Common Judgment:(Satish Chandra Sharma, CJ.)
Regard being had to the similitude in the controversy involved in the present cases, the writ appeals were analogously heard and by a common judgment, they are being disposed of by this Court.
The present writ appeals are arising out of a common order dated 04.01.2017 passed in a batch of writ petitions i.e., W.P.Nos.7794, 7801, 8137, 10450, 14341, 17232, 27339 and 27376 of 2016.
The facts of the case reveal that large number of writ petitions were preferred against termination of the services of the writ petitioners, who were probationers on the post of Junior Cotton Purchasers and who were appointed in the year 2015. Their services were put to an end on the ground that they produced fake experience certificates. The orders of termination were subjected to judicial scrutiny by filing writ petitions and the learned Single Judge has allowed the writ petitions by a common order dated 04.01.2017 setting aside the termination orders. Challenging the same, writ appeals are preferred by the Cotton Corporation of India Limited and another.
At the time when the common order was passed, it was a common High Court for the State of Telangana and the State of Andhra Pradesh and after establishment of the Andhra Pradesh High Court, the writ appeals which were in respect of the persons belonging to the State of Andhra Pradesh were transferred to the State of Andhra Pradesh i.e., W.A.Nos.241 and 912 of 2017.
The Division Bench of the Andhra Pradesh High Court has dismissed the writ appeals i.e., W.A.Nos.241 and 912 of 2017 on 27.09.2019. Meaning thereby, the order passed by the learned Single Judge setting aside the termination was upheld.
The Cotton Corporation of India Limited and another have preferred Civil Appeal Nos.6985 and 6986 of 2021 before the Hon’ble Supreme Court challenging the judgment dated 27.09.2019 passed in W.A.Nos.912 and 241 of 2017 respectively.
The judgment passed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in aforesaid Civil Appeals on 22.11.2021 is reproduced as under:-
“IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION
CIVIL APPEAL NO.6985 OF 2021 (@ OUT OF SPECIAL LEAVE PETITION (CIVIL) NO.19282 of 2021) (@ OUT OF SLP(C) (Diary No(s) 2783/2020)
THE COTTON CORPORATION OF INDIA LTD. & ANR.
VIGNESH S. Respondent (s)
CIVIL APPEAL NO.6986 OF 2021 (@ OUT OF SPECIAL LEAVE PETITION (CIVIL) NO.19283 of 2021) (@ OUT OF SLP(C) (Diary No(s) 2614/2020)
CIVIL APPEAL NO.6985 OF 2021
(@ OUT OF SPECIAL LEAVE PETITION (CIVIL) NO.19282 of 2021)
(@ OUT OF SLP(C) (Diary No(s) 2783/2020)
This appeal challenges the judgment and order dated 27-09-2019 passed by the High Court of Judicature at Andhra Pradesh at Amravati in WA No. 912/2017.
The appellant, a Public Sector Undertaking, invited applications for the posts of Junior Cotton Purchasers. The qualifications and experience required for the post as indicated in the advertisement were as under:
"Qualification and Experience:
B.Sc. (Agri) from any recognized University with an aggregate of 50 % marks, (45 % marks in case of SC/ST/PH candidates). Post Qualification Experience of minimum one year of dealing in any Agriculture Commodities in reputed organization/enterprise.
Science Graduate/Graduate in any science stream or any other science equivalent degree Background upto HSC level is a pre-requisite) from any (where Science recognized University with an aggregate of 50% marks (45% marks in case of SC/ST/PH candidates). Post Qualification Experience of minimum one year of dealing in any Agriculture Commodities in reputed organization/enterprise."
The respondent herein applied for the post and submitted documents in support of his candidature.
By communication dated 03.03.2015, the respondent was appointed on probation for a period of one year from the date of appointment/joining. The probation period could be extended at the discretion of the appointing authority.
