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SC no bed of roses for Kumbhakarna or cousin

NO INDULGENCE FOR INDOLENCE

New Delhi, Feb. 11: Rust in peace, Rip Van Winkles.

The Supreme Court today upheld the sacking of an engineer who went on unauthorised leave for 19 months and then took four years to appeal his dismissal, saying indolent people who slept like “Kumbhakarna” or, for that matter, Rip Van Winkle, couldn’t expect “indulgence”.

Justices H.L. Gokhale and Dipak Misra said the delay in filing the appeal for reinstatement reflected “inactivity and inaction” on the part of the litigant who had forgotten a basic norm, that “procrastination is the greatest thief of time”.

“A court is not expected to give indulgence to such indolent persons — who compete with ‘Kumbhakarna’ or for that matter ‘Rip Van Winkle’. In our considered opinion, such delay does not deserve any indulgence…” the court said.

The ruling came on an appeal filed by the Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board that had sacked T.T. Murali Babu, a junior engineer who remained absent from duty for over a year and seven months without informing his employer. The board had challenged the concurrent findings of a single-judge bench and a division bench of Madras High Court, which had ordered Murali Babu’s reinstatement.

The engineer, who went on unauthorised leave from August 28, 1995, did not respond to repeated reminders to explain his absence and rejoin work. On April 1, 1997, he reported for duty with a medical certificate for his absence. Following an inquiry, he was dismissed from service on April 16, 1998.

Murali Babu did move the high court — but his appeal came four years after his dismissal.

In November 2012, the division bench set aside the dismissal order on the ground that the punishment was “grossly disproportionate” to Murali Babu’s action of abstaining from work.

The board then moved the top court, which upheld its appeal citing the examples of the mythological Kumbhakarna, Ravana’s giant brother famed for his sleep, and Rip Van Winkle, the fictional character who slept for 20 years.

The message was clear: Kumbhakarna-type litigants like Murali Babu couldn’t expect justice if they delayed filing appeals.

“A court is not expected to give indulgence to such indolent persons…” the bench said, restoring the order of dismissal.

“It is telltale that the respondent had remained absent for a considerable length of time. He had exhibited adamantine attitude in not responding to the communications from the employer while he was unauthorisedly absent.

“As it appears, he has chosen his way, possibly nurturing the idea that he can remain absent for any length of time, apply for grant of leave at any time and also knock at the doors of the court at his own will,” the bench added.

Justice Misra, writing the judgment, had a word for the high court, too. The bench said that while high courts, as constitutional courts, had the duty of protecting the right of citizens, they should reject such belated pleas that come after a delay of four years.