Snubbing Chandigarh Administration for its decision to demote an employee of the Department of Food and Supplies and Consumer Affairs for seeking information under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has asserted the staffer has an “absolute right” to seek information under the law.
“The order reverting the petitioner is vindictive. The petitioner has absolute right to get the information under the Right to Information Act. Seeking information under the Right to Information Act cannot put question mark on his integrity,” the judgment passed by Justices Rajiv Sharma and Harinder Singh Sidhu reads.
Ordering the administration to allow the petitioner, Pardeep Kumar, to discharge his duties as the Assistant Food and Supplies Officer in accordance with a 2012 order with all the consequential benefits, the division bench has said, “It is evident from the language used in the notice that it was punitive and stigmatic.”
Kumar was promoted to the post of Assistant Food and Supplies Officer in December 2012 with one-year probation, but it was further extended by six months. A show-cause notice was issued to him in February 2014. While Kumar submitted a detailed reply to the notice, he was soon reverted to the post of Inspector, Food and Supplies, Grade-I. Both his appeal and original application were dismissed by the appellate authority and Central Administrative Tribunal in 2015 and 2017 respectively.
The division bench has further said no provision has been been brought to its notice, which allows extension of probation by another six months as has been done in this case, and observed the gist of the show-cause notice issued to Kumar reveals that the action is based on two grounds – his association with Shambhu Banerjee, National President, Rashtriya Lok Kalyan Party, which had staged various protests against the department, and that he was seeking information from the department under the RTI Act.
“This was viewed as question mark on his integrity,” the judgment reads. “In case the petitioner was found indulging in any misconduct, the regular inquiry could be instituted against him…”.
The court has further said the tribunal, in its decision, has made reference to some judgments that the probation period can be extended, but has not cited them in its order. “The learned Tribunal has overlooked the basic principles of service jurisprudence dealing with the probation period as well as stigmatic punitive order,” reads the division bench judgment.