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Awarded compensation/damages amounting Rs.5 Lacs for False sexual harassment case

IN THE COURT OF SH. RAJENDER KUMAR SHASTRI
ADJ­06 (CENTRAL) / DELHI

CS NO. : 127/2010

N.N.S. Rana
Ex­Chief Personnel Officer
Northern Railways Baroda House, New Delhi.

Presently : Chief Personnel Officer
North Central Railway Balaipur, Allahabad.

Residence : 24­A, Railway Officers Colony S. P. Marg, New Delhi­110 021. ……Plaintiff

Versus

Mrs. Kuljit Kaur
Ex­Secretary/Chief Personnel Officer
Northern Railway Now Senior Personnel Officer/Grievance
Northern Railway/H. Q. 3rd Floor Annexe­1, Baroda House, New Delhi­1.

Residence : B­406, Plot no. 55 Unesco Apartments Patparganj, Delhi – 110 092.

Date of Institution : 12.01.2001
Date of Decision : 19.11.11

Present: Plaintiff in person with Sh. A. K. Behra Advocate.
None for defendant.

JUDGMENT
1. This is a suit for compensation for defamation and damages.

2. The plaintiff is an Indian Railways Personnel Service (IRPS) Group A officer of 1964 batch. As per his case, the plaintiff worked as Chief 1/15 Personnel Officer with Northern Railways from 04.09.1995 to 31.10.1996. It was equivalent to the rank of Joint Secretary to the Government of India. He was a very honest and hard working officer. The defendant worked as Secretary to him in year 1995 – 96. The defendant did serious negligence in her duty on 20.09.1996 by not sending required papers in advance to the Secretary of the Chief Manger, pertaining to very important meeting to be held on 23.09.1996. Principal Heads of Departments of Northern Railways, Divisional Managers of eight Divisons and General Secretaries of two recognized unions were to attend that meeting, It was called as ‘Principal Officers Meeting’ (POM). The defendant was placed under suspension by the plaintiff on 23.09.1996 and was issued a charge sheet on 24.09.1996 for her negligence of duty. The suspension of defendant was revoked on 25.09.1996 as desired by the General Manager, Northern Railways, after the defendant met the General Manager.

3. After her suspension, the defendant in collusion with 7 ­8 disgruntled and conspiring officers started leveling allegations of sexual harassment against the plaintiff as a revengeful measure. The defendant filed a written complaint to the Minister for Railways on 04.10.1996. Due to pressure mounted by the defendant on the Minister for Railways, the plaintiff was suspended from his service w.e.f. 31.10.1996. A departmental inquiry was also initiated against him under rule 9 of The Railway Services (D & A) Rules 1968, in December 1996 on the allegations of sexual harassment leveled by the defendant. The Disciplinary Authority after considering the report of Inquiry Officer and representation given by the plaintiff passed an order no. E – (O) 1­96 / PU – 2/95 dated 13.01.2000 and held that ­­­­­ 2/15 The major penalty disciplinary action initiated against present plaintiff was not established having been dictated with any ulterior motive to make PW1 (present defendant) more pliable so that she could give in to him (present plaintiff).

4. As per disciplinary authority, the events leading to show down between them were direct result of lack of sensitivity, managerial and leadership qualities on the part of the CO, (present plaintiff), culminating in the issue of a charge sheet for major penalty to PW1 (defendant) by the CO, (plaintiff), over a relatively trivial matter. Such insensitive and impulsive behaviour is rather unfortunate and is unacceptable in a senior manager heading the Human Resource Department of a major railway. In the opinion of this authority the ends of justice will be met by imposition of following minor penalty on the CO (plaintiff) ­­ “Reduction by one stage in the same pay scale for a period of six months without cumulative effect”.

5. Plaintiff challenged legality of said order before the Appellate authority, which enhanced the penalty to that of removal from the service w.e.f. 31.12.02. Plaintiff questioned the finding of appellate authority before the Central Administrative Tribunal by filing OA no. 22/2001. Said petition was dismissed by the Tribunal vide order dated 24.10.03. The plaintiff filed an application bearing no. 8/04, seeking review of said order but same was also dismissed.

6. Contending that the defendant filed a false revengeful and defamatory complaint against him, the plaintiff through present suit has sought a decree of Rs. 10,00,000/­ as damages and compensation, from the 3/15 defendant apart from costs of the suit.

