SC revives disciplinary probe against ex-MP cop who set up ‘Gunda Squad’ illegally

Akhilesh Jha was posted as Superintendent of Police at Alirajpur from June 2012 to June 2015 and during this period disobeying instructions of Inspector General of Police, Indore Zone to disband the “Gunda squad”, he constituted, supervised and operated the squad.

The Supreme Court has revived disciplinary enquiry against a former Madhya Pradesh police officer who was allegedly operating a ‘Gunda Squad’ illegally while posted as Superintendent of Police of Alirajpur district, where a man died in custody during interrogation.

‘Gunda Squad’ comprised a group of police personnel to check criminal activities in a particular area.

The top court quashed the Madhya Pradesh High Court order which upheld the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) decision to quash the charge sheet against former Superintendent of Police, Akhilesh Jha, who was promoted to Indian Police Service cadre in 2011.

Jha was posted as Superintendent of Police at Alirajpur from June 2012 to June 2015 and during this period in spite of the instructions issued by the Inspector General of Police, Indore Zone to disband the “Gunda squad”, he constituted, supervised and operated the squad. It has been alleged that on June 1, 2014, individuals belonging to such a squad, acting under the supervision of Jha, arrested an accused, who was taken into custody after being called to the police station by the members of the Gunda Squad. The person, who was under interrogation, died in custody on June 3, 2014 after which a magisterial enquiry was conducted into the custodial death and a report was submitted on October 10, 2014, containing observations against Jha on his role in illegally constituting the squad, which became the basis of a disciplinary enquiry by the state government.

A bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud, Vikram Nath and Hima Kohli said, “We allow the appeal (of Madhya Pradesh government), and set aside the impugned judgment and order of the High Court dated September 5, 2019. The charge sheet was issued to the first respondent (Akhilesh Jha) while he was in service, and hence the disciplinary enquiry can proceed to its logical conclusion”. The disciplinary enquiry should be concluded expeditiously, preferably by July 31, 2022, it said.

It said the statement of charges indicates that Jha operated ‘Gunda squad’ despite specific instructions of the Inspector General of Police, Indore Zone to all Superintendents of Police that no officer working in the District shall constitute it and if such a Squad is working, then it must be dissolved immediately.

It noted that charges against Jha were that he had violated the Rule 3 of All India Services (Conduct) Rules, 1968 by operating ‘Gunda Squad’ illegally in the district Alirajpur and by committing indiscipline and violation of directions of the Senior Officers. The incident leading to custodial death took place while the individual was in Police Station Sorwa of the district on June 3, 2014, after Jha had sent Subedar K.P. Singh Tomar, working as the Squad in-charge, to interrogate the suspect deceased Jhingla.

It noted the charges that Tomar inflicted injuries on Jhingla during interrogation which led to his death, and Tomar and 5 other policemen were suspended.

“On the basis of the material which has been placed on the record, it was impossible to come to the conclusion that the charge against the first respondent is vague or ambiguous,” the bench said.

"The charge-sheet, together with the statement of imputations, contains a detailed elaboration of the allegations against the first respondent and does not leave the recipient in a measure of doubt or ambiguity over the nature of the case he is required to answer in the disciplinary enquiry. The finding that the charge is vague is palpably in error,” it said.

Terming the line of reasoning adopted by CAT as “erroneous”, the bench said, “The Tribunal declined to quash the charge-sheet by its initial order dated July 28, 2016. However, by a subsequent order dated January 5, 2018, it proceeded to do exactly what it had declined to do by its previous order”.

It added that the tribunal purportedly did so, on the basis that prejudice had been caused to Jha by the denial of an opportunity for deputation or for promotion as a result of the pendency of the proceedings.

The bench in its order dated September 6 said that the Tribunal would have been justified in directing the expeditious conclusion of the enquiry, but instead, it proceeded to quash the enquiry in its entirety. “This, in our view, was clearly impermissible. Every delay in conducting a disciplinary enquiry does not, ipso facto, lead to the enquiry being vitiated. Whether prejudice is caused to the officer who is being enquired into is a matter which has to be decided on the basis of the circumstances of each case. Prejudice must be demonstrated to have been caused and cannot be a matter of surmise,” the bench said.

It added that apart from submitting that Jha was unable to proceed on deputation or to seek promotion, there is no basis on which it could be concluded that his right to defend himself stands prejudicially affected by a delay of two years in concluding the enquiry.

“The High Court, therefore, in our view, has clearly failed to properly exercise the jurisdiction vested in it by simply affirming the judgment of the Tribunal. The judgment of the Tribunal suffered from basic errors which go to the root of the matter and which have been ignored both by the Tribunal as well as by the High Court,” it said.

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