By subsequent communication dated 18.05.2016, the respondent was intimated that on verification of experience certificate issued in favour of the respondent, it was found that the certificate issued by M/s Sri Sai Baba Ginning & Pressing Factory, Adilabad was not true and correct. The communication stated thus:
"Subsequently during the process of verification of experience certificate, it has been found that you have secured experience certificate from M/s Sri Sai Baba Ginning & Pressing Factory, Adilabad for a longer tenure though you had worked there only for 4-5 months. In the written statement, the Authorised Signatory of M/s Sri Sai Baba Ginning & Pressing Factory has stated that –
"Shri S. Vignesh has worked in our company for around 4-5 months as a trainee Manager. On his request and humanity grounds we have issued experience certificate for a longer period as was requested by him."
A copy of the letter which is enclosed for your ready reference. Therefore it has become evident that the certificate obtained by you and submitted along with the application was false. In as much as you have secured employment by submitting the false experience certificate in the Cotton Corporation of India which is Government of India Undertaking, your action amounts to securing employment by fraudulent means."
The communication thus called for explanation from the respondent.
By his explanation dated 01.06.2016, the respondent submitted as under:
"It is false to state that I have submitted totally false experience certificate. I have come to know that during the enquiry about my experience, M/s Sri Sai Baba Ginning & Pressing Factory Adilabad, told the cotton corporation personnel that I worked with it for one year four months. But when they asked the proof of my salary M/s Sri Sai Baba Ginning & Pressing Factory replied that they have given salary to me for Rs.7,500/- per month. The true fact is that M/s Sri Sai Baba Ginning & Pressing Factory used to pay salaries to me as well as other employees by way of cash and no receipts were given and no account ledgers were being maintained. M/s Sri Sai Baba Ginning & Pressing Factory is a big company and many of its employees are daily wagers. I have the documentary proof of my experience with M/s Sri Sai Baba Ginning & Pressing Factory which issued me the experience certificate dated 16.11.2013 in my favour for the period from 1st July 2012 to 15th November, 2013 which purports one year four months experience whereas the notification for the above said post is required minimum of one year experience. I have not submitted any false experience certificates in the Cotton Corporation of India to secure employment and never committed such act which amounts to secure employment by fraudulent means.
It is submitted that during the first enquiry, the vigilance officer, approached M/s Sri Sai Baba Ginning & Pressing Factory and enquired about my experience in the said factory, the authorities informed that, I have rendered services in their factory previously. Thereafter, in the second enquiry, the vigilance officer who are again approached M/s Sri Sai Baba Ginning & Pressing Factory and pressurized them stating that Chief Vigilance officer is an Income Tax Commissioner and pressurized the factory people to give information, due to the pressure of the vigilance peoples, the factory people are given false information that I have done work to their factory 4 to 5 months only and also informed that there is no record and also the vigilance officer had also obtained a letter from M/s Sri Sai Baba Ginning & Pressing Factory addressed to CVO, the CCI Ltd., Navi Mumbai dated 11.05.2016.
It is submitted that based on the said information given by M/s Sri Sai Baba Ginning & Pressing Factory, your authority issued show cause notice dated 18.05.2016 to me. Immediately, I approached the said factory namely M/s Sri Sai Baba Ginning & Pressing Factory and asked them how your people are furnished wrong information. But the factory people informed that due to threat and fear, have given wrong information to the vigilance officers and also informed that they have already wrote a letter to CVO, the CCI Ltd. Navi Mumbai stating that the earlier certificate dated 16.11.2013 issued by the company is genuine one.