7. The defendant contested suit by filing written statement. It is claimed by the latter that present suit has been filed by the plaintiff with an ulterior motive, with a view to harass her for making a complaint against his mis­behaviour and sexual harassment and again to twist the case relating to the departmental proceedings initiated against him. The defendant also questioned very maintainability of present suit alleging the same as barred by the limitation. It is reasserted by the defendant that around November 1995 and thereafter, the present plaintiff started harassing her on one pretext or the other. He (plaintiff) made her (defendant) to stay in the office in late hours on a number of occasions. She requested the plaintiff for her transfer to Delhi Division. Despite having given assurances, the plaintiff did not transfer her to the Delhi Division. The plaintiff was threatening her of dire consequences repeatedly for not complying with his overtures. He got an opportunity for this on 20.09.1996, when she prepared papers for the POM to be held on 23.09.1996. She had left the folder containing required documents on the table of the plaintiff for scrutiny. She awaited for him in the office till 20:30 hours but he did not turn up, she left the office with Senior Personnel Officer/MPP.

8. It is not disputed rather admitted by the defendant that she lodged a complaint to her superiors including the General Manager, Principal Personnel, National Commission for Women, Minister of State for Railways and Minister for Railways about the sexual harassment at the hands of the plaintiff. It is alleged that a criminal complaint filed by the plaintiff was dismissed by Metropolitan Magistrate, Delhi, holding that no specific act was done by the accused i.e. present defendant. Though a revision petition has been filed against said order but same 4/15 is still pending. It is pointed out by the defendant that the plaintiff had filed an appeal against an order of The Disciplinary Authority imposing the penalty of reduction in pay by one stage temporarily for six months. The appellate authority, referring gravity of offence has enhanced the penalty imposed by the Disciplinary Authority to that of removal from the job vide its order dated 26.12.2002. As a consequence of said order, the plaintiff was removed from his services w.e.f. 31.12.2002. Alleging that the case of plaintiff is devoid of any merits, the defendant requested for dismissal of same with exemplary costs.

9. On the basis of pleadings of parties, following issues were framed on 04.06.2004 :­ ISSUES

1. Whether suit is not maintainable in view of order of Central Admn. Tribunal in OA No. 2379 of 1996 as alleged in para no. 10 of the WS ? OPD.

2. Whether suit is filed by plaintiff within the prescribed period of limitation ? OPP.

3. Whether defendant committed defamation as alleged in the plaint ? OPP.

4. Whether defendant complained to the minister for a genuine case of sexual harassment as alleged in para 18 of the WS ?

5. To what amount of damages an compensation if any, is the plaintiff entitled ? OPP.

6. Relief.

10.In order to prove his case, the plaintiff examined Rana Surender Singh as PW1, himself as PW2 and Sh. Rominder Pal Singh as PW3. Defendant examined herself as DW1. Smt. Rajni Yachuri as DW2 and Sh. Ashwini Kumar Bagga as DW3.

5/15
11.I heard Ld. Counsel appearing on behalf of plaintiff. None appeared on behalf of defendant at the time of final arguments. At the outset, Ld. Counsel for plaintiff explained the developments took place after filing of suit in hands as follow :­

12.The plaintiff had challenged order passed by the disciplinary authority dated 13.01.2000, order of appellate authority dated 26.12.02, the judgment passed by Central Administrative Tribunal dated 24.10.03 as well as order dated 9.07.04 passed on a review application, by filing a writ petition (Civil) no. 4014/05. Said petition has been decided by the High Court of Delhi vide order dated 4.12.08. The High Court found all these orders legally invalid and the same have been set aside. The High Court also found fault with the components of charges which were held to be proved by the disciplinary authority. Union of India had filed a special leave petition in the Supreme Court of India but same is also dismissed by the Apex Court vide order dated 27.09.11. A certified copy of this order has been put on file. The appeal filed by the secretary, Railway board, New Delhi was dismissed having been found bereft of any merit.

