Ticketless travel: SC upholds sacking of woman magistrate



New Delhi: Holding that judges are expected to maintain impeccable integrity as a role model for the society, the Supreme Court has upheld the dismissal of a woman magistrate for travelling thrice in a train without ticket.

A bench of justices Mukandakam Sharma and AR Dave, in a judgment, said judges should maintain higher standards of rectitude as they enjoy a position of public trust and are not above the law to flout it in any manner.

"This is a case of judicial officer who was required to conduct herself with dignity and manner becoming of a judicial officer. A judicial officer must be able to discharge his/her responsibilities by showing an impeccable conduct.

"In the instant case, she not only travelled without tickets in a railway compartment thrice but also complained against ticket collectors who accosted her, misbehaved with the Railway officials and in those circumstances we do not see how the punishment of compulsory retirement awarded to her could be said to be disproportionate to the offence alleged against her," the bench said while dismissing Arundhati Ashok Walavalkar's appeal.

Walavalkar, a judicial magistrate was "compulsorily retired" from service by the Bombay High Court after an inquiry revealed that she had travelled thrice in the suburban train and intimidated the railway staff when they insisted on her buying the ticket.

The allegation against her was that she had travelled without tickets on 21.2.1997, 13.5.1997 and also on 5.12.1997. Besides, she misused her official identity card by creating nuisance at the railway platform by threating the staff about her judicial status.

Walavalkar was dismissed from service on September 27, 2000 on the ground that her conduct was unbecoming of a judicial officer.

An aggrieved Walavalkar appealed in the apex court contending that the punishment meted out to her was grossly inadequate to the offence committed by her.

Upholding the dismissal, the apex court said, "In a country governed by rule of law, nobody is above law including judicial officers. In fact, as judicial officers, they have to present a continuous aspect of dignity in every conduct.

"If the rule of law is to function effectively and efficiently under the aegis of our democratic setup, judges are expected to, nay, they must nurture an efficient and enlightened judiciary by presenting themselves as a role model," the bench remarked.

A judge is constantly under public glare and society expects higher standards of conduct and rectitude from judicial officers.

"Judicial office, being an office of public trust, the society is entitled to expect that a judge must be a man of high integrity, honesty and ethical firmness by maintaining the most exacting standards of propriety in every action.

"Therefore, a judge's official and personal conduct must be in tune with the highest standard of propriety and probity. Obviously, this standard of conduct is higher than those deemed acceptable or obvious for others," the bench said.

The apex court said Walavalkar being a judicial officer, it was expected that she conduct herself in a "decorous and dignified manner."

"If she has deliberately chosen to depart from these high and exacting standards, she is appropriately liable for disciplinary action," the apex court said.

PTI