Panel takes stern view of graft, sexual abuse
In a significant order, the Tamil Nadu Information Commission recommended that the government amend rules to exempt subsistence allowance payment to employees suspended for offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act and the POCSO Act. It also said departmental inquiry in such cases should be kept in abeyance till the disposal of the criminal proceedings.
It passed the order while disposing of a petition that sought to know the number of town panchayat employees who have been suspended, the charges against them, the term of suspension and the amount paid under the Tamil Nadu Civil Service (Appeal & Disciplinary) Rules.
The Public Information Officer, Commissionerate of Town Panchayat, informed that a total of 102 employees were under suspension and 42 of them were suspended under the Prevention of Corruption Act.
The term of their suspension ranged between 2 months and 18 years. The details of the total amount paid to them as subsistence allowance “were not available with the Commissionerate office”.
The Commission, referring to the rules, noted that suspended employees were entitled to 50% wages in the 0-90 days period, 75% during 90-180 days and full wages after 180 days.
While hearing another petition calling for details of sexual harassment complaints filed by students of government, government-aided schools, unaided schools, universities, colleges and other educational institutions and the action taken on those complaints, the Commission was told by the public authority of the School Education Department that 232 FIRs were registered against its employees/staff/teachers for sexual harassment.
The number did not include FIRs registered for complaints filed for such offences at colleges, universities and other educational/training institutions. The cases were in various stages of judicial process. In a few cases, reinstatement orders had been passed pending criminal proceedings, while in some others the accused persons were convicted after a prolonged trial.
In one case relating to staff/teachers suspended for sexual harassment, the parents of a victim sought information on the action taken against a suspended teacher. The Commission was informed that the teacher facing charges of a sexual offence was posted at another institution. There too, he was suspended on a similar charge. The victim’s parents expressed distress because such staff members were enjoying subsistence allowance paid by the government after committing the offence repeatedly.
Passing orders after hearing both petitions, Information Commissioner S. Muthuraj said the serving employees were demoralised because those suspended on grave charges such as corruption and sexual offences were enjoying full pay while they had to work sharing the burden (of the suspended staff). “Payment of full wages as subsistence allowance to such suspended staff is not only a financial burden but de-motivates the other existing civil servants who work for the betterment of the department. In another case, this Commission is also informed that another teacher who was suspended for an offence under the POCSO Act after receiving subsistence allowance for 6 years from 2011 was convicted for 55-year imprisonment in the year 2017.”
Mr. Muthuraj said a government employee was expected to act with utmost good faith and loyalty to public during the course of employment. Any criminal breach committed during the course of employment makes him/her liable to be enquired and punished by the investigating authority.
It would be prudent to bifurcate the offences committed by the civil servant into two and pay subsistence allowance to those who had not committed offence that involved moral turpitude. “The payment of subsistence allowance has made the civil servants more lethargic and carefree in their employment. This also adds on financial burden to the Government and also work pressure to the existing civil servants.”
Exercising powers conferred under Section 25(5) of the RTI Act, Mr. Muthuraj recommended to the State to amend the Tamil Nadu Civil Service (Appeal & Disciplinary) Rules and other related service laws to keep departmental enquiry in abeyance till the disposal of criminal proceedings in cases relating to corruption and under the POCSO Act. He also recommended that the Tamil Nadu Payment of Subsistence Allowance Act be amended to exempt payment of subsistence allowance to civil servants suspended on charges of corruption and under the POCSO Act.
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