Government officials cannot exercise powers conferred on them under the Tamil Nadu Civil Services (Discipline and Appeal) Rules according to their “whims and fancies,” the Madras High Court Bench here has said.

It ruled that the officials could not initiate departmental action against an employee on the verge of retirement for an offence allegedly committed by him many years ago.

Allowing a writ petition filed by a Commercial Tax Department employee, who was subjected to disciplinary proceedings 14 years after the alleged offence was committed, Justice S. Manikumar held that “the power granted to the disciplinary authority should be exercised in a fair and reasonable manner and should not reflect his closed mind.”

The judge rejected the contention of the officials that they were waiting for the result of a criminal case registered against the petitioner for the same offence. “When simultaneous proceedings are permissible in law, nothing could have prevented the authorities in initiating disciplinary proceedings even during the pendency of the criminal case.”

According to the petitioner, M.K. Meer Baskhan, he joined the Commercial Taxes Department at Nagercoil as an Office Assistant in 1969. He was to retire on July 31, 2007, after serving the department for 38 years. His higher official issued a charge memo and suspension order on the day of his superannuation, thereby not allowing him to retire.

Petitioner's counsel M. Ajmal Khan said that his client was implicated in a criminal case in 1993 for allegedly threatening the Superintendent of a Regulated Market at Kulasekaram to let go three trucks, transporting raw rubber sheets, without payment of market fee. He was arrested in connection with the case and released on bail within 32 hours.

Immediately, the then Assistant Commissioner of Commercial Taxes suspended the petitioner from service. The suspension order was challenged before the Tamil Nadu Administrative Tribunal, which initially granted interim stay, and subsequently made it absolute. Thereafter, the petitioner continued to serve the department for 14 years.

A Judicial Magistrate, who tried the criminal case against the petitioner, acquitted him of all charges on August 17, 2007. Pursuant to the judgment, the petitioner was suspended again on the day of his retirement and hence the present writ petition.