The Supreme Court has said that in a democratic polity, justice, both in its concept and in essence, being fair and unbiased is the bedrock of good governance.
“It is not to be forgotten that in a democratic polity, justice in its conceptual eventuality and inherent quintessentiality in essence forms the bedrock of good governance,” said the apex court bench of Justice P. Sathasivam and Justice Dipak Misra in their judgment delivered Friday.
Justice Misra said: “In a democratic system that is governed by the rule of law, fairness of action, propriety, reasonability, institutional impeccability and non-biased justice delivery system constitute the pillars on which its survival remains in continuum.”
The court said this while dismissing a petition by Chandra Kumar Chopra who was a major in Indian Army and was held guilty of financial irregularity in claiming transportation bill reimbursement. The general court martial (GCM) by its decision of June 4, 1990 found the charges correct and sentenced him to cashiering and rigorous sentence of five years.
However, the confirming authority while retaining cashiering, reduced the five year rigorous sentence to six months.
The Delhi High Court by its July 23, 1991 order declined to interfere with the decision of the confirming authority. Chopra then moved the apex court against the high court decision.
Addressing the bias that Chopra attributed to the GCM, the apex court said: “Mere suspicion or apprehension is not good enough to entertain a plea of bias.”
It said that the allegation of bias “cannot be a facet of one’s imagination. It must be in accord with the prudence of a reasonable man. The circumstances brought on record would show that it can create an impression in the mind of a reasonable man that there is real likelihood of bias.”
The allegation of bias has to be “scrutinised on the basis of material brought on record whether someone makes wild, irrelevant and imaginary allegations to frustrate a trial or it is in consonance with the thinking of a reasonable man which can meet the test of real likelihood of bias”, the judgment said.
The court noted that he had not attributed anything personal against any member of the court martial and “it is extremely difficult to hold that there was real likelihood of bias because the prudence of a reasonable man cannot so conceive and a right minded man would discard it without any hesitation”.
Dealing with the allegation that the quantum of punishment awarded to Chopra was disproportionate to the nature of charge levelled against him, the court asked the question whether the “punishment imposed is really arbitrary or an outrageous defiance of logic so as to be called irrational and perverse warranting interference” by the court.
“The appellant was a major in the army and all the charges levelled against him fundamentally pertain to commission of illegal acts in the fiscal sphere. The acts done by him were intended to gain pecuniary advantage,” the court said.
“The primary obligation of a member of the armed forces is to maintain discipline in all aspects. Discipline in fiscal matters has to be given top priority as that mirrors the image of any institution,” it said.
Dismissing the plea by Chopra, the court concluded that being a major “Irreproachable conduct, restrained attitude, understanding of responsibility and adherence to discipline” were expected of him.
Rejecting the plea that the sentence awarded to Chopra was disproportionate to the offences, the court said: “The proven charges luminously project that the said aspects have been given a total go by. In this backdrop, it is well nigh impossible to hold that the punishment was harsh or arbitrary.”