NEW DELHI: Supreme Court has prescribed that a government employee cannot be kept under suspension for over 90 days in the absence of a charge sheet against him as such persons "suffer the ignominy of insinuations, the scorn of society and the derision of their Department".
Observing that "protracted period of suspension of delinquent government employee has become a norm", a bench of Justices Vikramajit Sen and C Nagappan said suspension, specially preceding formulation of charges, was essentially transitory or temporary in nature and must be of short duration.
"If it is for an indeterminate period or if its renewal is not based on sound reasoning contemporaneously available on the record, this would render it punitive in nature," it said.
Dwelling on the issue, the bench observed that "the suspended person suffering the ignominy of insinuations, the scorn of society and the derision of his Department, has to endure this excruciation even before he is formally charged with some misdemeanor, indiscretion or offence.
"His torment is his knowledge that if and when charged, it will inexorably take an inordinate time for the inquisition or inquiry to come to its culmination, that is to determine his innocence or iniquity.
"Much too often this has now become an accompaniment to retirement. Indubitably the sophist will nimbly counter that our Constitution does not explicitly guarantee either the right to a speedy trial even to the incarcerated, or assume the presumption of innocence to the accused," the bench said.
Accordingly, it directed that "the currency of a suspension order should not extend beyond three months if within this period the Memorandum of Charges/ Charge sheet is not served on delinquent officer/employee; if Memorandum of Charges/Charge sheet is served a reasoned order must be passed for the extension of the suspension."
The apex court's judgement came on a petition by defence estate officer Ajay Kumar Choudhary, who was suspended in 2011 for allegedly issuing wrong no-objection certificates for the use of approximately four acres of land in Kashmir.
Based on the findings given in the verdict, it said the officer can challenge his continued suspension.
"So far as the facts of the present case are concerned, the Appellant has now been served with a Charge sheet and therefore, these directions may not be relevant to him any longer.
"However, if the Appellant is so advised he may challenge his continued suspension in any manner known to law, and this action of the Respondents will be subject to judicial review," the bench said.