The recent ruling by the Calcutta High Court states that the act of a teacher touching a student's shoulder to prevent her from cheating during exams does not constitute molestation and should not result in disciplinary action against the teacher. The Court overturned a previous decision by the Central Administrative Tribunal, which had upheld the dismissal of the teacher from his government school position.
The Court emphasized that restraining the student from copying by touching her shoulders cannot be considered misconduct, especially since the student herself did not find the action inappropriate or malicious. The Court deemed the penalty imposed on the teacher to be disproportionate and lacking legal justification.
The Court clarified that the act of touching the student's shoulders from behind with the sole intention of preventing cheating does not have any sexual connotation. Consequently, the Court ordered the reinstatement of the teacher with full back wages and other associated benefits.
Additionally, the Court imposed a fine of ₹10,000 on the authorities involved.
The petitioner, Anil Kumar Mridha, was dismissed from his position by the disciplinary authority on the grounds of molesting a class 8 student by touching her shoulders from behind in November 2009.
The bench acknowledged that despite the petitioner's acquittal in the criminal case due to a joint compromise petition filed by the victim, the disciplinary authority maintained that the compromise petition, being a joint agreement between the victim and the petitioner, could not be considered valid since a minor lacks the legal capacity to enter into a contract.
The High Court noted, "It is evident that the petitioner was acquitted in the criminal case as a result of the joint compromise petition. However, it is important to clarify that the compromise petition cannot be classified as a legally binding contract. This clearly indicates the petitioner's innocence and the false nature of the complaint lodged against him by the victim."
Furthermore, the court observed that although the victim initially stated in her testimony that she was molested by the petitioner, she later retracted her statement and claimed that the petitioner had merely touched her shoulder from behind while she was copying in the examination.
"The victim herself has unequivocally stated that the petitioner held her by the shoulders while she was copying in the examination. She has not once indicated that this touch was of a sexual nature or inappropriate," the bench stated.
Despite attempts by the authorities to convince the court that the petitioner had been penalized for misconduct rather than molestation, the charge against him, as stated in the article of charge, revealed that the allegation of misconduct was based solely on the alleged act of molestation for which the criminal court had already acquitted him.
"The charge of gross misconduct, unbecoming of a government servant, is attributed to the petitioner on the grounds of allegedly molesting a female student. In other words, the allegation of misconduct is solely based on the alleged act of molestation," the bench observed.
Henceforth, the alleged molestation has been deemed as misconduct on the part of the petitioner, as stated by the bench.
Given that the petitioner has already been acquitted in the molestation case, the Court explicitly stated that disciplinary action based on it cannot be upheld.
The bench asserted, "There is no shred of evidence on record that indicates any misconduct on the part of the petitioner. The victim's statement is exonerative in nature and absolves the petitioner of any wrongdoing. The authorities' decision is devoid of any evidence and fails to substantiate any misconduct that would violate the service rules."
Based on these observations, the bench nullified the CAT's order and directed the authorities to reinstate the petitioner. Additionally, a penalty of ₹10,000 was imposed on the authorities.
Advocate Anjili Nag represented the Petitioners.
Advocates Shatadru Chakraborty and Dibesh Dwivedi represented the Authorities.
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