13.My findings issue wise are as under :­ ISSUE No. 1 : The Central Administrative Tribunal while hearing on an application (OA No. 2379/96) filed by present plaintiff, was perhaps impressed by the fact that the defendant had written a letter to her son in United Kingdom, indicating tension and unhappy tern of events in her relationship with his boss i.e. plaintiff. The Tribunal found elements of moral turpitude and sexual harassment in the behaviour of plaintiff. From the very wordings of the order, it appear that same was not the finding of Tribunal. Even otherwise, as pointed out earlier, the orders passed by appellate authority as well as by The Central 6/15 Administrative Tribunal were declared as legally invalid by the High Court of Delhi, on a writ petition filed by present plaintiff. When the plaintiff feels that same was defamed in the society due to false allegations levelled by the defendant about his behaviour, same has every right to claim damages. No reason to come to conclusion that suit was not maintainable.

14. This issue is decided against the defendant and in favour of plaintiff.

15.ISSUE No. 2 : As per case of defendant, claim of plaintiff is barred by limitation. The complaint was lodged by defendant on 4.10.96 and present suit was filed after lapse of about 4½ years.

16.Afore­stated contention is disputed by the plaintiff. It is submitted by Ld. Counsel for the latter that the limitation in this case is governed by article 74 and 75 of the schedule annexed with The Limitation Act. As per article 74, suit for compensation for malicious prosecution could be initiated within one year, from the date when the plaintiff was acquitted or the prosecution was otherwise terminated. While as per article 75, suit for compensation for libel could be filed within one year from the date, libel is published. As per him, Disciplinary Authority gave a clear and categorical finding in its order dated 13.01.2000 that the allegations levelled by defendant were not proved. Plaintiff gave a notice to the defendant under order 80 CPC on 1.11.2000 and present suit has been filed on 11.01.01. In this way, same is within limitation.

17.A departmental inquiry is not a prosecution. In this way, limitation in this case is governed by article 75 and not by article 74 of the Act. As per article 75, such a suit could be filed within one year from the date when libel is published. I find weight in the contention of plaintiff, 7/15 alleging that till the departmental inquiry continued, the libel also continued to be published again and again. As mentioned above, Disciplinary Authority in its order dated 13.01.2000 came to the conclusion that allegations of defendants were not proved. Even if, this date is taken as a point to start the limitation, present suit appears within time having been filed on 11.01.01

18.This issue is also decided in favour of plaintiff.

19.ISSUES No. 3 and 4 :­ Being co­related, both of these issues are taken up together. A copy of complaint lodged by defendant to the Ministry of Railways, Government of India has been put on file as Ex.PW1/1. Some of excerpts alleged to be libelous are reproduced as under :­ I want to bring to your kind notice the high handed sadistic and prurient behaviour of Sh. N.N. S. Rana, Chief Personnel Officer, Northern Railway.

After a couple of months of his taking over, he started making amorous advances towards me. He had been detaining me late in the evenings and insisting that I should attend office on Saturdays and Sundays. I have been resisting his advances but he has been continuing to make things extremely difficult for me. He has even been ringing me up regularly in the nights on one pretext or the other. Having failed in his advances and evil designs, he awarded me with a suspension notice.

Sh. Rana is known to temper with the dignity and honour of women. He got away with only counselling from the General Manager when on an earlier 8/15 occasion he had kissed a senior lady officer.

It is well known in the railway circles, as to how he molested his maid servant and was therefore detained in the Chankaya Puri Police Station in April, 1989. On account of a series of complaints and intelligence reports, he was transferred out of Northern Railways. There to, he continued with his womanising activities and was therefore sent to N. F. Railway. There to, he did not change and he continued to misbehave with women. In 1993, he managed to return back to Northern Railway through political manoeuvreings.

There are so many other ladies in the office, who are suffering in his hand but for lack of courage are not coming forward for fear of harassment.

20.The plaintiff has put on file a copy of article of charges (Ex.PW1/7) served upon him. Same were as under ­­­­ Article of Charge­1 : He (plaintiff) misbehaved and indulged in loose, lewd and suggestive talks with his Secretary, Smt. Kuljit Kaur, on several occasions on one pretext or the other with a view to sexually harass and seduce her. On one occasion he even propositioned her and suggested sexual relations which were spurned by her.

Article of Charge ­2 : He deliberately created such privy situations by detaining her in office late into the night after closing hourse, sometimes as late as 22:30 Hrs. at night despite her protestations, under threat of D&AR action for deserting her duty.