Thereafter, an order of termination was passed by the appellant on 04.08.2016, stating inter alia;
"In an enquiry conducted by the Corporation about his previous experience, it has been observed that salary stated to be paid in cash and no statutory deductions were made by his ex-employer namely M/s Sri Sai Baba Ginning & Pressing Factory. As per attendance register he has worked only for 7.5 months whereas in the experience certificate submitted by him show that he has worked for 16.5 months. On further re-verification, the Partner of M/s Sri Sai Baba Ginning & Pressing Factory has given a written declaration dated 11.05.2016 wherein they have stated that Shri S. Vignesh had worked in their company around 4-5 months as a Trainee Manager. On his request and on humanity ground they have issued experience certificate for a longer period i.e. more than 5 months. Further they have stated that he has not even informed them that he is applying for the government job and they were not aware of that also. His remuneration was paid by cash for the period he worked with them. And they did not maintain any record for his service. No PF and Professional Tax has been deducted.
It may, therefore, be seen that the experience certificate dated 16.11.2013 submitted by Shri S. Vignesh along with the application is false as he had worked around 4-5 months as a Trainee Manager and not for 15 months as claimed by him. Had it been only 4-5 months experience he would not have been eligible to be called for written test/interview. Thus the submission of false experience certificate by Shri S. Vignesh is in contravention of the declaration given by him at the time of submission of his application. Therefore, it became evident that he has secured employment in this Corporation by furnishing fake and false experience certificate."
The services of the respondent were thus terminated.
The respondent being aggrieved, challenged the order of termination by filing Writ Petition No.27339 of 2016 before the High Court. A Single Judge of the High Court by his judgment and order dated 04.01.2017 set aside the order of termination and directed the appellant to reinstate the respondent into service and to conduct departmental inquiry, if so advised.
The order dated 04.01.2017 was appealed against by the appellant by filing Writ Appeal No.912 of 2017 which was dismissed by the Division Bench of the High Court. It was observed that as the foundation of the instant case was the alleged fraudulent conduct on part of the respondent, the remedy of the appellant was to initiate departmental proceedings and that the order of termination simplicitor could not have been issued by the appellant.
In this appeal challenging the view taken by the High Court, we have heard Mr. Ravi Prakash, learned advocate for the appellant and Mr. Adinarayana Rao, learned Senior Advocate for the respondent.
Mr. Ravi Prakash, learned Advocate submitted:
(a) The basic eligibility condition contemplated work experience of a specified duration. If such work experience was not found to be in existence and a false representation was made, the appellant was entitled to pass the order of termination simplicitor and the appellant was not obliged to undertake departmental proceedings or inquiry.
(b) The identical orders of termination issued by the appellant were subject matter of challenge before the High Courts of Bombay, Gujarat and Rajasthan which accepted the orders of termination issued by the appellant.
(c) Reliance was placed on the decision of the Division Bench of the High Court in Writ Petition (L) No.3137 of 2016 [Shri Gaurav W. Watane vs. The Cotton Corporation of India Limited and Others] wherein the High Court had observed as under:
"9. We are unable to agree with Mr. Desai for more than one reason. The Petitioner claimed by this certificate to have been employed with M/s Lucky Cotton Ginning and Pressing Factory. The verification of this claim was carried out by the Respondent, a public sector/Government of India undertaking by approaching the so called employer. That employer denied any employer-employee relationship and stated that the employment was by the supervisor of the firm. Initially, that was not the claim of the said employer and it stated that it employed the Petitioner but paid the salary in cash. Later-on, it changed this version and stated that the said supervisor employed the petitioner and paid him salary. Balu's version is directly contrary to the version of the said M/s Lucky Cotton Ginning and Pressing. He does not say that he employed the petitioner but the firm employed him. He states that he did not pay any salary or money but the firm employer paid the same. In the light of these contrary versions, the conclusion reached by the Respondent that the experience certificate is not genuine and reliable, cannot be faulted. This conclusion cannot be termed as perverse or vitiated by any error of law apparent on the face of the record. The Respondent granted complete opportunity to the petitioner before terminating the services. In such circumstances, both the orders, namely, the one terminating the services of the petitioner probationer as also seeking to recover the salary paid to the Petition, are not liable to be interfered with in our writ jurisdiction. The Writ Petition is devoid of merits and is dismissed."
(d) The aforesaid decision of the High Court of Bombay was challenged by filing Special Leave Petition in this Court which was rejected by this Court at the admission stage itself.
