one opinion has been expressed by a competent authority based on the letter, that will not amount to an error apparent on the face of the record."
Thereupon, the learned Judge dismissed the petition. Against the above decision the petitioner has filed the appeal before us under the Letters Patent.
(4) In the first place we observe that a member of a police force is a civil servant. The appellant is a member of the Special Armed Police Force and he is entitled to the Statutory safeguards in respect of the conditions of his service and penalties for breach contained in the Madras Police and Subordinate Services Discipline and Appeal Rules 1955, which have been framed under the powers conferred by the several special enactments relating to the police, like the Madras District Police Act and the Madras City Police Act, 1888 read with the proviso to Art. 309 of the Constitution of India. Rule 2 sets down the penalties which could be imposed upon the members of the service Rule 3 provides that where it is proposed to impose on a member of the service any of the penalties mentioned in rule (2), he shall be given a reasonable opportunity to defend himself, before the penalty is imposed. These rules closely follow similar rules framed under the Civil Services (Classification, Control and Appeal) Rules, for dealing with Government Servants in other departments. Therefore the members of the police force in matters of their official conduct and duties are entitled to safeguards similar to those conferred on other members of the Government Service.
(5) We asked the learned Additional Government Pleader, who appeared for the State, whether there is any special rule prescribing a Code of conduct for police officers in view of their being a disciplined force and which has a special bearing on the subject matter of the present writ proceedings. But the learned Additional Government Pleader was able to drawn our attention only to R. 21 of the Madras Subordinate Police Officer's Conduct Rules given in annexure III-A of Madras Police Standing Orders Rule 21 refers to 'taking part in politics and election' and it is set out below:
"21(1)(i) No police officer shall taken part in, subscribe in aid of, or assist in any way any political movement in India, or in relation to Indian affairs;
(ii) No police officer shall permit any person dependent on him for maintenance or under his care or in any way assist, any movement or activity which is, or tends directly or indirectly to be, subversive of the Central Government or any State Government as by law established in India.
Explanation: A police officer shall be deemed to have permitted a person to take part in or assist a movement or activity within the meaning of clause (ii) if he had not taken any possible precaution and done everything in his power to prevent person so acting, or if, when he knows or has reason to suspect that such person is so acting, he does not at once inform the Inspector General of Police, Commissioner of Police, or the officer to whom he is subordinate.
(2) No police officer shall canvass or otherwise interfere or use his influence in connection with, or take part in, any election to a legislative body, whether in India or elsewhere:
Provided that a police officer who is qualified to vote at such election may exercise his right to cote, but if he does so, he shall give no indication of the manner in which he proposes to vote or has voted."
(3) A police officer who issues an address to electors or in any other manner publicly announces himself, or allows himself to be publicly announced as a candidate or prospective candidate for election to a legislative body shall be deemed for the purposes of the sub-rule (2) to take part in an election to such body.
(4) The provisions of sub-rules (2) and (3) shall so far as may be, apply to elections to local authorities or bodies save in respect of police officers required or permitted by or under any law, or order of Government for the time being in force to be a candidate at such elections.
(5) Seditious propagandist or the expression of disloyal sentiments by a police officer will be regarded as sufficient ground for dispensing with his services.
(6) A Police officer proposing to take part in a non official conference or meeting held in another State must obtain the prior sanction of the Inspector-General of Police Commissioner of Police".
The charge against the appellant is that the letter in question, has provided a clue to the inner state of his mind, namely, a strong leaning towards a particular political party. We have not been shown any rule which prohibits a civil servant from having an inner conviction, that a particular political party is the best suited for the good Government of his country in a democratic set up. At the elections, he can certainly exercise his franchise in accordance with his inner conviction. Freedom of political conviction is a fundamental right of the citizen in a democratic State. A civil servant of the State is also entitled to this freedom, but by virtue of his special obligation as a civil servant, he is debarred from giving expression to his conviction in a manner which will interfere with his official duties as a loyal servant of the Govt. of which will give him by virtue of his official position an undue advantage over other citizens, who do not hold such a public office. The conduct rule above mentioned in substance carried out this principle. But to reiterate, there is nothing in the rules to prohibit a Government servant from having a mental sympathy or an inward leaning in favour of any particular political party as long as it remains unexpressed in any of the modes declared objectionable of the rules of conduct.
