The Tripura high court has said that the mere presence of a government employee at a political rally cannot be termed as participation in political activity in violation of service conduct rules.
A petition had been filed by Lipika Paul, who was suspended five days before her retirement from the state government’s fisheries department, in April 2018. The grounds for her suspension were “taking part in a political rally organized by a particular party at Agartala” on December 31, 2017.
The department had claimed that this was in violation of Rule 5 of the Tripura Civil Services (Conduct) Rules, 1988. The petitioner, an upper-division clerk, had pointed out that even if allegations in the charge sheet were true, there could be no misconduct.
The government lawyer contended that the charges had been framed after the department had found that she had participated in a political rally and then apparently made a Facebook post criticizing candidates of another party.
The Tripura high court Chief Justice Akil Kureshi observed that that statement of imputations does not give any indication of the activity of the petitioner being in any manner violative of sub-rule (4) of Rule 5 of the Conduct Rules.
“There is a vital difference between attending a rally and participating in a rally,” said the Chief Justice. In the judgment, ruling in favor of the petitioner, the high court observed that during election times, political parties and their leaders organized rallies and addressed public gatherings.
“The presence of a person does not either establish his or her political affiliation. A student of politics, an enthusiastic young man, a reporter or just a curious bystander all is likely to be present in any political gathering. Even an opponent or a critic of a political party may also attend the gathering,” said Chief Justice Kureshi.
Therefore, the petitioner’s “mere presence” without any further allegation “would not amount to her participation in such politic political gathering”.
After perusing through the Facebook post, which was originally in Bengali, the high court said that there was nothing in the text which “suggest canvassing for or against any political party”.
“It only expresses certain beliefs of the petitioner in general terms. As a Government servant, the petitioner is not devoid of her right of free speech, a fundamental right which can be curtailed only by a valid law. She was entitled to hold her own beliefs and express them in the manner she desired, of course, subject to not crossing the borders laid down in sub-rule (4) of Rule 5 of the Conduct Rules,” said the judgment dated January 9.
The court also asked the state government to drop the departmental inquiry against Lipika Paul and reinstate all her dues and pension benefits within two months.