`Arbitrary' retirement of forest ranger quashed

CHENNAI, MARCH 23. The Madras High Court today quashed the compulsory retirement of forest ranger R. Rajendran and described the State action as arbitrary and against the principles of natural justice and service jurisprudence.

Justice Prafulla Kumar Misra, allowing Mr. Rajendran's writ petition challenging the September 2004 order retiring him for "doubtful integrity," also directed the Government to reinstate the officer within one month and extend to him all attendant service and monetary benefits.

"The question whether there was any lack of integrity or not was the subject matter of disciplinary proceedings which were pending," Mr. Justice Misra said.

On August 13 last, the Periyakulam ranger reported illicit felling of teakwood trees and suspected the involvement of forest personnel as well as some "politically influential persons." A criminal case was registered and an arrest warrant issued against 20 persons, including "two politically influential persons."

On August 25, Mr. Rajendran was placed under suspension on the ground that "grave charges" were being contemplated against him. However, after the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court stayed the suspension order on August 31, the Government revoked it on September 10, only to pass the compulsory retirement order the next day. It was pasted on his house on September 12.

The Government alleged that Mr. Rajendran had misbehaved with higher officials and misappropriated Government money.

`Against natural justice'

Declining to accept the explanation, Mr. Justice Misra said: "Without completing inquiries, passing an order of compulsory retirement on the ground of lack of integrity clearly indicates that the order was rather by way of punishment, even though the departmental proceedings have not yet been concluded.

"Such a course of action obviously is against the principles of natural justice and against the tenor of service jurisprudence. The very background of the case and the sudden movement of events after the petitioner lodged the complaint, alleging the involvement of some politically influential persons, cannot be lost sight of.

"It is apparent that the respondent-officials tried to clip the wings of the petitioner by placing him under suspension in contemplation of going into grave charges. However, since such an order of suspension has been stayed by the High Court, the order of compulsory retirement was passed on the basis of lack of integrity, even though the departmental proceedings were yet to be completed.

"In such a scenario, the submission of the petitioner's counsel that the Government found out a convenient method to get rid of an inconvenient officer, who had made allegations of the involvement of some politically influential persons, cannot be lightly brushed aside."

Mr. Justice Misra said the Government's action "smacks of arbitrariness."

The departmental proceedings could however be revived and pursued in accordance with the law.

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