9/15 Article of Charge – 3 : He further created such privy situations by calling her to office on Saturdays and other Gazetted holidays and detained her in office after sunset despite her protestations, under threat of D&AR action for deserting her duty.

Article of Charge – 4 : When his advances were spurned by Smt. Kuljit Kaur he initiated D&AR action against her on frivolous ground with an ulterior motive of making her more pliable so that she would give into him.

21. As discussed earlier, charges of misbehaviour, sexual harassment etc were not proved. Neither defendant nor the employer of plaintiff challenged said finding of Disciplinary Authority. It was plaintiff only, who questioned observations made by the Disciplinary Authority against him and that about lack of sensitivity, managerial and leadership qualities. Though the appeal was dismissed by the appellate authority or Central Administrative Tribunal did not agree with the plaintiff. Orders passed by the appellate authority and by the Tribunal were set aside by the High Court, declaring the same as legally invalid. A special leave petition filing by UOI against said order is declined by the apex court. In this way, findings given by Disciplinary Authority about allegation of defendant having been not proved, attained finality.

22.The defendant did not dispute rather admitted in her written statement having filed such a complaint. Moreover, during her cross examination as DW1, it is admitted by Smt. Kuljeet Kaur (defendant) about sexual harassment of other ladies officials that she had no copy of any complaint (if any) filed by the ladies mentioned by her in para 5 of her complaint ­­­­­ By word “suffering” referred in said para she 10/15 meant ‘sexual harassment’, ‘sexual advances’ by Mr. Rana” ­­­­­ She had not seen any lady being sexually harassed by Mr. Rana. She did not personally see the plaintiff kissing the lady officer mentioned by her in para no. 3 of her complaint ­­­­­ Neither she had copy of complaint filed by such ladies about the occurrences nor had seen the complaint about the allegations of molestation of maid servant by the plaintiff. It is again admitted by the defendant in her cross examination that she did not personally see the incident of molestation as mentioned in para no. 4 of her complaint ­­­­ She did not know the date and place where this molestation took place. She did not know even the name of maid servant who was molested by plaintiff. It is explained by the defendant that in meeting of Officers Association, she came to know about the incident of plaintiff having been detained in PS Chanakaya Puri on the allegation of molestation of maid servant. On being cross examined about intelligence report against the plaintiff, it was admitted by the defendant that she had not seen any such intelligence report. She did not know the place of posting of the plaintiff about which period the intelligence report was related. She had not seen the file containing transfer orders of plaintiff from Delhi to Patiala or Patiala to Guwahati and then from Guwahati to Delhi. It is also admitted by defendant that she had no evidence to establish that plaintiff was transferred from one place to other as mentioned above, on the basis of complaint lodged by lady officials. The defendant did not know as what political maneuvering was done by the plaintiff for his transfer from Guwahati to Delhi. About her own allegation against the plaintiff regarding sexual harassment is concerned, it is disclosed by the defendant that she did not make any complaint to any authority other than the lady officers of the department.

11/15
23.Ruminating all these, it is manifest that the defendant not only failed to prove her allegations, the allegations levelled by her against the plaintiff were false and concocted.

24.As per Ld. Counsel, the allegations levelled by defendant against the plaintiff were baseless. The latter suffered loss of reputation in the eyes of society. His image is lowered in the society as well as in his own eyes.

25.True, sexual harassment of a woman that at her workplace is a very serious offence, amounting violation of human rights of a lady. Following was held by the Supreme Court of India in case Vishaka & Ors Vs. State of Rajasthan & Ors. AIR 1997 SC 3011 :

sexual harassment of a working woman amounts to violation of rights of gender equality and right to life and liberty and the Constitution of India guarantees right to work with human dignity, particularly of working women at work places.
26.False allegations of sexual harassment against an innocent person by a lady is no less serious. It shakes self confidence, hurts feelings and kills the conscience of victim. Apart from spoiling the victim from very inside, it spreads in the society from mouth to mouth and infects minds of fellow beings. The person concerned becomes incapable in lifting his eyes before anyone. It erodes esteem of a person in his own eyes.

