Peaceful demo is not misconduct: court
While quashing the charge memo issued to two State Bank of India (SBI) officers alleging misconduct for holding a lunch hour demonstration in August last year, the Madras High Court has held that a mere peaceful demonstration, per se, inside the campus, cannot be understood as a mark of misconduct under the rules.
A Division Bench comprising Justices Chitra Venkataraman and K.B.K.Vasuki passed the common judgment on appeals filed by two officers of the bank against a single Judge’s order of February 8 this year.
The two, D.Thomas Franco Rajendra Dev, Deputy Manager, SBI, RBU, LHO, Chennai and D.Suresh Kumar, Chief Manager, RBU, LHO, Chennai, were the general secretary and elected president of the All India State Bank of India Officers’ Association respectively. The association held a lunch hour demonstration on August 28 last year in front of the local head office and in all the administrative offices of the bank.
Members, including the two officers, participated. In September last year, the two were issued charge memo for alleged misconduct under the bank’s officers’ service rules.
They filed writ petitions contending that registered trade unions had a right to demonstrate peacefully. The right flowed from Art.19 (1) ( c ) of the Constitution.
They denied that they instigated the officers of the bank to hold the demonstration. There was no misconduct.
A single Judge rejected the writ petitions, holding that the court could not interfere at the stage of charge memo on the basis of the defence pleaded by the petitioners. Aggrieved, the two filed the present appeals.
The question before the court was whether the demonstration held by the appellants within the bank’s premises would amount to misconduct and violation of service rules.
Allowing the appeals, the Bench observed that the bank management did not dispute that the right to hold a demonstration in a peaceful manner was one within the scope of Art.19 of the Constitution. Hence, a peaceful and an orderly demonstration was not violative of the constitutional provision. Given the fact that the staff association was a registered one and that holding the post in the association even by an officer was not an anathema to holding the post of a General Manager or an officer of high order in a bank, such post in the union being recognised by the management itself, in the face of the guaranteed right to hold a demonstration as a form of free expression and speech, the imputations were of very generic nature and went against the very concept of forming a union and holding a peaceful demonstration. While the bank management did not deny that the union was a registered one recognised by it, the Bench said, it failed to understand how the participation by an officer, who incidentally held the post in the governing body of the union would go against the service rules.