Mr. Adinarayana Rao, learned Senior Advocate for the respondent relied upon the decisions of this Court in State Bank of India & Ors. vs. Palak Modi & Ors. (2013) 3 SCC 607) and State of Rajasthan & ors. vs. Jagdish Narain Chaturvedi (2009) 12 SCC 49). He submitted that if the alleged misconduct on part of the employee was the foundation for the order of termination, even when the matter pertained to a probationer, according to this Court, the appropriate remedy was to initiate departmental inquiry or proceedings and no order of termination simplicitor could be issued by the employer. He also relied upon the decision in Prem Nath Khanna & Ors. vs. Narinder Nath Kapoor (D) through Lrs. (2016) 12 SCC 235) to submit that rejection of SLP at the admission stage did not mean that the judgment of the High Court stood accepted as a precedent.
In the present case, the advertisement had clearly indicated the eligibility condition which contemplated work experience of a specified duration. The inquiries conducted by the appellant revealed that the certificate issued in favour of the respondent was completely incorrect and false.
The basic condition of eligibility itself was thus not complied with and the invalidity went to the root of the matter. It is not a case of any conduct on part of the employee after he was appointed, but the invalidity was pertaining to the very entitlement and candidature of the respondent. In the circumstances, in our view, the law laid down by this Court in State Bank of India & Ors. vs. Palak Modi & Ors. and State of Rajasthan & ors. vs. Jagdish Narain Chaturvedi would not be applicable.
It is not even suggested that the respondent was having any documentary evidence to support his case that he had the requisite work experience for more than a year. The documents could have been in the nature of credit of the amounts towards salary into his bank account, deductions made by the requisite authorities towards his Provident fund dues or any such documents. None of those documents were even referred to in the response filed on behalf of the respondent.
The order of termination issued by the appellant thus could not be faulted.
It must be stated that the reasoning which weighed with the High Court of Bombay, in our view, was the correct understanding of the matter in issue.
We, therefore, allow this appeal, set aside the orders passed by the single judge and the Division Bench and dismiss writ petition No.27339 of 2016.
It is however made clear that the appellant shall not be entitled to recover any amount paid by way of salary or emoluments to the respondent while he was in the service of the appellant.
With these observations, the appe
Please Login To View The Full Judgment!
al is allowed without any order as to costs. CIVIL APPEAL NO.6986 OF 2021 (@ OUT OF SPECIAL LEAVE PETITION (CIVIL) NO.19283 of 2021) (@ OUT OF SLP(C) (Diary No(s) 2614/2020) Delay condoned. Leave granted. This appeal challenges the judgment and order dated 27-09-2019 passed by the High Court of Andhra Pradesh at Amravati in WA No. 241/2017. The facts in the instant case are identical to those which were dealt with by this Court in the first matter. For the reasons stated therein, the instant appeal also deserves to be allowed. The appeal is allowed with direction that the appellant shall not be entitled to recover any amount paid to the respondent by way of salary/emoluments while the respondent was in the services of the appellant. No costs.” The Hon’ble Supreme Court has set aside the order passed by the learned Single Judge of the common High Court for the State of Telangana and the State of Andhra Pradesh and also the judgment of the Division Bench of the Andhra Pradesh High Court. Meaning thereby, the Hon’ble Supreme Court has set aside the order passed by the learned Single Judge, which is the genesis of the present writ appeals also. Therefore, the common order passed by the learned Single Judge itself has been set aside and the writ appeals deserve to be allowed in terms of the order passed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court. Resultantly, the writ appeals are allowed and the impugned common order passed by the learned Single Judge is hereby set aside. The judgment delivered by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Civil Appeal Nos.6985 and 6986 of 2021, dated 22.11.2021 shall be applicable mutatis mutandis in the present writ appeals also. The miscellaneous applications pending, if any, shall stand closed. There shall be no order as to costs.