TWO chief justices of the Punjab & Haryana High Court made as many as two dozen “public” appointments to Class III and IV posts over 10 months in 2014 without advertising the jobs first — despite a Supreme Court ruling in February that year specifically laying this down as a condition.
Information obtained by The Indian Express under the RTI Act shows 64 appointments since 2010 just on the basis of single-page applications, waiving off requirements such as written test and interview, to posts of clerks, peons and restorers. Twenty-four of those appointments came after the apex court ruling.
In many cases, the appointees did not attach educational certificates, age proof or photograph with their applications. And the language in the applications was near identical – “I have come to know from some reliable sources that some posts of peons/restorers are lying near-identical applications vacant.”
Records show the judges made the appointments under Rule 38 of the High Court Establishment (Appointment and Conditions of Service) Rules, 1973. Rule 38 reads, “Where the Chief Justice is satisfied that the operation of any rule causes undue hardship in any particular case, he may by order dispense with or relax the requirements of that rule to such extent and subject to such conditions as he may consider necessary for dealing with the case in a just and equitable manner…”
The documents accessed by The Indian Express don’t cite “undue hardship” in case of any appointee.
In its February 12, 2014, judgment, the Supreme Court had said, “There can be no doubt that the employment whether of Class IV, Class III, Class II or any other class in the High Court or courts subordinate to it fall within the definition of public employment.” Therefore, all high courts were directed, “the post shall be filled up by issuing the advertisement in at least two newspapers… one of which must be in vernacular language having wide circulation in the respective state”.
Directing all high courts to amend their rules accordingly, the order further said, “… powers under Article 229 (2) of the Constitution (Chief Justice’s power to make rules) cannot be exercised by the Chief Justice in an unfettered and arbitrary manner. Appointments should be made giving adherence to the provisions of Articles 14 (equality before law) & 16 (equality of opportunity in matters of public employment) of the Constitution and/or such rules as made by the legislature… What has been deprecated by this court time and again is ‘backdoor appointments’.”
Records show that in each of the 24 appointments in the Punjab and Haryana High Court since February 2014, officials lower down the order quoted from the Supreme Court order so that the judges were aware of what they were doing.
Sanjay Kishan Kaul as chief justice of the Punjab and Haryana High Court (he is now Madras High Court Chief Justice) cleared eight such appointments.
After him, Acting Chief Justice Ashutosh Mohunta (now retired) facilitated 16 such appointments, some of whom were either over-age or did not fulfill educational criteria.
When reached in Chennai, Justice Kaul said, “How am I supposed to remember now about Class IV appointments? I don’t recollect.”
A Chandigarh resident submitted a December 3, 2014, dated application, and was issued an appointment letter the next day. The case file noting shows that Acting Chief Justice Mohunta was apprised that only 14 posts of restorers were vacant, for which an advertisement had already been issued, and that since Justice Mohunta had already appointed two more restorers earlier, only 11 posts would be left for general public.
A peon working in the Punjab Advocate General office applied on September 26, 2014, and on September 30, Justice Mohunta wrote, “Be appointed as restorer.”
When contacted, Justice (retd) Mohunta said, “There were previous precedents in the high court. I went by precedents. I can’t answer every case without seeing files.”