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HC says person acquitted of moral turpitude cannot be denied appointment in armed forces

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A person, who has been acquitted in an offence of moral turpitude on the grounds of benefit of doubt, cannot be denied appointment in the armed forces, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has said. A single bench of Justice Jagmohan Bansal made this observation on a petition of Haryana resident seeking directions to set aside a March 2022 order cancelling his appointment to the post of a constable in the Indo-Tibetan Border Police Force (ITBP).

The court said it is a “well known fact that in our country it is very difficult to get a job especially a government job” and the denial of appointment to the petitioner ignoring that he was always bonafide and honest in disclosing his credentials would amount to indirect punishment for an offence in which he has been acquitted.

“In the present case, the respondent has not examined antecedents of the petitioner and his appointment letter has been cancelled on the sole ground that he was acquitted on the benefit of doubt,” the court said.

“The respondent has not considered nature of alleged offence, age of the petitioner and age of the prosecutrix at the time of alleged offence. The petitioner is not involved in any other offence and he has already been acquitted,” it said.

The petitioner was appointed to the post of constable in the ITBP on compassionate grounds in January 2022. However, his appointment letter was cancelled by authorities concerned after he disclosed that he was implicated in a criminal offence and was later acquitted.

In April 2018, the petitioner was booked for rape and also relevant sections of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) and the case was registered at police station Cheeka in Kaithal district of Haryana. However, the petitioner was acquitted of all charges by a Kaithal court in July 2019. In March 2022, the ITBP cancelled the appointment letter on the grounds that the petitioner was acquitted extending benefit of doubt. The petitioner’s counsel submitted that the complainant as well as her mother has stated that the petitioner has not committed the alleged offence.

The trial court had even recorded finding to the effect that the prosecution failed to prove age of the prosecutrix, which is necessary to invoke provisions of the POCSO Act.

The respondent cancelled the appointment letter on the grounds that the petitioner was involved in an offence of moral turpitude and he has been acquitted on the grounds of benefit of doubt.

There is no concept of honourable acquittal, the petitioner told the court.

However, the counsel for the Centre submitted that according to the 2012 instructions of the Ministry of Home Affairs, if there is acquittal on the grounds of benefit of doubt or where witnesses have turned hostile, a candidate shall generally not be considered suitable for appointment in the armed forces.

The petitioner was involved in an offence of moral turpitude, thus, the respondent was quite competent to reject claim of the petitioner, the counsel further submitted.

“The respondent is heavily relying upon instructions dated 01.02.2012 issued by Ministry of Home Affairs. As per instructions, if there is acquittal, a candidate who was implicated in an offence of moral turpitude, may or may not be appointed in the Armed Forces,” the court said.

In the instructions, the expression “generally” has been used which shows that there is no absolute bar on the appointment where acquittal is on the grounds of benefit of doubt. The competent authority in such cases can consider case of a candidate,” the court said.

The court directed the respondent to consider the case of the petitioner for appointment.

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