New Delhi: The Supreme Court has said the standard of rectitude to be applied to any person seeking appointment in a law enforcement agency must always be higher and more rigorous for the simple reason that possession of higher moral conduct is one of the basic requirements for appointment to a post as sensitive as that in the police service.
The apex court made this observation while upholding the decision of the Madhya Pradesh Police not to appoint a POSCO-accused as a police constable, despite his acquittal in the case.
A bench comprising Justices Hima Kohli and Rajesh Bindal said the respondent was charged with non-compoundable offences of a serious nature. “We are of the firm view that the judgment of the trial Court cannot be treated as a clean acquittal,” the bench noted. It observed that an acquittal in a Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POSCO) Act, case cannot be said to be a clean one when the trial has seen witnesses turning hostile, and the complainant had reneged from the statement made to the police in view of a settlement arrived at with the respondent.
The top court noted that it is evident from the facts narrated that after the chargesheet was filed, the respondent had arrived at a compromise with the complainant and filed an application under Section 320 of the CrPC, based on which the offence under Section 341 IPC was compounded. It further added that the remaining offences for which the respondent was charged i.e. Section 354(D) of the IPC and Section 11 (D)/12 of the POCSO Act, were non-compoundable and therefore, the matter was taken to trial.
The bench noted that the respondent was acquitted by the trial court primarily on account of the fact that the complainant did not support the case set up by the prosecution and the other prosecution witnesses had turned hostile. “In such circumstances, the respondent’s plea that he had been given a clean acquittal in the criminal case, is found to be devoid of merits”, it said.
The respondent has made a candid disclosure of the criminal case, which had culminated in an acquittal while applying for the post of constable. The Madhya Pradesh Police had deemed the accused unfit for the appointment, even though he had been acquitted in the POCSO case filed against him.
“Being mindful of the fact that the case involved moral turpitude and the respondent was charged with non-compoundable offences of a serious nature, we are of the firm view that the judgment of the trial court cannot be treated as a clean acquittal”, said the apex court, in its judgment passed on September 20.
In May 2015, a criminal case was registered against Bhupendra Yadav and others for allegedly wrongfully confining a minor complainant and trying to outrage her modesty.
During the course of the trial, the complainant turned hostile and the parties arrived at a settlement, and not only the complainant but even her friends who had witnessed the incident went into a denial mode and refused to support the case set up by the prosecution. As the other offences for which the respondent was charged, were non-compoundable, the case continued but because the prosecutrix and the witnesses cited by the prosecution turned hostile, the trial court passed an order, acquitting the respondent of the charges framed under Section 354(D) of the IPC and Section 11 (D)/12 of the POCSO Act. Next year, the accused applied for a constable's job in the Madhya Pradesh police.
A single judge of the High Court declined to interfere with the decision of the police, but a division bench allowed the respondents’ appeal. The state government moved the apex court against the division bench order.
Allowing the state’s appeal and setting aside division bench judgment, the apex court said: “Even one criminal case faced by the respondent in which he was ultimately acquitted, apparently on the basis of being extended benefit of doubt can make him unsuitable for appointment to the post of a Constable”.
The apex court stressed that the yardstick to be applied in cases where the appointment sought relates to a law enforcement agency, ought to be much more stringent than those applied to a routine vacancy. “One must be mindful of the fact that once appointed to such a post, a responsibility would be cast on the respondent of maintaining law and order in the society, enforcing the law, dealing with arms and ammunitions, apprehending suspected criminals and protecting the life and property of the public at large”, it said.