(6) The letter in question, extracted at the beginning of this order, (1) expresses condolence on the death of the mother of a prominent member of a particular political party; (2) it expresses regret that the mother,, it she had been olive, would have rejoiced in watching the patriotism and popularity of the addressee; and (3) it refers to the visits made to the office of the addressee for expressing the condolence, but he was not to be found. Consequently, the sentiment of condolence was being conveyed by the letter.
(7) The subscription below is "S. A. P. Tholargal." The word "Tholargal' means 'friends" or ''comrades''. Its use in the plural may be consistent with the writer being one among a group, who might have admiration for the addressee. It was mentioned to us that the addressee, besides being a prominent member of a political party, is also a composer of cinema songs. Therefore the subscription could have merely expressed that there was a group of persons having sympathy or admiration for the addressee. But there is nothing to show that even if there was such a group, they had formed themselves into an association intended to assist the political party of the addressee in any concrete form. They might have joined together just for the purpose of writing this letter to express their feeling of condolence. Without further data that the group of persons had become associate in one of the forms prohibited in the conduct rule, extracted above, there is no basis for inferring that any rule governing his conduct as a member of the police force, had been contravened by the appellant.
(8) The charges sets out that the appellant's conduct was unbecoming of a police constable. In the finding of the department, stress is laid on his special position as a member of a disciplined force like the police. It is necessary to point out that a policeman has a special obligation in the matter of remaining completely neutral in politics. While he is entitled to have an inner conviction like every other citizen the point which we have stressed in the foregoing paragraphs any, the least, tendency to translate into any action form that conviction in any sphere where his official duties are involved or are likely to be involved, has or a possibility of great harm to the State as well as it the public. Such a tendency has to be rigorously watched for an curbed. It is needles to point out that a like duty rests on the government in power as well as on the public, to see that the policeman's political neutrality and integrity are reserved. With an awareness of the special position of a policeman in the conduct of his being a member of a disciplined force who has to discharge often shouldered by responsibilities not often shouldered by other public servants we have carefully considered the record of the case. As already mentioned, the authorship of the letter could be tracked to the appellant only because of the opinion of the State Examiner of Questioned Documents. But the learned Judge has declined to go into the merits of the decision as to how far the appellant could be fastened with the authorship, because that was matter for the departmental authorities. But even if the appellant could be contents of the letter go no further than the expression of the feelings of condolence on his bereavement to a member of a political party conveyed by some members of the police force, who apparently are his admirers. But there is nothing to show that the particular members including the appellant, has gone further, and put their admiration or sympathy for the particular political leader, in a form, to which objection can be taken in the light of the relevance conduct rules or its tendency to interfere with the special responsibilities of a policeman above referred to. Therefore, the charge in this case, entailing the penalty of dismissal from service suffers from a total lack of basis, in that it does not involve a breach of any of the relevant rules which govern the conduct of the appellant, as a Government servant. The other information contained in the report of the Superintendent of Police C. I. D. to the Inspector-General of Police, to which reference has already been made, was a report given behind the back of the appellant, and itself was derived from certain enquiries, the details of which were not supplied to the appellant. Even those enquiries stopped with revealing a sympathy for a political party, but no further evidence about the appellant having shown his sympathy in any objectionable form was revealed.
(9) We are, therefore, of the opinion that this a case where there has been a fundamental error apparent on the fact of the record, because the charge itself refers only to a political leaning, in other words, a mental attitude in the matter of politics, without any reference to any objectionable activity having relation to politics or elections, which would amount to misconduct in the case of the appellant.
(10) We allow the appeal and quash the order dismissing the appellant from service. The appellant will get the costs of this appeal from the respondents.
EK/MBR/D. V. C.
(11) Appeal allowed.