27.The plaintiff was suspended and then removed from his job due to allegations levelled by defendant particularly of sexual harassment. The plaintiff was a senior officer ( Chief Personnel Officer) serving one 12/15 of largest railways in the world. This court can imagine what pain the plaintiff would have suffered when he was given an unceremonial bid adieu by a bevy of own colleagues and subordinates, with admonishing eyes, filled with hatred. He was left with no option but to eat crow in the office where he served for decades with dignity as well as in the society, comprising his own family members, relatives and other near and dear. Right to life is to live with dignity and the plaintiff was deprived of that dignity due to a false complaint lodged by the defendant. A complaint which affects the victim so badly can never be termed a genuine or bonafide complaint. Every person is presumed to have anticipated consequences ill or good of the action taken by him/her against another person.

28.PW Rana Surender Singh, who is brother of the plaintiff sworn on oath in his affidavit (Ex.P3) that when he read a news item in The Hindustan Times on 5.11.96, that Railway Minister had suspended, the plaintiff on complaints of misbehaviour to women officials, all this gave an impression that there were many complaints by women officials about Mr. NNS Rana, misbehaving with them. After reading this news item, he felt ashamed of and felt very strongly that Mr. Rana had not only lowered his own image but also the image of their entire family, in the society. The image and reputation of plaintiff was maligned in his eyes. He started feeling that the plaintiff was actually harassing many women officials. When this news was published in national newspaper like Hindustan Times, it can reasonably be expected that same was read by public at large including family members, relatives and other acquaintances of the plaintiff. Apparently the allegations of misbehaviour and sexual harassment of a lady official were defamatory when same were found false.

13/15
29.Both of these issues are therefore decided in favour of plaintiff and against the defendant.

30.ISSUE NO. 5 : A loss of reputation can never be restored. It is a wound which festers inner most of victim and never heals completely. Similarly, bad name in the society can never be obliterated. It is an indelible scar on the character of a person. When the reputation cannot be restored, damages in terms of money is the only way to console the hurt feelings of that victim.

31.The plaintiff has claimed a sum of Rs.10 Lakh as damages. It is contended by Ld. Counsel for plaintiff that the amount of damages should be decided keeping in view the social status of victim. The plaintiff was a Senior Indian Railway Personnel Service Group­ A, officer (IRPS Group­A) of 1964 batch. He enjoyed good name and reputation among his fellow beings and subordinates. Similarly, he had earned a name in the society where he lives. Ld. Counsel relied upon a case in this regard titled as S.N. M. Abdi Vs. Prafulla Kr. Mahanta & Ors., AIR 2002 Guwahati 75, where it was held by a Division Bench of Guwahati High Court, that in deciding the question of compensation, court must take into consideration following things :

(1) The conduct of the plaintiff; (2) his position and standing; (3) the nature of libel; (4) the absence or refusal of any retraction or apology; and (5) The whole conduct of the defendant from the date of publication of libel to the date of decree.
32.A case Sadasiba Panda Vs. Bansidhar Sahu, AIR 1962 Orissa 115, it was held by Orissa High Court in this case that in a case of libel, it is 14/15 not necessary to prove the actual loss of reputation and it is sufficient to establish that a defamatory statement made would damage one’s reputation. Every man has his own status, however humble and he has a right to guard his reputation whatever it is, and the question of status is only relevant in measuring the question of compensation.

33.True, the plaintiff was a very senior officer, who served Indian Railways. There is no evidence against plaintiff about any misconduct except the complaint lodged by present defendant, which was proved as false. It is equally true that defendant showed no remorse/apology for lodging false complaint. I agree, that status of claimant in the society is one of factors to be considered by the court, in awarding compensation but status and financial position of other party i.e. defendant also cannot be ignored. The very object of providing damages/compensation is to console the hurt victim and not to punish the defendant, by imposing such a penalty in the form of compensation, which she cannot afford from her means. In my opinion Rs.10 Lakh will be an excessive amount, which the defendant who is stated to be a widow lady cannot afford. It will be appropriate that plaintiff be awarded compensation/damages amounting Rs.5 Lacs.

34. This issue is therefore decided accordingly.

35.ISSUE NO. 6 (Relief) : Suit of plaintiff is decreed with costs. The defendant is directed to pay Rs.5 Lakh to the plaintiff as compensation/damages. A decree sheet be prepared accordingly.

36.File be consigned to Record Room.

Announced in the open court
on 19.11.11 (Rajender Kumar Shastri)
ADJ­06(Central) / Delhi

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