Termination for hiding facts during Selection

Suppressing facts while applying may end up in termination

In  Avtar Singh v Union of India & Ors delivered on 21 July, 2016, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court (SC) considered various decisions on the question of suppression of information or submitting false information in the verification form as to the question of having been criminally prosecuted, arrested or as to pendency of a criminal case. In the judgement the SC resolved the conflict of opinion in the various earlier decisions of its Division Benches and arrived at some guidelines in deciding such issues.

In the judgement, the SC made following pertinent observations:

Employer can decline appointment when acquitted

Even if disclosure has been made truthfully the employer has the right to consider fitness and while doing so effect of conviction and background facts of case, nature of offence etc. have to be considered. Even if acquittal has been made, employer may consider nature of offence, whether acquittal is honourable or giving benefit of doubt on technical reasons and decline to appoint a person who is unfit or dubious character. In case employer comes to conclusion that conviction or ground of acquittal in criminal case would not affect the fitness for employment incumbent may be appointed or continued in service.

In petty offences the employer can ignore suppression

Coming to the question whether an employee on probation can be discharged/refused appointment though he has been acquitted of the charge/s, if his case was not pending when form was filled, in such matters, employer is bound to consider grounds of acquittal and various other aspects, overall conduct of employee including the accusations which have been levelled. If on verification, the antecedents are otherwise also not found good, and in number of cases incumbent is involved then notwithstanding acquittals in a case/case, it would be open to the employer to form opinion as to fitness on the basis of material on record. In case offence is petty in nature committed at young age, such as stealing a bread, shouting of slogans or is such which does not involve moral turpitude, cheating, misappropriation etc. or otherwise not a serious or heinous offence and accused has been acquitted in such a case when verification form is filled, employer may ignore lapse of suppression or submitting false information in appropriate cases on due consideration of various aspects.

Suppression can lead to termination

No doubt about it that once verification form requires certain information to be furnished, declarant is duty bound to furnish it correctly and any suppression of material facts or submitting false information, may by itself lead to termination of his services or cancellation of candidature in an appropriate case. However, in a criminal case incumbent has not been acquitted and case is pending trial, employer may well be justified in not appointing such an incumbent or in terminating the services as conviction ultimately may render him unsuitable for job and employer is not supposed to wait till outcome of criminal case. In such a case non-disclosure or submitting false information would assume significance and that by itself may be ground for employer to cancel candidature or to terminate services.

Ultimate action must not be arbitrary

Verification of character and antecedents is one of the important criteria to assess suitability and it is open to employer to adjudge antecedents of the incumbent, but ultimate action should be based upon objective criteria on due consideration of all relevant aspects.

Though a person who has suppressed the material information cannot claim unfettered right for appointment or continuity in service but he has a right not to be dealt with arbitrarily and exercise of power has to be in reasonable manner with objectivity having due regard to facts of cases.

In the above case the SC summarized its conclusion or elven point guidelines as follows:

  1. Information given to the employer by a candidate as to conviction, acquittal or arrest, or pendency of a criminal case, whether before or after entering into service must be true and there should be no suppression or false mention of required information.
  2. While passing order of termination of services or cancellation of candidature for giving false information, the employer may take notice of special circumstances of the case, if any, while giving such information. The employer shall take into consideration the Government orders/instructions/rules, applicable to the employee, at the time of taking the decision.
  3. In case there is suppression or false information of involvement in a criminal case where conviction or acquittal had already been recorded before filling of the application/verification form and such fact later comes to knowledge of employer, any of the following recourse appropriate to the case may be adopted : – In a case trivial in nature in which conviction had been recorded, such as shouting slogans at young age or for a petty offence which if disclosed would not have rendered an incumbent unfit for post in question, the employer may, in its discretion, ignore such suppression of fact or false information by condoning the lapse.
  4. Where conviction has been recorded in case which is not trivial in nature, employer may cancel candidature or terminate services of the employee. If acquittal had already been recorded in a case involving moral turpitude or offence of heinous/serious nature, on technical ground and it is not a case of clean acquittal, or benefit of reasonable doubt has been given, the employer may consider all relevant facts available as to antecedents, and may take appropriate decision as to the continuance of the employee.
  5. In a case where the employee has made declaration truthfully of a concluded criminal case, the employer still has the right to consider antecedents, and cannot be compelled to appoint the candidate.
  6. (6) In case when fact has been truthfully declared in character verification form regarding pendency of a criminal case of trivial nature, employer, in facts and circumstances of the case, in its discretion may appoint the candidate subject to decision of such case.
  7. In a case of deliberate suppression of fact with respect to multiple pending cases such false information by itself will assume significance and an employer may pass appropriate order cancelling candidature or terminating services as appointment of a person against whom multiple criminal cases were pending may not be proper.
  8. If criminal case was pending but not known to the candidate at the time of filling the form, still it may have adverse impact and the appointing authority would take decision after considering the seriousness of the crime.
  9. In case the employee is confirmed in service, holding Departmental enquiry would be necessary before passing order of termination/removal or dismissal on the ground of suppression or submitting false information in verification form.
  10. For determining suppression or false information attestation/verification form has to be specific, not vague. Only such information which was required to be specifically mentioned has to be disclosed. If information not asked for but is relevant comes to knowledge of the employer the same can be considered in an objective manner while addressing the question of fitness. However, in such cases action cannot be taken on basis of suppression or submitting false information as to a fact which was not even asked for.
  11. Before a person is held guilty of suppressio veri or suggestio falsi, knowledge of the fact must be attributable to him.

Further reading

  1. Avtar Singh v Union of India & Ors