Smart Phones, Mainly Owned By not so smart People

There Are a Lot of Smart Phones, Mainly Owned By Not-so-smart People: Delhi High Court Observes

In the matter of Manoj Kumar Baranwal vs. Union Of India And Ors, the Delhi High Court on 23rd March, 2021 held that punishment of reduction of rank instead of dismissal from service is appropriate punishment in a case where respondent has inadvertently sent obscene messages to 11 employees including a woman employee and apologised immediately.

The brief facts of the case are the applicant was Section Officer at Armed Forces, Headquarter (Civil Services). On 1st March, 2017, it was alleged that the applicant sent an objectionable video and message to one of the woman employees. The applicant the very next day apologised and explained that the mobile phone was handled by his minor daughter and she without any knowledge sent the video to 11 people out of which one was the woman employee.

The woman employee filed a complaint of sexual harassment and the internal committee looked into it. The employee was accordingly, dismissed from services. However, the employee approached the CAT thereafter. He stated that he tendered unconditional apology but despite that disciplinary proceedings were initiated and the punishment of dismissal from service, for an inadvertent mistake was highly disproportionate and would deprive him and his family of survival and livelihood.

CAT reduced the punishment from dismissal to reduction in rank. Therefore, the matter reached the High Court of Delhi before which the employer argued that Delhi High Court need not sit in appeal over an administrative matter and referred to Tata Cellular Vs. Union of India, AIR 1996 SC 11 for the same. Employer also said that this was a serious offense and employee must not be let go off and quotes sections from Information Technology Act, 2000 (S. 67A) and Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986 (S. 4) as well.

After hearing all the contentions, the Delhi High Court said that the CAT’s finding – that people who are acquainted with the technology are aware of the fact on how to prevent and avoid such messages, it’s always the people who are not familiar with the technology become vulnerable and victim in cases like these – cannot be said to be perverse.

The Court agreed with the punishment awarded by CAT – i.e. punishment of reduction of rank rather than dismissal from service. The Court referred to quotes from astronomer Carl Sagan, “We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology” and Philosopher Michael Bassey Johnson, “In today’s world, there are a lot of smart phones, mainly owned by not-so-smart people”.

It said that the employee sent the message to not only the complainant but also 10 other employees and apologised immediately for the same. It noted that he had been apologetic from the very beginning and at all stages.

It said that “it is not as if CAT has let go the respondent scot free. The respondent has been meted out punishment of reduction in rank, making the respondent a living example in the workplace, of the consequences of his act.”

Lastly, the Court said that the employer must ensure that the “respondent, on reinstatement in employment and the complainant woman employee, in future, are not posted in the same department and preferably not posted even in the same premises.

– Animesh Raizada, Intern

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