No penal action can be taken against a government employee for being present at a political rally as it does not violate service conduct rules, the High Court of Tripura has said in a judgement.
Chief Justice AA Kureshi also set aside a charge sheet issued against the petitioner, a Tripura government employee who was suspended and put under departmental enquiry for being present at a rally organised by the Left Front, the then ruling coalition, on December 31, 2017.
"There is a vital difference between attending a rally and participating in a rally. During election times as is well known, political parties and their leaders as well as nominated candidates take out rallies and address public gatherings. Every person who is present in the audience during such addresses cannot be stated to have participated in the rally," the judgement said.
The presence of a person (at a rally) does not either establish his or her political affiliation, said the judge who also directed the state government to release all the post-retiral benefits which have so far not been paid to the petitioner within two months from Thursday, when the verdict was delivered.
Lipika Paul, an upper division clerk at the Directorate of Fisheries, was placed under suspension by the BJP-IPFT government four days before her retirement, and departmental proceedings were initiated against her after the date of her superannuation.
It was charged that she had canvassed against a political party by making defamatory comments against its leaders contesting the state Assembly election 2018. The verdict said, even an opponent or a critic of a party may also attend a political gathering organised by it.
"Her mere presence at a gathering, therefore, without any further allegation, would not amount to her participation in such political gathering."
Lipika Paul's counsel Purusottam Roy Burman on Friday said the High Court order has protected the democratic rights of government employees.
Advocate General Arun Kanti Bhowmik said the government is studying the verdict and is yet to decide whether to challenge it in a higher court.